Should You Create an Instagrammable Resume?
Wondering if you should get on board with a graphics-filled, poster-esque resume? I share my thoughts on the Wall Street Journal article that brings the murky matter of a bitmoji’s place in a resume into sharp relief.
Have you seen an “Instagrammable” resume? Chip Cutter describes them in a recent Wall Street Journal article. If you are in transition, you may be wondering whether you need to get one to make an inroad with a prospective employer. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out the Wall Street Journal post. The business world is seeing an onrush of resumes that look like posters, featuring everything from trendy colors like mint and rose gold to cartoons — yes, cartoons (enter bitmojis like the one I've included of myself above) — of the applicants and other graphics. On one hand, fans insist that these resumes are absolute beauties that are attractive and modern and that help candidates distinguish themselves with a specific brand aesthetic on the market. Detractors, on the other hand, protest that they run afoul the standards of professionalism that the business world demands. So…what’s the deal? Is there a verdict?
All you job seekers out there may be wondering (rather reasonably, I think) whether you need to up your game and get one of these bad boys. After all, you want to demonstrate relevancy in your candidacy, and keeping up with trends in applications is one way of showing that you are with the times. If these flashy numbers represent a real departure from what you know to be a typical resume, the job search has been a bit of a bear, or both, the Instagrammable resume trend and resulting pressure to jump on the bandwagon may even stress you out a bit. Let’s be real — job seekers face a tough variable-control field with their search. It is impossible to control all the factors that hinder and help candidates, and it can be tough to know for certain whether something in what they can control — their applications materials — is felling their candidacies. (The struggle is real.) It takes a careful combo of intuition, observation, evaluation, and tracking to know whether some item in your resume or cover letter is hurting your chances, but whether you should be using an Insta-worthy resume isn’t one of those things over which you should agonize.
Let’s talk about whether ramping up your resume to match this fad is worth your time and efforts.
But First, Let’s Talk Applicant Tracking Systems
The Wall Street Journal article points out these resumes are not at all compatible with the dreaded applicant tracking systems (ATS). Quite right. If you choose to develop one of these resumes and you intend to apply for a position through an ATS, then you’ll need to be prepared for the reality that an ATS won’t be able to read it, and what the ATS shows a hiring professional won’t be the beautiful bit of design you worked to create. (And frankly, lots of formatting isn’t compatible with a typical ATS, so even if you have a more traditional resume that you put together in Word, you may still have formatting issues (such as from tables and other items) that an ATS won’t be able to scan.)
Remember, There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Resume
Something else that is important to remember is that there is no one-size-fits-all resume that is ideal for every application. No one combination of employment history, bitmojis, and other details, or cool illustrations exists that will get you in for an interview for every single job for which you apply. So, Instagrammable resume or no, don’t expect that all you must do is put together the perfect resume once, and then you’ll be set on the search.
Your applications should be targeted to each position for which you are applying, and to be able to apply to multiple positions efficiently, you need to be able to adjust your resume quickly and easily. If you invest in having someone else design your resume so that it has a more modern or infographic aesthetic, you may not have the design tools you need to make any changes to it. If you make one yourself, you may find that it is difficult to make necessary changes quickly without interfering with the formatting.
Your Audience Should Be First, Last, Always
If you’ve followed along with my other blog posts, you’ll know that one of my pieces of advice for writing a kick-ass cover letter is to remember that it’s not about you. It’s about the employer. The employer is the one with the need for a professional who can help the company function optimally, and a good cover letter is all about the employer and the employer’s need for someone with specific qualifications and characteristics.
The same piece of advice absolutely follows for resumes, so if you are trying to figure out whether you need to update your resume to something Insta-fabulous, ask yourself — What does your audience (that is to say, the employer) want and expect from candidates? And, further to that aim — If your resume is surprising to the hiring manager or recruiter who looks at it, does it defy that person’s expectations in a good way or a bad way? As I say in my presentations, is it good weird or bad weird? The style of resume you choose to use needs to help you do two things simultaneously. One, it needs to outline your qualifications for a role in a way that is engaging and easy to understand, and two, it needs to help you stand out from others competing for the same role while also demonstrating that you are a fit for the industry and culture of the role and the employer. This is a tall order, but not impossible. Resumes that are a little different but in a way that helps candidates achieve this sort of different, but not too different paradise are “good weird.” Resumes that suggest a candidate doesn’t understand the industry or what plays well in that industry might help the resume stand out in the crowd, but they may give the employer the wrong impression of the candidate — that he or she doesn’t know the field, its culture, or that the candidate doesn’t take him or herself seriously. Those resumes are “bad weird.”
