As you update or write your resume, you may have come across example resumes or resume templates with small pictures or logos on them—maybe an image of a phone next to a phone number or a company logo next to a work experience entry. These images are resume icons, and they’re often used to mark contact information and other key parts of a resume. You may be tempted to add icons to your own resume to help it stand out. But it’s not always a great move.
“Like any design element, whether or not it’s a good idea to use icons will depend on how you use them,” says Jon Shields, Marketing Manager at JobScan. “If they serve a purpose and make your resume easier to navigate and read, then it could be a good idea to use icons on your resume.” For example, icons can “make your contact info stand out, which is good!” says Muse career coach Jennifer Smith, a former recruiter and founder of Flourish Careers.
However, if your icons are “only there to serve as visual pizazz, then you’d be better off leaving them off and focusing on the content of your resume,” Shields says. Unless you’re using icons to draw attention to specific information or make your resume easier to read, it’s best to skip them.
The biggest reason not to use resume icons is because they can cause issues with applicant tracking systems (ATSs) that most companies use to screen resumes and sort job applicants. These programs parse resumes into plain text so that they can be easily searched by recruiters and hiring managers. And there are many design elements that ATSs can’t “read” well. Images—like resume icons—are likely to make your resume harder to read for both the ATS itself and the human using one to find job candidates.
Read More: 8 Secrets to Making an ATS-Friendly Resume
Most ATSs allow recruiters and hiring managers to view a resume in two ways: an “applicant profile,” which is the plain-text version of your resume that an ATS has parsed and organized, and a resume preview, which attempts to display the resume the same way it looks before it goes through the ATS. Resume icons can cause problems with both viewing modes. “I’ve seen icons break a resume’s formatting in the resume preview display, making for a more difficult reading experience,” Shields says. “They are also likely to cause parsing errors when an ATS attempts to transfer your resume into a digital applicant profile.”
ATSs cannot read images at all, so the best-case scenario is that they’re skipped over in your digital applicant profile and display correctly in preview mode, and that may not be worth the trade off. “These types of issues are unlikely to cause a rejection, but they won’t endear you to the recruiter,” Shields says.
If you’re worried that a too-plain resume will fail to catch the recruiter’s eye, don’t be. When Smith worked as a recruiter, she says she “mostly just wanted the resume to be easy to read”—and often didn’t notice whether or not a resume had icons at all.
The best time to use resume icons? If you’re sure your resume isn’t going to be viewed in an ATS—for example you’re emailing or handing your resume to a recruiter, hiring manager, or network contact—and that the icons help make your resume easier to read by making your contact information stand out or making your resume look a bit less crowded or dense.
If you’ve decided to use resume icons, here are some tricks for ensuring that they’re as effective as possible:
- Keep your icons simple. Icons don’t need to be too flashy or fancy. Simple phone, email, location, and social media icons work well, Smith says. You don’t want your icons to be difficult to understand or to distract from the content of your resume. There are a number of sites that have free, simple resume icons, or you can find them already built into Microsoft Word and similar programs.
- Draw attention to key information. Because icons are visually different from text, they’ll naturally draw readers’ attention, so you’ll want to reserve icons for key resume elements such as your contact information, social media accounts (e.g., Linkedin), or section headings.
- But don’t use them instead of section headings. ATSs look for common words and formatting for section headings when parsing your resume, Shields says. If these headings are absent, the ATS might not know how to find your experience, skills, or other vital qualifications. So it’s fine to add a graduation cap icon next to your “Education” heading, but the icon alone won’t do the trick.