How to Make Your Resume More Creative (But Still Professional)

You’ve got a ton of stellar experience on your resume, but how can you make sure your potential employer sees it? Most resumes look pretty much the same, and with all those other great applications pouring in for your dream internship or job, it’s important to stand out in a good way.

Your resume doesn’t have to get lost in a sea of black-and-white, Times-New-Roman docs. By playing with your fonts, colors and layout, you can have an eye-catching resume that’s both fun and professional. After you’ve decided that a creative resume is right for you, take a look that these tips for designing a creative resume that’s perfect for you and your dream job.

Choose your font

Choosing a unique font is a great way make your resume more interesting while staying professional. Remember, you’re not writing an English essay or typing up an email—you’re creating a document that should express a little bit of who you are as a person and as a professional. You’re not average, so you don’t have to use an average font!

The basics

You have two big categories to choose from: serif and sans serif fonts. Serif fonts, like Times New Roman, have small lines attached to the end strokes of their letters. The font you’re reading right now? That’s a serif font. Sans serif fonts, like Arial, don’t have these extra lines and appear blockier. You’ll see sans serif fonts on a lot of other websites, including Facebook.

“Since so many applicants simply use the default fonts, just varying from those can look more creative,” says Tom Dezell, author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naive Job Seeker. “Serif fonts (Garamond, Century Old Style, Georgia, Book Antiqua) have a more creative look just by design. If you prefer the look of sans serif fonts, Tahoma and Trebuchet MS are more-creative-looking options.”

Hannah Morgan, founder of Career Sherpa, a guide for lifetime career navigation, adds that some fonts appear more trustworthy than others—something you definitely want to keep in mind when you’re trying to impress your potential employer.

“Baskerville was one of the most trusted fonts, according to a study in The New York Times,” Morgan says. “Ranking very low in the study was Comic Sans, which looks like a kid print.”

Using fonts for emphasis

Morgan, who authored The Infographic Resume: How to Create a Visual Portfolio that Showcases Your Skills and Lands the Job, recommends using unique fonts to emphasize important parts of your resume, such as section headers.

“Fonts for the headings ‘Experience’ and ‘Activities’ can be done in a larger font, a colorful font or a different font,” Morgan says.

You can also use fonts to emphasize a certain motif you want to portray in your resume. “Some people choose to use a theme for their resumes,” Morgan says. “One woman [I spoke to for my book] used an ‘Olympics’ theme; she was an ‘Olympic Marketer.’” “Olympic” fonts might be similar to fonts used in past Olympic logos or other fonts that bring the Olympic Games to mind.

You don’t want your font choice to distract from the content of your resume, so Morgan advises you to use no more than two fonts in your resume. That means you can use one font for your body and another for your headers or name, but don’t get any crazier than that.

Selecting fonts that suit your company

When it comes to fonts, Dezell has one more tip. “A font suggestion I make is to see what font the employer uses in its official correspondence and match that,” he says. “Make sure you determine this from print documents, as the website may use a font designed to be read online.”

Though by no means a requirement, choosing a font that you know your company uses shows that you’ve done your research and that you could be good fit for the company.

Choose your colors

Break away from black and white by using one or two colors as accents to catch your employer’s eye.

“Color is really a wonderful thing. It’s a key design element that can really break up the monotony,” Morgan says.

Maybe you’d like your name or section headers in blue. Maybe you think dates should be green. Whatever you choose to accent, keep it consistent and simple. And, most importantly, make sure the colors you choose are easy to read.

Spicing up your text with color

Like fonts, Morgan says that color can be a great way to draw attention to sections of your resume, though you should generally stick with black text in the body of your resume to keep things professional and legible.

“My recommendation would be to use different colors for the headings,” Morgan says. “It could also be used in lines or to break up the different categories.”

Another option: Use color in a border or subtle watermark to make the entire document more interesting. If you want to use a watermark (a faint image that appears behind the text in a document), Morgan recommends putting it in the margin where you don’t have much text so that it doesn’t distract from your content.

Know that watermarks and borders are not for the faint of heart. If executed poorly, they become distracting. If you’re comfortable with design, however, getting creative with borders and backgrounds can work in your favor.

“I saw a woman’s award-winning resume that had pink and blue stripes in a part of her resume that also had text running across it,” Morgan says. “But she was a designer and knew it worked.”

