Don't let your CV design hold you back

A creative CV design is supposed to enhance your job search by making your application stand out from the crowd. It's a pretty easy trick; try a quick Google search for a creative CV template and you'll be hit with a plethora of free designs you can use. In minutes you can turn the document from a standard black and white design into something full of life and truly eye-catching. But does it really work?

The short answer is no. While these designs do draw attention to your CV, it could be for all the wrong reasons. Heavy CV design can be busy and hard to digest. That in itself is enough to be off-putting to HR staff or potential employers. Of course, it goes without saying that you want to make your document look as appealing as possible. However, much of the time, the classic, easy-to-read style works best. Here's what you need to know.

Templates hinder applicant tracking systems

Do you know what an applicant tracking system is? The modern-day job market has seen many technological advancements and the ATS is just one of them. This software scans CVs, quickly and easily reviewing multiple applications using keyword searches. For example, if the role is for a "Sales Advisor," a recruiter may search "sales targets" or "client-facing" to pull up the most relevant applicants.

Now, here's where you've got a problem. If you're using a creative CV template, your document may not be searchable at all. The formatting – e.g. embedded charts, tables, and text boxes – could mean that your CV can't be read accurately by the ATS. So, despite the fact that you may meet all of the relevant criteria, the ATS will not recognise it and thus your CV will be rendered nonsense. 

Heavy designs can be distracting

Even if the prospective employer isn't using an ATS, your creative CV design could still be a hindrance. Each recruiter spends an average of 5–7 seconds looking at your CV. That's not a long time. In that brief moment, the recruiter wants to glean everything they need to know about you – your skills, experience and suitability.

You could find that an overly designed CV does you no favours. When a recruiter glances at the document, all they'll see is a load of colour, pictures, and noise, and it will take them a long time to dissect all of the information. Sadly, the chances are that they won't bother doing so. Instead, they'll simply click "close" and move on to the next CV in their inbox.  

That ultra-fancy font could be illegible

Let's take a quick moment to talk about font styles. Serif fonts (typefaces with small flicks on the letters) are typically hard to read on a computer screen and most modern-day recruiters won't bother to print off applications when reviewing them. Why should they? With that in mind, you might want to avoid using an over-the-top typeface in your CV design. Fancy serif fonts, such as Georgia, may look attractive to you, but they could be illegible to someone else. Instead, you should opt for a plain sans serif alternative, such as Arial or Calibri.  

The layout might not flow properly

Most CVs follow a pretty standard layout, showing off a person's best assets. Because time is of the essence, the key here is not to make the recruiter work too hard to get the relevant information. The problem with some creative CV templates is that they play fast and loose with where the information goes. For instance, you might find that your work experience is at the bottom of the page, while a massive section is dedicated to your education, despite being 30 years out of university. When the recruiter looks at your application, it's bound to be a tad confusing.

The best CV design is also the simplest. Rather than opting for a complicated layout that's hard to scan, choose a style that highlights the most important information and uses bullet points and shorter sentences to keep things clear.

Bells and whistles detract from the point

You might think it's neat to include cool graphs, pie charts, and tables in your CV design, but it isn't. The truth of the matter is that these gimmicks – and they are gimmicks! – won't score you any points with recruiters. Aside from looking a little cheesy, they can also detract from the point of your CV.

You don't need a pie chart to show off your skills. If anything, this little extra graphic merely makes it harder for a recruiter to understand what you have to offer. Ditch the bells and whistles and stick to the cold, hard facts. That's what matters here.


While it may be tempting to go wild and opt for an ultra-creative CV design, you should think twice about doing so. Look at things from the recruiter's perspective: they aren't interested in over-the-top fonts or the eye-catching colour palette you use. All that they want to know is whether you're suitable for the role at hand. Deliver that information in the fastest, easiest way and you'll go far.

Is your CV design helping you or hurting you? Submit it for a free CV review for objective feedback.

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