David Airey is an independent graphic designer working with companies of all sizes since 2005.

Getting your foot in the door

golden egg

Lee Newham is was a senior designer at London-based consultancy P&W. He received three or four CVs (resumes) every day, and here he offers some tips on how graphic designers can get to the top of the pile.

CV tips for graphic designers

99% of CVs are poorly designed. It’s a struggle.

If your CV is good, and relevant to me, you have a higher chance of getting a response.

The creative director often isn’t the person to contact. Many times senior designers are the first port of call for interviews. There is no harm in sending a CV to more than one person at an agency.

Be creative, but don’t be pushy. Agencies find it very difficult to enlist good staff. That’s why most use expensive recruitment agencies.

Here’s my advice to graphic designers trying to get their CV to the top of the pile:

  1. Brand yourself. Make yourself memorable. I know that some people may disagree with this, which seems to be a USA thing, but your CV is seen by a creative, not the accountants. ‘Wow’ them.
  2. Be more than a sheet of paper. Most CVs are now sent by email. What can you do to differentiate yourself?
  3. Don’t include things I don’t care about, like ’I once worked as a waiter’ or ’I got a qualification in chemistry’. I don’t care if you like swimming. I do care, however, if you saw the last lecture by Paul Rand before he died and what your thoughts were. Make it relevant.
  4. Ensure everything is beautifully presented. Consider your kerning and double-check there are no silly mistakes — we all want to employ a safe pair of hands.
  5. Follow-up anything you send with a phone call, but remember, don’t hassle, be polite. Ask them what they thought of your CV and how it could be improved.
  6. Don’t try too hard. One student sent a mailer that was a fake bomb (with the tag line ’dynamite designer’. The bomb squad were called and the designer was contacted — by the police. He didn’t get the job. This raises another point — don’t boast, no-one wants to employ an arrogant designer. Never say you are the best. Leave that to Mohammed Ali.

Patience + time = job. Good luck.

Your thoughts

Do you have any additional CV tips to share?

Once your foot’s in the door, Lee has these interview tips to help you nail the next step in the process.

Related:
10 tips for a better cover letter, by Steve Pavlina
LinkedIn: let’s liven things up, and When good CVs go bad, on The Writer’s thingamablog
A few honest tips for job-seeking designers, on Cognition

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59 appreciated comments about “Getting your foot in the door”

  1. In my experience, having a modest and honest confidence about yourself helps out with any first impressions. I think in the design world, things are moving toward a more open way of communicating and dealing with each other as genuine people.

    People don’t like to be tricked or “sold” by anyone. I think as a graphic designer, in order to land ANY job, you go in there and present yourself as you are, even if it’s through your CV. If that means you don’t get the job, then obviously you need to work on things and improve, whether that be your work or how you deal with people. If you land the job, you landed it because of the actual designer you are, and not the mask you may wear to try to bend someone’s idea about you.

    I do my best to put forth exactly the designer and person I am when working with new clients. I think this not only helps me land jobs, but also contributes positively in some small way to the world’s idea of graphic design and the people that live for the profession.

    As always David, your posts are thought provoking and inspiring.

  2. Great advice, I think that being a little creative with your CV is absolutely right, it can make all the difference. Give its design the same care and attention you would give any freelance project and you’re sure to get noticed.

    Great article as usual David, keep up the good work. Love your portfolio by the way.

  3. One other mistake I see, is a designer not including a pdf with some of their best work, or at least a link to their website (or online portfolio).

    There’s not much an employer can do with a person’s details and work experience. A portfolio is crucial in selling yourself as a creative.

  4. Just like all other jobs, I think the worst mistake designers make is 1) not personalizing your letter and, more importantly 2) Having blatant spelling and grammar mistakes. Sure, you’re not being hired to be a copywriter, but you ARE being hired to have a strong attention to detail. The designer often puts copy onto a website or onto a poster… I think it makes employers nervous if you didn’t even take the time to make sure you had no errors on your CV. This says: “You will probably get things printed/going live with errors on it” whether they’re spelling or spacing.

  5. The book ‘How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul’ covers this topic in quite depth. I highly recommend it.

