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Unconventional Resume Designs: What to Know

Beth Braccio Hering by Beth Braccio Hering, Career Advice Contributor

When hearing the word “resume,” people tend to think of a one-column, text-only, black-print-on-white document divided into sections such as work history and education. This set-up has been standard for years and remains popular with both employers and job hunters. Why break with tradition?

“An unconventional resume helps applicants stand out amongst other hundreds and thousands of applicants,” says tech career coach Bessy Tam.

Think you might like to venture out of the box? Take a look at styles gaining momentum and things to keep in mind if you do choose such a route.

Multi-column resumes

Separating information into two (or even three) columns offers a fresh way to display contact info and qualifications. When done effectively, the format can guide the reader’s eyes to pertinent highlights that generate interest.

“Two-column arrangements and colored-headers can help the candidate present the most important information and allow recruiters to find the relevant experiences quickly,” Tam says. “This is crucial as recruiters generally glance at resumes for six seconds and scan resumes from left to right and top to bottom. If there are certain technical skills or language capabilities that are competitive, you may want to create a two-column arrangement, bringing these skills from the bottom to the top right.”

Infographic/data visualization resumes

This type of document uses graphic design elements (color, icons, different fonts and sizes, graphs, alternate layouts, etc.) to stand out and showcase information. Use a timeline to display work history. Include a small icon with a relevant section, such as a graduation hat above education. Create a chart of languages you know with your percentage of fluency for each.

While eyes naturally go toward visuals, beware of using too many elements. Such a layout looks juvenile and may leave little room to present the info crucial to landing the position. To ensure your resume looks professional yet creative, use infographic templates. Seeing what the final result will look like, will help you in choosing the most appropriate design.

Photo resumes

Including a professional-looking photo of yourself at the top of a resume can help a reader link a name to a face. A picture also contributes to promoting your personal brand, such as conveying an image of trustworthiness or a welcoming demeanor.

Photo resumes work well in networking situations since they aid people you meet in remembering who you are and what you do. Job seekers, however, should stay away from sending a photo resume to a potential employer. Many companies have policies against accepting documents containing photos because they tamper with efforts to eliminate hiring bias and can set the stage for potential discrimination lawsuits.

Things to remember

Many employers use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to scan resumes and separate out the most promising ones for the hiring manager to read. Keep any resume that gets uploaded as basic as possible. Columns, pictures, boxes, videos and anything else out of the ordinary run the risk of jumbling into nonsense or not even going through – making your document an incomplete mess.

Also, do not think of an unconventional resume as a free-for-all. Keep readability, professionalism and solid content top of mind. Going overboard with color and different fonts, cramming too much on a page, or putting in attention-getters that lack purpose will not advance your candidacy.

“The danger (of an unconventional resume) may be you might overdo the customization and instead make it harder for recruiters or hiring managers to acknowledge how you might be a good fit for the role,” Tam says. “For example, if you include a photograph or video in your resume but don’t have the basics in place, you may seem to lack focus and have challenges prioritizing the right things.”

And don’t be afraid to seek help from a professional or at least a resume template if you want to create something unconventional but lack knowledge on how to do it properly. A poorly constructed resume will only get you attention for all the wrong reasons.