At the risk of stating the (very) obvious, graphic design is a visual medium. A skilled designer blends art, technology, and information to create a compelling image that can convey concepts, reflect ideas, or inspire audiences. And while a designer’s creations can more or less speak for themselves, a great resume is still needed to give context to their work and provide additional details about their skills and experience. Because beautiful designs don’t just appear out of nowhere.
“When we hire a graphic designer, we look at four key things: quality of work, consistency of work, tool competencies, and—if they’ve freelanced—positive testimonials,” says Jérémy Chevallier, who regularly hires freelance graphic designers as Director of Marketing at Crash.co and also works as a career coach for creative professionals. Your resume is meant to convey the things that go on behind the scenes—the skills and proficiencies and experiences that enable you to create your designs.
Try thinking of your resume as a snapshot of your experience and capabilities—a sneak peek at what you can do. Here are a few rules to follow when writing your graphic design resume.
1. Resist the Temptation to Get Too Creative
I know, I know. Creativity is an essential skill for a graphic designer. And it can be tempting to show off a little on your resume. But if you plan on applying to online job postings, you’re probably going to have to contend with an applicant tracking system (ATS). These systems tend to have trouble reading files with design elements like unusual fonts, images, or text boxes.
“A graphic designer’s resume needs to make it through the applicant tracking systems first, and those programs use keyword matching, not aesthetics, to determine who makes it through to the next step in a recruiting process,” says Terry McDougall, CEO of Terry B. McDougall Coaching and a former marketing executive. In fact, an ATS will strip out many design elements and deliver a plain text version to the recruiter or hiring manager on the other side. So it’s best to stick with a simple template (check out the example below to see this in action) anytime you apply online.
But this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a design-heavy version, too. If you’re able to bypass the ATS for some applications by sending your resume directly to a recruiter or hiring manager (say through a referral or introduction), you’re welcome (and encouraged!) to use a more creative version of your resume. “Create a [second] resume that reflects your style of work. Just be sure that your design choices don’t distract from the content of the resume,” Chevallier says.
2. Include Links to Examples of Your Work
While it’s best to keep your resume simple, there are still ways to showcase your creativity. Enter: the portfolio or personal website. “Graphic designers should always include a link to a website or portfolio [on their resumes],” McDougall says. And you’ll want to be sure that these external links are not only included on your resume, but also easy to spot. You might create a designated portfolio section on your resume where you can include links to your work, or you can intersperse links throughout (see the example below).
You can also include links to past projects within the experience section of your resume. For example, if you created a company logo for a startup, you could write a bullet point that says:
- Collaborated with BeeHive & Co. founders on the design of the new “Bee Free” logo, from research and conceptualization through draft, production, feedback, and finalization (link)
Note that some ATS will only read the url of a hyperlink, so avoid using anchor text that is vital to your resume.
3. Tailor Your Resume for Every Opportunity
While the content of your resume probably won’t change too dramatically from one application to the next, you should always plan to set aside time to tailor your resume for every job posting you respond to. I know this might sound cumbersome, but it’s easier than it sounds. When in doubt, remember this: If a skill, proficiency, or technology is listed in a job description, then it should be on your resume (so long as you have actual experience with that given skill, proficiency, or technology). Even better? You can cut whatever won’t be relevant to a particular role. That will help keep your resume to a single page.
You’ll also want to be thoughtful about the design work you choose to feature via external links, as design goals and aesthetics will vary from one company or industry to the next. You should pick the samples that best prove you can do the kind of work you’d be doing in the actual role.
“Seek to understand the goals of the company you’re interviewing with,” McDougall says. “Some companies want to use creativity to shock or gain attention. If you’re working as a graphic designer for a snowboard company, you will likely have much more leeway in your design than if you’re working for a more conventional company like a hardware store or hospital.” This is your opportunity to show prospective employers that not only are you a talented designer, but that your aesthetics and abilities are a strong match for their needs.
4. Use the Right Keywords
Applicant tracking systems are programmed to scan resumes for specific keywords in order to determine whether an applicant is a good fit for the role. So resume keywords matter. Especially when you’re applying online. You don’t need to stuff your resume with every graphic design term under the sun. But as a best practice, it’s worth checking to make sure you’ve included as many relevant keywords as organically as possible.
Not sure where to start? Try reading through a few of the job postings you’re most excited about and taking note of the terms or phrases that keep popping up. Chances are, words like logo design or brand identity will be safe bets, but you can think outside the box, too. A demonstrated knowledge of sales, marketing, design theory, color theory, typography, or user experience can also be valuable, depending on the role. “Demonstrating that you understand the larger purpose that design serves can be really important,” Chevalier says.
