Resumes weren’t designed to be cool. Like tax manuals and non-disclosure agreements, resumes need to be very focused to be effective. And because of that, they’re often painfully gray.
“But this the 21st century! And we won’t stand un-coolness!” This seems to be the battle cry of many businesses behind visual resumes. Ok, sure. But good design should support the message. I’ve seen too many visual resumes where design choices brought confusion, not clarity.
How do we fix this? By understanding how the hiring game is played, and adapting the visual resume accordingly.
In this article, I’ll try to bridge the gap between the strong sections of the traditional resume and the hipness of its extravagant cousin.
My main issue with how most visual resumes have been done is that they’re structurally flawed. It looks like the work of designers, with some fixing from career advisors or resume writers. And it should’ve been the other way around. And as I’ve said here, the closer it is to an infographic, the worse it becomes.
Communicating your resume’s key messages quickly
It’s fairly known among job seekers that people in charge of hiring only spend 6 or 10 or 15 seconds on their resume. One of these numbers is usually correct, but only when they first scan your resume, to see if you’ve got the basic criteria (experience, education, key skills). Later on, when the “good” pile is smaller, your resume will be read with attention.
In order to make the most of these 10-15 seconds, visual resumes boast quickly communicating your career path and key strengths. Ok… Maybe they do it slightly better than an average resume. But those fancy skills section and small icons could also distract the reader.
Having clear sections is a big key to help guide your reader’s eye. But were already doing that before visual resumes were around.
So is there a tactic to make sure that a hiring manager quickly sees the value?
Yes. And it’s to start with a resume summary. A short section, tailored for a specific position, where all the criteria and key messages are displayed. It’s a fairly basic technique to use the top third of the resume’s first page to encapsulate the resume’s strongest parts.
This applies to visual resumes as well as any other. So, our first lesson is make room for the summary!
How can we make a resume stand out?
Here, I’m definitely open to suggestions from the visual resume crowd. As long as it involves a strong focus on accomplishments. Nothing is better than accomplishments to show an employer how you’re different from your peers. And from my experience with hundreds of resumes, very few adequately illustrate the candidate’s accomplishments and results. There is, in my opinion, no bigger problem in resume writing.
And that’s why I’m writing the Resume Hacking book series.
But currently, visual resumes have very little care for accomplishments. As if the creators weren’t aware that this is how you stand out. Which is kind of scary!
Most visual resumes waste so much space on cool colors and fancy graphics that there’s hardly any room left for what the reader is looking for! Your resume has to discuss how you saved money, showed leadership or made something faster, or easier. And to do that, you need more than 11 words and a cute icon.
When a resume actually contains compelling accomplishments, they need to be very visible. Now, THIS is where a designer could really be helpful. To draw attention to that critical material.
How accomplishments are presented on regular resumes
How is it done currently on regular resumes? We usually mention accomplishments first, or give them their own sub-section.
Bigger fonts, colors, or any cool design idea, could naturally guide our reader to these golden nuggets we don’t want her to miss. And that would be good design, in support of the message. As it should be. If a visual resume website figures out how to do this systematically on their resumes, it would have a big impact.
And that’s lesson 2: make sure accomplishments are easy to spot.
When should we use visual resumes?
Is it the right context?
In some situations, a visual resume might be especially useful.
Obviously, if you’re in a creative field, a visual resume will not ruffle anyone’s feathers. But a very bland resume might. So if your job involves the web, startups, advertising or anything artsy, a visual resume might help you show that you belong. (As long as you’ve got accomplishments in there.) Give it a shot and spend a few bucks. But if you try to be edgy, make sure the execution is flawless. No one wants to see your half-baked, amateurly designed infographic resume (even if your cousin thought it was really neat). A sophisticated audience is harder to impress.
Now, what if you’re not a creative? You might still find a use for visual resumes, more specifically when a person asks to see your resume (as opposed to sending a blind response to a job ad). I’m all for some proactive networking! And then, you know that a human being will open your file, not a computer. Because visual resumes can be hard to scan (I’ll discuss issues with scanning software, like ATS, further below).
I would recommend not to go too crazy on the bells and whistles. You’ll find what you need with the “Cool design” options below.
If you’re a consultant, you’re usually compared with only a handful of competitors. If you don’t want or need a typical website, a resume/infographic hybrid might just do the trick (see options below). But you’ll also need a paper resume.
Most people will likely be gladly surprised when they see a colorful, yet informative, resume. They’ll notice the nice design, which is likely to create a good first impression.
What is lesson 3, then? In the right context, visual resumes will help more than usual.
