Should I design my résumé?

Subscriber Jason Hundley writes,

“How should a person in the creative industry build his or her résumé? In the past, graphic designers and illustrators spent loads of time designing and laying out their résumé — the theory was that the résumé was like the first piece of the candidate’s portfolio. However, most of the corporate jobs I have applied for have specified to submit a résumé in Microsoft Word or plain text; many corporations use word-search software to screen out candidates.

“My questions to you, Mr. McWade, are:

1) Should a Creative have a creative résumé, one that’s carefully designed?
2) How creative should a Creative get when putting together a Word-based résumé?”


My short answers are:

1) No, if by “carefully designed” you mean stylized in some way.
2) Not any. Just type it cleanly.

I can’t speak for big companies that use word-search software to cull résumés. My experience there is zero.

But I have some attitude about this topic.

I’m not a fan of résumés, or at least of the old-school, apply-with-hat-in-hand approach to finding work. I’m less interested in having employees than I am in having collaborators, those who can work with me to make art that will make a difference.

What I want to see from you is not a résumé but something that tells me you are different, you are exceptional, you are compelling. It may be a conversation. It may be a powerful referral from someone I respect. It may be an impossible-to-ignore piece of work.

I do expect to see a portfolio.

I don’t really care how much experience (or education) you have. I care about what you can do. And what kind of person you are.

Landing a job is not a career goal. There’s a comic saying that goes, “I thought I wanted a career, but it turns out I just wanted a paycheck.”

Know the difference. A paycheck requires obedience. A career requires vision. And sacrifice.

Random notes:

Generally speaking, I’ve found that designers with a college education perform better over time than those without. This superiority is not always evident in the beginning. What emerges is a better grasp of the basics, more familiarity with excellent design, and more self-discipline. There are outstanding exceptions.

I’ve seen portfolios that exhibit beautiful, mature pieces, followed by pieces that are cheesy, cliché, derivative, sloppy, and so on, which makes me question the designer’s judgment and the good pieces. Lesson: Don’t put something in your portfolio just to plump it up.

I will always ask you under what conditions you designed a piece. Work done for a portfolio gives me a sense of your eye but not how you’ll do under pressure.

Never fudge the truth. If I can’t trust you 100% — and you, me — we can’t work together.

That’s more than you asked for. Keep in mind that my lens is narrow; Before & After is a small, unique business. So readers, talk to me. I’m especially interested in hearing from those of you who read résumés — specifically, designers’ résumés — and do the hiring.



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54 Responses to Should I design my résumé?

  1. Eric Moore says:

    I have hired tons of people, and I used their résumé only to get their contact info, but to a certain degree I did need to get something from that first document — the résumé that would get my attention. After that it was their book and them, and I always asked the circumstances surrounding a design or a solution. I never looked for a college degree. If I saw substance in the work and in the person, then I hired them. I only got fooled once or twice in 25 years, so pretty good!

  2. Leah Hanlin says:

    I work for a large industrial manufacturer as an in-house designer, as well as having an “on-the-side” freelance graphic design business — so I’ve been on both sides of the résumé process lately. In fact, in the last three years, I’ve reviewed, interviewed, and had a strong influence on the hiring of three designers and two interns.

    My experience is that most designers’ résumé have been “designed” in some way. Of course, even if the résumé is in “plain text” in MS Word, isn’t it “designed” if it is clean, neat, and communicates well? I think that is the whole key to a designer’s résumé: how effective is the résumé at communicating about the designer?

    Interestingly enough, I have found that those résumé that are more “creative,” with extensive amounts of color, photos, graphics, flourishes, etc., are more difficult to read and less effective in communicating. I have also found that many of those “overly creative” résumé tend to have porfolios that are equally not as strong.

    I have found a correlation between clean, neat, tastefully designed résumé and strong portfolios.

    My suggestions for any graphic communicator putting together a résumé: Be careful not to overdo it. Make sure your résumé is clean, neat, and communicates who you are effectively. (Sometimes simple is best!) Don’t send a résumé in Word. You never know what computer on the other end is going to open it with what kinds of fonts installed. (I’ve seen résumé with text that has reflowed due to a substituted font — yuck!) Send it as a PDF. Know the company you are sending it to: Are they a corporate environment that is used to “non-creatives?” If so, hold back a little. (Marketing directors in a manufacturing environment go into shock when it’s not the standard size or color!) If you are sending it to “like-minded” creatives in a studio environment, it’s okay to go a little more on the creative side.

    Probably more than you wanted/needed, but I hope something I’ve said helps. Good luck!

