When writing graphic design resumes over the years, I've read plenty of "How to Write a CV" books, and one thing above all has struck me in the introductory pages. More often than not, the author begins by explaining what a minefield it can be to write your own CV, and goes on to say how much of a shame it is that there are so many so-called experts out there giving bad advice about writing CVs. Then they produce their own book full of their own opinions on the subject.
I'm not going to begin by rubbishing other authors. I am grateful for the proliferation of differing opinions on the subject. It's enabled me to come to balanced conclusions about how to write an effective CV. My opinions are based on what I've read about CV creation, graphic design resumes I have written and graphic design CVs that have been sent to me as a potential employer.
Instead of my asking you to trawl through many diverse methods of graphic design resume writing, it's my intention to give you an idea of what I believe to be a good format. It's highly flexible and can be customised to suit the position you want to win.
The Latin "Curriculum Vitae" means: "The way your life has run". The French "Resume" means "Summary". Start with this in mind. The CV is a summary of YOUR working life, no one else's. Consider carefully what you'll include in a CV and how it'll look. Most people know roughly what a CV should contain, and that's enough for them. They throw everything they think might be vaguely relevant into it, often using other people's CVs (not just graphic design resumes) as a guide to graphic design resume writing. Your CV is your first impression. Make it a good one. The person charged with the task of selecting a short list of possible candidates has probably seen every line in the book. "I work well individually and as part of a team" is a very popular line. It has become almost as predictably present on the average CV as the dark lines left by a poor quality photocopy on cheap paper.
If you're responding to a recruitment ad, read it very carefully. Has it been thrown together in a hurry, or is it professionally designed? You can learn a lot about the advertiser by studying their adverts. Make sure you make careful note of exactly how to respond. Some specifically say "no resumes" and instead require an application form to be filled out. Others want your covering letter to be hand written. This will be time well spent, as it's often the case that a candidate is so pleased to find a recruitment advert that suits them that they forget to read the details and rush off a hastily prepared letter and CV, no matter what's required of them.
Find out as much about the company you are applying to as possible. Is this job really for you? The purpose of your CV is primarily to highlight your potential value to the company. It could also be used to provide material for an interview. If you are not confident that the job is right for you, it'll be picked up very quickly.
Consider what experience you have that will help you do the job well. I have found that a good and fast way to find out about a company is to visit their web site (if it exists). There's often a wealth of information available, and possibly details about the person you're writing to. It's always helpful to be in possession of more information than you might need, particularly at the interview stage.
When writing, try to think of what the reader's reaction will be. Try to sell them what you think they want to buy. This doesn't mean to say that you should be untruthful; it means that you should tailor your CV to your audience. Make the most of the information relevant to them, but don't over-egg the pudding. If you give yourself more credit than you deserve, it'll bite back if you get an interview when you are asked you to elaborate.
The layout of your CV should be concise, informative, easy-to-read and printed on good quality paper. If the reader has a pile of graphic design resumes to read, they don't want to spend more time than necessary plodding through your reams of beautifully written prose. Use short sentences and don't go off at a tangent. Left justify your type, and whichever font you use, decide on a style and stick with it throughout. There's nothing more off-putting than a document filled with different fonts, text sizes, colours and alignments. And if the job you want is as a graphic designer, there's more pressure to make your presentation appealing.
Avoid gimmicks like brightly coloured paper, or a CV folded into the shape of an aeroplane. They may provide a few moments of light relief for the reader, but it is generally accepted that it's the content that gets you the job, not your ability to be different. Recruitment is a serious business and should be treated as such. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and the employer might specifically request an "off the wall" resume if it's relevant to a creative job. However, I can't remember the last time I saw such a request!
As a graphic design employer, I want to be confident that any prospective graphic designer knows what looks good on a page. I also want to know that they have a good feeling for presentation. I've seen it all - illegible graphic design resumes accompanied by hastily written scraps of notepaper covered in coffee, CDs full of Quicktime movies of off-the-wall college projects, traced pictures of Goofy (yes, Goofy)... none of these work for me.
Personally, I want to see clean, correctly spelled, easy-to-read graphic design resumes, and if there are any good quality, appropriate pieces of artwork from a portfolio, they can be a clincher. As for a covering letter, please avoid letting on that your intention is to learn as much as possible from your new employer before leaving and setting up your own studio in direct competition! It happens time and time again, and it's a bit of a turn-off!
