We went digging for a complete set of professionally fly fonts and returned with just one consensus winner: Helvetica.
“Helvetica is so no-fuss, it doesn’t really lean in one direction or another. It feels professional, lighthearted, honest,” says Brian Hoff, creative director of Brian Hoff Design. “Helvetica is safe. Maybe that’s why it’s more business-y.”
There are other options that, like Helvetica, are sans-serif, meaning their letters do not have the tiny “feet” that adorn the “T” in Times New Roman, for example. Do not choose a cheap imitator, the experts counsel. “If it’s me, [I’m using] Helvetica. Helvetica is beautiful,” says Matt Luckhurst, the creative director at Collins, a brand consultancy, in San Francisco. “There is only one Helvetica.”
Unless you’re applying for a design job, human resource professionals probably wouldn’t notice a knockoff font. But you would be on the wrong side of good taste. Could you live with that?
Say you’re a high roller and want to actually purchase a font. Go with Proxima Nova, which Hoff calls a “cousin to Helvetica” with less of an edge.
“It has a softer feel. Helvetica can be more stiff, and Proxima Nova feels a little rounder,” Hoff says. Proxima Nova is apparently a hit among suits. “I never met a client that didn’t like that typeface,” he says. That kind of popularity does not come cheap: Just one style of the font costs $29.99 at myfonts.com, and the entire 144-member family costs $734.
If you are very experienced, use Garamond to get your long rap sheet to fit into a single page. “Garamond is legible and easy for the eye to follow,” says Luckhurst. “Garamond has all these quirks in it, so what that does is allow the eye to see where it should go.”
There’s some controversy over the classic Times New Roman. “I don’t have any problem with Times New Roman,” says Martina Flor, a letterer and designer in Berlin, Germany. She acknowledges that it has the reputation of being staid, but says the font is not to blame. “It has been a system font for a long time. It’s been used and misused a lot.”
Using old faithful might send the wrong sign to your future boss, though. “It’s telegraphing that you didn’t put any thought into the typeface that you selected,” says Hoff. “It’s like putting on sweatpants.”
If you want something intentionally upscale, try Didot. “It’s very tall, it’s a little fancy, [and] it’s a little feminine,” says Luckhurst. It’s a good option for a fashion job, but not much else, he adds. “It’s like wearing the black dress to the ball. Do you wear a tuxedo to your job interview?”
It may go without saying, but do not use the flowery Zapfino type on anything you will show an employer. “It’s just really swoosh-y. If it’s your wedding invite and that typeface is for you, go for it,” says Luckhurst.
Do not even use anything that looks like Zapfino, says Flor. “All the fonts belonging to this family of connected scripts wouldn’t be right for your résumé,” she says. They are hard to read, she says, and not designed to express anything longer than a headline.
“You don’t have a typewriter, so don’t try to pretend that you have a typewriter,” Luckhurst says. “You have been using a computer to do a handwritten thing. You haven’t used a computer properly, and you haven’t handwritten properly.” Damn. Don’t use Courier, I guess.
We probably do not even need to discuss this, but you should never use Comic Sans unless you are designing the investment issue of a national business magazine. Do not even look at Comic Sans. It should not be on your résumé “unless you are applying to clown college,” says Hoff. “There are other whimsical fonts out there that you can buy that would give a similar impression and feel, but not necessarily be a Comic Sans.” Hoff is being gentle, but take it from me: Don’t look for a Comic Sans-like font. Just let it go.
Should you put emoji in your résumé? Prayer hands, a cat with hearts for eyes, followed by a dress shirt with a gold tie? “I think it’s a great idea. Put a lot of emojis on the bottom. Some chicken wings. They will love it,” says Luckhurst. “Maybe an emoji is your logo. Maybe you just really key in on the 100 logo, that’s your thing, you put it everywhere.”
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