While the “right” terms will vary from one job posting to the next, here’s a list of popular graphic designer keywords to get you started.
- After Effects
- Brand Consistency
- Color Theory
- Product Design
5. Put Your Work in Context
Because graphic design is a visual medium, it might be tempting to assume your designs alone will get you hired. But the strongest resumes go beyond linking to work and listing companies you’ve worked for to put your abilities in context, using specific examples, outcomes, and even numbers, where applicable. “Resumes that include examples that speak to collaboration, creativity, time management, deadline orientation, knowledge of how the medium in which their designs will be used—such as print production, video, or web—will always stand out,” McDougall says.
Quantifying your experience and accomplishments will help recruiters and hiring managers better understand what you do. So rather than saying you “created promotional materials,” you can put that project in context by including additional details and saying you “designed BeeHive & Co.’s new product marketing materials, including signage, banners, and flyers across print and digital, contributing to achievement of 120% of target revenue in Q1 2020.”
Most resume bullet points can be quantified using this simple formula:
- Compelling verb + description of work + outcome (if applicable)
If you’ve worked for an organization for a longer period of time, it might be more efficient to create a key achievements subsection where you can go into more detail about specific projects that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for. No matter which structure you use, be sure you’re keeping the bigger picture in mind. “A graphic designer who can demonstrate that they understand how their work impacts a company’s bottom line is ten times more interesting and valuable than a candidate who only focuses on design,” Chevallier says.
6. Highlight Your Relevant Technical Skills
Most graphic designers will be skilled users of programs like Photoshop, InDesign, or Illustrator, so prospective employers will expect to see them on your resume. But don’t stop there. If you have additional skills that are relevant to a particular role, consider adding them. “Go beyond pure design tools like Adobe and show that you also know marketing tools like Mailchimp or TweetDeck. These are complementary skills that will increase your value as a designer,” Chevallier says. McDougall agrees: “If you have ‘crossover’ skills such as video editing, copywriting, or illustration, you should list them in the skills section of your resume, too.”
For the sake of organization and scannability, you might consider categorizing your technical skills into buckets like design, coding languages, and marketing tools (see the sample below) or indicating your level of expertise (e.g. expert InDesign user or proficient with MailChimp). You can also weave your technical skills throughout the experience sections of your resume to put them in context.
7. Master the Fundamentals of Resume Writing
When it comes to resumes, there are a few simple rules that transcend roles and industries. You’ll want to keep these basic guidelines in mind as you draft your own.
Keep your resume to a single page. Your resume should be a snapshot of your experience—not an exhaustive list of everything you’ve ever done. Tailoring your resume for every job you apply to (and cutting content that just isn’t relevant) will help you to keep the length under control. And as a general rule of thumb, you can typically delete work experience that’s more than 10 to 15 years old. Hiring managers are going to be most excited about the things you’ve accomplished recently. That said, there are exceptions to every rule. If you’re a seasoned design professional with a lengthy, relevant career trajectory or a freelancer with an impressive list of former clients, a two-page resume might make sense for you.
Use a clean, scannable layout. Recruiters prefer a chronological layout because it’s straightforward and easy to scan, but for career changers or people reentering the workforce, a combination or functional resume layout could be a better fit (just be aware of the pros and cons of each format before you commit). Whatever layout you go with, be sure that you create clearly defined section headers to make your resume scannable.
Consider including a summary. Resume summaries can be a great way to put your past experience and future goals in context—especially if you’re making any kind of career pivot. They don’t need to be terribly long—just two or three sentences detailing who you are, what you do, what your best trait or skill is, and what you’re looking to do next. When executed well, they can help to paint a fuller picture of what you bring to the table. Check out the sample resume below for an example.
Double check your work. Attention to detail is an especially important trait for graphic designers, so you want to make sure your resume is flawless before you send it out into the world. When in doubt, ask a trusted friend or colleague to read it through.
And Now, an Example!
No two resumes will be exactly alike (nor should they be!), but the below example will give you a general sense of the type of layout and content you’ll want to use for your own. As you read it over, notice the formatting (simple text, clear headings, plenty of white space), ample use of relevant keywords, and quantified achievements.
Remember, your resume isn’t meant to showcase your work (that’s what a portfolio is for), but rather to highlight the skills and experiences you bring to the table. It’s an overview of what you’ve accomplished and what you’re capable of doing next. When done right, your resume should serve to provide additional context to your body of work and—most importantly!—help you land a great new graphic design job.