Resume Help/Standing Out


Hi Dr. Converse,

In both of your books you make the point of "standing out" from other job applicants.  I think I understand the things you explain that you have to do in order to stand out.  But my question is why can't I use things that make my application unusual such as color, photos, unusual fonts or formats?  In other words, if making yourself stand out is the key, what is wrong with doing these things I have mentioned?  Thanks!

Hi Elle,

Your questions are reasonable ones and they both have simple answers.  It is true that you want to "stand out" from other applicants.  However, you want to stand out for the right reasons - and things like color, unusual fonts, photos, etc. are all the wrong reasons.

Try to put yourself in the place of a hiring agent.  Let's suppose that you have two people to interview in your morning schedule.  The first person comes in dressed professionally, is obviously prepared for the interview, and draws attention to herself by her accomplishments, demeanor, and conduct.  The second person comes in (late) looking like she just rolled out of bed, hair dyed six different colors, makes outrageous statements, knows next to nothing about the job for which she has applied, and generally behaves in an unprofessional way.  Is this second person "memorable?"  Does she "stand out" from the first applicant?  The answer to both questions is obviously "yes."  But she stands out for all the wrong reasons.  Who would you hire if these were your two choices?  The answer, just as obviously, is the first applicant.  You want someone working with you who cares about the job, someone who has taken the time to prepare, someone who you can trust to be professional when crunch time arrives.

Think of your job application as a "first impression" - because that is what it is.  If you fail to make a good first impression with your app documents, you won't get an interview.  You might be a well-qualified candidate, but unless you make a professional impression in that initial phase of the job search, you will never have the opportunity to demonstrate what you can do.

Things like photos on your resume, strange fonts (that are often unreadable), color paper, glitter glued to the paper (yes, I have seen that), and other such things label you as unprofessional and will likely get your application placed in the "no" pile in very short order.  If you have read my books, you know that my research shows that employers will give you, on average, about eight seconds to make a good impression.  If you fail that initial screening, you make it to the reject pile in record time.

Years ago, I was screening about a hundred applications for a job open in a department where I was employed.  The very first resume I looked at had a color photo of this man and his dog right on the first page of the resume.  He hit the reject pile in under the average eight seconds.  I wasn't going to consider working with anyone who was dumb enough to think he should use a photo of him and his dog as the lead item on a professional resume.  I guess he thought whatever was good for his Facebook page was good for his resume.  Wrong.

So, yes, you must "stand out" from the other 300 people who want that same job that you want, but you have to stand out for all the RIGHT reasons, not all the wrong ones.  Resist the temptation to "be different" just for the sake of being different.  Be different because you make a solid professional impression.  If you do that, you will be in the eight percent who get it right.  Fully 92 percent of all job apps have some kind of problem.  Put yourself in the eight percent and you will have gone a long way toward that interview.

I'll be happy to give you a free critique of your resume and cover letter if you'd care to send them to me as attachments to an email at the address below.

Hope this helps; good luck!

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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.


I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.


I have interviewed for, and held, dozens of jobs in a career going back more than 42 years. I have taught at all educational levels including middle school, high school, community college, and university. In more than 42 years of experience on both sides of the job-search process, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants and have reviewed literally tens of thousands of job application packages. I am the author of 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them! I conduct workshops for job seekers in a variety of locations every year.

Music Educator's Journal, Teaching Music, Music and American Culture (forthcoming, 2013), Last Teacher Standing: The Job is Yours Now! and 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them!

B.A. New Mexico State University; M.Mus. Southern Illinois University; Ph.D. University of California and University of North Texas

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