Traditional Vs Creative: Which CV Works Best?

Grace Dillon

An employer should be able to gather the main points of a CV in just ten seconds - the same amount of time it takes for them to decide whether to interview the applicant.

With such little time to make an impression, producing a CV that catches an employer’s attention is crucial.

To do this, some job seekers have abandoned the traditional format of a CV in favour of a more creative approach by adding colour, photos, and even original artwork to the document.

Has the creative CV taken the place of the standard Times-New-Roman-resumé? Judging by the applications we receive here at TalentPool, the traditional format is still the most popular. But should more job hunters consider giving the good old Curriculum Vitae a modern twist?

The traditional

Most of us know what a traditional CV looks like: a text-only document that introduces you to an employer and sets out your qualifications. The traditional version should include a brief introduction, as well as your education, previous work experience and skills.

Most employers will expect to receive traditional CVs from applicants, particularly those in Business and Professional services.

Why stick to tradition(al)?

There’s a reason why this style has lasted so long - it works. Putting your achievements down in black and white is the most universally understandable way of showing an employer that you have the skills and experience they are looking for.

The traditional may not leave a lot of room for your personality to shine through (except perhaps in the “hobbies” section), but a CV is about presenting yourself as someone who has the skills required for a role. Think of your CV and cover letter as your application for an interview, and the interview as your opportunity to reveal your personality.

A black and white, clearly laid out document leaves no room for interpretation. Provided that you’re a good match for the role, there’s no reason why a traditional CV shouldn’t get you an interview.

Where does the traditional style fall down?

The traditional style is strong, but it isn’t always the right fit.

For employers in the creative sector, a traditional CV can’t tell them what they really want to know about a candidate - their level of skill.

Even though applicants will be expected to provide a portfolio to show off their talents, the traditional style would still seem inappropriate: the employer may expect the applicant to use their CV to show creative initiative; submitting one in the standard format may be seen as a missed opportunity.

The creative

A creative CV should include all of the information you’d find in a traditional CV - how these details are set out, however, is up to the individual. There are no strict rules as to how a creative CV should look: it can range from having a slightly jazzier layout to resembling a poster, but is usually expected to consist mainly of writing.

Employers in creative industries - such as graphic design, fashion or illustration - may specifically ask applicants to submit a creative CV.

Why branch out to creative?

A creative CV offers something that a traditional cannot - the chance sell yourself to an employer in a personalised way.

A creative style will certainly make your application stand out: the design possibilities are virtually endless, meaning that no two CVs will look the same.

The creative style certainly trumps the traditional if you're applying for a creative role: it turns the CV into another opportunity to showcase your artistic capabilities.

Is creative necessarily better?

Whilst a creative resumé may wow employers in particular industries, others won’t be as impressed.

For some industries, the creative style simply isn’t appropriate: employers in professional services, such as legal, finance, or healthcare, wouldn’t consider a creative CV to be in line with the nature of their organisation.

Even though a creative twist is welcomed by employers looking to fill a creative role, it does come with a risk: you might not get the style quite right. You might produce something that is visually stunning but just doesn't suit the company’s look. The employer will probably turn you down if they feel like you don’t understand or wouldn’t be able to reflect their artistic tone.

So which is best?

Although neither style is always better than the other, we advise that you stick to the traditional format unless you're applying for a creative job.

It is important to consider the role you’re applying for and the nature of the company: a marketing agency looking for a graphic designer will be less keen on a traditional CV, just as a bank looking for a finance analyst would most likely turn down a creative one.

💡Remember - the purpose of a CV is to show an employer that you are right for the role they’re offering. Whichever style you use, your priority should always be to convince them that you’re worth interviewing.