We’ve all heard the stories: A media consultant decided to render her resume as an infographic, rather than relying on just text, and landed her dream job as a result. A graphic designer wanted to earn more freelancing work, so he custom-printed his resume on boxes of beer, which he sent to prospective clients. These stories inspire our creative side, and tempt us into thinking that we can make our resume stand out from the pile if we do something really funky to it. The problem is, most firms—especially well-established ones—don’t appreciate it when resumes and cover letters exhibit an oversupply of creativity and funk. A designer applying for a job as a “website ninja” with a cool gaming startup can maybe get away with a cartoon-rich infographic listing his or her qualifications, but thinking “out of the box” while applying for an IT management position at IBM will probably not earn you friends in the HR department. When in doubt, think conservative when designing your resume and cover letter. And if you do want to get a little creative, make sure the design and color scheme actually help convey your listed skills and experience, rather than overshadow them.

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