    • Bill Brooks says:

      The problem is that most companies these days do not accept a résumé in PDF. As stated in the original question, most applications are now online through the company’s word-search software.

      Even those recruiters who asked me to submit my material directly to them via email asked that the résumé be submitted in Word or plain text, so that they wouldn’t have to manually input the info into their computer system.

  3. Ryan says:

    One thing to remember is that there are plenty of situations in which designers are hired by non-designers, and in these cases a résumé is probably more important than it would be if you were hired by someone in the field.

    You definitely don’t want to get too “fancy” with a résumé. But you do want a résumé that can stand out. Over-the-top design might turn a potential employeer off, but some subtle use of color and proper typography can set your résumé apart from the bulk that will be simple Word templates. In general, the faster a reader can spot highlights, the better.

  4. Robin says:

    Since part of the work I do is publication design, showing that I can organize information is an important part of my résumé. I don’t know that I would say it’s fancy or over-designed, but I would hope that it demonstrates my ability to highlight the important information (as well as look good.) It’s a download at my web site if anyone would care to critique it.

    • Amy says:

      I agree and like your résumé and online portfolio. It is clean, easy to read, and speaks to your aesthetic. I can easily see your skills and experience; in addition, the underlying take-away I get is that you are professional, thorough and organized.

    • Leesah Matsee says:

      Thanks for offering the download of your résumé! I like it very much, too! It’s clean, concise, and very pleasing to the eye. I had done something similar with a sidebar outlining my software skills and bio, and it made me feel a bit validated to see someone who has worked in publications also using a similar method. What I need to learn is to be more concise with mine. Thanks for the tips!

  5. Lisa Smith says:

    I’ve had applicants who couldn’t follow simple instructions, such as “no phone calls.” This helps me weed out the applicants who can’t follow simple instructions . . .

    I think Ryan had a great point — you can’t always be sure who’s making the hiring decision.

    I disagree with Leah on one point — if they ask for Word format, send Word format.

  6. Before I started my own business I sent off plenty of résumé, or at least tried to. I have a brilliant, clean, simple and unique résumé that showcases my talent and individuality. However, many companies require that you submit your résumé in Word. This is because they use programs that pick up on certain phrases and terminology. Rarely do actual people review actual résumé anymore. Keep in mind that the person requesting and reviewing your info is more likely to be from Human Resources than the head of the design department.

    Okay, so you can’t display your creativity in your résumé. That’s okay, because they’ve asked you to send samples of your work. Redemption! But wait — their system won’t accept files larger than a normal Word document. Therein lies the rub.

    So, my advice is to make your words stand out in your résumé and hope you can share your images with the creative directors once you’ve passed the HR test. It’s a lot to ask of designers, but we are nothing if not a crafty and flexible bunch.

    • John Driscoll says:

      I guess a question to ask yourself is: Do I really want to be working for a company that has a machine reading my résumé?

  7. Lindro says:

    I got two of the best jobs of my life with designer résumé. The better of the two was designed as a restaurant menu with a “tip-in” of a one serving instant coffee with the words, “Have cup of coffee on me.” I sent out only about 25 of them and got four interviews. Note: These were not companies that were advertising for help. I chose the 25 companies that I considered the best in the area.

    As someone who has handled résumé for decades and been a corporate illustration and art director and a graphics editor for a major east coast newspaper, I know that there are many graphics people out there, but not all are creative. If I’m hiring a creative person, I favor creativity. If I’m hiring a back-end engineer type (for web coding), I like to see clean résumé. And always, always a strong portfolio. As far as education, I’ve had good graphics people work for me who had no formal education. I’ve also learned which colleges turn out grads who know what they’re doing.

  8. Misty says:

    As a manager I expect potential new designers to send “designed” résumé, and I am horrified when I receive Microsoft template résumé. I have often culled applicants based on how their résumé looks. Your résumé makes a first impression; would you really want it to be generic?

  9. nita says:

    I have waded through many résumé and submissions, and I can tell you quite frankly that I don’t care about the gradated color, I’m not impressed by your fancy fonts, and I’m certainly not going to be framing your artfully designed résumé. I simply don’t have time. For every position I advertise, I may receive a hundred or more résumés. What am I looking for? Well, I’m looking for you to deliver exactly what I asked — a résumé that shows me that your expertise and interests are in line with the position I need filled.

    I am looking to see that you fulfilled all my requests: a cover letter, a résumé, a portfolio. I am looking to see that you read, understood and followed the directions I laid out. The way you approach the application process tells me a lot about the way you approach the actual work. If a client tells you they want an elegant, black & white, four-page brochure, why would you deliver a chaotic, four-color, 18 x 36 poster? The same with the résumé. I want one thing, and if you deliver something else, I will know right off the bat that we’re going to have a problem.

