There's some debate around whether creative CVs are a valuable tool to help you stand out in competitive industries or a bit of a nuisance to recruiters. Find out what employers think, when creative CVs are useful and how to put one together

What is a creative CV?

As the name suggests this type of CV puts a creative spin on the traditional CV format. Designed to highlight your creative ability they are usually used to apply for jobs that focus on art, design, VFX and technology. For example:

However, creative CVs can also be used to apply for roles in industries such as advertising, media and publishing.

There are different types of creative CV and the one you use depends on the job you’re applying for and the employer. Creative CVs can take the form of:

  • written documents with additional design elements such as graphics, infographics and illustrations
  • video CVs
  • online portfolios
  • personal websites with a career focus
  • alternative approaches such as designing your CV as a comic strip or board game or attaching a QR code containing your CV to a relevant object. 

What are the pros and cons of creative CVs?

 Advantages:

  • Some skills and competencies are hard to showcase with words alone. Creative CVs are useful in the sense that they actually demonstrate to employers what you can do rather than just telling them about it.
  • When done well they can help your CV stand out, especially in industries where competition is fierce and speculative applications are common.
  • The creative approach is also more personal. As well as listing your skills and experience, creative CVs allow you to display your personality, giving the recruiter an idea of whether you'll be a good fit for the company.

Disadvantages:

  • Submitting a creative CV is a risk and the more creative your idea the bigger the risk is. Your idea might be unique and it could be visually brilliant but if it doesn't fit the organisations look or brand it's unlikely to impress.
  • Not all employers in the creative industries welcome this CV approach. You'll need to do some research in to the industry and organisation you're applying to to determine if this method of application is accepted and has been successful in the past.
  • There's a chance that your creative CV will be all style and no substance.
  • These types of CVs are often time consuming to create and this time could be better spent perfecting a traditional CV and working on your portfolio.
  • A lot of recruiters use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to screen candidates CVs. These systems operate by searching for keywords in CVs that match the job description/person specification. Creative CVs may not be compatible with these systems due to their design or format meaning organisations will discard them before they even fall into the hands of a hiring manager.

Do I need to use a creative CV?

 This all depends on the role you're applying for and what the recruiter expects, so again you'll need to do your research beforehand. Contact employees of the company on LinkedIn and ask if they submitted a creative CV, conduct some Google searches around what's typically expected in your industry and if you're still unsure call the hiring manager to enquire if a creative CV would be welcomed.

For some recruiters a creative CV may break up the monotony of looking through hundreds of CVs that all look the same. Using one could give you an edge and single you out as a candidate willing to go the extra mile. However, other employers may see creative CVs as an annoyance that creates extra work for them (such as having to open CVs in alternative software, searching for information among a complicated design or watching a three minute video) and slows down the application review process.

'The perception of what makes a good CV is very subjective, both on the part of the creator and the reader. As a careers guidance professional at a creative institution, I emphasise to students the importance of researching and understanding, as well as possible, the 'audience' for a CV,' explains Neville Kemp, careers adviser at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA). 'Some companies are clear about the kinds of approaches they like to see, inviting applicants to submit a CV that shows their creative style and ideas, while others prefer a well styled, organised CV with the creative content focused within a portfolio.'

If you're confident that your traditional CV is strong, your portfolio work should tell the employer everything they need to know about your creative ability. However, if the job advert specifically asks for a designed CV or a more creative approach to your application you'll need to follow the instruction.

Another thing to consider is that this type of CV isn't appropriate for every profession. 'A CV for a creative role in graphic design, advertising, fashion, or the like, will definitely help to distinguish you from other candidates,' says Neville but if you're applying for jobs in business, finance, healthcare, engineering or law it's probably best to stick to more traditional formats.

I'm applying for a creative role, what does my CV need to include?

'Creative CVs should always be well-considered and confident,' says Neville. 'Attention should be paid to typography, colour palette, the layout of sections and the use and positioning of illustrative icons and images. This attention to detail speaks volumes about the applicant's commitment and passion, almost before a single word is read.'

One of the most important things to remember when designing a creative CV is that while the presentation is important nothing takes precedence over the content. Employers still expect to be able to find all the usual elements contained in a standard CV, such as your contact details and education and work history. For more details on what to include see how to write a CV. If this information is lost among an over-complicated design recruiters are unlikely to spend time looking for it.

Becs Baker, head of talent at design agency Pearlfisher, echoes this 'CVs do need to be beautiful, and inspiring, but not at the cost of functionality. I want to see some personality, but not so much that it confuses the navigation. For example, it's important for me to be able to track your work history in reverse chronological order, and I need to know where to look for specific information.'

If you're including a personal statement be sure to mention your specialism and any successful projects you've worked on and don't be afraid to name drop big companies or clients you've worked with. Also don't forget to include a section on relevant skills such as competency with certain design or editing software.

'Creative CVs should include the same information as a traditional CV. Anything you can't fit on one page - two absolute max - is probably not worth including,' adds Becs. 'And no, we don't need a photo.'

The bottom line is no matter how creative; this type of CV still needs to be professional, relevant, readable and concise.

'A creative portfolio (to accompany your CV) is a must,' advises Neville. 'Designers, art directors, advertising or marketing managers, will want to see your work.

'A PDF 'mini portfolio' could be attached to the cover email, along with your CV. This has the advantage of being accessible offline. A link to an online portfolio can be prominently displayed in your CV, making it easy for a recruiter to view your work.'

Put the link to your portfolio near the top beneath your name or contact details. Don't be fooled into thinking a creative CV will mask a weak portfolio. Employers won't be taken in by a fancy CV or cleverly-edited video if you don't have a strong portfolio of work to back it up. You'll therefore need to do some work beforehand to ensure that your portfolio is up to scratch and only contains examples of your very best work.

Learn more about putting together a creative portfolio.

Where can I find inspiration?

If you're a creative person wanting to showcase what you're capable of via your CV, you shouldn't need to copy what's already out there. If you're producing a written document the design needs to be original and if using videos or alternative methods ideas should be authentic.

That's not to say that you can't use templates for inspiration and to spark ideas. This Creative CV Guide, published by University of the Arts London (UAL), University for the Creative Arts (UCA) and University College Falmouth (UCF) contains a number of examples.

'CVs generated by platforms like indeed.com or even LinkedIn are unlikely to wow, or to have enough pertinent information on them. Upload your own version and make sure it’s in PDF format,' adds Becs. 'You can create it in Word, but unless you PDF it, it could lose all your lovely formatting when it defaults to a standard font at my end. Anyone working in the creative industries should know this.'

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