The fashion for the creative CV is dead, and overly zealous attempts to spice yours up may give the impression that you’re facetious or, worse, a rampant individualist.
Perhaps Photoshop is to blame. The visual revolution boomed, infographics became our new best friends, and, all of a sudden, the HR department wanted in on the action, too. For some time, urban wisdom had it that the one thing you should really aim for when job hunting was to complete that trickiest and most elusive of tasks: stand out from the crowd.
After hours spent trawling through job listings, however, when the moment to click “apply now” finally arrives, it’s worth stopping to think for a moment before you send.
The fashion for adding bells and whistles to your job application is, in fact, rapidly dying out. What’s more, doing so inappropriately may give out the message that you’re facetious and, even worse, a rampant individualist who will have problems adapting to company culture. A creative approach to the job application process is also often unnecessary and a waste of time, especially if the kind of creativity you’re displaying has no relation to the job itself.
Particularly cringe-inducing examples of the creative job application include the accounts candidate who drew a graphic representation of their work history, and the financial wannabe whose CV required that interviewers correctly complete a crossword to enter. Did any of these candidates get the job? No, because their applications were unnecessarily complicated and, well, wacky.
In the vast majority of professions, instead of wanting to stand out from the crowd, what you really want to do is be the leader of the crowd. Distinguishing yourself from everyone else is not about being something completely different, but being the same as all the others – only one step better.
It’s surprising just how many people fail to take this no-brainer into account. If your employers ask for three years’ experience, look for a way to demonstrate that you’ve got it – and more. If they’re looking for a candidate who’s good at dealing with difficult people, explain why you can do just that standing on your head. No more, and no less.
In 99% of cases, the standard format will do – contact details, education, qualifications, experience etc. When it comes to drafting the text of your application, although it’s probably wise to stay away from using the same tired expressions as everyone else, be careful of the tone you use. Avoid anything that’s written sarcastically or in jest, or is overly flowery, unless you’re going for a job as an in-house comedian or poet. And yes, you should print it on white or (if you’re feeling particularly radical) cream paper.
Exceptions to note might include those looking for jobs as a graphic designer, art director or photographer, who may want to use their CV to showcase some of their talent. Remember, however, that this is still an official, professional document - beware of letting too much unruly wackiness slip through the net.
Another exception is situations in which potential future employees are explicitly asked to display creative attributes. Quirky, for example, as the name might suggest, looks for something a little special in its job application process, asking candidates to answer the question “What makes you unique? Try to be creative and say something that will catch our eye!” in three lines or less. A recent advert by Penguin Press, which tells its own story and finishes by asking job applicants to “impress a penguin”, might be a trigger for a similarly eccentric response.
When it doubt, however, play it safe and let your skills, qualifications and experience speak for themselves. If you’re not explicitly asked to do so, adding extra gimmicks to your CV might result in its being sent directly to a particularly circular kind of filing system: the dustbin.
Have you ever enjoyed success with a creative CV? Share your secrets here.