How Instructional Design is Like Resume Writing

Before I became involved in training and development I was a Certified Resume Writer; helping people all over the country create resumes. I worked with all levels of professionals, from mechanics to managers. I had to know my audience to create a document that grabbed attention and stood out from the rest.

As I have moved into the field of training and development I have found many parallels between effective resume writing and instructional design. Below are just 5 of many similarities.

#1. Knowing your Audience

In both resume writing and Instructional Design knowing your audience is imperative. Resumes are typically written for hiring managers and Human Resource staff who are looking for a candidate that fits their requirements. They want to know if the candidate has the skills, experience, and schooling they are looking for. Understanding the industry and even the location of the company can change how a resume is written and presented. I remember living in a small town that was about 10 years behind the times, so modern resumes made candidates look out of place. I had to adjust my methods to create resumes that fit the expectations of the town’s employers.

Instructional Designers have a variety of audiences that range in age, experience, and profession. The training needs to fit not only what the audience needs, but who they are. Some audiences allow for humor and casual content, while others would see that as unprofessional. Games or simulations might work for some, but not for others.

#2. Seconds to Get Attention

In the resume world it is said that you have 10-15 seconds to grab the reader’s attention. Hiring managers and HR personnel scan resumes for skills, keywords, and relevant experience. Experienced resume writers know that to grab their attention and keep it all relevant information needs to be in the top 1/3 of the resume. If the reader can quickly see what they are looking for they will more readily spend time on the rest of the document. Example: Attention Grabbing Top 1/3.


Similar to the top 1/3 of the resume, capturing the learner’s attention in Instructional Design needs to happen immediately. Robert Gagne had reasons for listing Getting Attention as the first step in his “Nine Steps of Instruction”. Those initial seconds need to create interest and engage the learner.

#3. Formatting is Fundamental

Since resumes are typically printed in black and white, formatting techniques are used to enhance its readability (white space, text formatting, font, boxes, and lines). Formatting can communicate if a resume is modern and current or just an updated resume from 1989. It can physically show the reader what is important through the use of bold, underline, or larger text sizes and can even lead the reader through the document like a painter draws the eye around a painting.

In Instructional Design, when content is needed, formatting is just as important as the words. Instructional designers take into account layouts, color schemes, and font styles to create the most effective learning environment.              

#4. Clear, Concise, and Descriptive

Resumes need to communicate a lot of information in the most concise and clear way possible. This is done by writing in the third person and cutting out superfluous, flowery language.  Sentences showcase not only the achievement, but how and why it was a success. When you’re dealing with limited space every word on the resume becomes intentional.

Depending on the Instructional Design project, the writing style can vary. What doesn’t vary is the need to be clear, concise, and descriptive. Communicating the relevant information in the most succinct, yet illustrative way possible takes considerable thought and attention.

#5. Short and Digestible

I’m sure we’ve all come across resumes that are either filled with paragraphs or are just one long list of bullet points. The eye doesn’t know what’s important or where to look. Since the resume is scanned, not read, the use of lines, bullet points, and boxes becomes highly important. Dividing the resume into multiple sections increases the ability of the reader to absorb the information.

In the same way, if a screen is cluttered and does not delineate between what is important or if too much information is given without a break, the learner tunes out. Small chunks of information presented clearly and simply allow the learner to take in what they are seeing and hearing.

Although, resume writing and instructional design have different resulting goals the techniques behind their effectiveness are nearly the same.

What other similarities do you see between resume writing and instructional design?

Andrea Surace

About Andrea Aksland Surace

Andrea is currently the Training Coordinator for the Head Start program at Mt. Hood Community College in Portland, OR. She has spent most of her career in the non-profit sector in various roles organizing training events, creating curriculum, and facilitating in-person trainings. She will have her M.Ed in Adult and Organizational Learning from the University of Idaho in December and received her B.S. in Business from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

What are your thoughts?