6 reasons why recruiters hate your creative CV

Debate is raging online about creative CVs. HR experts tell us why the trend can do more harm than good in job applications.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Today’s job market is fiercely competitive. For every role that’s advertised, hundreds of qualified individuals will throw their CV into the ring. That means job seekers are under pressure to stand out from the crowd – and managers to get hiring right.

Many applicants are turning to creative CV formats, like video essays or comic book layouts, to win over headhunters. Showcasing their designs on TikTok, they swear by the practice as the key to landing a dream role.

Recruiters are more sceptical, however. Many say that creative CVs more often go wrong than right, and their warnings have stirred a viral debate. Below, we hear from five recruitment experts on the most common mistakes made when designing a creative CV.

1. It takes too long to evaluate

Recruiters are busy people. If someone has four hundred CVs to review, they could end up becoming frustrated with the extra time they need to spend deciphering your handwritten note or unfolding your delicate origami resume. They might even discount you immediately.

Lauren Richardson is Senior Account Executive at Marketing Signals. “Creative CVs can slow down the application review process and create extra work for recruiters if they have to watch a three minute video or open the document in a different format,” she tells Startups.

2. It’s ignoring the job advert

If a job advert asks for specific documents, don’t go the ‘extra mile’ and produce something out of the box. Even for a role in a creative industry, the person screening CVs might not be creatively minded. They may think you didn’t read the ad properly or can’t follow instructions.

Geoff Shepherd is Founding Director of iSource Group, a recruitment specialist based in Leeds. Shepherd advises following the recruiter’s guidance first and foremost. 

“If they’ve asked for a word or PDF document, then that means that they are expecting to see a text rich CV in a traditional format. Focus on giving the hiring manager what they are looking for,” he says.

3. It can’t be read by a computer

It’s only one small part of the recruitment process, but scanning through 600 resumes and cover letters is a full-time job, which is why many teams now use AI software or Applicant Tracking Software to review job applications at scale. Without human eyes to understand its nuances, a creative CV might be misread and flagged as missing key information.

“It’s worth double checking who you’re applying to and whether you have to upload your CV to a system or not before you go ahead with a creative CV,” advises Richardson. “You could email someone at the company to check whether they screen CVs first.”

4. It looks unprofessional

One person’s masterpiece is another person’s hackwork. Sometimes straying away from the typical one-page layout of a CV can lead to a messy document that ends up hurting, not helping your chances of getting a job.

Graeme Jordan, a CV and job application consultant, advises that creativity is subjective.  “Your version of creative brilliance won’t match someone else’s,” he elaborates. “For example, I don’t like graphs that say ‘80% this skill and 60% that’. A professionally formatted two-page document should be enough.”

5. It overpromises on portfolio

Another issue with creative CVs is that they might end up looking better than your actual portfolio of work – a particular issue if you’re applying to a design role.

Mike Goldsworthy is Creative Lead at ilk Agency, a Leeds-based marketing agency. Goldsworthy tells Startups that the company has received lots of creative CVs where the quality of the accompanying portfolio is what ultimately let the applicant down.

“Make sure you're backed up by a strong body of work,” he stresses. “A creative CV might just grab our attention, but it's not what we are interested in. Ultimately the portfolio is king.”

6. It’s hiding your qualifications

Thinking creatively might make your application more memorable. But make sure it’s not the only thing a hiring manager takes from your CV. Pictures or illustrations can distract from your actual qualifications, which should always be the most important part of any job entry.

Daniel Wolken is Talent Acquisition Specialist at DailyRemote, a globe-spanning remote job board. Wolken warns that legibility is key when it comes to designing a CV. “Readability has to be maintained. No matter the formatting, recruiters still need the essential information about your career history, achievements, and education to pop clearly.”

Is a creative CV ever a good idea?

There are still scenarios where a more imaginative approach to stale and pale documents like the cover letter is a great way to make recruiters sit up and take notice.

Wolken, who reviews hundreds of resumes each week, says receiving a creative CV is “always a breath of fresh air. In an instant, it can differentiate you from the dozens of generic resumes I may scan in an hour.”

Done right, a creative CV lets recruiters get to know you and your personality. It will also tell a hiring manager you’re invested in the job, proving your passion for a role beyond just promises on a page. 

Naturally, industries that value design and innovation will be willing to embrace a creative CV. If applying to a marketing or graphic design firm, you won’t have to worry if an artistic CV made using photoshop is clouding your qualifications; it will act as evidence for them. 

Do your due diligence. Before whacking out the oil paints, find out more information about the organisation, such as their values, to judge how they might respond to a creative CV. Reach out to the hiring manager to ask if a creative CV is recommended – or a no-go. 

Above all, know that just because a creative CV is a risk; doesn’t mean it won’t pay off.

“As with everything in life, many opinions on CVs exist and they can’t all be right,” concludes Jordan. “If you are applying for any kind of creative job, then it would be a mistake to miss an opportunity to showcase your creative skills.”

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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