Choosing which colors to use

How many colors you use in your creative resume depends on how comfortable you are with design. If you’re a newbie, then you might want to stick to one color or different shades of the same color. If you’re a seasoned design veteran, it’s okay to use your own judgment.

When selecting a color, Morgan says to keep in mind personal branding. Different colors make us think of different characteristics; for example, blue brings to mind security and trust, while red invokes feelings of excitement. That means the color you choose can actually affect how the person reading your resume will perceive you.

You can use colors’ effects on the subconscious to your advantage. “Colors can convey different things,” Morgan says. “When companies brand themselves, they put a lot of thought into what colors they choose.”

For example, a company with a blue logo might place a high value on trust. That means that if you use the same shade of blue on your resume, you’re illustrating similar values.

“If you’re applying at a job at Starbucks, it might be good to use that dark green in your resume, drawing a parallel to their language,” Morgan says.

Lay out your resume

Although some creative professionals design their resumes as charts and timelines or in a circular pattern around a page, these designs are often super confusing and not reader-friendly.

Dezell recommends working within the general vertical framework of a traditional resume. “Keep any creativity within the traditional structure,” Dezell says. “Anything that makes the resume harder to read and follow has too great a chance of being detrimental.”

This means that you should present your information logically, symmetrically and with enough white space to keep your document from looking cluttered.

Morgan notes that there are some instances when a less-traditional layout is appropriate. “If you are a graphic designer, you really want to be recognized for your creative talents,” Morgan says. “Any job that is about creative thinking is a great time to use a resume that is creative.” These jobs might include marketing, advertising, PR and writing.

Some simple changes to your layout, like setting certain sections off in blocks or bubbles, can highlight important strengths that might help you get your job, Morgan says.

If you’re not as comfortable getting creative with layout, Morgan recommends trying out new bullet points. Like fonts and colors, certain bullet points can match a company’s branding. Take a look at the company’s official documents and see if they use any interesting bullet points.

Finally, for those worried about the one-page rule, it might not be as strict a rule as you’ve heard. “Because so much is being read online, it’s not as vital as it was at one time,” Morgan says. Try to make your resume concise, but if limiting yourself to one page cuts off some of your fantastic experience, then don’t risk leaving it out.

Use engaging images

Sometimes images really do speak louder than words, and images on resumes are no different. Pictures can draw your reader’s attention to the most relevant info on your resume and really make the page pop.

If you do use images, save your document as a PDF so that you know everything you’ve placed on the page stays exactly where you put it.

Using charts and graphs

A chart, timeline or bar graph can illustrate the text of your resume in a way that emphasizes your experience and skills.

For example, a bar graph on your resume is a great way to show progress and effectiveness in your past work experience. “Executives have used bar graphs to show where a company was before they came in and then after,” Morgan says. The graph’s label might say: “Grew the company from X percent to Y percent in profitability in this three-year term.” The bar graph then provides visual backup for this fact.

You can use a pie chart as another simple visual to show the specific tasks you’ve handled that your position titles and experience might not cover. “I’ve seen people use a pie chart to break up how they spent their time in their jobs,” Morgan says. “A pie chart is a great way to show that you’ve worn many different hats.”

Morgan recommends using no more than one or two charts or graphs on a one-page resume so the reader doesn’t get lost in clutter.

Including your photo and company logos

As far as including a photo of yourself goes, the verdict is still out.

“Candidate photos are frequently used on resumes in Europe, but have yet to catch on much in the U.S.,” Dezell says. “Many believe it’s due to [discrimination] concerns. I don’t recommend using them on the better-safe-than-sorry theory. If you have a photo on your LinkedIn profile, you can always provide a link to this on the resume.”

Morgan echoes this sentiment, but says that due to the popularity of LinkedIn, photos may become more popular in the near future.

Logos, on the other hand, are commonly used in resumes. Dezell says that he most commonly sees images paired with certifications. These might include the logos of tech or professional development certifications. You might also pair logos with the companies where you’ve worked and the universities you’ve attended.

Whatever you do, don’t forget that any creative touches you add to your resume should highlight your awesome skills, not distract from them.

“What people are saying on the resume is way more important than what a resume looks like,” Morgan says. “If the words don’t show that the candidate is a good fit for the job, it doesn’t matter how pretty the resume is.”

That being said, there’s no reason to sacrifice your individuality for professionalism. The next time you sit down to update your resume, have some fun with it! Tell your story the way you want it to be told, color and all.