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Articles / Majors & Careers / When Should You Deviate From the Standard Resume Format?

Feb. 14, 2019

When Should You Deviate From the Standard Resume Format?

When Should You Deviate From the Standard Resume Format?
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In a world of an ever increasing number of social media outlets, including the professional platform LinkedIn, recruiters have access to a lot more information about job candidates than ever before. Some platforms like About.me, ResumUP and PosterMyWall exist specifically to guide you through the creation of a digital resume. Yet, most job applications still require a standard resume, and let's be honest: No one likes writing those.

The purpose of such a resume is to highlight a candidate's relevant skills, experience and educational background and minimize personal details. While cultural fit and personality are shown to be important for a successful hiring decision, the required resume format has not yet caught up. In fact, most employers still prefer and expect that candidates submit traditional resumes. However, there are certain instances when a more creative approach may be appropriate.


When Targeting Positions in Creative Fields

When you are looking for opportunities in a creative field, such as marketing, design, social media, digital art or film, it is appropriate to showcase your creativity by crafting a unique resume. Start by asking yourself what the requirements for the role are and how you can use a nontraditional format to show reviewers you meet those requirements.

For instance, if you are applying for positions as a web designer, simply telling people what you've accomplished and what you can do may not be as powerful as showing them. The nontraditional resume in that case doubles as your professional portfolio, which highlights your abilities in a visual format. The key is to display the skills your target employers are looking for. Even a nontraditional resume needs to ultimately show your relevant background and skills, so you want the creative aspect of your document to serve a purpose.

When Employers Will Appreciate It

As you research target companies and conduct informational interviews with their employees, you may discover details about their culture and environment that inspire you to be more creative in your application documents. Be sure to check in with a trusted mentor for guidance as you work on your nontraditional resume. What you decide to do may range from adding a fun interest to a traditional resume, to integrating visuals such as tables and graphs, to choosing a completely different format that best represents your alignment with the target company and team you would join if hired.

This is exactly what a business student I worked with a few years ago did. Her dream was to own a pastry shop, and she was adamant about working at a favorite coffee shop so she could learn the ropes. She visited several locations in the Washington, D.C., area, identified a place that appealed to her and spent time getting to know its culture and employees. In doing that, she realized that the standard one-page, text-heavy, black and white resume would not work for her application. We chatted about the qualities and characteristics she had noticed that employees in the coffee shop valued. Subsequently, she created a visual resume that showed her qualifications, personality and genuine motivation to work at that coffee shop. She heard back immediately and interviewers mentioned being impressed not only by her creative approach, but also by the effort she put forth to emphasize how much she valued an opportunity with them.

When You Have Solid Idea

A creative resume works when it is intentional and well thought-out. Don't make a creative resume for the sake of being different; think carefully as you consider the best approach to format and content. If you have come across this interactive resume or the Amazon product resume, you know that veering off the traditional one-page Word document certainly benefited those two people. Robby Leonardi and Philippe Dubost took risks and created original content -- and those risks paid off. If, like them, you have a solid idea of how to make yourself stand out and are willing to take the risk, do so. Remember to make sure the information provided helps employers learn how you will bring value to their teams while the format shows your out-of-the-box way of thinking.

In addition to having a solid idea for a nontraditional resume, you may want to share that resume with as many people as possible. The way the hiring process works, you can't simply submit your nontraditional resume to a hiring manager; it would be more effective to first share it with a connection you have. This person can then encourage others -- especially those making final hiring decisions -- to consider it as well. You may also share your digital resume across a variety of social networks and let them do the heavy lifting so the opportunity comes to you, not the other way around.

Final Thoughts

If you are applying online and the job description asks for a resume in a specific format, you may want to follow the directions so your document isn't tossed. That said, you could make certain additions to help reviewers gauge skills that are better shown than written about. For instance, you now have the option to include in your resume a customized LinkedIn profile URL, which expands significantly on the one page resume and tells them much more about you. I work with graduate business students who need traditional resumes, but on their LinkedIn profiles, they venture to use media strategically and show a bit about themselves. One student added a recording of a recent piano recital (her own, of course!), another showed his passion for photography by uploading a portfolio of his best images, and yet another attached samples of her work as a marketing and social media officer for a student club. Many employers still value traditional resumes, so it doesn't hurt to have a polished copy, but don't be afraid to showcase your personality by complementing the traditional resume with an online profile or website.

Lastly, if you choose to use a nontraditional resume to apply for positions in an industry that wants traditional formats, it's even more important that you build meaningful connections and rely on referrals. Otherwise, even if you have the most original and effective resume, the right people may not get to see it when your only strategy includes sending applications into the online ether. Who sees your resume matters. A human resources manager may not be as appreciative of your creative attempt as the people in the department looking to fill the position. In addition, many employers still use applicant tracking systems (ATS) and since those capture text only, a visual resume will not make it through. Deviating from the standard resume format is ultimately a risk, but if you have a clear idea of why you are doing it and how to do it, you may end up finding your dream opportunity.

Written by

Krasi Shapkarova

Krasi Shapkarova

A longtime careers writer and coach, Krasi Shapkarova serves as an associate director of coaching and education at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in Washington, DC, and is also the editor-in-chief of Carey the Torch, the official blog of the Career Development office. She is a Certified Career Management Coach with The Academies, an MBTI Step I and Step II certified practitioner, and has completed training in the Career Leader assessment. Prior to joining the Carey Business School staff, Krasi worked as a counselor at the distance education department at Houston Community College. In that role, she assisted students with career exploration, degree planning, course selection and study skills. In addition, Krasi has extensive experience as a writing tutor assisting students with resumes, cover letters and scholarship essays. She also interned at Shriners Hospitals for Children and has a background in the non-profit sector. Krasi holds a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from the University of Houston-Clear Lake and a Master of Arts in International Human Rights from the University of Denver. When not in the office, Krasi enjoys hiking and camping.

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