What are my options?
Most of these services are not free. But I don’t think it’s wise to compromise in order to save $20 when you’re looking for a job!
VisualCV, Kickresume or Resumup.
Resume and infographic hybrid:
Re.vu, About.me or Flavors.me.
High impact visual resumes for the rest of us
I’ve kept my eyes open for nice resume layouts and out-of-the-box ideas for many years. There have been a lot of cool resumes that were truly remarkable, like crazy infographics, or candy bar wrapper or scratch card resumes. But most of them were for graphic designers and the like.
But visual resumes for people who don’t have a “creative” job? Great infographic resumes need the following three elements, and I’ve only seen one guy who’s been able to do it consistently, :
- Create visually captivating resumes…
- for non-creative professionals…
- without putting accomplishments in the backseat.
His name is Hagan Blount. I’ve never met him, but we’ve exchanged a few emails. The examples below are taken from his portfolio.
The first thing we notice is that they grab attention. But that’s usually where it stops with the online tools (for example, with Vizualize.me or Resumup infographic resumes).
What an untrained eye might not perceive is that these resumes contain many accomplishments. This takes serious resume writing skills. (Or a Resume Hacking e-book.) But these accomplishments are beautifully integrated with the whole design. And that’s what makes these resumes remarkable. Unique. (Yeah. I’m in love.)
However, everything he does is fully tailored. It’s not $30, 10 minutes, clickety-click, thank you m’am! There is no template. He’s got a rare combination of skills, and he has told me that he charges $1,800 for these fully customized resumes. In my perspective, that’s money well spent if you want to go “all in.”
This might seem steep, but have you ever thought how much job interviews are worth? Hiring a good resume writer can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000, just for the resume. And a career coach is usually more expensive.
If you want a truly unique infographic resume, Hagan Blount is the only one-stop shop. (But I might try it one day, with a graphic designer I know…)
Lesson 4: For the job of your dreams, if you want to stack the deck in your favor, you might have to pay big bucks.
Visual resumes are not very computer-friendly
But even the most beautiful resume has to face obstacles. A very serious problem of visual resumes is the fact that they’re hard to read for computers. Nowadays, especially with big companies, there is a significant chance that your resume will be crunched by an applicant tracking system (ATS). This software looks for keywords, job titles, dates, and such. It tries to “understand” your resume.
These ATS are known to struggle with columns, headers/footers, tables, text boxes and, obviously, images. Yes, it’s weird that in 2015, we can’t even count on technology to let us design sexier resumes. But it’s very real. Talk to your friends in HR; more than 90% of fortune 500 companies use ATS to scan resumes. So when you’re sending a resume through a job board or anytime you’re filling a form, don’t attach your visual resume. It’s a bad idea. Especially with big companies. It will never be seen by a human eye.
Lesson 5: Use your visual resume when networking (i.e. when a human is on the receiving end). Make sure to have a simpler version for typical job applications.
(About networking: most people don’t do it enough, even if it’s been consistently demonstrated that your chances are greater when you’re being referred.)
The web version of your visual resume isn’t that useful
Some websites say that they offer more than a paper resume. VisualCV helps you create a “media-rich online resume, which means lots of bells and whistles and much more information than you could ever fit on a single piece of paper…” And Re.vu “is a complete rethinking of what a resume can be. You no longer have to cram your experience and expertise onto a plain white piece of paper… “
You get a website/page/platform… Whatever. But recruiters are already using LinkedIn. That’s the online resource they’re used to work with. It’s their tool. If there’s one link you want to give to recruiters and hiring managers, it’s LinkedIn. It will make their jobs easier and they’ll be happy. They have plenty of tools there. Their network lives on LinkedIn. And the site’s algorithms provide similar candidates. LinkedIn is THE giant in this space. It makes no sense to put your energy elsewhere. Maybe your resume looks better on this other site, but if it’s not where your readers hang out, what’s the point?
Lesson 6: When you send a visual resume (PDF or on paper), provide a link to LinkedIn, not the online version of your visual resume. (Unless your visual resume is absolutely amazing.)
What have we learned?
Here’s a recap of the 6 lessons to fix your visual resume:
1- Make room for a good summary. 2- Use the visual aspects to make accomplishments easy to spot. 3- Visual resumes are more appropriate for a “cool” company or context. 4- Don’t expect big impact with a $29 product. (No amount of visuals can compensate for a lack of accomplishments.) 5- Only send your visual resume to a human.
6- Don’t link to your visual resume. If you want recruiters to click on anything, it should be your LinkedIn profile.