Venkat Srivinisan is a data analytics expert with Ph.D. in computer science. He exudes personality, goodwill, energy and humor. His resume, although impressive, didn't match up with his colorful, energetic and entrepreneurial personality. Though filled with impressive accomplishments (he founded T-Cube, a software company that grew to $25 million within eight years; then in 2011 he sold T-Cube and founded a consulting company, which grew to $8 million and 10 employees) his professionally written, "standard" black-and-white resume didn't fully capture his potential.
Srivinisan aspires to leave entrepreneurship behind and join a corporation where he can focus on research as a CTO or R&D director, and challenged professional resume writer and career coach Donald Burns of Executive Promotions, LLC to create a unique, colorful resume that would more effectively tell his story.
"Because he was re-entering the corporate world after 20 years, Venkat wanted a memorable, high-impact resume that communicated his leadership, creativity, and accomplishments. As an entrepreneur, he embraces new ideas in all areas of life -- including his resume -- so we deployed four creative elements: color, page design, graphics and personality; and his personal brand," Burns says.
Many professionals, especially those in technical areas like engineering, IT, and finance, aren't aware that they can use color, graphics and creative formatting to inject personality into their resume to make a bold personal statement that can catch the eye of recruiters and hiring managers and open doors to potential opportunities, Burns says. While years ago, these graphical enhancements were strongly discouraged, the old rules and taboos are fading fast.
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Substance and style
"Your resume must make an immediate impact -- within a few seconds -- so graphical enhancements can help catapult your resume to the top of the pile. These tactics are not for everybody. They only work when you pack your resume with success stories and execute the design flawlessly," Burns says.
To use these tactics successfully, you must meet some prerequisite conditions: First, you must never forget to back up style with substance. While bright colors, graphics and flashy formatting may get your resume a second glance, if you're lacking in achievements, accomplishments or success stories, you'll find these embellishments will backfire, Burns says. Graphics are actually slower and more difficult to read than text, but they definitely can hook the reader and make your resume more visually interesting. Just make sure you're using titles and captions to amplify your message, not distract from it; colors and graphics should be "window dressing" that draws the reader's attention to the message you packed into your title or caption, he says.
"You always must show great results for employers or clients, and frame them as success stories -- usually some variation of challenge, action, and result. No resume -- either plain or graphically enhanced -- can succeed without these. If your company promoted you or honored you with an award, be sure to tell the success story behind it," he says.
Second, you must have the "right" career. While color and graphics aren't out of the ordinary in creative fields like art, design and even marketing and sales, they can be a great differentiator in the fields of IT, engineering and science, too, if used correctly.
A more casual, conversational writing style can make your resume seem more approachable and inviting to recruiters or hiring managers, and can tie in your hard-copy resume with your social media presence, Burns says.
"Social media demands that you and your resume are memorable; it's not OK anymore if your resume is boring, because it might not get the attention it deserves. LinkedIn and your resume are two sides of the same coin, and you need both for a comprehensive job search. LinkedIn is great for showing up in Web searches, and your resume is for one-on-one communication and confidentiality. LinkedIn uses color, graphics, photos and conversational writing, and resumes are finally catching up," Burns says.
You also must figure out the best way to deliver your out-of-the-ordinary resume to avoid being rejected by an applicant tracking system (ATS). Srivinisan had the right career, for sure, and with Burns helping, was able to execute on using the creative enhancements successfully.
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When you use color, graphics or creative formatting, you can expect your resume will garner extra scrutiny, since you've thrown yourself and your career into the spotlight. Your boldness will trigger instant likability or ridicule, depending on how well you execute your ideas, so it's important to get the execution exactly right, Burns says.
"'Don't go crazy' is my number-1 rule for using color and graphics on resumes. When I show people what's possible and acceptable, they often overdo it -- they can't stop themselves! The same applies to the summary; you can inject some personality by writing in a conversational style, like you would on LinkedIn, but don't be overly casual," Burns says.
Injecting your personality and even a dash of humor into your resume projects confidence and likability, as Burns demonstrates with Srivinisan's summary paragraph and top headline. But don't overdo it, he warns, since a little bit of personality in such a professional document can very quickly cross the line into "unprofessional." If you don't feel you can pull this off, just skip it -- stick to a more professional, formal style.
There's a full set of color, graphics and design tools within Microsoft Word, and you should certainly experiment to find out if any of these options can help make your resume even more powerful.
"Click the INSERT tab, located on the top Menu Bar, between HOME and DESIGN, and you'll find dozens of tools, options and sub-menus. For example, there are options to include tables, pictures, shapes, smart art, screen capture, text boxes, Word art and drop cart. Nearly all of the graphics in Srivinisan's resume were created using Microsoft Word. You'll also find hundreds of video tutorials on YouTube, covering every aspect of MS Word graphics for everyone from beginner to expert," Burns says.
Finally, remember that including graphics, color and flashy formatting won't do you any good if your resume never makes it to a hiring manager or recruiter. Graphics and fancy formatting, including text boxes in MS Word, do not play well with an applicant tracking systems (ATS), so it's best to send these types of resume s to a human connection first, Burns says. It's also helpful to submit resume s in PDF format to preserve any formatting so your carefully crafted document doesn't get jumbled.
The new IT resume breaks some old taboos, such as graphics, conversational language, a fancy layout and use of colors. In years past, creative approaches led to mixed results or outright rejection. But nowadays, the creative approach can catapult your resume to the top and get you the recognition you deserve.