    This post by Jacob Share also comes to mind:
    36 resume ideas that work… do you think these are too creative or not creative enough?

  6. I think the point about not including irrelevant information is a good one. I used to catalogue all my qualifications and jobs back to the age of 15 and my CV would run for pages.

    I personally don’t think a CV should be any more than a page, otherwise it may be too intimidating.

    Also I have a question for either David, Lee or any other readers:
    When sending a CV to a design agency, is it a good idea to attach portfolio to the CV and covering letter or just include a link to a website etc?

    Nathan

  7. Fantastic post David, I specially agree with branding yourself!

    Cheers!

  8. Along with branding yourself, I would get yourself an online portfolio set up, along with a your own corporate email address. I’m more impressed with an email from designer@designersname.com rather than designer@hotmail.com

    This may mean outlaying a bit of cash, but if you’re determined to get the job, you should see this as an investment.

  9. For those asking about sending a link and such, by all means do it. My thought would be to follow the example of computer animators and send a CD with your work on it even if it is just a PDF or a JPEG gallery.

    That way they have ready access to see your work at their convenience to look at both when they receive it and at a later date, does not require them to have a network connection, and it is provided in multiple formats so you don’t have to worry about them having the right software or the cutting-edge version (i.e. if you use Acrobat 9 to make a PDF portfolio and your potential employer only has Acrobat 7 installed, they can’t see your stuff). I know it sounds odd but some places do lag behind and might still be running CS2.

  10. I wish I could see examples of good resume designs though. I’ve been looking hard for a few samples online and so far all I’ve seen is horrendously designed. Anyone seen a good “Top 10 Creative Resumes” post or anything like that?

  11. @Chelsea – I’d like to see that too!

  12. In previous jobs I’ve received some horrendous examples straight out of word’s cv wizard… No no no no no!

    I think its worth remembering that they are likely to what to print it out, so dont go for heavy block colour / black backgrounds. Something well designed but simple works best for me, both in terms of cv and portfolio layout – and make sure everything you send has a common style to it! If you use a background for your cv use it for the covering letter and portfolio too!

  13. Hi David,

    great post, I wish somebody would have write something similar when I got my bachelor in 2001.

    It’s funny how the reality differs depending on which job you are applying for. I couldn’t agree more about the fact that an agency will look more than anything for a team player. It is most of the times (depending on the size of the agency) even more important than talent since it is crucial for the unity of the teams to leave our natural arrogance at the door.

    As soon as you get your foot in though, I think it is important, if you are a natural leader and aspire to become the agency’s top, to take the lead. For that matter, every young designer should read; “It’s not about how good you are, it’s about how good you want to be” and “Whatever you think, think the opposite” both from Paul Arden. Even if some of the principles late Paul describes should be taken with moderation, it is a pocket bible to success for creative. Each of us should have a mentor to learn from, why not starting with the blood and soul of Saatchi & Saatchi in London.

    Cheers!

  14. Good article I agree with most of the points, but like you said in the USA a lot of employers do prefer simple cv’s over some crazy designed one.

  15. Adam:

    I think this is because a lot of companies scan resumes into their HR systems so plain text ones go into those easily.

  16. CV tips for graphic designers are simple, but many people don’t know or just forget them, so this post will be very useful for everyone. Thanks!

  17. Hi David,

    A very timely post for me! I’m in the process of branding myself, I’ve just put together a website and brought my CV in line with it. I think it’s important to be creative with your CV but not go over the top. After reading this article and the related design interview tips, I think I’ll design a business card for myself too. I never considered the corporate email address that Abbas has suggested so I may look into that too. These tips will be extremely useful to me in my job search, cheers :)

  18. Great advice I think. It’s important to see the CV as a showcase of what you are bringing to a company, not everything there is to know about you. I think it is also a good idea to forget about what traditionally should be in a CV, like you said black and white traditional CVs are for bankers & accountants.

  19. Employers looking for graphic designers should not ask for a CV. A cover letter + a website URL or a Squidoo lens would show much more depth… Sorry for those who are not web or html savvy.

