It’s Your Resume—Not an Instagram Post

Bitmojis and balloons may be popping up on resumes these days. But Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison cautions against such frivolities.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and author of Lose the Resume, Land the Job. For more information, see

Over the years I’ve seen all sorts of resumes—long, short, interesting, boring. Some had balloons attached, and one was delivered by singing telegram.

In today’s selfie-obsessed, Instagram world, more people are trying to “get creative” with their resumes. There is even a trend, particularly among younger professionals, to use bitmojis. I get it: people are clamoring to capture the attention of a prospective employer. But when the Wall Street Journal asked me about this recently, I had to push back. Your resume isn’t supposed to look like an Instagram post or a party invitation. You want to be taken seriously.

The obvious exception is if you’re pursuing a job in a creative field—for example, web designer or art director. That’s when you’ll see resumes that look like everything from a movie poster to a work of art.

An art director I know told me about an artist applying for a job at his firm who folded her resume into an origami swan and nested it in a beautifully decorated box. That presentation made a statement about the artist even before the “swan” was unfolded (which felt like a sacrilege). But send that swan to an investment bank and, sorry, it’s just not going to fly. You’ll be memorable, all right, but not for the right reasons.

A creative resume could turn off a prospective employer who views it as gimmicky. Just recently, I came across a company that stated it would reject unopened any resume submitted that included a photograph.

When in doubt, reach out to your network and ask others in your field how they have designed and presented their resumes. If your job requires creative skills, then you can be more creative in your resume design and presentation using graphic design, typography, and even humor in unique ways may elevate your resume (and you) above the rest. (There are plenty of examples online of creative resumes that helped get people hired.)

No matter how creative you are, don’t let your design overshadow your content to the point that it’s difficult for anyone to grasp who you are and what you’ve done. Whether your resume pops up with a shower of confetti or is in a standard format, you must make sure it conveys a message that will resonate with your prospective employer.

Don’t go to the other extreme either and assume that, if you’re an accountant and not an artist, your resume should be dull, boring, and difficult to read. Even a standard-format resume should be attractive to the eye—for one thing, use plenty of white space so it’s not just a big block of text. Balance bold fonts for names, titles, and names of companies with regular fonts for descriptions. Use bullet points to list your accomplishments.

And keep in mind that any type of resume—creative or standard format—won’t do all the work for you. People think that their resumes account for 90 percent of what they should do to get a job, while in reality it’s about 10 percent. Your resume is only a calling card—it presents your accomplishments in a way that entices a prospective employer to want to engage in a conversation with you.

The most important way to stand out is with the story you tell: your accomplishments, what motivates and drives you, who you are, and what you stand for. These things define your “brand,” and that’s what gets you noticed. Your resume is the first part of that story by showcasing your accomplishments. Then, when you’re invited to come in for an in-person interview with your prospective employer, you can show how creative you are in terms of being innovative, finding creative solutions, and motivating yourself and others.

No bitmoji can say that better than you can.