Your resume is the first thing you step out with on your journey from graphic designer student to working graphic designer. It is the key that unlocks the door to having your LinkedIn profile and your portfolio reviewed, and ultimately getting an interview and… a job!
In short, your resume is the most important tool in your job-seeking toolkit. Implication: expect to put some work into getting it right.
The process of putting a good graphic designer resume generally unfolds along this four-step pathway:
- Organize your assets: Review all your old class projects and other projects you’ve done. Organize your work for easy access (by project, but also by the tools you used, like Illustrator, Photoshop, or InDesign).
- Structure and write out resume content: Without worrying about style and layout, put together the content for your resume in a document.
- Lay out your resume content in a resume template.
- Review, check and double-check for misspelled words, grammar and punctuation errors, and missing or inaccurate information.
This article walks you through all these steps.
Organize your assets
The first step in preparing your resume is to get a blank sheet of paper and a writing utensil, or open up a document in your favorite word processor.
What? You were expecting to jump right into resume design? Not so fast grasshopper. The essence of your resume is the content. So, step one is to assemble the requisite content.
Survey your accomplishments
As a fresh-out-of-the-gate aspiring graphic designer, your strong suit is your education. Don’t under-sell it.
Let’s walk through an example: Having just completed a graphic design certificate program (we’ll use the one at Noble Desktop in this example), here’s a list of assets you may have come out of that with:
- The certificate itself
- Skills in editing and retouching photos in Photoshop
- Skills in creating vector graphics in Illustrator
- Skills in designing page layouts in InDesign
That’s not the end-all and be-all of what employers are looking for. But it is a very important start.
Next, think about “soft” skills you came out of your certificate or degree program with. Did you learn to accept and apply criticism? Work to assigned specifications? Jot down some notes.
And, list the projects you’ve worked on. For example: experience creating social media graphics, logos, and cover art.
Then, think about “soft” skills you’ve developed, including:
- Working with assigned style
- Photo selection
- Welcoming and applying feedback
Some skills might not fit neatly into a category. Typographic design is both a “hard” skill and a “soft” skill. Understanding design principles combines technique and aesthetics. The point is not to pigeonhole skills. The point is to think creatively and broadly and list everything you have learned.
One helpful technique is to organize your assets in three columns: the applications you used, the projects you worked on, and “soft” skills you acquired. Something like this:
The value of organizing apps used, projects, and “soft” skills in columns is so that you can easily deploy them to the best advantage, projecting each asset in a living way. Later, we’ll look at how to take a skill set like this, and present it using action verbs.
Organize resume content
Besides projecting your skills, your resume must present:
- Name and contact information (including the URL for your portfolio and LinkedIn profile. Use a professional email address. A Gmail address is fine. If you have an @yourname.com custom email address, that is even more professional).
- If possible, line up references (teachers, former employers) to be provided to prospective employers on request.
- In most cases: get a professional-quality headshot or staged photo.
- Think about interests outside of graphic design (per se) you can include that demonstrate qualities that translate to graphic design assets, like a sport, a musical instrument, or another dimension of art and design like photography, painting, or sketching.
Line up References
Write all your favorite teachers asking if you can use them as a reference. Why not? All they can do is say no. And definitely seek reference letters from internships, clients, or friends for whom you did a volunteer project (those friends count as clients).
When you ask for a reference letter from a professor or instructor, always remind them of who you are, what class you took with them, and when. For example: “I took your logo design class in the fall of 2022.” And find other ways to make it easy for them to remember you and what you accomplished.
- Remind them of the specific topics covered in class. For example: “In your class, I learned to create multi-page brochures and documents in InDesign, and how to embed and link photos and artwork from Illustrator.”
- Remind them of your particular accomplishments in class. For example: “You might remember I created the poster and social media campaign for an animal rescue shelter.”
- Remind them of any particularly significant interactions. For example: “I appreciated that you noticed that I enjoyed reaching out to classmates who were struggling with vector artwork and helped them in class.”
To be seen, or not to be seen?