  20. Thanks very much for all your comments. I’m very glad that Lee’s CV tips have been helpful to some of you.

    Phil,

    It’s also an aim of mine to stay modest at all times. Over-confidence can be a turn-off for potential employers. It would be for me.

    matthew,

    Good of you to say. Thanks.

    Mokokoma,

    That’s an important point. Linking to an online portfolio is something I’d expect to see in all CVs.

    kat,

    Impersonal letters / emails is a pet peeve of mine. I receive so many emails that start with ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, or ‘To whom it may concern’. It shows a lack of interest, and is usually greeted with a swift press of the ‘delete’ button.

    Jacob,

    Thanks for that link to Jacob Share’s article. I was searching for some further resources before publishing, but couldn’t find any I thought useful enough to mention. Personally, I don’t like most of the resumés shown, but there are a couple of clean, professional layouts.

    Nathan,

    I second your opinion about CV length. Here in the UK, we’re advised to keep CVs no longer than two pages, but I think a single page is much more effective. You can say all you need to say prior to an interview on one side of A4.

    Abbas,

    Great tip. Free email addresses don’t give a professional appearance, and it doesn’t cost much at all to create your own.

    Jon,

    File compatibility is another excellent pointer. Thanks for that.

    Chelsea,

    If you find such a resource, please do let me know. I’m sure Lee has a few crackers filed away, but it’d take time to photograph / scan them, and I know he’s a busy man.

    Scott,

    Absolutely. Keep colour blocks to a minimum. They’re not necessary.

    David,

    Great book recommendations. I’ve mentioned Paul Arden here: Do not seek praise. Seek criticism.

    Gráinne,

    Feel free to link to your website here. I’d be interested to see how you brand yourself online, and if you have any questions, I’ll do what I can to help.

    Thomas,

    Colour isn’t necessary. A good idea can be expressed in black and white.

    Vinh,

    Good luck with the chom chom logo design. I notice you’re in the process of designing one. I hope it goes well.

    Thanks again, everyone.

  21. “Never say you are the best. Leave that to Mohammed Ali.” intresting point of view, this days the so called “”designers”" aka. – got photoshop and I can cut a picture – talk to much and design pour quality metarials. The work, the portofolio should speak for them, at list this is my opinion.

  22. Great advise from Lee, it’s good to know how CV’s are viewed by the pros.

    I got my first design job by posting my CV after a campaign of Spam-can posting, believe it or not! If you don’t mind me leaving a link David, here it is on my site:

    http://www.andrewkelsall.com/how-to-get-a-design-job-using-tinned-meat/

  23. Lots of useful infomation here, thank you very much.

  24. Showing one’s expertise with simple and minimum words is in my opinion most important thing. Because if your cv is lengthy, nobody is going to read it till the end. So, it cv should be short, precise and to the point.

  25. No, I don’t mind at all, Andrew, and enjoyed reading about your spam campaign. Glad it worked out.

  26. Good insight, and very useful. I agree with point 6 (Don’t try too hard) Yes be creative, but as graphic designers we also need to present information the reader has little time to read. Can they pick out the important parts at a glance?

  27. Hey David I just wanted to say I love your blog and your tips and info from everythign related graphic design has helped better my design and bsuiness practices. All the best!

  28. Excellent blog posting. i especially agree with branding yourself. i am also a graphic designer…. keep the good work up !

  29. A CV is not just a piece of paper but reflects what is “you” and if you are designing your CV, put your best effort into representing yourself. A CV should have a message, clearly define what you want the reader to get out of your CV. Once you have the target defined, write just like a profesional letter.

    summary
    detail para 1
    detail para 2
    ..
    summary

    replace summary with introduction and closing with why YOU.

  30. Thanks for yet another intriguing article, David, and sharing Lee Newhman’s insight. I followed your lead with some thoughts of my own and thought I’d share them with you and your readers:

    a) A CV is a self promotional piece – and needs to be treated as you would treat a client’s marketing campaign.
    b) There’s a fine line between gimmicky and real value in any design execution, but especially in your own CV – make sure you’re adding value, not distracting from the message.
    c) build your CV from the core out – make sure that before you polish off your design, you’ve actually got some content for the employer to actually bite into.
    d) finally, make sure you avoid mistakes: grammar, design and business etiquette.

