An American expert says that using some of the most common fonts on a CV reflects poorly on job applicants. Will a seemingly minor detail make any difference to your career chances?

Its name brings together a 230-year-old newspaper and an empire which ruled most of the known world for centuries. It’s so well-established that Microsoft Word assumes that you want to use it without asking you. But design experts in the United States say that using the Times New Roman font may damage your chances of getting a job.

Brian Hoff, a graphic designer who was one of three experts interviewed for Bloomberg magazine’s business pages, says that using the default font is ‘like putting on sweatpants’. AlthoughBritish recruiters are divided on the subject, Hoff says: ‘It’s telegraphing that you didn’t put any thought into the typeface that you selected.’

Bloomberg’s interviewees were tasked with providing job applicants with advice on which fonts they should use on their CVs. Helvetica, which Hoff called ‘professional, light-hearted, honest’, was their clearest recommendation. But Courier (’don’t pretend you have a typewriter’), joined-up fonts like Zapfino (which are for ‘your wedding invite’) and particularly Comic Sans (the subject of a hate campaign, not to be used ‘unless you are applying to clown college’) came out unfavourably. And, they say, it’s worth considering the nature of the job you’re applying for before judging how appropriate your font might be.

Until relatively recently, designing a font required carefully carving letters in to a large slab of metal in a workshop called a foundry, at great effort and cost. But inventions such as Claude Garamond’s typeface which did not imitate handwriting (and is widely used today) in the 16th century, roman and italic lettering and sans serif fonts helped to make typography more diverse. But recent advances in computer programming have made the process of designing a font far easier and given people a vast range of choice. Job applications which use default fonts may therefore seem to be failing to engage with the possibilities offered by modern technology.

Font of all wisdom?

What a waste of time, you might think. It’s laughable that something so trivial could have any impact. No font is going to cover over whether or not you’ve got the things that matter — the skills, experience and level of interest in a role. Just write the CV however you feel comfortable.

But maybe any advantage helps, particularly in an increasingly competitive job market. Appearances matter; if you turned up to an interview scruffily or inappropriately dressed, it would count against you. Your CV is your first chance to impress someone who might end up paying you a lot of money, so why not put in a little extra effort? Even if it only has a subliminal impact on the recruiter, it might make the difference.

So which font should I use then? There’s no right answer to that — it depends on the industry you want to work in. In most cases you will probably want something that looks fairly serious, but most importantly it needs to be easy to read.

How does it vary between jobs? The way you present your CV says something about you: so using a font which everyone else uses, for example, may be off-putting when you are applying for a role which requires extensive IT or design skills. Bloomberg’s experts recommend an ‘upscale’ font such as Didot for applications to the fashion industry. In some creative industries, a sans-serif font may be more appropriate.

Does it really matter? It’s peripheral, so it will only make a difference if you’re the sort of person they’d be interested in anyway.

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