The Resume Graphics You Think You Don’t Like

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“Sugar and spice, and everything lice”—miscopied ditty


Spice, or lice?—Graphics added to resumes seem to be, according to a kind of Net (net) consensus among recruiter and resume sites I’ve reviewed, more like lice than spice. Although more visibly obvious than lice, the typical graphics add-ons make many a recruiter’s skin crawl as they crawl across the monitor screen.

In the hands or on the screens of graphics-resistant or otherwise immunized recruiters, resumes with graphics are said to be virtually doomed to rejection.  Graduation photos, watermarks, waterfalls, silhouettes, banners, bananas, logos, logs, phosphorescent/luminescent email addresses, pie charts, flow charts, sea captain charts, cartoons, Khartoum sunsets, musical notes, post-it notes, monograms, family crests, diplomas, diptychs, decorative headers and footers and myriad other festoonings draped onto a resume might as well be funeral crepe, given the damage they are alleged to do to the applicant’s chances with many recruiters.

The Official Negatives

A recruiter’s negative reactions to and impressions of resume graphics can include any or all of these:

  • The graphics are mere padding to compensate for a paucity of substance.
  • The graphics are there as a distraction from otherwise evident weaknesses in the resume.
  • Graphics in a resume that actually belong in a portfolio make the resume look “unprofessional”.
  • Head-shot photos create a potential legal problem, regardless of whether the applicant is hired (viz., as evidence of a legally disallowed bias toward the applicant) or not hired (viz., as evidence of a legally proscribed bias, such as racial, against the applicant).
  • The applicant is attempting insulting manipulation—by embedding images he or she believes will sway or derail profession judgment of the resume simply by displaying good looks or an irrelevant flair for graphic design.
  • Larger images and decorative embellishments use up too much printer ink.
  • The graphics compromise or confuse the tone and message of the resume, especially when submitted for flinty, no-nonsense corporate postings with a lot of gravitas.

Lurking Temptations?

However, espousal of these objections to graphics, like the Decalogue declamations against the ten temptations of and to sin, may not be enough to prevent succumbing to them.

True, the official, collective and public recruiter-industry stance or individual recruiter’s conscious mind may insist that photo and beautiful watermark-laced resumes will be deleted or dumped into the wastebasket, if not consigned to the flames.

But suppose, contrary to these sincere declarations of professional intent, the graphics somehow manage an end-run around these psychological and professional defenses, through both software and wetware brain filters and into the hidden nooks and crannies of the unconscious mind.

As a comparable out-flanking phenomenon, consider the intelligent chain-smoker who, between deeply and sweetly inhaled puffs and accompanying coughs says, “Smoking will kill you, you know.”

The hypothesis that such circumvention of the mind and its rules by a swirl of embedded graphics can or does occur is not without some interesting supporting evidence—professional professions to the contrary notwithstanding. In fact, it would be surprising if the graphics didn’t somehow succeed—at least a little and in some cases, even excluding graphic designer resumes and the like, where they play an essential and approved role.

Primeval Graphic Distractions, Rewards and Temptations

It should come as no surprise that graphics added to resumes may work, because they may have as much going on and going for as they have going against them:

1.       They stimulate both “right-brain” and “left-brain” modes of information processing, which, as I explained in “Recruiting the Left and Right Brains”, makes the information more engaging, more readily comprehended and more easily remembered.

Compare how much more vivid your high school analytical geometry was when you were able to see not only the “left-brain” equations, but also their “right-brain” graphs. If, like me, you barely recall even your school lunches, you should instead note how virtually all big-budget advertising combines “right-brain” graphics with “left-brain” text, in forms that that are presumably verboten in resumes, e.g., logos, photos, abstract designs and the likes of cartoon smiley faces. [Note: “left-brain” and “right-brain” are enclosed in quotation marks to emphasize that these refer to indisputable functions of the brain, not to actual or unknown locations.]

