Create the perfect designer resumé: 20 pro tips

Not getting those all important design job interviews? Your resumé could be to blame. Follow these top tips to really stand out from the designer crowd.

In a world where designers are fighting it out for every job that comes along, it's important that you stand out from the crowd.

Whether you're just starting out or an old hand applying for a better position, your CV needs to be first rate for you to stand a chance of getting an interview. Getting it right is about how it's designed and partly about what you write. Here we'll cover you both, walking you through the process of creating a designer resumé with tips from Jason Arber (01-15) and Nindya Retnasatiti (16-20). You'll be landing that dream design job in no time!

01. Don’t use Microsoft Word

Apple's OSX includes PDF-creation capabilities. Image courtesy of Elliott P

Microsoft Word might be okay if you’re applying for a secretarial position, but if you’re after a design job or something creative, its limited and idiosyncratic layout options and subtle cross-platform issues can mangle the best resumés. PDF is a much better format, because it enables you to create good-looking documents that are completely cross-platform.

02. Use DTP software

Art directors will be paying close attention to the layout of your resumé as much as the content, so it’s important to use a DTP package. QuarkXPress, InDesign or even Illustrator will create great looking resumés, and will enable you to save them as PDFs. If you can't afford any of these software packages, download the 30-day trial, if necessary (although editing the document when your time’s up might be an issue!).

03. Don’t let an agency reformat it

designer resume

Ensure your resumé has the personal touch to set you apart

Sometimes it’s necessary to use an agency to look for work, and although it’s recommended that you apply for jobs directly, sometimes the risk can pay off.

However, some agencies reformat your carefully crafted resumé into something they think their clients will like, and often the results are unimaginative, homogenous nightmares.

By making everyone’s resumé equally bad, perhaps they think they are levelling the playing field, but you need to ensure your resumé has the personal touch to set you apart.

04. Be brief

Don't write pages and pages of stuff! Image courtesy of jenni from the block

Art directors do not have the time or the inclination to read your entire life story, such as where you went to nursery school. Cut the fat from your resumé and focus on the relevant details. If your resumé is any longer than two pages, you’re waffling and including too much stuff. Don’t be tempted to mask a lack of experience with verbosity. Clean, well-laid-out resumés will always win over flabby ones.

05. Don't lie

I once received a resumé from an unnamed individual who claimed to have created quite a stunning website. I would have been extremely impressed were it not for the fact that I had actually designed the site myself.

Needless to say, that resumé went straight in the bin and the sender was rewarded with a strongly worded email from me. Honesty is always the best policy, as you stand a good chance of being found out if you start 'elaborating' your resumé.

06. Include samples of work

By not including any samples of your work with your resumé, you’re pretty much guaranteeing that the recipient will not consider you for the post. Stills from motion graphics projects are perfect, unless you’ve been specifically asked to include a showreel. On the other hand, don't go overboard with images; that's a job for your online portfolio.

07. KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

designer resume

Keeping things simple is not the same as making things dull

Unless you’re really confident and sure about what you’re doing, keep the typographic flourishes and fanciful designs at bay, ensure the layout is simple and clear and the information is cleanly presented. After all, the last thing you want is the recipient squinting because you thought dark grey text on a black background was a great idea.

08. Show your personality

Making your resumé stand out is critical. Image courtesy of woodleywonderworks

Keeping things simple is not the same as making things dull. A resumé is a reflection of your disposition and persona, and the recipient will be scanning it, consciously or not, for elements that distinguish your resumé from the other hundreds they have to wade through. Make your resumé stand out with an idiosyncratic design and personal touches.

09. Include the right information

As a minimum, resumés should include your name and contact details, including email address, phone numbers and online portfolio address (include your mobile number, too, if you think you might lose out on a job because you went to the shops).

This should be followed by a breakdown of your work experience, then your education. In both cases, this should be most recent first. Work experience should include dates, job title and a brief synopsis of your role. References are generally optional.

10. Colour vs black and white

For most non-design related jobs a resumé designed or printed in colour is probably a waste of time, and might even annoy the recipient. However, for design positions, touches of colour are an acceptable way to add a discreet personal touch. Use sparingly, however, as green type on a yellow page may not go down too well. If you are including a small selection of work examples, they should be in colour.

