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Psychology of reading a CV - F & Z Patterns

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Reading involves higher-level mental processes such as the discovery of rules and order, and the extraction of structured, meaningful information. Knowing this means that high level CV design does not just focus on well written content - it also includes aesthetics and structure to enable the reader to easily identify relevant information.

3 elements are necessary to identify layout / flow and accomplish your goal of landing an interview, particularly with something as focused as a CV.

  1. Where will the viewer’s eyes go initially to focus?

  2. What will influence how their eyes move and where their focus will go next?

  3. Can we design our CV to control their focus in order to guide them towards our goal?

Eye tracking technology has elucidated the way people look at things — both on the printed page and on the web. This is where eye movement patterns come in!

The F-Pattern

The findings of the Nielsen Norman Group, compiled in various reports, remain perhaps the most cited and the most useful eye tracking resources in the design community. This report describes the now famous F-Pattern.

Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F’s top bar. Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar. Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. This last element forms the F’s stem.

The following heat maps demonstrate the F-pattern

In the absence of anything placed intentionally to grab their attention, the F-Pattern describes the way a person’s eyes will move across a page that is dense with text, making it applicable to CVs. The important thing to note is that the eyes will start in the top left before scanning down the page to search for something interesting or relevant. If you have something you want someone to pay attention to (like a value proposition)—and your page is text-heavy—it’s a good idea to place it towards the top left to ensure it will get the attention it deserves.

The Z-Pattern

Pages that are less informationally dense, tend to elicit eye movement that resembles the letter ‘Z’. This so-called Z-Pattern has many of the same characteristics as the F-Pattern, where simplicity is a priority. This focus on simplicity makes the Z-Pattern uniquely suited to CVs with more white space, where you want one singular focus to draw people in and encourage them to take action. To take advantage of the Z-Pattern, place your important information or call to action along the Z path to make sure your viewer sees it. This will lead to more conversions.

The Bigger Fish CV framework takes into consideration the layout scanning patterns of F and Z and frames information in key areas. At the top we have a clear title and value proposition, which then gets hit by keys skills with the most important first! Then finally the most recent position. By then the reader should of made their mind up whether to read on. Each section in the scanning pattern quickly delivers value.

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