There are two basic resume layouts I'll mention here - it's up to you to make them your own. In my opinion the traditional "Tombstone" format of CV is out of date and should be avoided - the references to religion and national insurance numbers suggest that it might be more suitable for someone who wants to apply for a job sometime in the 1960s! Its order of contents goes something like this:
This format follows a more concise structure, and is what we'll focus on:
The main difference between the two approaches is that in the second example, relevant work experience is brought to the fore. The reader will be presented with the information of interest straight off the bat. Education is, of course, very important, but actual work experience is always given more weight. If your employment history is left to the end, the reader has to crunch through everything else before they find the information that is instrumental in getting you to the next stage.
Name, Address, Telephone, (e-mail address)
To begin with, your name and contact details should be laid out in a balanced block, either ranged left or centred. Avoid putting this information in more than one column unless you're confident that you can make it appear ordered and easy to read - and if it's a graphic design job you're after, this should pose no problem!
Spend some time preparing a brief career summary using 20 to 30 words. This should encapsulate your key skills, your attitude to work, your career aspirations and the experience you have gained thus far - a mission statement.
Use short sentences. Be brief, concise and avoid clichés. Although this synopsis will be short, you should spend some time getting it just right. It'll also help with the rest of the resume's content. All the information in your CV should reinforce and complement your career summary. Avoid the use of the first person. Use the past tense, not the present.
Your jobs should be listed (with dates of employment) in reverse chronological order. This ensures the reader is presented with the most relevant information first. Use short sentences and avoid the use of the first person. If possible, show your career path advancing towards a peak. For example, if you are applying for a graphic design position the reader would be impressed to see previous jobs showing your advance from Junior Designer to Project Manager to Creative Director. This shows that you're committed to your profession - you're progressing towards a clear goal.
If your career path shows that you have taken career breaks' and jumped from one type of job to another, it could paint an unreliable picture. Always accentuate the positive in any situation. If you've taken a career break, highlight what you have learned and show that you're ready to return to work. Only mention salary if asked and don't mention reasons for leaving your job; leave those details for later.
Only include McDonalds-type-jobs if they are all the experience you've had. If they are, you'll have some convincing to do with your portfolio. Build it up with case-study projects (they don't have to be real) that are marketable, like stationery and advert designs. Don't fill your portfolio with vast amounts of contemporary, free-form college work - it doesn't sell!
Focus on your achievements more than responsibilities. What have your successes been? How did you succeed, and in what way did they benefit your employer? If you have had little or no job experience of relevance to the position for which you are applying, emphasise the experience you've gained from any relevant education you've received.
Professional training such as graphic design degrees or qualifications should be listed at the top of this section, because it's likely to be more relevant to the reader. Include dates and brief details of what was covered in the courses you took. Next, list any higher education you received followed by secondary education, including the names of the school, college or university. Include no more than two secondary schools, and don't go into endless detail about your exam results - just list them in a well-formatted way, showing the most relevant passes first.
In this brief section, create the impression of diversity. Balance your indoor interests with outdoor activities, and if they relate in some way to your work, so much the better. Don't over exaggerate! If you have a full driving license, mention it if you think it'll be relevant.
Don't mention your health unless necessary; the employer will assume you are in good shape! As for referees, add them if you feel they will be able to give relevant, positive information to any prospective boss. The more relevant the better.
Don't mention your current salary on your CV unless specifically asked. At this stage you're in a very weak bargaining position - the time to discuss salary is after you have been through the interview and you're offered a job, when your position is stronger. After making an offer your new employers will know that they will have to go through the entire selection process from scratch if they don't hold on to you!
It may sound obvious, but check your spelling and grammar! Bad spelling usually indicates one of the following: the author can't spell, is too lazy to spell correctly, is inattentive to detail or simply doesn't care. Any one of these spells "rejection". I work in a business that demands good grammar and spelling from its graphic designers. Our job involves not only graphic design skills, but also a working knowledge of proofreading and copy editing. Nevertheless, I estimate that only one in ten graphic design resumes sent to my studio is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Even when the graphic designer's resume is fine, if the covering letter contains even the slightest mistake it ruins the effect! It's a waste of time to send a poorly prepared CV and covering letter.
Now you've written the perfect graphic design CV and got an interview for a graphic design job, what's the best way to convince the prospective boss to hire you? See the article about graphic design interviews.