Modern Resumes: How Creative is Too Creative?

By Erin Coursey, iHire
Confused and surprised businessman looking at paper

The resume has evolved significantly in recent years. The focus has shifted from presenting a straightforward and comprehensive professional profile to producing an eye-catching yet machine-readable document to get your foot in the door for an interview. But just how eye-catching is too eye-catching? Here are four mistakes we’ve seen that take the idea of a “modern resume design” too far.


Your Highly Extensive and Comprehensive Document Excels at Excessive Verbosity

Buisnessman Holding Very Long DocumentDoes a modern resume need to be filled with keywords to survive an applicant tracking system (ATS)? Yes. Is the solution a 20-page resume covering every industry buzzword in existence? Absolutely not.

As more and more employers are relying on online job boards and electronic applications to find new hires, the number of resumes they receive for each position is growing enormously. HR personnel simply do not have the time to pour over every resume that comes across their desks. In fact, the average hiring manager initially spends only six seconds reading each resume before deciding whether to keep it or throw it away.

To make sure hiring managers spot the most essential points, a modern resume design should highlight achievements and format the document so key facts stand out. Use whitespace strategically, separating your greatest accomplishments from more general descriptions of job duties. And while most job seekers already know how essential it is to write tightly on their resumes, it’s important enough to repeat—eliminate overly flowery language and cut out the pronouns and articles (a/an/the).


You’ve Taken Creativity a Bit Too Far

There are a lot of conflicting expert opinions regarding whether or not traditional resumes are going extinct, replaced by video and infographic resumes.

Let’s be clear: traditional resumes aren’t going anywhere. At least, not yet.

Compared to 2013, 2016 actually saw an 8% increase in hiring managers who preferred traditional MS Word/PDF resumes. There was also a significant decrease in hiring managers who preferred infographic resumes—from 20% to 3%! The takeaway from this survey is that the resume you submit to employers should use one of the three major resume formats. However, if your header includes a link to an online professional portfolio, there’s no reason you shouldn’t include a fun infographic version there.

Your creativity is best used by devising some subtle formatting tweaks that devise a modern resume design that looks sleek and skimmable. Keep blocks of text brief and make each section header stand out clearly so your reader’s eye can easily navigate the document. Avoid large graphics or crowded text, which will only clutter the page. You might even include borders or horizontal lines to separate different section. It should look more like a brief fact sheet than a mini book report…or a comic strip.


Your Writing Wanders Without PurposeFootprints wandering in loops

Think all the way back to your high school English classes. Remember how the teachers were always asking what the “theme” of the literature was? Well, get ready to put that learning to good use.

Every resume needs a unifying thread or storyline to move it along, especially now that hiring managers have so little time to sift through meaningless fluff. Did you advance quickly within your company? What strengths set you apart from the competition? When are you at your best?

Resources you might find helpful:


You’ve Embraced the Gig Economy…But Hiring Managers Haven’t

While the current gig economy is making job hopping a little less taboo, that doesn’t mean hiring managers won’t flinch if you list 5 roles in 5 years in your professional experience section. Be smart about how you include freelance work or short-term roles on your resume to avoid losing your chance at an interview.

Using a hybrid format is just one way a modern resume can get your achievements in front of employers and make a positive impression before they see your list of previous employers. In extreme cases you might even consider a functional resume, though this strategy tends to turn employers off.


The Exceptions

As with anything, there are exceptions to the “rules” outlined above. For example, professionals in creative industries—graphic design, for example—might find that an infographic or image-based resume works especially well for their needs, showcasing their talents and explaining their past achievements with just one document. And some wacky companies might even request super creative, off-the-wall resumes. But for most of us, the traditional resume is the safest option.


It might be fun to spend your time formatting a cool and creative resume, but in the end it’s unlikely to actually land you an interview. If you’ve tried researching the company and still aren’t sure whether an employer would like a graphical resume or be open to hiring a frequent job-changer, it’s better to play it safe with a traditional format and post a more creative one online.

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