If you are trying to figure out whether you need to update your resume to something Insta-fabulous, ask yourself — What does your audience (that is to say, the employer) want and expect from candidates?
Knowing your audience is key to helping you get to “good weird.” Audience analysis tells you whether a splashy, graphics-heavy resume will help you land your next role. If you’ve seen the trend that Chip Cutter outlines in the Wall Street Journal, and the trend has given you pause or has even caused you a little stress, then ask yourself those questions. Some professionals are in roles where a more Instagrammable resume makes sense. Some creatives and those looking to make a foray into industries that skew more rebelliously or are known for nonconformity and praise risk takers might be environments where these types of application materials are commonplace, and features that are a bit too off-the-wall for other spaces are just what you need. If you don’t know how the employer would feel about seeing less-traditional illustrations and graphics on a resume over a black and white Word file, then that is where you need to start. Don’t commit to a making a new version of your resume unless you are sure it will further your candidacy.
If you don’t know how the employer would feel about seeing a more infographic resume over a more traditional Word file, then that is where you need to start. Don’t commit to a making a new version of your resume unless you are sure it will further your candidacy.
If you are going to play an angle as a part of your strategy to stand out positively to an employer, then you need to lean in and do it well. Once you determine the sort of style of resume that would work well for a given employer, you need to understand it well enough to execute it impeccably. If you really want to apply to a position, but you don’t have some of these audience-analysis details, or those things are tough to discern, then err on the side of formality. (That means no bitmojis.)
Don’t Let Form Override Function on Your Resume
I think it’s important, too, that you don’t get caught up in the form of your resume and forget it’s function. As fun and engaging as illustrations can be, and as much as they can add visual intrigue and balance to your piece’s look and feel, you shouldn’t be adding them to your resume if they aren’t providing hiring managers and recruiters with information that is essential for them to determine if you are a candidate they want to interview. You don’t want to draw in the eyes of your reader with an engaging graphic that doesn’t share substantive information with the reader that is germane for the role or how you are a match. Lots of infographic resumes have spots for references (I think this is a waste — if a recruiter wants them, he or she will ask), hobbies, and cartoons or photos of the candidates that I think you should skip. (It’s not that the hiring folks don’t care about your hobbies. It’s that they don’t care yet. Outside-of-work interests are the sort of thing to discuss at the interview stage when the interviewer is evaluating you as a whole person and not just who you are on paper. Let’s leave what’s on paper to the items that are critical for getting you in to an in-person situation! Only include hobbies if they directly highlight your suitability for a role. As for a photo of yourself — you don’t want to give recruiters information that they can use, even subconsciously, to discriminate against you. As the Wall Street Journal points out, some hirers are actively looking to block that stuff out so that bias doesn’t prevent them from recruiting the best-possible candidates. Don’t put information on your resume that could prevent you from getting an interview you deserve). Keep it direct and relevant. Your readers don’t have time to look at anything else, nor should you distract them from what they need to know to put your resume in the "yes" pile.
Resume Design Exists on a Spectrum
My last thought to share with you is that this issue isn’t a matter of making one choice or another. Options for designing your resume are countless. You aren’t choosing between Instagrammable, infographic resumes and more traditional, text-based resumes. You can create traditional pieces using design software like Illustrator, Photoshop, or InDesign, and you can add graphics and other visually intriguing items to a Word document to spruce up the look and feel of a resume. Resumes exist on a design spectrum. As much as I present all of this as a matter of choosing between two styles, it’s more a question of choosing the exact right style that suits your candidacy, how you want to present your qualifications on paper, and the professionals who will be looking at it. More than likely, that style is somewhere in between the two extremes. The bottom line is that whatever you choose, you should strategize the look of your resume based on the company, position, and industry where you are applying. Audience should be first, last, always.
The bottom line is that whatever you choose, you should style your resume based on the company, position, and industry where you are applying.