3 Broken Promises of Visual Resumes

As a resume writer, I realize all the ways in which the job search process is broken. So much noise. So little human communication. For most people, the job search is just so stressful and exhausting.

I’m really hoping for some changes in the whole thing. And visual resumes could be part of the solution, right? 

Maybe someday. But for now, they’re not keeping their promises… Yes, they do grab attention.

Isn’t it pretty?

Ok. But then, what?

The promises of visual resumes

Here’s the value that visual resumes are promising you.

VisualCV

“Create a standout resume in minutes.”

“Easily create professional resumes, online portfolios and personal landing pages.”

Vizualize.me

“We want to enable people to express their professional accomplishments in a simple yet compelling personal visualization. Our vision is to help people turn their education, skills and experience into opportunities.

ResumUP

“Visual things are better and impressive because they are easy to understand […] compared to a page full of text.”

Kickresume

“Create your resume exactly the way you want and show who you are, not just what you have done.”

“Created by designers, approved by recruiters.”

Enhancv

“Enhancv helps you create performance-based resumes that unveil the real person behind them”

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Keep these promises in mind. We’ll get back to them. 

CLARIFICATION: There are many resumes that feel like works of art. They’re usually created by a graphic designer working on her own resume. My article is about what’s available for the rest of us, usually through online tools.

Visual resumes… from slightly edgy to way out there

Many competing services exist. We see different styles, structures and levels of information. As well as lots and lots of colors and fonts. These are all resumes which we can create online. (At the bottom of each image is the online tool with which it was created.)

Let’s begin our analysis with infographics.

Infographic resumes are terrible

There are great infographic resumes out there. And they usually have one thing in common: they’re custom-made. But I’ve yet to see one that was built for $10 or $50 with an online tool. (And FYI, visual resumes aren’t free, for the most part.) 

For the example below, I used Vizualize.me. And no, I didn’t try to make it as bad as possible. The result is lousy. 

I wanted to add an “Accomplishments” section, but I couldn’t. Vizualize.me seems allergic to full sentences. 

Infographic resumes contain about one third of the words found on regular resumes. Aren’t we promoting professionals with a depth of expertise? Complex, multi-faceted human beings? “Yes, but an image is worth 1,000 words.”

Well, this one isn’t. Put 10 of these infographics side by side, for people in similar roles, and they will all be the same. Which means that the only thing going for them is the nice colors and the “cool” factor. That wears off pretty fast, next to resumes of candidates with actual substance (such as accomplishments).

From the perspective of a recruiter or hiring manager, they’re terrible.

The 3 broken promises of visual resumes

Ok, so what’s the problem with visual resumes?

In a nutshell, they overpromise.

Promise #1 “Create a standout resume

When you look at the templates presented on their websites, they look really good. Below is a screenshot from VisualCV’s home page.

And then you actually use their tools, in a real life situation, and that “standout” feel goes from great to good.

What happened?

The templates are slightly cheating. They’re very light on text, which creates a design that breathes well, with lots of space. Once you add all the words from a real resume, it gets crammed and blocky. I’m not saying it’s ugly; it still looks good. But no one’s going to say: “Oh my goodness! Maria, you gotta check this out!” 

Most resumes fit on 2 pages, which is the norm. But all the “promised results” are built with single page resumes. Because they look better.

Also, the picture is professional in every way. That’s hard to reproduce without skills and a nice camera.  

Promise #2 “Unveil the real person

Visual resumes play on your discouragement in the job search. The fact that you might feel like a number. “Where’s the humanity in the process?”

But this caters to how job seekers feel, not what recruiters need.

Some of the sections used are near worthless:

Quick facts?

Strengths and skills as separate sections? If you’re going to use a skills section, make sure it hits a lot of keywords. Not just 3 or 4 to accomodate design elements. 

Passionate about” is just a disguised “Interests” section. The fact that you like food, travel and music does not help a recruiter know whether you’re a good fit for the company’s culture.

Drop the gimmicks. They add noise to your resume.

And they’re not even helpful to convey the “real person”. When they finally meet you at the interview, that’s when the real person is unveiled. 

Promise #3 “Approved by recruiters”

Ok… 4 out of 5 dentists recommend not believing everything you read on the internet. 

Recruiters have the hard job of finding the best resumes in a pile of very similar resumes. In this article, I go into much more detail to illustrate how visual resumes haven’t been conceived with the hiring process in mind.

But for now, let’s just say that, first, accomplishments are still the best tool that you have, as a job searcher, to stand out. It’s not about the “look and feel” of your resume. It’s about substantiated, compelling facts that show potential employers that you’re worth your salary, and then some.

And second, the first time recruiters look at your resume, they spend about 10 seconds to make a “yes” or “no” decision. A crisp resume summary is a much better tool than any sort of design to pass the 10-second test.

Visual resumes were conceived by designers with a poor grasp of what it means to search for talent. 

So is it that bad?

No, I don’t think that visual resumes are useless. However, they’re fairly new, and people go crazy with the bells and whistles. (A bit like when someone discovers the slide transitions in PowerPoint. “Oooh! Spiral! Look at that!”)

It’s a good tool, with positive elements, but we’re struggling to find the balance. 

As a matter of fact, there are two elements I’ve seen on visual resumes which could be beneficial to both hirers and job seekers.

The first one is the potential return of the headshot on your resume. It’s a nice design touch, which also makes the resume look more human and friendly. And since LinkedIn is so mainstream, legal considerations about potential discrimination lawsuits might soon be a thing of the past. 

Secondly, another element that’s becoming more and more prevalent on LinkedIn is professional recommendations. Quoting a previous supervisor adds a dimension to your resume, and some visual resumes make it work really well. It’s a relevant section from the perspective of the recruiter and doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Because it brings relevant information, not noise.

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So what’s the final score? 3 broken promises to 2 potential positives?

Deep down, I love good design. But there’s a time and place for everything, and the resume isn’t a good vehicle for self-expression. The hiring process simply carries too many constraints.

I don’t think there is a fantastic future for automated visual resumes. But custom-made ones can really have an impact. We have to find balance, by reducing the bells and whistles and focusing on strong differentiating factors: resume accomplishments. And that’s what I discuss here.

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