    Hiring managers see a lot of résumé every single day. Don’t slow us down by showboating your talents on the résumé. There’s a time and a place for you to prove yourself, and that time and place more appropriately reside in your interview and portfolio.

    As for the résumé, you can’t go wrong with simple black type on a white background. A clear, no-nonsense font without fanfare means, at the end of the day, that I can actually read it after plowing through a hundred “creatively designed” résumé. Simple formatting is always the most elegant. A tasteful monogram is about all the creative design I want to see.

  10. Veronica says:

    I totally agree with Misty. I wouldn’t interview someone who hadn’t bothered to design their résumé/CV. I don’t mean it needs to have loads of images and colours, but it does need to look like it is ordered, considered, and beautifully designed with flawless typography. I’d expect people to have portfolios that can be accessed online and sent as PDFs. Those too, should be well designed, and how a portfolio is put together, as well as the design within, will be taken into consideration.

    On the flip side, I don’t think I’d apply for a post that asked for a Word Document — I’d consider that a sign that the company concerned isn’t very design orientated.

  11. Jana Rade says:

    This is so awesome for me to hear. I truly hate putting together résumé! And since I was also involved in hiring, I learned the same thing you mention — that a résumé means very little. I too want to see what the person can do.

    I also agree about the different circumstances under which a portfolio piece was done. I’ve hired people with awesomely impressive portfolios who then, in real-life conditions, couldn’t put together a postcard if their life depended on it.

  12. Bari Tarmon says:

    John, your answer to the résumé questions was spot on! I couldn’t have put it better. The problem many designers face (myself included) is that so few think and feel as you do. When I receive a posting of a design job through an agency, a résumé is usually requested along with a laundry list of prerequisites that include “musts” such as a BFA or equivalent, experience in most disciplines (whether they will need them or not), and the ability to juggle a large number of projects at the same time, as well as . . . (the list goes on and on). My view is that even if there is such a person who would fulfill all their requirements, there is no way they would be able to afford that designer!

    I typically send in a résumé in PDF, a brief cover letter with a link to my website portfolio, and offer to submit additional samples should they be interested.

    I never hear back from anyone.

    I still have a physical portfolio and intend to bring it along should I get the chance. It is important, in my opinion, to not only show work samples but to give some background story on each: What was the project assignment, what steps were taken to produce the finished piece, and, if applicable, did the piece successfully achieve its purpose?

    I understand that the bottom line of businesses is to get the most out of their employees so they can make money. However, the typical approach to hiring is still the old-fashioned way and quite contrary to your vision and preference (and I must say mine as well).

    Reading the comments that designers post on design-related LinkedIn groups, I get the sense that this is a common issue.

    It takes an experienced publisher such as yourself to understand the value of a true artist who can also produce under commercial constraints and deadlines — someone who will contribute to the overall quality of work that a design firm puts out.

    Since most job searches are now conducted via the net, the personal connection between the job searcher and the potential employer has almost disappeared behind barriers companies have placed, so that they don’t get inundated with phone calls from prospects. Most ads are blind, and there is no company name, phone number or contact person. One never knows who they’re applying to and what is it that they are specifically looking for. There is just a general vague description of the position.

    This is what frustrates anyone who is seeking a position, from the novice to the experienced.

    I don’t know what can be done about this rather alienating situation.

    Perhaps you have some suggestions.

  13. One of my fav topics!

    I ripped up my résumé and replaced it with a life print that actually says something. Have done them for other folks as well.

    We’re all trained like Pavlov’s dogs to want these useless pieces of paper from folks that say nothing unique about the person and that are filled with pompous, drab verbs like “developed.” If you as the hiring person are trained to want them, you will insist on them and judge folks based on how closely they conform to your orders.

    It’s more about “will they be obedient?” than “will they be a creative employee?” Will they sit in their cubicle for nine hours a day pretending to be creative? People start to go crazy in those tiny, confined spaces . . .

    We’ve also been trained to associate academics with intelligence, when they really have little to do with each other. Many forms of intelligence are out there, yet we fixate on how well you ace a test you were prepped for.

    It’s actually quite strange that folks are made to pick one discipline at the exclusion of all others, when a truly creative mind needs contrast and challenge to feed it.

    I’ve met a lot of good designers who went to college but studied something other than design. I’ve also met a lot of great designers who never went to college or left after a year.

    Again, we focus on the piece of paper instead of the human before us. The more we demand that folks have the right papers, the less creative the world seems to get. Creativity is deviant by its definition . . .


