Focus on the UX of your CV

As User Experience (UX) professionals, we know usability principles by heart. Every day we teach and preach about understanding the target group and designing for their goals, needs and emotions. But when we sit down to design our curriculum vitae (CV) or résumé, we often forget about our target persona and make the same basic mistakes we decry in our day jobs.

Take a closer look at your CV through the eyes of a user experience hiring manager.

Together with my colleagues Carina Kuhr and Gloria Rupprecht, I published this career advice on the user experience job board UXswitch last week. Although written for UX designers and researchers, anyone could benefit from this guidance. Thus the cross-posting here.

As a hiring team, we see the mistakes people make, so we’d like to share some principles for improving the UX of your CV.*

(*We use the terms “CV” and “résumé” interchangeably. In European English, we don’t say résumé — or especially resume without the accents that show the word’s French origins. In American English we perceive a subtle difference between the two.)

Consider your audience.

As a UX professional we expect you to be able to empathize with your users, i.e. the readers of your CV. Put yourself in our shoes. Ask yourself what a UX recruiter or hiring manager needs to understand.

Remember that some of them see hundreds of résumés per week. And even those screening less applications are under significant time pressure.

A good CV should answer these 3 questions within 3 minutes:

  • Who are you?
  • What have you done in the past?
  • Do you fit to our current needs?fit to our current needs?

And to really make an impact, it could also bring to life your motivation to work in this job. Achieve that by following these principles:

Structure your information

The structure of your CV is the first demonstration of your design skills. If you understand IA and page layout principles, you should be able to give us something well organised, easy to scan and visually attractive. Highlight the most important information in each section, and follow standard conventions for gouping and ordering content.

Explain your work.

To make a decision, we need to understand how you work. In addition to dates and duration of jobs, your role and the company you worked for, also tell us along with each job — really succinctly — about the methods, tools and achievements. It is very interesting for us to see how (and with whom) you tackled a problem in the past.

Be up front and let us know in the job title if you were a trainee or junior. We will ask about this anyway in the job interview.

The golden rule is: show us what you have actually done. Using UX buzzwords is fine for us, but be sure you are able to explain them later, as we might discuss them with you in the next call.

Not too short, not too long.

Summarize your responsibilities in 3–5 bullet points. Don’t include long descriptions for each job. Don’t repeat; pull out the highlights that made that project engagement or professional role unique. Keep it relevant. Organize it well. Put the most important information first.

We will skim your résumé at lightning speed anyway, so you don’t have to be strict with keeping it short. Just this week Jay interviewed a senior designer who strained his brain. “He bought into the one-page résumé philosophy so much that he made the type too tiny for my 48-year-old eyes.” And one-page resumes that get the font size right are often too scant on information for our taste.

On the other hand, a 5-page CV can make it hard to hone in on the right details when scanning quickly.

Find a balance. Say everything important and no more.

Outline your specific skills.

Give us an overview of your individual skill set: the software you are using, soft skills, but also languages. If you are a UX Researcher list some methods that you apply and your experience level with them. Try to quantify your skills in a meaningful way (the visualizations popular nowadays are nice if they show the uniqueness of your skill profile and not everything is ranked high).

Be honest to yourself and us. Good self-reflection is always better than overselling. We are not hunting for UX unicorns.

Don’t rely on brand badges.

Many people who work in agencies mention big brands they worked for. Gloria, who works with our fashion brand partners, says, “This is not as impressive as it might seem, because usually the bigger the brand, the smaller the influence.”

And for Jay, this is a yellow flag: “Designers who include client logos as badges are generally from the agency world. I then worry if they can make the jump to an in-house a.k.a. client-side environment.”

Personalize your CV.

Not only the cover letter but also your CV or résumé can look different for every position you apply for.

Do some research about the company, their working culture and their UX approach and highlighthings that are relevant to them. If applying to Zalando, for instance, this could be your experience in e-commerce, but also your attitude or special approach in how to apply Lean UX.

Maybe personalization could mean highlighting the aspects of your standard CV that are particularly relevant to the job at hand. Maybe it’s re-ordering or even re-writing the bullet points for your past jobs. Maybe it’s writing a custom objective statement.

But do it right. Our UX recruiter Matthias Schmeisser says he feels like applicants sometimes try to trick recruiters. Because career agents tell them to customize their CVs, “people copy and paste our job description — which in the end is also a big fail.”

Making the minimal effort to customize your CV will get our attention; deliver on the promise by following through with details, putting the message into your own words, and displaying synchronicity.

User-test your CV

As in all well-done user-centered design projects, you should test your product before rolling it out. It might be very difficult for you to test your CV with the exact target group — UX hiring managers — but maybe you have a friend working in the same industry that can give you feedback. Do they understand the general structure; is it easy to read; what questions do they have?

A nice exercise: Hand your résumé to the tester, take it away after 2 min and then ask them to recall what they remember. This way you learn what sticks out. If this doesn’t match the image of yourself that you want to sell, you know what you need to do — iterate!

— — — —— — — — — — — —

CV Q&A: Send in the Qs! Next time around, we’d like to share some advice based on your questions. Send your questions by the end of October 2016 to and the Zalando hiring team will answer as many as we can.

Gloria Rupprecht has worked at Zalando since 2014 as Senior UX Researcher and Interaction Designer. She’s leading a small UX Team for B2B products. She supports Zalando’s UX Recruiting Team by screening CVs and interviewing candidates.

Carina Kuhr joined Zalando in 2014. As a Senior Researcher she has screened and interviewed many candidates recently in order to grow Zalando’s B2C “User Insights” team.UX she has screened and interviewed many candidates recently in order to grow Zalando’s B2C “User Insights” team.Researcher

Jay Kaufmann is UX Lead: Talent at Zalando and currently launching a new workshop/roundtable event series for IxDA Berlin. He moved from Seattle to Berlin 14 years ago this month, which is why he wrote “we” for both Europeans and Americans.

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