The Hill Life: Redesigning Your Resume

Sep 19, 2012


In the current market, jobseekers are doing whatever they can to stand out from the pack.  Recently, I’ve read several articles advising applicants to reorganize and redesign their resumes to make them more visually appealing.  I’ve even seen advertisements for freelance graphic designers who take regular resumes, like the one on the left, and turn them into arts and crafts projects, like the resume on the right.

The redesign above is certainly eye-catching and unique.  And it probably would entice me to look a little harder at that person’s qualifications (esp. since most recruiters look at an applicant’s resume for 10 seconds or less).  But in a conservative environment like Capitol Hill or Big Law or the corporate world, would a resume like this get you notice for the right reasons?

I certainly think that there are some Chiefs of Staff and hiring managers who might think that this type of resume is immature or too artsy for a serious work environment.  But I also think that if it does get a potential employer to look a little harder, than it could be worth it. 

Much like last week, I’m interested to hear your thoughts.  Do you think jobseekers in more professional environments should stick with the tried and true or go for something different?  What impressions would you have of a person with a resume that was also an exercise in graphic design?

Looking for some more resume writing tips? Check out our Finding a Job series from 2011.


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  1. Anonymous says:

    I admit that this comment will make me traditional but I prefer the look of the “Before” resume. It's straightforward, clean and easy-to-read/find the key points/information. The look of the “After” resume reads/looks too much like a menu – and that is off-putting.

  2. A says:

    1) As soon as this loaded, I was really taken aback, because this is my boyfriend's name. It was a wtf? moment!

    2) I was recently going through a stack of resumes to fill a position, and there were a couple fairly artsy ones that did cause me to take a closer look. That said, I ultimately went with someone who had similar experience, but a more conservative style because I worried the artsy ones wouldn't be happy in a conservative environment.

    It all depends on your field and the atmosphere of a specific employer.

  3. r says:

    That's actually very interesting. I think the newer resume is much more eye catching, and easier to digest in 10 seconds. Traditional resumes are so text-heavy that it's often hard to quickly get a sense of a person's experience. I think a very conservative “design” could work, even on the Hill. But flowers and bright colors and fun objects would probably not help land the person a job.

  4. Em says:

    I love that you are asking this question! I saw the picture you included while cruising pinterest the other day, and it made me worry that my resume is too boring. However, I work in a very conservative environment, so you've reaffirmed my faith that my resume is ok!

  5. A says:

    I work in Biglaw and would strongly discourage anyone using the “After” style of resume. It would prevent a candidate from being taken seriously as it looks cartoonish. It would get extra attention – but not in a good way. It may be different in other fields such as advertising or graphic design.

  6. Katie says:

    I work as a recruiter and see on average 50 resumes a day. I think that the “After” one would make me look at it longer, and I think my hiring managers would think it is “fun,” but ultimately, we would go for the “Before.” It just looks more professional and the style of the “After” doesn't fit with our office personality…

  7. L says:

    Isn't there an in-between. No yellow aquiggles or circles, but the same concept of the second? If employers are looking longer but dismissing you based on the immature or artsy appearance – is there not a way to do the second concept but in a more professional style?

  8. Anna says:

    I'm with L. Would the “after” be more appealing if it was in black and white and didn't have the squiggles? It might have the same visual pop without looking silly, or it could just look jumbled. I don't know the answer, but I'd be intrigued to see what it would look like.

  9. Amanda says:

    I agree with L–it would be great to find some middle ground, incorporating some of the blocking or other elements of the 'after' design, but without the color and multiple shapes. But to be honest, I'd probably be too chicken to veer far from the 'before' style, which is pretty much how my resume looks. I work in government/educational policy, fwiw.

  10. EK says:

    I'd love to see something in between – I hate the text-heaviness of most traditional resume formats. The second layout without the color and extraneous graphics would appeal to me, and I'd appreciate a candidate who wanted to make sure I was able to get what I needed from the resume.

  11. Lauren says:

    NO NO NO NO NO! While the resume on the right IS more visually appealing, I think the vast majority of hiring managers are going to look at that and think that the candidate isn't confident that his or her accomplishments speak for themselves.

    Just check out — she has some great insights (for example –

  12. L says:

    I am a technical writer, so document design is very important in my industry. Though I don't love either resume, I'd definitely go with the one on the left. It is professional, easy-to-read, and would print correctly. The resume on the right is distracting, makes poor use of space (for example, the “Contact” box is unnecessarily large), and would probably print incorrectly due to the tiny margins. I imagine that the resume on the right would be more difficult for computer resume-parsing programs to read as well.