  14. Jen says:

    I consider a résumé as the piece of a portfolio that tells me the most about a designer. Having the best possible conditions to design in, no holds barred, sky’s the limit . . . what would you do? That’s what a résumé is. If a designer’s résumé shows no design, that tells me they don’t have the passion to care.

  15. Stephen Nagy says:

    Bottom line: A well-designed résumé won’t land you a job. But a poorly designed résumé may guarantee you won’t be granted an opportunity to make it to the interview phase.

    Good design needn’t be ornamental — if someone notices the design before reading the information presented, it’s probably not good design.

  16. Barry Ésau says:

    To me, more important than the design of a CV/résumé, or a cover letter for that matter, is that the candidate has taken the time to proofread. I don’t care how much effort went into designing the piece, if I find three spelling mistakes and some questionable punctuation, it goes straight into File 13. Good creative work is in the details, and if someone can’t even take care of the details in their résumé, the rest is, to me, just smoke and mirrors.

  17. Megan says:

    I work in a group with software engineers. I do have a designed résumé, but my current manager told me that what sold him was my portfolio. My résumé is designed in that it’s still in Word, but I just did some creative things with the heading. The layout is very clean, and I took advantage of space by putting in columns for my software application experience.

    In order to get noticed in a stack of résumés, one does need to stand out. But make sure you have the right wording on your résumé. It is true that most companies now look for keywords. In my résumé, I put in a link to my portfolio. It’s in PDF and downloadable.

    The one thing I cannot stress enough is to make sure you don’t use résumé templates. They are an instant giveaway. Be creative, do your résumé in the format that the hiring company tells you. If you don’t, you will never get a chance. With HR groups receiving three to five times as many résumés as they have jobs, you do need to stand out. First impressions are everything.

  18. Robin says:

    I think it’s important to customize the résumé to the job — that is, if it’s for something like data forms for a financial institution, just use straightforward text organized well; if it’s for a magazine, lay it out as a single-page article, etc. In all cases, make sure you’re providing what they ask for, but tailor it to the job. In one of the older issues of Before & After, there was a great little piece about doing up a file on legal-size paper, folded in incremental widths so that the edge formed a tab. That made a great résumé for back in the day when you mailed them out.

    And I agree with Veronica — if they insist on a Word file, that tells me a bot is going to scan it for key words and no human will ever see it, so put the most important things at the top, use as many key words as apply, and save the designed résumé for the interview.

  19. Doug says:

    From my experience on both sides, I have to say that appropriately designed résumé WILL fare better. I’ve received compliments on my ‘designed’ résumé many times in interviews. It’s not filled with colors or images but it breaks the stereotypical mold, and it’s designed for its purpose, to communicate information.

    Also, when picking out résumé out of tens and hundreds of résumé, “designed” résumé stand out to at least consider and read the first few sentences.

    When you are competing in the sea of creative people, first thing you want is to stand out of the crowd.

  20. Jason says:

    Professor Berryman may have a different opinion.

  21. Randy says:

    Here are a few of the questions this topic and the responses bring to mind.

    1. What IS design?
    2. Are you seeking a job or a career?
    3. Does one need only one kind of résumé?
    4. Should one follow directions or think outside the box?
    5. What is the difference between responding and searching?
    6. When you offer up a website for consideration, should you be sure it works?
    7. Shouldn’t you be looking for a good fit rather than one-size-fits all?

    My answers.

    1. Design is ability to communicate information in such a way that the reader/consumer/viewer of the design becomes connected/receives the message/responds/reacts/is motivated. When we are dealing with words, the goal of good design is to get those words read. That means you need to understand how the brain works. We all have default settings that have been programmed largely over the first twelve years of our lives. Things learned after that sit on top of the deeper knowledge. If you learned to read with Dick and Jane, a lower case g always looks like that. Anything else (Upper case G in Arial, white on black) HAS TO BE TRANSLATED by the brain to the default g before understanding can be achieved. Thus, ANY decision by a designer that move away from the brain’s default makes it HARDER to read. The same with increasing letter spacing, increasing leading (line spacing), etc. You don’t get a choice, you don’t get to say, “I was going for an airier, more modern look.” Decisions like that make reading hard. In the case of a résumé, you WANT people to be able to read it quickly and easily. So, Times New Roman, 120% leading, 12 point (14.4 leading), 1″ left and right margins, are the way to go. Your design skills can be in bolding a heading (or using Franklin Gothic in all caps — which in small doses like that does not negatively impact reading when you consider the increased understanding it gives by focusing the brain on an intended starting point, much like a drop cap does.)