    I hope you don’t mind if i share my post on here: http://artwerk.com/2009/02/19/a-well-designed-cv-equals-job-at-first-sight/

    Cheers!

  31. Hi Rob,

    I don’t mind you sharing your link at all, and completely agree how there’s a fine line between gimmicky and valuable. Your particular ‘timeline’ idea is quite a novel one, and it helped capture my attention.

    Thanks to you, and to everyone else who has commented.

  32. Hi David

    Ive been to a couple of design interviews in the past which i havent been offered the position whenever ive asked the interviewer why i didnt get the job both told me id be more suited judging by my portfolio that “you would be suited to a bigger company”.

    I didnt question this but i felt like they were saying i was overqualified because after all who wouldnt want somebody who they think would work well for a larger company?

    What are your thoughts?

    Mike

  33. Hello Michael,

    I’ve been unsuccessful in a few applications due to over-qualification. Basically, your interviewer is saying they don’t think you’ll stick around very long, because you’ll soon be wanting a more challenging role.

  34. I really like your last lines. Never boast. Some do. Actually, they exagerrate their skills that when they become hired, the bosses tend to become disappointed with their hirees. Aside from that, it is always best to have an unassuming stance than be arrogant. Arrogance can get you killed especially in the coporate world. Office politics can be really hard on a person.

  35. That’s a great point, Phillip.

    I like to under-promise and over-deliver. If you sell yourself with all the bells and whistles possible, you’re unlikely to exceed expectations.

  36. An on-line CV is the ideal platform to show others what you can achieve with your work. There is so much more we can do with CV now by adding snippets of your portfolio and truly selling yourself as a creative designer.

  37. I want to update my resume and was wondering is it a good idea to include few samples of your portfolio inside the resume to catch the attention of the person who’s going through the pile?

  38. Personally, Viosa, I think adding portfolio entries to your CV would cause too much clutter.

  39. Thanks a lot David, I really appreciate your comments!

  40. Good points on the resume issue! I have also designed a 4/c tri-fold brochure for networking. Let’s face it your friends and associates don’t want your resume. They want a quick read on what you’re about and what you want for work. Make it short and simple with art samples and some bullet points of target companies. This is much more memorable for acquaintances and more comfortable for them to accept. This also works well with talent agencies.

  41. Great work, I follow a lot of design blogs to stay up with the newest and things but I always find your writing to really help more than most. On a second note I had wondered what your thoughts were on using HTML coded CV’s which could be opened with browsers. Recently I have noticed that most online submissions will only accept .doc or plain text but some do allow any file to be uploaded, I think it allows you to give a good first impression, show your abilities and display who you are versus a piece of paper. What are your thoughts? thanks

  42. I’m in the job hunting process now myself, having recently graduated a few months back.

    WAY different applying for design jobs than regular jobs, I’m in my 30s so, I have the job hunting experience.

    That being said, I’ve got a clean, interesting resume but, finding a lot of jobs posted these days want you to cut/paste in your resume into a text field, which I find surprising considering it’s for a design job. Plus, online forms are bad enough, but when posted on sites like Workopolis where they may not have any contact info posted at all, not even a company name… well, the follow-up process I am finding is harder than the hunt.

  43. Hi Thomas,

    Online job application forms have been notoriously bad since inception. My advice is to contact design agencies or studios directly, and send your details to the decision maker rather than an agency who may or may not pass on your interest.

    Good luck.

  44. To answer your question, Tom, about html coded CVs, a website is necessary for a designer’s promotion. It’s amazing what a good one can achieve.

  45. As usual David, your posts are a wonderful read.
    I especially want your thoughts on the difference between a freelance graphic designer’s resume versus that of a graphic designer who works at agencies/studios. In your opinion, doesn’t a freelance graphic designer who is applying for fixed job at an agency run the risk of a bloated resume if s/he lists every single freelance job (while citing the job responsibilities and all that)? What do you think are more creative ways of approaching this problem?

  46. Hi Omar, in such a case I’d limit the number of featured projects to perhaps five or six of my strongest. A potential employer can learn about the rest through your book or portfolio.

