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Creative Resumes, why they hurt your job search

Creative Resumes

Are you using a creative resume template? Have you incorporated color or design elements into your resume? Are you using an artistic design template found on the Internet? For 95% of candidates, including myself, I believe that we are hurting ourselves when we incorporate design elements into our resumes. Most creative resumes that use multiple colors, fancy fonts, columns, or text boxes are hurting the candidate.

I was just asked for my opinion on a creative resume template and I found myself biting my lip. A creative resume might make a good initial impression, but in the end, hurts the candidate. After thinking about my answer for a few long sentences, I provided a two-stage answer. I gave my disclaimer that I didn’t care for them. I then provided my reasoning and business logic behind my opinion. Attempts at aesthetic resumes fail for 95% of candidates and I see enough of these resumes that I figured it was worth a post.

As someone working in HR, I see a lot of resumes every week. My perspective on this topic is the forest view and not the individual tree. When candidates incorporate design into their creative resumes, they often have the perspective of only seeing a single tree.

The “Forest perspective” on creative resumes

Hiring managers see a lot of resumes so they absolutely know what looks good and what doesn’t. Outside of our own resumes, most of us have only seen a handful of resumes. Most recruiters and hiring managers have seen 100’s if not 1000’s of resumes, and consequently, they know aesthetic, creative resumes when they see them. The flip side of this is they know bad-looking resumes and because of their exposure, it’s easy to spot a candidate who had good intentions, but executed poorly.

If you are a designer working in digital, or a front-end developer, then, by all means, you should have a creative resume with beautiful aesthetics. I wouldn’t consider it a “requirement” but it should look cleaner and easier to read than the rest of the stack. Thoughtful design is the first step to user engagement and what better place to prove it than then your creative resume?

Right template for the right role

Most of us will not be hired for our design chops so artistic flair won’t be missed. I say that again, elements of design WILL NOT BE MISSED. No recruiter is judging your document with a checklist where one of the boxes is titled “artistic talent”. If you fail when playing Pictionary, don’t go there. Traditional black-and-white resumes are safe and won’t get you in trouble. Hiring managers are not going to take a look at our resume and say, “We can’t hire this person. They are perfectly qualified, but that resume is a User Experience nightmare”. I have no artistic talent and suck at Adobe Illustrator, Smelly Markers, and the Etch-a-Sketch. I don’t worry about it because I am not going to be hired for my ability to design the Careers page on the company website. My job is to smile and man the booth.

If you want to see a beautiful document, look at the resume of a designer or User Experience professional. These candidates are paid to make visuals that are not only easy to look at but engaging. These candidates not only studied their craft professionally, they usually have an innate and natural talent for making presentations “easy to look at”.

The bar for comparisons is too high

Just because we know how to change the color of a font or insert a text box, doesn’t mean we should. Emotionally, it is easy to think we are doing something special when we add a splash of color but if you are not able to create a compelling infographic, then I recommend you stay away from the creative resume. The bar is just too high. Most of us have very little experience creating resumes, let alone adding aesthetics. Now is not the time to go for the Daily Double. Our attempts at flair not only pale in comparison to the design candidate’s resume, but they can look pathetic. There is a reason you won’t catch me standing next to Brad Pitt or George Clooney in any setting. I don’t want to set myself up for failure by comparison. Reviewing resumes is nothing but comparisons.  

creative resume

Avoid cookie-cutter templates for your creative resume

Quality, not quantity

If you are thinking about using a cookie-cutter template off the Web, think about this. Do you think the professional illustrator who created that template has a recruiting background and knows what to put on a resume? Those templates are designed to catch your attention as a candidate. They are not designed to engage and inform a hiring manager. These documents may look clean, but it is usually because they have an abundance of white space. This extra white space could have been used to list relevant accomplishments and I think I am relatively qualified to make this observation. Last I looked, resumes are for listing accomplishments, not omitting them. Although pretty, these templates are not the most efficient platform for listing accomplishments.  They can also be complicated when it comes to making edits. 

If you do not have a design background, my advice is to just go with a standard black-and-white resume and use a font that you are familiar with. Try to avoid the temptation to add color, columns, or text boxes because as sexy as we think our document is, a great-looking resume can be created in black and white. I would rather see a well-done resume with a simple format vs. a resume with well-intentioned but poorly executed-aesthetics.

First impressions

First impressions make a big difference and they are not limited to how we answer the phone or when meet other in person for the first time. The resume and the cover letter are THE first impressions the hiring manager sees and will make one of the following impressions:

Simple resume format done well:

    • Although the hiring manager may not be bowled over by the look of the document, candidates will not have a chance to lose points. The reader isn’t going to miss beautiful aesthetics if a simple format is executed well. Think, Frank Lloyd Wright. Think about the wholesome girl with little or no makeup, very simple jewelry, and an easy smile. Both will put you at ease.  

Simple resume format with an average look:

    • Even if the resume layout is mediocre, if the content matches the job description, I will call the candidate. If the accomplishments indicate they are qualified, that will be enough. Unless there is a complete lack of consistency in the formatting, (which indicates a lack of attention to detail) I won’t be insulted.

Beautifully aesthetic resume:

    • Always impressive, no question about it. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the document is, if the accomplishments don’t answer the job description, I won’t call. Think of the well-dressed woman with no substance or the young teenager’s car that is all show and no go. 

Poor attempt to incorporate aesthetics:

    • When we look at anything and it is out of balance, it is human nature for internal flags go off. The woman with too much make-up or the painting hung on the wall at a crooked angle. Both make us uncomfortable and this is NOT the state of mind we want a hiring manager to be in when they read our document.

I take my own advice

I work in HR, not work in the design business. When I started thinking about a logo for this website, I went to our web designer with a bottle of his favorite alcohol. He was doing graphics for the Indianapolis 500 before he was working with us and this guy’s got chops. By his very nature, he is creative 24/7. When he is not creating web designs, he is composing electronic music. He considered the intent of the blog and within 10 minutes had what I think is a brilliant idea and design.

  • I didn’t care for old-school HR
  • I wanted to keep my personal identity out of the picture (so I would have no fear of telling the truth or ostracizing myself from the traditional HR community)

Much better result

The result is the iconic Banksy painting, Flowers, and Peace.  A masked rebel going against convention, throwing out the traditional time clock. Time clocks are used when you don’t trust your employees and need to track them. As an HR guy, I would have never come up with something even close. This is why I am not in design. If you are thinking about adding creative elements, just remember that your resume will be compared to a professional designer. 

If you want to make your creative resume catch someone’s attention by adding flair, remember, listing easy-to-read accomplishments, that match the job description is what the reader is looking for. 

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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