    2. Jobs are paychecks, careers are your passion. Know which one you’re trying to get. See number 5 below.

    3. Why not have two? Or design one specifically for the job? That way, you can choose what YOU think is appropriate. If it knocks you out of the running, better now than later.

    4. Yes. See answer number 3.

    5. Responding is delivering a résumé cleanly laid out in Word. Just like they asked for. Searching is like Lindro, picking the places you’d like to work and sending them something that will break through the clutter and represent you to them. It’s connected to number 2, do you want a job or a career?

    6. I saw a category for illustration. What I got was testimonial. What I didn’t get was illustration. Perhaps no one’s fault, a glitch in the web, but I got what I got. The message is now YOUR default in my brain about what I think. Now you have to work to put something on top of that which will be stronger.

    7. See answers 2, 3, and 4.

  22. kathi says:

    Well, I have been hired because my résumé does not look like a regular résumé, which means that I can think outside the box. If you figure that you get a pile of résumé to review, you might notice something that stands out differently. Just saying, if I was looking for someone creative, I’d look to see if they could present themselves creatively. If not, how will they present their client?

  23. tari says:

    I started designing my résumé to extend my personal brand, and also since I felt sorry for those hiring folks who have to sift through so many résumé, I wanted to give them something — especially if they are hiring for design — to look at.

    Because I PDF’d the design and inserted links to examples of my work and portfolio, I’m free from attaching several pieces into an email, and they’re free to click and browse my work. This really helps with some online job boards that have limited-size email boxes.

    I do social media and SEO as well, so links to my social profiles — which most employers check anyway — are in the résumé.

    The response to this has been positive, and I’ve actually had people thank me for making their job easier and refreshing their eyes a bit.

  24. tonya says:

    The résumé has to capture my interest, and that can be done with creativity or concise and simple cleanliness. Overly or obviously designed CVs can be a turn-off, though. Also, I can’t see past typos/mistakes, and I throw them out immediately. It saddens me to see otherwise talented designers sending in something that represents them with this type of mistake. It’s true that you have one chance to make a first impression, and of all the things you create, this has GOT to be mistake-free.

  25. M Jacob says:

    I’ve hired many designers and copywriters. Most often I do not read beyond the first few sentences. Then I classify the résumé under either “Interesting” or “For Review.”

    The problem with “For Review” is that I rarely find the time or have the patience to review unless there’s no one finalised from “Interesting.”

  26. nita says:

    If I receive 100 résumé today and 98 of them are “creatively designed” (I’m talking about designed in the sense that it’s “uniquely” formatted, stylish font, dashes of color, pictures, etc.), how many of those will actually stand out if everyone has the same intention to be unique? In addition, how many times do you think that first design impression leaves the receiver feeling flat, or even appalled?

    Here is how it often works: Someone on the creative team sets up parameters for the job position. Those parameters are signed off and sent to HR or a central hiring manager. That person is responsible for making sure the company guidelines are met and the job opening is broadcast. Next, HR or the hiring manager is inundated with résumé in Word. The résumé are fed through the résumé bot, and keywords are scanned, and résumé are either kept or dumped. Dumped résumé will likely include many that would have been a perfect fit, but the submitter spent so much time on design and trying to think outside the box, they forgot the cardinal rule of not only job-seeking but design — give them what they want, not what you think they want. That’s not to say you’ll be a drone, merely that the résumé is often the first challenge you’re handed to prove you can handle direction (have you submitted what they requested? do you have the requisite experience?) and pay attention to detail (spelling, grammar).

    The most important thing for the job seeker to remember is that it’s not about you, it’s about the company. They often couldn’t care less about what they can do for you, but rather, what you can do for them. Yes, it’s a tough reality to face, but often you’re not going to land your dream job/career/passion/whatever responding to job ads. Sometimes you have to pay your dues and toe the line until you can prove yourself.

  27. The problem may rest with the question. You are asking a general question designed to address multiple solutions and expecting a mass-marketing answer.

    The answer is Yes. To both.

    Design your résumé for folks you know would appreciate a designed résumé.

    Format your résumé neatly and simply for folks who request a résumé that they can scan and load into a database (which is pretty much everyone these days), paying attention to typos and keywords. An average designer relies on special fonts and whines when it “breaks.” An exceptional designer can make Arial and Times sing on a MS Word document.

    Nothing says “irritating pain in the ass creative” more than someone who refuses to follow directions from the git-go. If the ad says “MS Word document,” DO NOT send in a PDF; send in an MS Word document. Design is NOT about artistic license; it is about solving a communication problem. If you want to be an artist, go apply for those jobs and be as creative as you want there. If you want to solve communications problems using graphics, fonts, etc. as your tools, then you’ve come to the right place. Use the right tools for the job, not the ones you want to use.

