Infographic résumés are getting a lot of buzz these days. We cover them in all three of our business communication textbooks and provide a variety of examples via our Real-Time Updates and Business Communication Headline News services. In certain situations, a well-designed infographic résumé used at the right point in the job application process can be a great tool. On the other hand, an infographic résumé that is poorly designed, poorly produced, or used inappropriately can torpedo an applicant's chances. Understanding why infographic résumés can help or hurt can be a great lesson in effective business communication—for any type of document or message.
Here are some helpful teaching points for using infographic résumés as examples of effective or ineffective communication:
- Understanding audience needs. The single biggest problem with infographic résumés is incompatibility with established résumé-handling processes, particularly automated applicant tracking systems and the manual methods recruiters are accustomed to using. Computerized systems are likely to just reject them, and with only a few seconds to spend on each résumé during the screening stage, human recruiters are ill-inclined to spend the time it can take to decode an infographic résumé. With dozens or hundreds of applicants pouring in for every opening in many cases, recruiters need to make rapid-fire decisions about whether each candidate is a potential fit for the job and therefore worth spending more time on. If a résumé doesn't communicate that within a matter of seconds, it has failed at its primary purpose.
- Focusing on the receiver, not the sender. Some infographic résumés suffer from "Look at me! Aren't I fabulous?" syndrome. Yes, you need to stand out from the crowd, but you need to do so in a way that meets the audience's needs, not yours. A résumé needs to say, "Here's how I can help you," not "Here's how great I am."
- Playing against expectations. The knock on conventional résumé formats is that they are boring and predictable. Yes, but so are stop signs. However, they also communicate well because all audience members know what to expect and where to find the information they need. That said, in the right circumstances, an infographic résumé can be effective way to catch a reader's attention by delivering information in an unexpected way. (Having said that, however, it's likely that infographic résumés are becoming so common in some professions that they won't jump out the way they used to.)
- Demonstrating creativity—in the right way. Certain jobs have high expectations for visual creativity and creative thinking in general, and infographic résumés can be a great job-application tool for these opportunities. Someone applying for a graphic designer in an ad agency, for example, would be expected to have some visual promotion in the mix. This points back to knowing your audience, of course. The accounting manager in a construction firm is less likely to be impressed by an infographic résumé than the creative director in an ad agency would be.
- The legal side of communication. Photos are a common element in infographic résumés, but including a photo on any document too early in the job search process can be a mistake. Some employment-law experts advise companies against reviewing any photos or videos of candidates during the screening phase to minimize the risk of discrimination lawsuits.
- Readability and design considerations. As with infographics in general, infographic résumés run the gamut from effective to awful. Designing and producing successful infographics are two skills that many business professionals simply don't have. Even when an infographic is the right tool at the right time, nobody wants to waste time following a convoluted treasure map in search of essential information.
For most job seekers, the best use of an infographic résumé is as a support document to use in selected circumstances or as part of an online presence (social media résumé, e-portfolio, etc.). As with everything else in communication, it all starts with knowing your audience.