Your Resume Shouldn’t Play Games

Why unconventional resumes drive hiring managers and recruiters nuts.

Recruiters are no strangers to goofy resumes, some more off the wall than others (scented parchment, anyone?). Unconventional resumes are frequently featured in news reports and in social media as being innovative and clever and successfully landing professionals great new jobs. However, most hiring managers and recruiters find them unacceptable and 99 times out of 100 will request a standard Word version resume instead. It’s far better to go the traditional route than to be outlandish to get attention.

But before you dismiss these warnings as irrelevant to your own, tamer resume, read on. Resume tricks employers reject can be as subtle as tinkering with your text size. Recruiters, resume pros, and hiring managers pretty much loathe them all.

They don’t want to work to figure you out

As a hiring manager, unconventional resumes don’t work for several reasons and it’s not always aesthetics. Often, these resumes have poor usability: they simply make the hiring manager work too hard, either by forcing them to click through websites, piece together information that is collected in unusual formats, or focusing too much on style over substance.

By making employers search to find what they need, you are far more likely to see your resume rejected.

An unconventional approach also breaks the hiring manager’s process. Instead of the typical PDF or Word document, a hiring manager has to put some energy into reviewing an unconventional resume to uncover what they need and many people will just dismiss it out of hand as too time consuming.

The old hide-the-work-gap trick

The most common trick is when job seekers try to cover up work-history gaps by omitting years of employment or by submitting a functional resume that leaves out a chronological job list.

It never works because someone always asks about the timeline; it’s often the first question to come up. And not seeing a chronological format upfront makes a hiring manager suspicious from the start.

Tricks don’t make up for lack of experience

One hiring manager recalled looking for a lower-level software/firmware programmer. One resume that stood out was printed on thick, beige, textured parchment with brown ink, three pages long and sent in a 9-by-12-inch envelope instead of being folded. HR staff noticed that one stack of resumes had a particular odor. The parchment was the culprit. “I’m not sure what cologne or perfume was used, but it did get our attention — though not in a positive way,” the hiring manager said.

Still, smelly-resume guy seemed to have the requisite experience and keywords, so the candidate was brought in for an interview. During the interview, they realized he must have used a resume service but not studied his own document, since the candidate had almost no working knowledge of any of the buzzwords on his resume and likely someone else had composed most of it for him. He perhaps knew that his meager qualifications would not warrant any further attention without some sort of trick.

Hiring managers are on to the big-fonts trick

Some job seekers who don’t have much to say try to mask it with fonts. They use a 14- or 16-point font, a trick that only highlights the lack of content on the page and the inability of the candidate to market himself or herself.

If you really, really have to be unconventional

Hiring managers want something clear, concise, and compelling. But if you insist on ditching the conventional, bear this in mind: You’d better make it spectacular.

“It’s got to be great,” one hiring manager is quoted as saying. “It’s got to be easy to process. You’ve increased the hurdle for yourself by going outside the norm. It better hit your target.”

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