    I could write a book on what I’ve seen fail on résumé, but it mostly boils down to, “you’re not getting a call-back because you have a demonstrable inability to read and follow directions.”

  28. Nancy Warren says:

    Having played both roles of applicant and evaluator, I completely agree with JMcW that college grads are usually the most competent designers. Note I didn’t say MOST CREATIVE. I have a BA in French and a minor in Fine Arts from the University of California, as well as a teaching credential from a previous life. This background has provided me with skills that have transferred well to my design career and brought me a great deal of success, fulfillment, and happy clients.

    Again, it’s the age-old matter of “know your audience.” Most often I run into younger designers with the attitude that, “I’m a creative, not a detail person.” This seems to be most prevalent with the younger set who somehow missed the boat on the importance of spelling and grammar, be it in presenting one’s work or résumé. Getting a res or design comp with word misuse and spelling errors is an instant red flag to me. Hey, if you can’t spell and use the language correctly, how is that killer piece you designed going to impress your client?

    As for the res itself, I like the idea of doing a little something to set apart my res from others . . . and it’s worked quite effectively. Early on in my career, I sent out my res with a creative monogram of my initials in the header. Otherwise, it was well spaced, paragraphed, concise and used a single font family. I liked the idea previously expressed about having a link in the pdf that would lead the reader to the visual display.

    FINAL NOTE — Learn the proper spelling: It’s “résumé,” un mot français! Not “resume.” Don’t be lazy — learn to use the option + “e” key and put in the accent marks.

    This was an interesting exchange of ideas. Thanks, John. You always make such great points and stimulate very thought-provoking exchanges. Your words always inspire me.

  29. I’ve been doing web design and development (I’m a generalist) full time for 13 years. I just recently accepted a senior Drupal development position here in NYC. I ended up interviewing at three companies in three days and got pretty high offers from all three, one of them (the one I took) on the spot. Part of that is that the market for Drupal devs is absolutely on fire right now, and I happen to have nearly eight years of experience with it (my UID on d.o is nearly in the first 1%), but I also think that having a clean, well-designed résumé has helped me a lot, too.

    I laid it out in InDesign in a slightly non-standard, two-column format (work experience in the main column, awards and such on the right), with the third page showing some samples of my design work. I used just enough color to make it stand out, but only for main headings, and I chose typography that was both easy to read and distinctive (for the headings). Everyone I’ve shown it to so far has liked it, but I’m curious what people here think of it. You can download my résumé here.

    FWIW, I’m honestly a bit surprised I was able to get that into two pages for the actual text content. I suspect if I’d gone with a traditional layout, that would have been much harder. The two-column format also manages to get awards and honors right up top without pushing down work experience. You’ll also note what’s missing: education — I’m 100% self-taught. I went to UNC Charlotte, originally planning to go into architecture, but decided I’d like web design more by the time I arrived, and they really weren’t teaching it at all back then, so I dropped out after one semester. Best decision I ever made, IMO — the new job I’m starting will be seven times my first salary thirteen years ago, and I’m still doing something I absolutely love.

  30. I agree with you essentially, John. Putting time and effort into a résumé is relatively low value. The time and effort is much better placed into a portfolio.

    I think it’s important for job seekers to put themselves into the shoes of the person who is looking to hire someone. In my experience, the résumé stage is basically where the hiring person is sorting through a lot of résumé looking for reasons to eliminate people and reduce the stack, which could be hundreds, into something more manageable. In our company, at least, it’s certainly not the direct precursor to an interview.

    A personalized cover letter is a crucial step. In our case, as we are a smaller company, we respond to résumé submissions with an automated letter asking two questions: “1) Please describe in your own words what we do. 2) Please describe briefly how you think you can help us.” That eliminates a lot of candidates right there, who we presume had blanket-replied to a bunch of job advertisements by just sending out their résumé in bulk with generic cover letters. That process is ridiculous. If you aren’t going to include a personalized cover letter, it is better not to include one at all. A generic cover letter is just a waste of everyone’s time.

    We tend to prioritize résumé reviews based upon the cogent and thoughtful answer to our pre-screening questions. But again, the résumé is primarily used for information gathering, and it is best for us if it lets us answer simple questions like: 1) Previous experience working for a small firm? yes or no. College degree? yes or no. My input is for candidates to remember that they are typically being entered into some sort of database or spreadsheet where they can be compared and sorted, so the look and feel of the résumé is not typically going to make that transfer.

