Graphic Design Elements: When (and When Not) to Feature Them in Your Resume

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Most of the time, decorative elements help bring things to life, whether in a house, in the yard, or even on a document. However, resumes are generally an exception. Adding decorations to a resume can make it pretty, but it’s often a fast track to the trash bin. Hiring managers don’t look for pretty resumes—compelling content is what makes a resume beautiful to them. 

Graphic design elements can help your resume, but only if you approach them very carefully. If you have them on your resume, consult our resume experts to determine whether they help or hinder you. 

Here are some things to consider before adding graphics to your resume.

Drawbacks to using graphic elements

Hiring managers care about content—that’s what attracts them to your resume. Using graphics can detract from your content. Here are some reasons why using graphics can hurt your resume. 

They stump ATSs

Most companies nowadays use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to filter resumes before passing them to the hiring manager. The ATS is the first challenge your resume encounters—these programs scan resumes as they’re submitted and determine whether they’re good enough to send on to the human recruiter. It’s your responsibility to make sure that your resume includes the appropriate material to get past the ATS. 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll get through simply because you’re highly qualified. If you don’t follow specific guidelines, you can be rejected by the ATS despite your great qualifications. Most ATS software can’t process very well elements such as graphics, special fonts, or custom titles. If you include these elements, you run the risk of not passing this digital filter, which means your resume will never even make it to the hiring manager. 

They can blur the lines 

The purpose of your resume is to showcase your skills, qualifications, and achievements throughout your career. You may think incorporating a bar graph or something similar will streamline this information and help you attract the hiring manager’s attention. You’ll stand out, and the information will be easier to digest when presented in a graph, right? Not necessarily. Infographics can be confusing because hiring managers want to see the numbers and your accomplishments in each job. 

In general, it’s best to stick to the basics and make a bulleted list of accomplishments under each job. There’s a reason why that’s the standard. Besides, hiring managers sift through hundreds of resumes looking for certain pieces of information, and you’ll make their job a lot easier by putting that information in the places where they already know to look.

They distract from the content

The most important part of any resume is the content, so if the graphics distract from it, you shouldn’t include them. If you’re using a traditional resume, don’t try to display your creativity by totally switching up its design. When you look at your resume and the first thing you’re drawn to is the graphics on the page, don’t use them!

They might not even look good

Most people aren’t good at design. If you’re not a graphic designer or an artist, what makes you think you can create an aesthetically pleasing graphic resume that directs the hiring manager’s attention to the elements you want? Unless you’re an experienced designer, it’s probably best to steer clear of graphics on your resume.

Advantages to using graphics

There are times when using graphic elements is beneficial for a job applicant. It’s important to know when and how to use graphics in a way that enhances your resume. Here are some instances when using graphic elements is a good thing. 

To highlight your professional expertise

Professionals whose careers revolve around graphics (advertisers, artists, web designers, etc.) should consider using graphics in their resumes. When it comes to these fields, hiring managers do want to see whether you can use graphic elements to enhance content. 

Since using graphics is an integral part of the job, including them in your resume is a great way to prove you’re qualified for the position. However, even if you’re pursuing a career in graphic design and create a graphic resume, put together one without graphics as well. You want to be able to submit a clean resume if asked. Also, remember to keep it simple. Even in your graphic resume, the content is the main focus—the graphic elements should simply serve to highlight the information. 

To preview your portfolio

Generally, if you’re pursuing a career in visual arts, the hiring manager will eventually ask for your portfolio. However, you don’t have to wait until then to show off your artistic skills. By adding simple yet attractive graphics to your resume, you are, in a sense, giving a sneak peek of your portfolio. 

Make the design appealing enough for the hiring manager to want a look at your portfolio, but don’t just slap samples from your portfolio onto your resume. All you’re trying to do with your resume is give the hiring manager a quick taste of what your portfolio looks like, not actually present your portfolio. It’s a good idea to mimic the style and feel of your artwork, but make sure the graphics you add truly enhance your resume and aren’t just thrown in haphazardly to showcase your art.

To enhance your content

Do the design elements enhance the content of your resume? Even if you use graphics, they should never replace the written text. Keep the headings and layout of a standard resume. All your graphic elements should do is draw the hiring manager’s attention to the content on your resume, so use them intelligently and sparingly. Graphics have the power to make the hiring manager want to read your content by rendering your resume visually appealing without being overwhelming. 

Testing your graphics

On average, hiring managers only spend about 5-7 seconds on any given resume. Regardless of whether you’re using graphic elements, your job is to entice the recruiter to spend more time on your resume. 

To check if your resume has what it takes, fold it in half, set a timer for six seconds, and give it to a friend to look for these things:

  • Keywords from the job description
  • Achievements that prove your skills
  • A professional summary that highlights your qualifications

There’s no point in doing this test yourself—that’s like playing hide-and-seek alone. You know where all these elements are because you put together the resume, so getting a friend or a relative to help is key. If they can find these things within the six-second period, your resume may very well pass the test. If they struggle to locate some of these key elements, modify your resume.

If your friend couldn’t find all the necessary elements within the time limit, ask whether the graphics were distracting them from the content. In case they say yes, discard the graphic elements and opt for some of these simple formatting tricks:

  • Remove special fonts and use bold or italics instead
  • Remove large pictures and use an outside border instead
  • Remove unnatural formatting and use a simple format with shading instead

There are many ways to replace distracting graphic elements with simple ones and still win over the hiring manager.

Regardless of the kind of resume you’re writing, always prioritize the content. You never want the hiring manager to toss your resume aside because it’s so full of graphics that they can’t find the information they want. If you use graphic elements, make sure they enhance your content. Not certain if your graphics enhance your content? Get in touch with our resume experts for insight and advice.

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