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Visual resumes

Infographic courtesy Chris Rowe

Ways to take your first impression to the next level.

Tired of the same old thing? So are HR representatives, hiring managers and recruiters. After endless stacks of black-and-white cover letters and resumes, they long to see something that stands out from the crowd. The good news is that—with a little effort—it could be yours.

Thanks to innovations in technology, average job seekers now have access to software programs they can use to bring their resumes to life. “They are affordable [and] often free and don’t require advanced technical skills to use or create,” explains Hannah Morgan, career expert and author of the forthcoming book, The Infographic Resume: How to Create a Visual Portfolio that Showcases Your Skills and Lands the Job.

Scott Schwertly, owner of presentation design company Ethos3 Communications, noticed visual resumes hitting the scene as early as 2007, and he believes the far-from-mainstream trend is only going to continue to increase in popularity.

Visual resume styles

Visual resumes range from the bare bones to the elaborate. Some candidates stick with ink and paper but kick it up a notch by turning their black-and-white text into designed pieces that use graphics to illustrate key information. Another basic version of a visual resume is the online portfolio, which “serves as a platform to show samples of work, [a candidate’s] most current resume and most importantly to acquire top billing in search engine results,” notes Morgan.

A close cousin to this is a social media splash page. “These are usually much simpler than an online portfolio or website,” says Morgan. “They often link to social network sites and summarize key information. These social bios also provide a snapshot of what an individual is saying online [in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn status updates]. ”If a job candidate is posting career-relevant content on these websites, they can “provide proof of thought leadership, communication skills and much more,” she adds.

For his part, Schwertly is familiar with a lot of slide show-style resumes. His company won awards in SlideShare’s World’s Best Presentation Contest for its presentation-style resume, Meet Henry, and designs presentations for some of the world’s biggest companies, as well as for job seekers looking to wow prospective employers. “Over the course of 30-50 slides, [job candidates] tell their story in two to three minutes,” he says. “It obviously makes a dramatic impact.”

Another style of visual resume is the video. Though videos have the benefit of showing hiring managers an almost-live glimpse of a candidate, the medium does have its drawbacks. “Videos can be tricky because not everyone has the ability to perform well on camera,” cautions Morgan.

How to go visual

“Always remember, an employer wants to hire someone who can solve their problems,” notes Morgan. When done well, visual resumes offer opportunities to do that in a more compelling way than their traditional counterparts. The most important part, according to Schwertly, is “knowing how to tell an effective story about yourself,” one that draws the audience in and makes them feel a connection to you in some way.

Regardless of which style of visual resume you create, proper planning is key to ensure you stay on point and communicate clearly why a company should hire you. Schwertly prefers a low-tech approach: “Simply a pen and paper or a white board—it doesn’t hurt to sit down and mind map,” he advises. “Then and only then should you turn on the camera” or create any other type of visual resume.

He also thinks it’s OK to get a bit personal in this style of resume, which lends itself well to a more intimate tone. “I don’t think it hurts to talk about your passions and who you are as a person,” he says. “It gives you a human element that people crave.”

Visual resumes often boil down to a thumbnail when you’re posting them on video, file sharing or social networking website or emailing them to contacts. If you aren’t grabbing your audience with this thumbnail, your efforts to stand out may be for naught. “Make sure it’s captivating enough that someone wants to view [your visual resume],” stresses Schwertly.”Be bold with how you’re branding it.”

The most effective way to know if you’re engaging your target and selling yourself to the best of your ability? Test your resume. “Just like with anything in marketing, [sending it] to a test group or focus group is key,” he notes.

When they work … and when they don’t

If you’re considering getting creative with your resume, it’s important to note that your showpiece won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution to your job-hunting needs. “These visual resumes can be great networking tools, branding tools and visual supplements,” advises Morgan. “Use [them] purposefully, and know [they are] not going to replace the traditional resume, especially when applying for a job through applicant tracking systems. Human resources also prefers the traditional text resumes.”

When should you employ your visual version? “Non-traditional resumes have been successful when used to catch the attention of hiring managers in smaller companies or in marketing or creative roles,” says Morgan.

Schwertly concurs, adding that quality counts when you’re getting creative. If you don’t have the skills to create your own visual resume, find someone who does so you can feel confident that the final product reflects the image you want to portray to employers. “If you have the time and the know-how to do it correctly, it’s a value add,” he says.

On the flip side, if you’re relying on an overused template or formula for your visual resume or if it simply isn’t coming together the way you hoped, it’s time to rethink your approach. “Don’t bother doing it if you can’t execute it well,” he warns. “In that case, you don’t want to diminish your level of credibility. When in doubt, don’t do it.”

When you want to stand out, though, it can be worth taking a risk and trying something memorable in your career search. Sums up Schwertly, “There are times when you want to blend in with the crowd, but job hunting is definitely not one of them.”  

How to own the visual resume

Here are some tips for how to take creative license with your resume—without getting it revoked!


•    Create a plan for your visual resume so it communicates all that you have to offer employers.

•    Keep quality at the forefront so your visual resume is memorable for all the right reasons.

•    Use online tools to simplify the process, including, and, which draws from your LinkedIn profile to create a visual resume that wows.


•    Don’t think your visual resume replaces your traditional one. Ideally, they complement one another to highlight your skills in the best possible light.

•    Don’t ad lib on camera. Practice, practice, practice so your final video comes off as polished and confident, not meandering and comical.

•    Don’t be afraid to take a chance. A visual resume shows your creative and bold side, something just about any employer would value.