11. Don’t send photocopies

Don't photocopy, send a fresh resumé every time. Image courtesy of stephenshellard

Photocopies are cheap, but sadly they also look cheap, especially second and third generation copies. Type starts to break up, images are contrasty and full of noise, fingerprints and other blemishes begin to show up, and the results can look slightly askew. Fresh laser prints or sharp inkjet prints on the best quality paper available are the minimum standard.

12. Beware the novelty approach

I’ve had resumés written on scrunched up paper; arriving in the form of a jigsaw; and playing cards. I’ve had giant resumé posters, inflatable resumés and resumés crafted using delicate and complex paper engineering.

Off-the-wall resumés stick in the mind - you can see some of the best examples here - but they're a risky proposition. On the one hand you might appear like a creative thinker, on the other it might seem pretentious and excessive. It depends on the recipient.

13. Choose your fonts wisely

designer resume

The aim of any designer resumé should be legibility

You’re a designer, so your resumé should be filled with zany fonts or follow the latest trends in typography, right? Wrong! The aim of any resumé should be legibility, so it’s generally a wise idea to stick to simple, readable fonts.

In large corporations, for example, physical resumés are routinely fed through OCR scanners to help whittle down the candidates. OCR software may struggle with flowery fonts.

14. Physical v email resumés

Should you send electronic or physical resumé? Image courtesy of RambergMediaImages

Often a job advert will specify whether you should email a resumé or not, but if they don’t say, what should you do?

An emailed resumé somehow seems very 21st century, the sign of someone comfortable with technology, but a well-presented physical resumé printed on decent paper can seem professional and smart. It doesn’t really matter which route you choose, but don’t do both because that looks as if you’re trying too hard.

15. Keep it to one side of A4

A good resumé should be clear, concise and well designed. It should ideally fit onto one side of A4 - use another sheet if you have too many details, but no more than that. Include another sheet of A4 containing a couple of images of your work.

Remember the aim is to intrigue. Point the recipient in the direction of an online portfolio to see more. Ensure your details are accurate, truthful and up to date, don’t use a word processor for layout, and don’t forget to spell check. Good luck!

16. Spend time on the cover Letter

Most of the time, when you apply for a job, your resumé will need to be accompanied by a cover letter. This should look formal and business-like: this isn't the place to showcase your creativity and imagination. The text should complement the CV and it's best to keep it short and to the point - three paragraphs is a good rule of thumb.

Make it obvious you haven't just copied and pasted the same letter you've used to apply for a hundred other jobs. Write it in a way that's personal to the particular job and company you're applying for.

17. Don't plagiarise

We've all seen this clever resumé concept - so don't try to pass it off as your idea

A suprising number of graduates see an inspiring resumé design concept and copy it. What can they be thinking? We all have access to the same internet, and if a particularly inventive resumé design has caught your eye, there's a strong chance it's been shared virally within the industry and will have caught the eye of your potential employer too. Your resumé should showcase your creativity, not someone else's.

18. Demonstrate consistency

Real-world design projects are usually centred around a single, consistent theme or concept that runs throughout the logo, branding, literature etc. Your résumé, portfolio, covering letter and so on, need to demonstrate the same consistency. For example, are bulleted lists presented in the same style across each of your pages? Is the colour scheme consistent? And so on.

19. Create multiple CVs

If you're applying for multiple jobs, you should create multiple CVs, each targeting a specific role and the kind of experience and skills the prospective employers are looking for. To take an obvious example, if the job specifically mentions InDesign as a requirement then you should make this first on your list of skills, and possibly expand the description of how and where you've used it.

20. Grammar and spelling

If you're applying for a job as a designer, does it matter how well you write? The simple answer is yes. Spelling and grammar mistakes will make you appear uneducated, ignorant and/or lazy - none of these represent the image you're trying to convey. So, always double check your grammar and spelling, and get others to check it too (it's easy to miss one's own mistakes).

Words: Jason Arber and Nindya Retnasatiti

Jason Arber is a live action director, photographer and all round good egg.

Nindya Retnasatiti is a freelance graphic designer living and working in Indonesia. She blogs on Photoshop and graphic design in the Bahasa language at Bisa Komputer.

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