The art of designing a CV
The difference between well designed and over-designed
As a designer, it only seems right that you design your own CV. It’s the first thing a potential employer is going to see, so treat it as an opportunity to show them what you can do. If using Microsoft Word or Publisher has even crossed your mind, now’s the time to consider a career change.
When it comes to designing a good CV, there’s so many professional opinions from well respected designers and agencies that have been made public on the web, but the tricky part is they don’t all agree. So who’s advice do you take?
I’d say to follow the advice that suits you as a designer and plays to your strengths. If you’re mad in to infographics and that’s a part of your design repertoire then by all means, go for it. If you fancy yourself as more of a typographic designer then follow that route. Don’t follow someone’s advice, no matter how respected they are, if the glove doesn’t fit — It just means that particular agency is probably not the right one for you.
Now, after bascially stating a ‘good’ CV is a matter of opinion, it might seem strange for me to offer my own opinion, but I’m going to do it anyway.
With over seven years of agency experience, I’ve seen a lot of CV’s come through the digital door. Some of them are judged quicker than others, and that’s because around 80% of people focus so much on creating this piece of exhibition design that they end up highlighting what they CAN’T do quicker than showing what they CAN do.
That leads me to my first point…
Nail the basics
If your CV doesn’t do the simple things well, then it’s off to a bad start. A lot of people over-design their CV’s and forget about the finer details.
First and foremost, make sure your CV is well typeset. No one wants to see a single column of text that’s as wide as the page — use a grid and create a column structure. As a general rule, line lengths should be anywhere between 5 and 8 words long. Obviously this depends of the size of the word so don’t count and quote me on it, just use that design eye of yours and find a good balance.
A well typeset CV will get more appreciation and is much more likely to be read all the way through than something that looks like a music festival poster. Typesetting is something that all designers do day to day, so employers need to know you can at least do the basics well.
Tell the reader something about yourself and flash some personality while you’re at it. You can show your personality either through the design of your CV, the tone of voice you use, or both. Don’t be scared of using certain words or speaking a certain way — it’s not a corporate industry so we’re not looking for an applicant to The Apprentice, we’re looking for people we’d get along with and enjoy working with, so try to avoid coming across as square if you’re not one. Just make sure you’re not being offensive to anyone!
For me, with photos in CV’s I can take it or leave it. It’s always good to put a face to the name but if you haven’t got a suitable photo or the space within your design then leave it out. Don’t force it in there and there’s no damage done.
Don’t get carried away
This applies two-fold. Firstly, keep your content brief. Don’t include a timeline of events from the moment you first noticed you had an appreciation of design, looking at a menu in your favourite restaurant, up until now. A few simple sentences about who you are and a bit about your background will do just fine.
Talking about hobbies and interests can be a positive. Sometimes it can establish a connection with the person reading your CV and it helps build rapport. It can also be a good talking point and ice-breaker for the interview process and it shows you have passion that extends beyond design.
The other aspect of not getting carried away applies to the design itself. The first thing to remember is this is not your portfolio. Yeah, it needs to be designed, but there’s a lot of content and ideally is should all fit on one side of A4, so treat it well — don’t overcomplicate things.
You’ve got to understand that the people reading these CV’s are busy people, so you need to make it a quick, painless and pleasant experience for them.
Play to your strengths
I brushed on this earlier but I think it’s important to do what you do best — design your CV in your own style, not someone else’s.
If you’re an illustrator, use some form of illustration in your CV. If you’re more of a graphical designer that likes to create icons and infographics etc, then use these skills to add some flair to your CV. If you’re a typography guy or gal then just focus on executing a very well set typographic piece.
What matters and what doesn’t
Now, some people may disagree with me here but there’s certain information I just don’t find relevant to a design role. For example, I don’t care how many GCSE’s you got or how your college education went. The only qualifications I might be interesting in seeing is your University Degree, but even then, I don’t really care. That might sound harsh but realistically, getting a 1st at University doesn’t mean you’re going to be more succesfull than someone that got a 2:2 when you’re both out in the industry. It’s a whole different ball game.
Here’s a list of what I personally think should be left out of and included in your CV:
– Any qualifications below University level.
– Samples of work. This is not your portfolio.
– A short bio. Include some hobbies and interests.
– Your experience relevant to design.
– Any awards/recognition.
– Software ability, but don’t tell me what you’re bad at, just what you’re good at.
– Contact details.
Use your cover letter to say everything you wanted to say in your CV but left out. Address the recipient personally and don’t use the same cover letter for each position you’re applying for! By all means start off the same and include some of the same snippets of text, but indulge your audience by talking to them about their work, what it is you like about them and what they do, and why you’d be a good fit. Make it personal and show them you’re not just looking for any job, you want THAT job.
It’s also worth saving your CV out as an interactive PDF, that way you can link social icons and snippets of text, saving hassle of copy and pasting long and unattractive links.
I’ve quickly put together a board on Pinterest which includes some examples of CV’s which are well designed rather than over-designed. These would certainly catch my eye if I was the recipient, but so would something even simpler! It’s all about balance and representing yourself accurately.
Check out my Pinterest board here.
I hope this article has been of use to some of you.