2.       When the graphics include a very attractive photo, that image in all likelihood stimulates primeval responses triggered by face-to-face human communication that, until recently, was not only the universal norm, but also the thrill, of the human experience. The resume photo helps restore it. Playboy and Playgirl magazines exploit it..

The next time you think you prefer pure text resumes, ask yourself this question: Would Facebook be worth more than its $50 billion+ valuation today if it had been called “Textbook”?

Not a chance.

3.       Most of us—including those of you who are recruiters—will readily admit, if not reveal, that “one picture is worth 1,000 words.” As long as that rate of exchange remains so extraordinarily high, we will remain privatelyand at least unconsciously susceptible to the influence of graphic images—including, if not especially, graphic images in resumes, no matter what our public professions.

4.       Especially susceptible to graphic images in resumes? Yes, because the average recruiter is not reviewing only one resume. Assuming that most applicants got the message about the evils of graphics, the few diehards or innocents who do add graphics will stand out from the pack or pile. Ignoring graphics in a resume is a bit like trying to ignore the elephant in the living room. You may somehow shoo it away, insisting it doesn’t belong there, but the memory of it will stick—like lice on an elephant.

5.       Viewing the images may set off a more imaginative response in the recruiter—a response that could optimize the potential of the job or of the applicant. Scientists at the University of Sydney’s Centre for the Mind in Australia have invented a “thinking cap” that uses electrical current to inhibit the text-loving left lobe of the brain to allow the image and imagination stimulated and stimulating right lobe to be creatively jump-started. [Source: ].

To the extent that viewing images embedded in a resume engages the “right-brain”, the experience may trigger similar creativity in a resume-reviewing recruiter.

6.       Despite purist recruiter protestations that graphics in resumes do not and should not influence us, scientific research suggests the contrary. A very recent 2010 study, titled “A randomized trial of computer-based communications using imagery and text information to alter representations of heart disease risk and motivate protective behavior”, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology concluded, “The combination of CSM-based text and imagery appears to be most effective in instilling risk representations that motivate protective behaviour.” What this means is that blending graphics with text has a greater impact on motivation and emotional response than either alone.

It may be objected that what this really proves is that the negative response to the combination may be stronger than to either alone, much like the reaction to text-based tobacco warnings complemented with photos of diseased lungs is stronger than to either by itself. The corresponding reaction in a recruiter would be a more strongly motivated rejection of the resume and applicant at the sight of text and graphics together than to either alone.

Alas, the fallacy in this argument is apparent: The negative response to images of diseased hearts or lungs is in response to the content of the images, not to their mere presence. In the case of a resume photo of a gorgeous applicant, a negative response to the image content per se is unlikely, with the exception of feelings like envy and rivalry.

A negative recruiter reaction is far more likely, in virtue of company and industry policy and encouragement, to be a prescribed reaction, not a visceral one. That negative institutionalized reaction may not be enough to offset the ancient hardwired pupil-dilating pleasurable response in viewing someone attractive.

What is implied in all of these hypotheses and observations is not any accusation.

Rather, these are cautionary reminders that the effort to stick to an industry or personal policy, however right, wise and fair, may be subverted by ancient distractions, powerful rewards and temptations.

…Prehistoric distractions, rewards and temptations that are just as old, if not older, than those plaguing and compromising our spotty adherence to the Biblical Ten Commandments and to most other rules.

_________________________ Note: It would be extremely interesting to hear from you about exactly what it is that you do regarding or after discovering a resume with graphics.

  • Do you or other recruiters you know really automatically reject or discard the resumes?
  • Is there a company policy governing the processing of resumes with graphics?
  • Do you really otherwise disqualify them merely on the grounds that there is a photo of the candidate or a thumbnail image of the Parthenon in the upper right corner of each page?
  • How much latitude do you allow an applicant?
  • How much latitude are you allowed as a recruiter?
  • Is there any software you are using that screens and filters out resumes with graphics?

We’d love to read what you have to say and what your experiences with resume graphics have been. Write as much as you like. We will be looking forward to hearing from you.


By Michael Moffa