Unique Resumes: How Far Is Too Far?

Simple cardboard box
Get out of the box!

One thing that I’ve noticed in sessions with students consistently since I started career advising is a hesitance in making their resume “stand out” visually.  It’s frequently seen as a risk – that if one too many steps away from ‘normal’ is taken, the seriousness of the document will be somehow irrevocably compromised.

It’s an understandable fear, if not slightly misplaced.  But there is an equal if not greater risk involved in staying too deep “inside the box,” at least in individualistic western cultures built around the idea of the individual as a unique entity.  We operate as if a solid boundary between self and others exists, whereas in more collectivistic cultures that boundary tends to be fluid, permeable.  Leaving aside any philosophical qualms I have about “materialism as a means to convey identity,” people go to many lengths to establish their individuality in everyday life, from the clothes they wear, to the music to they listen to, to the profile pictures they display on Facebook.

Why the hesitation on resumes?

I’ve always believed that one’s writing expresses their personality, no matter the context.  If it doesn’t, that means it’s either bad writing, or an Ikea instruction manual.  A resume is, primarily, a written document.  Therefore, how it’s written will communicate something about you, whether you want to or not.  Think about it – can you read someone else’s resume without imagining what that person might look like?  How they might talk?  Whether they’re quiet and reserved, boisterous and outgoing, or somewhere in-between?

One of the effects of not standing out with your resume is that your personality is stifled.  Your image in the reader’s mind is bland, generic.  You become more number than person (bet I know a few students who know what that feels like).

So it’s a good idea to stand out.  Be different.  But how far is too far?


For the most part, I think the above resume is genius.  There are a few things I don’t like: the content in the ‘Character Information’ section contains a glaring spelling error, and how can you be an orc with white skin?

Nonetheless, the guy clearly loves gaming, and he’s not ashamed of the fact that it’s obvious he was/is a huge Dungeons and Dragons fan.  But what’s also obvious is the fact that this resume is going to STAND OUT!!!  Especially if he’s applying to a job at a gaming company, which he PROBABLY IS!!!  ISN’T THAT EXCITING??!!  If you can’t tell, that resume makes me excited (I’m also excited that I was able to get a D&D reference into another post).

There’s a bunch more examples of really, really outside of the box digital resumes here. To be sure, some of them would fall into the category of going “too far” in the direction of uniqueness for uniqueness’ sake.  As much as I may love playing Mariokart, for example, I’m not about to design a resume that looks like a racetrack if I’m applying for a job as an accountant or a lawyer.

It’s not just the field you’re in that impacts how far out of the box you can go.  I think what constitutes “too far” depends on a few other intangibles.  Generational factors may have an effect, as baby boomers who grew up with a different mindset about hiring practices may be less than impressed by creative flare if it comes at the expense of conventionality.  Gen X makes up a significant chunk, if not the majority, of who makes hiring decisions right now, and I would wager they would sit somewhere in the middle in this debate. Gen Y, or the millenials, as we are often called, are the most likely to be impressed by interactive, innovative, and creative resumes, and it won’t be long until we comprise the majority of hiring decision makers.

Confidence also plays a role.  Just like in an interview setting, if you’re not coming across as confident about the way you’re presenting yourself on a resume, even at the level of the design choices you make, you’re unlikely to make a positive impression.

Lastly, congruence – also known as genuineness – should always be a consideration.  I’ve written about acknowledging oneself on this blog before, and this is related.  In fact, I just spoke about this very issue with a client in regards to their resume, as I have with many clients before.  The resume is a very personal document.  It should reflect who you are and advocate your key strengths.  Just as I would tell someone to leave duties they didn’t enjoy doing off their resume, I wouldn’t recommend someone use a design they felt didn’t resonate with them – be it their personality, their core values, or something less definable.  You’re going too far if your resume no longer feels like it’s you (the you that you’ve acknowledged to yourself is you) on the page/screen.

Is that such a crazy line of thinking?  Or have I gone too far…?

*Cross-posted at the Career Services Informer.

Images: here and here.