Résumés for Designers

Quick! What’s a designer’s job?

A few of you just out of art school just said, “To make things look cool.” That’s cute.

The rest of you said something like, “To organize, synthesize, and present information in a clear and compelling way as appropriate to the client’s brand.” That’s the right answer. Gold star for you.

So, why does your résumé suck?

(Now, of course, I haven’t seen your résumé, but I’ve been involved and/or responsible for hiring designers in every job I’ve had over the last 13 years, and in doing so, I’ve seen résumés from thousands of designers. And they all sucked, so I’m guessing yours does too.)

Take a look at your résumé. (Go ahead, I’ll wait. You’ve got a big enough screen. Bring it up over there on the other side of the screen.)

This is going to be tough, because a designer’s worst client is him/herself. (That’s why most major design firms hire someone else to do their identity work.) You have to separate your critical-design mind from your client mind.

Take a look at it as you would a designer critiquing a colleague’s design comp. What does your résumé communicate? Most likely, it communicates nothing more than the fact that you have actually existed for longer than today. I’m not talking about the copy or headings. I’m talking about what the page graphically communicates.

What’s your brand? Are you a bleeding-edger who provides value by innovation? Are you a jack-of-all-trades who allows small firms to have a resident expert for everything they need all wrapped up in one hire? Who are you? What’s your brand?

Does your résumé communicate that? (Seriously, stop with the “but right there I use the word ‘innovator’” ‘cause words don’t mean shit when the design says “I’m just like everyone else.”)

Here’s a typical résumé with word blocks turned into value blocks.

So, what does this design communicate? Not much, huh? To be fair, even as résumés go, it’s a bit of a mess. (But pretty typical.) So let’s take a look at what LifeClever came up with as the ‘after’ in a résumé makeover.

Okay, so what does this layout tell us? Well, maybe that this person has some sense of hierarchy, and that they’re stable and solid. That could be good for an accountant, but that’s not usually so good for a designer.

(Another side note: We’ve just looked at layout so far. There’s more to design than just layout, but if the foundation is rotten, no amount of gingerbread is going to help.)

So what would a dynamic, energetic layout look like? Maybe something like:

If I, as an Art Director, got this résumé, it almost wouldn’t matter what the text actually says. (Of course I’d read it, and the design would have to support the content, but you get what I’m saying.) The design itself shows me that this person is creative, experimental, risk friendly, but above all, willing to make appropriate choices to serve communication even (and sometimes especially) when those choices are unconventional.

Remember, your résumé is seen long before your portfolio. Even if you have your portfolio online, a dozen people will forward your résumé to the next desk before anyone bothers with your portfolio. If I have a stack of 30 résumés from which I need to pick five, and 29 of them are inappropriately designed by people who should know better, and that 30th one makes me believe that person actually understands how design plays a role in every aspect of this world, including their résumé, guess which one I’m going to forward on to the next desk.

So, think of your résumé as your ‘portfolio scout.’ Make your résumé good enough to be included in your portfolio as a design piece.

To put in another way, only one out of 10 people are going to see your portfolio. Don’t you care if those other nine think you’re a good designer?

A few more notes:

I’ve heard concerns before that the first people who filter résumés (human resources) don’t have the design sensitivities of the art or design directors, and therefore won’t “get” a highly designed résumé.

That’s a load of crap for a bunch of reasons. Here are the top three:

First, you shouldn’t design for design directors. You should design for people, and that includes HR folks. The job of the designer is to make information EASIER to understand. If you do your design job correctly, they should wish all résumés were as easy to understand as yours. It is inappropriate to let graphic-vomit overwhelm the content. Design enables content. Form, function, yadda yadda yadda.

Second, I’ve found time and time again that design culture permeates every part of the design business world. If the HR department is scared of anything out of the norm, you can bet the design group feels the same way. Is that where you want to work? As the adage goes, when you interview for a job, you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. A résumé is a quick first pass of applicants for a company. It can be just as much a first pass for candidates.

And third, HR folks are smarter than you think. Remember that it’s their job to find good candidates. How many times have you wished people who don’t have design degrees would just let you do your work, since you’re an expert in design and they’re not? Well, just let them figure out if you make the first cut. They’re the experts.

Last note: Most of you are saying, “Okay Mr. I-Know-So-Much-About-Design, let’s see your résumé!”

Okay. Here ‘tis. (And my brand is something around distilling the data of narrative stories into clear visuals.)

So let’s see your résumé.