  13. Beth says:

    As a current job seeker who's tussled with this question several times during my search, it's a relief to hear people saying that the traditional resume style still wins out in most cases.

    I'd like to second (or third, or fourth) L's question with a particular eye for hiring managers reading this post: would an in-between version of the two resumes (say, with the visual blocking but without the colors and graphics) gain the same “boost” without being off-putting, or would the conservative formatting still win out?

    Thanks for the great post!

  14. R says:

    The one on the right is absolutely absurd for anyone who is trying to get a job outside of the field of graphic design.

  15. Liz says:

    I think it all depends on your field. I'm on the Hill and don't think the one on the right is appropriate for this work environment. My one exception would be if the person is applying for a social media position. In that case, I think the resume on the right demonstrates an understanding of what's current and visually appealing, skills that are desirable in social media candidates. Likewise, if you're applying to a graphic design firm or to a magazine's art team, I would think the resume on the right might be appropriate and helpful in demonstrating a visual/creative skill set. If it's a traditional environment like the Hill, however, you need to keep it simple and traditional in order to show that you understand the environment.

  16. J says:

    I agree with L. I'd prefer something in between. Sometimes resumes are so text heavy, a nice format makes a big difference.

    Mostly, I just prefer resumes that are spell checked, grammatically correct, and easy to read. People should invest in a good copy editor instead of a graphic designer. I was hiring for a part time administrative assistant position recently and I could not believe the number of resumes I received that weren't spell checked or had inconsistent punctuation/spacing/fonts etc.. Some of them were from people currently in Master's degree programs!! The corporate recruiter had even narrowed the applicants down already and only sent me the best ones. I was a bit outraged at how little effort it seemed people had put into their resume. Also – I thought the rule was that your resume should be one page, narrowed down to what is relevant for the position you are applying for. All of the resumes I received for this position were 2+ pages and every role/responsibility/task under the sun was listed for each job they had worked at.

  17. lolabolt says:

    First: I don't love either option. My resume falls somewhere in between (very functional, but still a bit pretty).

    I think design is important in any professional document, not just resumes. You need to showcase the information in a visually appealing way, but keep it concise and easy to follow. My personal resume isn't particularly fancy, but I do use two fonts (one for headers, one for text) and 3 columns to separate things out.

    When I created my resume, I first went for content and then edited it down to what was distinctly important vs. what was unnecessary. Once I was confident in the content of my resume, I began thinking about design. A truly designed resume isn't necessary for any jobs I've applied for, but I think a resume that shows some thought has gone into design is important. I put thought into the design/presentation of my professional documents and school work as well.

    Basically: your content should be most important (obviously, but too often forgotten.) Design of the document goes a long way and should lean toward making a resume less text heavy and easy on the eyes. I am a huge fan of bullets, not large chunks of text on resumes.

    When I worked at a recruiting firm, I saw all kinds of horrific resumes. Some had SO MUCH TEXT for so little experience it was mind-boggling. Some listed hobbies (I think this is ridiculous.) I remember receiving one that was a .jpg file and made to look like the DOS progra (black background with green text.) You couldn't read it, but even if you could, who would interview that person?!?!

  18. Rachel says:

    Have to agree with the other comments, the one on the right is just a little too “out there” for most DC work environments. I cannot see my lobby shop looking twice at the resume on the right. Maybe in a more fun work environment like Google or Apple, but not on the Hill or most of DC!

  19. K... says:

    There must be an option in between these two. Just because one is really bad, doesn't mean the other one is good.

    I actually love the design on the right. But it's just too gimmicky for a resume, unless you're in a really creative field. The colors, shapes, and shading make it look like a menu from a chain restaurant.

    But the two-column design is growing on me. I might try that out on my next resume. I wonder how it would look on a resume with a lot more experience…?

  20. K... says:

    Anybody notice the “About” section on these? I've never seen that title before — is that a legit option on a professional resume? It seems so much better than the stupid “Summary” or outdated “Objective” section.

  21. m says:

    I work in a large corporate environment and, all else being equal, I would be impressed with something more like the After. I work in analytics and one of the major issues – if not the major issue – we find ourselves up against is how to compellingly communicate information. My company, despite its size, has been coming around to encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit and something like the After resume (though I'd probably prefer they pull back just a little bit; it's a little too design-y/ graphics-heavy) suggests the person thinks like my industry is thinking. Not to mention, pure analytics people are often not the most creative types and they tend to struggle with business communication/ the “big picture”, so that After would stand out even more to me.