  47. I might have misunderstood, but shouldn’t the resume include a record of all the projects while the portfolio includes only the best work? In my resume, I have cited most of the projects I have done underneath a heading that reads “Selected Work Experience”. Below each project is a one-liner that describes what I have done in it.
    With my portfolio, I selected the best projects to showcase. You mentioned showing all the work in a book or a portfolio, but what if some of the projects are not as strong as you’d like them to be?
    I guess it’s a war between the responsibility of showing a record of all the work a designer has done on one hand and a showcase of the very best of it on the other…

  48. Just a quick note David, maybe it is better to have a link open in a new window when I click on a commentator’s name instead of it opening in the same window and moving away from your website.

  49. If I ever revert to employment, and tailor my CV for a specific job, there’s no way I could include every project I’ve worked on.

    The new window / same window link discussion has been had here before. You might find it of interest:

    Should links open in a new window

  50. I’m not sure if this is relevant, but I’d like to ask your advice, David. I’ve just moved to a big city and I’m trying to get my foot in the door into some design studios. The problem is, I worked at a studio in a small town for nearly two years, and I spent most of it doing 20-minute advertisements, laying up a small weekly paper, drawing up tax invoices and forms, and perhaps a small smattering of business and DL cards.

    Do you have any advice for people wanting to get better design jobs in a studio but don’t have a lot of good experience to stand on? Two years of experience looks good on a CV, but I worry what will happen if I get hired and get given a job out of my depth.

  51. Try not to worry, because it’s only when we’re out of our depth that we surprise ourselves with what we can achieve. I was out of my depth writing a book, but I learned an incredible amount from doing so, and, at the other side, things are looking better than before.

    Good luck.

  52. I guess that’s pretty true. I just worry that I’ll fail or get yelled at, but then I guess -everyone- has a trial-by-fire during their career. Thank you very much, David.

  53. Hi David,

    Thanks very much for all your tips on getting your foot through the door. I feel similar to ARC at the moment; I’m looking for my first design job and am worried that if I get a job, I’ll be out of my depth technically. All I can do is try though and keep my fingers crossed. Is there any possibility of showing you my CV to get your advice?! I understand if not! On one version of my CV I have written *UNIMAGINATIVE, *UNTALENTED, *UNCREATIVE (with an asterisk next to the words) in uppercase helvetica neue over a photo of mine. I’ve then written underneath in smaller type *does not apply to Jessica Cooper. It’s a risky approach but i really wanted to think of something that would make my CV stand out. I’m hoping it’ll catch people’s eye and amuse them! Do you have any advice?

  54. Hi Jessica, you’re very welcome. I don’t have time to look at your CV just now, but my advice is to focus on your online portfolio, rather than a gimmick on your CV. If I was hiring, I pay most of my attention to the designer’s website. As long as the CV was easy to read, with a clearly-defined layout, that’d be enough for me.

  55. Thanks David. I don’t have an online portfolio at the moment; I’ve just got a portfolio as pdf document. i don’t do web design although i hope to learnt more about it. do you think i still have a chance of getting a job as a graphic designer?!

  56. I think you should have at least four years of dedicated design study behind you before attempting to find employment. I’m sure there are successful designers without it, but that’s my belief.

    Whatever you decide, Jessica, all the very best of luck.

  57. I have been unlucky to get hired or even interviewed for about more than 6 months now and I’m getting really frustrated into checking the online job postings, which to no surprise are very few. I was thinking to try a different approach and send my resume as a e-newsletter that contains a cover letter, resume and few portfolio pieces and this might be a way to apply to those companies or studios who don’t bother to post the opened positions online. What are your thoughts?

  58. Hi Viosa, I recommend tailoring every application to the specific studio or agency. A blanket covering will appear just like that. You’re right, however, not to wait for job openings to be posted. A pro-active approach is the way forward. Good luck.

  59. I’m glad that there are new approaches in creating a resume. I think it makes it all the more fun than just writing a list. I also think you make a good point not to go too “extreme” on the creativity.

Anything to add?

Comments may be edited or deleted if I don't like the cut of your jib, but that's quite unlikely.