    Unlike a marketing campaign for a product, where basically every sale is considered a good thing, when someone is looking for a career, not every job is a good one for that person. Using a mass-market blast is just not a good way to enhance one’s career. It’s better, in my opinion, to find a narrower set of potential jobs you think you’d like, and then focus on separating yourself from the herd by really honing the cover letter to highlight why that job is one you’d excel in. If you want to showcase design skills, perhaps the cover letter is a much better place to do that than the résumé itself. For example, if someone applied for a job with us and their cover letter actually incorporated our logo, it would show a level of attention and thoughtfulness that would certainly tend to make them stand out in our hiring workflow.

  31. Spencer says:

    I did a visual résumé and would love some feedback. I am not a designer, just someone who appreciates it. :-)

  32. Trich says:

    I’ve been both a sender and receiver of creative résumé, and I’ve never discounted any because of the design — although I did discount an applicant who sent in a poorly set résumé and then claimed in the interview that typesetting was his greatest strength!

    I’ve gone with a designed résumé in my current job hunt because my portfolio isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be — I’ve worked for a newspaper for the past ten years, and time constraints can really interfere with a person’s creativity. Bragging that your personal record is 54 display ads in a day is only impressive to people in the newspaper industry, and frankly, I’d like to find something where I can actually offer clients consistency and strong branding.

    It’s a strong résumé and has gotten a lot of positive feedback; unfortunately, the market here is practically non-existent, so I’m planning to look farther afield. Really hoping it gets as positive a response in other markets.

    Nancy, thank you for mentioning the accent — although it’s two accents if you’re applying in French (résumé) and one if you’re English (resumé).

    So as most of the comments are suggesting, do what feels right for you, and if you’re right for the job, they’ll notice.

  33. I have found that most companies and/or job-application programs want a Word document. They totally miss the whole point of a PDF (portable document format) file. Yes, it is true for corporate jobs that your résumé is being read by human resource personnel who don’t understand what you need to know to be creative, and you actually annoy them when you spell résumé with the accents. I had one interview where the personnel person exclaimed, “You’re like a real artist!” and another who said, “You are too creative!” Apparently, that was a problem to them. In spite of that, I keep making my art for my own well-being and apply to any job that is interesting. Don’t even get into what versions of software you use. I’ve seen an ad for an expert in CS5 two weeks after it was released, and it was for $12 an hour.

  34. Currently developing my portfolio and looking for advice. Found interesting and helpful suggestions here from everyone. But Kathi — you’re comment makes the most sense. If I were hiring, I would look for someone who thinks outside the box! After all, it’s about the most creative ideas one can bring to the table.

  35. Jeremy Penzien says:

    I’ve applied to more positions than I can remember, and it’s only been a few years since I graduated from college. However, most, if not all, of the interviews shared something in common; they all asked me questions that could have been answered had they read my résumé. They may have just wanted to hear everything in further detail, or they could have just had a copy of my résumé because some secretary somewhere, sometime, printed it off for them. However, in my experience, résumés are crap — a red-tape, bureaucratic necessity from the 50s. If your cover letter and advance portfolio don’t land you an interview, your résumé isn’t going to save you, and should you get an interview, your résumé isn’t going to get you the job.

  36. Cindy Marshall says:

    “Know the difference. A paycheck requires obedience. A career requires vision. And sacrifice.”

    Wow, John, you nailed it. I have never taken a job for the paycheck. It’s always been because of the vision. Without vision, there is no interest, no anticipation to see the final outcome, no enjoyment of a job well done. If you don’t have a vision, you’re not living.

  37. vicci says:

    Years ago I wrote a “clean” résumé, but wrote it like the story of my working life. At the bottom, I included some art work as a foretaste of my portfolio. I was told by many people how effective and interesting it was, including an agency.

  38. Another person’s take on résumé design

    Your thoughts?

    • John McWade says:

      These are exactly the kinds of résumé I don’t want to see. They are in-your-face designs that display zero sensitivity to the look of my organization (imagine sending one of these to Apple). The irony is that despite their “unique” graphics, they’re just generic looks, not actual communication. Worst, they make me hunt for the information I want, which, ironically, I could find easily on a Word document. If I received any of these résumés, it would go straight into File 13.