  22. m says:

    K – I have a personal statement on my resume. It speaks to what my major skills sets are (which are analytics-related, but distilled down into plain English and in a way that I hope differentiated me from other nerds), plus what excites me (e.g. collaborative environments, helping businesses think smarter about their customers).

    I also have a section for general skills that I have actual practice in (bulleted list, e.g. creating vision from ambiguity, managing on-shore & offshore teams, etc) before I ever get to my direct work experience.

    Objectives are lame and 99% of the time catered to the job people are applying for. Well, no shit you're interested in a management position in financial services risk – why else would you be applying?

  23. I think a medium between the incredibly verbose left and cartoonish right works best. From what I've seen the left side style of resume is the traditional style , but on its way out. It's a remnant of a time when people wrote their resumes on a type writer / the early days of word processing and there was no wiggle room for more sophisticated structuring. With the evolution of word processing and design programs, I'd recommend something more structured and modern but I'd avoid the multitude of colors, squiggles, boxes, circles and extreme fonts that the right example above has. Think dividing the sections as clearly as the top right one has but consider a one column style and using only blue straight lines. Less catchy header, too.

  24. JB says:

    As a recent college grad and job seeker, I felt like my old resume was being overlooked. I knew I could land a job – I just wasn't getting to the interview phase. I decided to redesign my resume. I experimented with a little bit of color to divide the sections and I gave it a cleaner, more modern design. Within days of using my new resume, I began to receive interview requests (finally!). I ended up getting many phone and in-person interviews using my new resume and after a month or so I received multiple job offers.

    A simple re-design made a world of a difference for me!

    I wouldn't suggest doing anything ridiculous or outlandish, but if you can make yourself stand out in a positive way, why not? In this job market, what do you have to lose?

  25. Emily says:

    I think that the original is far better for the legislature and third house. This is not directly related to this post, but does anyone know of a currently operating resume service? The link to Fishbowl doesn't work and I have not found anything googling. Anyone have any suggestions for a comparable service.

  26. Anonymous says:

    While I almost agree with the idea of consider to whom you are sending the resume to (in order to tailor it to said organization), I still think it's best to err on the side of traditional/professionalism. As another commenter said that it should be the experiences and qualification that should do the talking, not the design, which is risky and may be distracting, if not done well or successfully. If there is distracting design, it will make me wonder if one is trying to make up for a lack of skills and/or experiences. That said, I do think that even creative positions may often be better off with using a more traditional format in the resume. Often they have portfolios or will be given a “test” to illustrate their creativity. So, the question remains how to make your resume a standout? Think outside the box within a traditionally-formatted resume, always keeping in mind that it should be easy for the reader to see the qualifications/experiences and should not be complicated or maze-like. Those are the most standout resumes, IMHO. That and not forgetting to proofread!

  27. Caroline says:

    My first thought was that the right resume is better. It shows that the applicant values the recruiter's time and has accordingly put their resume in a format that is easy to read and allows someone to quickly zero in on whatever piece of information they're looking for.

    At second glance I noticed the colors, the squiggly line borders, the graphics under the Skills section. These things are, perhaps, a little whimsical and should be removed. But they're certainly not offensive. Being able to produce well-formatted documents is a nice skill to have no matter what job the applicant is applying for, so I'd look favorably on someone who obviously has that ability. I do agree with the person who said he should've kept the standard-sized margins. And his name really does not need to be that big.

  28. Sarah says:

    As an economic-analyst-turned-graphic-designer, I get this question all the time. To be honest, I think everyone should have two versions: a classic resume, and a resume that really pushes the envelope.

    Something many people forget is that being creative is a hard skill, not just a measure of artistic ability. Creativity is how you, as a problem solver, respond in any particular situation. Most employers are looking for someone who will bring something new to the table, who will know how far to push the envelope, and who will know how to get things done.

    That being said, I've been on both ends of the hiring spectrum. If you know your audience, your resume should be as creative as you can be without scaring someone off. Whether you're using Adobe Illustrator or Microsoft Word, make sure your resume looks like it was formatted by an expert in that program. Anything less than that will probably end up in the trash.

  29. MT says:

    I believe the after resume is an eye-catcher. However, a job seeker should cater to their audience. If it's a conservative work environment like the Hill or a law office, the before resume is a safe bet. However, if they are applying for a creative or fun position like a childcare provider or an art seller, then I would go with the after to express my personality.

  30. Jayne says:

    I concur with the previous comment from the person who works in “biglaw”; if my office received any resumes looking like the re-vamped one of the right, it would go right into the trash, whether it was for a front desk receptionist, paralegal, summer student or new associate.

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