Creative resume vs. a formal resume—when to use each?

The Differences Between a Formal Resume and Creative One

Many designers will remember taking classes that focused on how to format a resume. Usually, you would open Microsoft Word, learn how to properly align text, and discuss the embellishments that were acceptable to add. You may even remember being scolded for trying to think outside the box. As a creative, it’s hard not to feel stuck in a cage of boring design.

Many designers will share similar frustrations when building a traditional resume. But luckily for creatives, we live in a world where you can use blue, or any other color, anywhere you want on a resume. Designers have the option to not only have a formal resume, but a creative one, also.

At this point you may be asking, “Why does it matter?” or “Do I really need both?” The short answer is: Yes, you do. Because even though creative and formal resumes are both, well, resumes, they have a lot of differences.

They’re Physically Nothing Alike

As we mentioned before, formal resumes follow a very specific format. If you stray too much from the guidelines, your resume just looks wrong. In a pile, it will stand out in a negative way. You pretty much need to stick to the black-and-white, grid layout that everyone else is doing to have what’s considered a successful formal resume.

image shows a traditional resume with a simple layout on a dusty purple background

Creative resumes, on the other hand, allow you to break the rules. If you want a colorful header, go for it. If you want your resume to look like an infographic, with more icons than words, no one can stop you.

That’s the fun of a creative resume; you can share information about yourself in whatever way you want. It’s like designing a printed version of your logo or website. It’s a design free-for-all with essentially no limitations other than your own creativity.

They’re Not Created for the Same Purpose

Your formal resume is meant to share your facts in a very clear and concise manner. Employers know exactly what information they can expect to see and exactly where to expect it on the page. These resumes are created to make your written qualifications easy to read and recognizable to employers.

Formal resumes tell employers why you should be hired. Creative resumes show them why you’re the right fit for the team.

Your creative resume might not even have all of the same information that your formal resume does. But it doesn’t matter, because you’re literally demonstrating the skills you normally list on a formal resume. There’s no question about your level of expertise with a creative resume. You’re proving that you’re awesome at your skillset.

example of creative resume formatting with a large white header section atop a grey lower section with the title Here's the Low Down, all on a green background

Creative resumes are also great at showing off your personality. Since you get to create it however you want, you can put some character into it. Instead of simply saying, “This is who I am as an employee,” you can say, “This is who I am as a person.” Build a creative resume when you want to share a particular story about yourself, instead of sharing the buttoned-up, corporate version of it like you would in your formal resume.

They’re Not Created for the Same Audience

No matter how proud you are of your creative resume, you have to face the fact that not every employer will be amused by it. If you’re applying to a creative agency, sure! They’ll probably love it. They’ll probably even expect you to submit a creative resume. If you find yourself applying to a large corporation, however, it’s best not to risk it and stick with submitting a traditional, formal resume.

You have to think about the audience receiving your resume. Is their company culture casual and fun, or more professional and formal? Using the wrong type of resume is an easy way to throw away a job opportunity.

Keep Both at the Ready

Obviously, formal resumes and creative resumes are very different documents, so it’s important to have both completed and on hand at all times. You never know when a new opportunity is going to come your way. Having your story ready to be told both creatively and formally means you’re ready to grab that new gig before it slips by!

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