  39. @my says:

    First of all, as a hiring manager, I disagree — you should have a portfolio, yes, but your résumé and cover letter is often your first impression. My first résumé out of college was plain-jane, and it awarded me an entry-level job as a receptionist. Two months later, I moved into a publicity assistant job in the same company. Less than a year later, I was hired into my first marketing job with the same company. When I had to leave the company five years later (due to husband’s job transfer), I (for the first time) found myself looking for a job in marketing and advertising. My old résumé just wouldn’t do. It had to be eye-catching coming from a marketer, right? But at the same time, I was working with the same constraints some of you have listed: It had to be easy to read, professional-looking, and often in Word or plain text. So for my first name I used an “@” in “Amy” so it read @my [last name] at the top, in a universal serif font (Garamond). Whenever I printed it, I chose an upscale, colored paper (muted tone, but not white). I would get comments and compliments on it at almost every interview and always from those who ended up hiring me. Of course, who knows if anyone was turned off by it and never called, but for what it’s worth, I can honestly report that I have personally received jobs (and reasonably quickly) using this tactic. I share this story to encourage you to be creative but work within the constraints you’re given. If you’re a designer, I think your résumé should be designed, but it also has to be functional, just like any other project you work on. How you tackle that dilemma will demonstrate your skills, abilities, and talent to your future boss.

  40. Emmanuel Fordjour says:

    In my opinion, a résumé should be designed to identify who you really are. As an artist, and, for that matter, a graphic designer, your résumé shouldn’t look like that of another professional who uses MS Word to create his/her résumé. I disagree with you John . . .

  41. Bruvce says:

    I’m the president of a manufacturing company, and I have an MBA from the Wharton School. The résumé I’m looking for when I hire are the ones that are a little odd and out-of-the-box. I want someone who is willing to break the social rules of résumé writing, because I need someone willing to break the thinking rules that have imprisoned so many people in dead-end companies that can’t think differently to compete effectively. So, please send me the résumé on pink paper with charts and graphs, because that is someone who is at least exploring the idea of design and information architecture. I’ll consider those résumé before the ones on white paper with black ink.

  42. Jason Hundley says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments and insight! This has given me a lot to consider for the job hunt. From what I gather, it sounds like a two-tier approach is appropriate: to have an MS Word résumé when a company requires it, but to also have a designed résumé to submit whenever possible. The Word résumé should be organized well if nothing else, and not look like a template. In my previous job-hunting experience, when I met in-person with anyone from a prospective company, I got compliments (if nothing else) when handing over a professionally designed, creative résumé. However, as some pointed out, a nice-looking résumé is only worth so much — a strong portfolio is crucial, and a good cover letter may be more important than the résumé itself.

    Thanks again for sharing your opinions and experiences.

    And most of all, a big THANK YOU to Mr. McWade and the Before & after staff for posting this as a Design Talk topic!!

  43. I think a résumé can be designed the way you want it to be. People will think different, and some people will say something is better, something is not. It doesn’t matter if it has color or graphs or just black & white. I think the most important thing is to keep it functional and ask yourself how effective is your résumé. Of course, there are some standards you can follow if you don’t want to spent too much time on your résumé. In this case, it is better for you to follow some of those standards. But if you have enough time to get yourself creative and prove if your résumé is effective or not, then do it! I’m very sure a lot of designers have done this and have good results! Never forget to keep it functional! No matter how you design a seat, if you can’t sit on it you can use it only as a decorative artifact!

  44. Amanda says:

    Coming late to this conversation, but if anyone’s still checking in —

    Sometimes you have to get past the machines — and machine-reading advocates — before you can get to the people you’ll actually be working with. How about seeing a resume as a chance to show your skill and originality while adhering to strictest simplicity — like, purely through typography? It’s a nice challenge, and you won’t scare off the non-designers but will still appeal to the designers. You can save your (highly readable and function-appropriate, of course) super-designed resume for people you know will appreciate it.

    Some people insist on Word resumes, others on PDFs (though I think most machine-readers can handle PDFs now). For Word, I’d have one that was strictly linear, no columns or boxes or paragraph spacing or bold/itals, to ensure that it will at least look neat when read on another computer or filtered through a text editor.

  45. Catherine says:

    I know of a playright/composer who once made a creative approach to landing an interview with one of the largest toy companies. He sent his resume to HR, attached to a helium balloon of a fish, with a card saying: “Don’t let this one get away.” He got the job.

    I love the academic, professional approach to clean resumes, but we do need to step out every once in awhile. If the creative ones can’t do it, who can?

  46. Pingback: New Resume | Andy Eveland

  47. Marin Petrov says:

    I think that everyone doing design should have his own and different résumé describing his personal skills. I’m a web and graphic designer. Writing my résumé in a PDF is not enough. As a web designer, I have to show my skills online; that’s why I have my online portfolio. So, dear creative minds, first think what you want to say, then say it with a well-designed résumé and portfolio :-)

  48. We see more PDF portfolios, and the design on the PDF is as important as the design on paper. When included in a PDF portfolio, the typography can be even more important, as it may display at 75% size, making legibility and clarity a key item.

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