How Creative Should I Get with my Resume?

by Carl Dierschow


There’s a lot of advice out there about how to create a great resume or CV. There are stories circulating about how people delivered theirs along with a pair of shoes, or dressed up as a clown.

People are desperate for jobs, and at some point you get so frustrated you’re ready to try just about anything. But here’s the question: Do you want people circulating stories about you, or do you want a job?

Let’s not take that question too lightly. In fact, there may be times that you DO want people talking about you, and at a particular stage that may be more important than landing the job. But most people are simply trying to get the job.

I was working with a young man who was repeatedly trying to land a position with a local brewery. This particular company is well known for its unusual culture, and has a record of hiring people based on their creativity and initiative. He put together a plan which included a YouTube video and a job application and resume which was written as a pamphlet. He even carefully thought through the color of the cover, and the integration of his cover letter into the package.

Even with this, he didn’t get the job. But he learned a great deal in the process, and has positioned himself as a creative thinker when the next position opens up in this company.

That was for one specific company, and it was based on their culture. This is my main message. You’re looking to connect with a real person at the other end, and quickly put an image in their mind that you have something important to bring to their organization.

Often you don’t know much about that person at the other end - it’s likely they didn’t even write the job posting. This is where research comes in:

  • What is the level of informality in this organization?
  • How much do they value creativity and initiative? (NOT having the words in their mission statement! I’m asking whether they really reward employees for these, and value this in new-hires.)
  • Is this particular job opening different than the organizational norm?

How do you find the answers to these questions? The best way is to talk to people who work for the company, or have experienced their interviewing process. Don’t rely too much on the company’s brochures or website, as those tend to focus on the image they’re trying to create for customers. Social networking sites can be useful, as those can bypass the image-makers in the company’s marketing department.

Realize that there’s creative, and then there’s crazy. I heard a story about someone who applied for a job with a Wall Street bank along with a pair of shoes and the message “I’ll walk the extra mile for you.” I have some questions about this example:

  • Does this kind of creativity match your image of a Wall Street banker?
  • Do you think this approach demonstrates something that the bank will value?
  • Does the message sound just a little, well, dorky?

Let’s not dismiss the idea straightaway. Perhaps this was for a job that valued creativity. Maybe this wasn’t your stereotypical bank. Possibly this was a specifically designed message, and we don’t know the whole story. But on the face of it, this doesn’t seem to be a great approach, which is possibly why the story has survived for so many years.

Let’s say instead that you want to create a video resume; there’s a number of people who have tried this. Start by thinking through these questions:

  • Does this employer value this kind of out-of-the-box thinking?
  • Are they possibly going to be annoyed because your “video resume” isn’t easy to handle along with the 100 other resumes on the desk?
  • Will they have the ability to easily view your video at the exact moment that they want to see it?
  • Is all the information in the video also available on paper so they can remember and evaluate it?
  • Does your video convey the right level of professionalism, personality, enthusiasm, and creativity? (Don’t go nuts, but also don’t be bland!)
  • Does your entire package of information help people to quickly form the strongest image of why they want to hire you for this job?
  • Do you have ways of tracking whether they ever actually look at the video?
  • Can you get feedback from them about how well your approach was received?

A lot of people won’t want to get this creative. Perhaps you’re just thinking about using a different color of paper or unique formatting for your resume. But the same kind of logic applies. Look at how it matches your target audience, the way they evaluate job seekers, and whether your approach conveys the right balance of professionalism, personality, enthusiasm and creativity.

For example, printing on a darkly colored paper isn’t likely to be received well, because it’s hard to read. Using a Comic Sans font can convey too much immaturity for a professional job, but could be a great move if you’re a storyteller for children. Formatting a resume as two columns might be interesting, but you don’t want to make it harder to read. Including your picture might be a great idea, as long as it’s high quality and conveys the kind of image you want people to associate with you. You might even think of using the company’s corporate colors to accent your document, as long as it’s not distracting.

This kind of creativity is risky, so don’t expect it to work very often. But you CAN convey a unique image and message, so it may be worth a try for the right kind of job!

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