There are arguments for and against including a photo in your resume. The main argument against photos, and headshots in particular, is articulated in an advice post at Indeed: “[W]hat you look like has no bearing on your ability to perform the job.” And let’s get candid here: including a photo might subject you to discrimination, or, conversely, make it appear you are unfairly trying to leverage your gender, nationality, or other things that are revealed in a photo to get a job.
As important as those concerns might be, not including a photo doesn’t solve them. Sooner or later a prospective employer will see you. And you can mitigate the downside to having a photo by staging your photo in a way that controls how your image is projected.
Here's a suggestion, based on reviewing hundreds of graphic designer resumes: Stage a photo (or create an avatar) that emphasizes context, not your face. With a staged photo, you can find ways to put the emphasis on what you do rather than who you are.
Staging a photo rather than just using a headshot is explored in more depth in other articles in this series (see Graphic Designer LinkedIn Profile Guide & Tips). But here are some examples of effectively staged headshots from postings on LinkedIn from graphic designers that emphasize location, avatar design skills, influences, and skills.
Use search-friendly terms and action verbs
To make your resume “pop” in a quick review by a human relations (HR) screener or potential client, it needs to do two things:
- Align with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) keywords that job search apps like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and the rest use to filter out graphic designer resumes and present them to potential employers.
- Catch the eye of HR screeners who will spend, according to data, six to eight seconds initially scanning your resume.
And you need to meet those requirements without “listing” or asserting your skills, but by demonstrating your skills.
How does that work? Read on.
What are employers looking for in a junior graphic designer?
When you submit your resume to a job board like Indeed or Monster.com, those venues use complex AI algorithms (programs that “teach themselves” how to be effective). Those AI algorithms match your resume with an employer’s needs without a human being even seeing your resume.
As you might guess, graphic designers can’t simply look up those algorithms and align resumes to match them. But.. since the AI algorithms that job boards use are themselves drawn from what HR screeners are looking for in an entry-level graphic designer resume, you can figure out which terms to use in your resume by surveying job postings for junior graphic designers. And, by studying advice posts and articles at job posting sites like Monster.com and Indeed.com.
The following three sets of skills, and the specific wording used to describe them, are drawn from studying job postings:
- Fundamentals of design
- Principles of typography and detailed implementation of typographic styles
- Color theory
- Logo and icon design
- Motion graphics
- Adobe creative apps: Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign
- UX/UI: XD, Figma, Sketch, InVision, or other UX/UI prototyping apps
- Motion Graphics
- Organizational and communication skills
- Print and web output
Don’t assert, demonstrate with action verbs
As you move to tightening and sharpening up the text in your resume, lead with action verbs. Be concise. Avoid meaningless adjectives (hard-working, friendly…).
Here’s where that three-column list approach illustrated earlier in this article pays off. By combining assets from the three columns, you can demonstrate skills.
- Designed social media graphics with Illustrator and worked to specs, under tight deadlines, while multitasking.
Which could translate to:
- Retouched photos in Photoshop for use in social media campaigns, met specifications and deadlines
Got the concept?
A couple more examples:
- Brainstormed and collaborated to storyboard an ad campaign for a non-profit (class project) using Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign
- Conceptualized and produced a branding campaign with multi-media print, web, and social media deliverables to meet deadlines using UI/UX tools to hand off to the coding team
Note what is not included in these examples:
- I did… (avoid first person in general)
- Enthusiastic, energetic, fun, and other adjectives devoid of substance
- Vague verbs like “used,” “worked with,” or “learned.” Combine verbs with specific ways you applied a skill (brainstormed, conceptualized…).
You’ll find a substantial set of resume-ready action verbs from Indeed at https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/action-verbs-to-make-your-resume-stand-out.
Lay out your resume using a professional template
Once you have your content organized, and written down (and only then), it is time to move to laying out your resume.
Keep your resume layout and design simple and clean. The design of your resume itself is not the place to showcase your design skills. Once AI algorithms flag your resume and push it into the inbox of an HR reviewer, that reviewer will be looking for key skills, presented clearly and concisely. And remember, the skills recruiters are looking for have to jump out in six to eight seconds! The more complicated your resume layout, the more hurdles you place in the way of an HR reviewer spotting your assets, looking you up on LinkedIn, and handing your resume off to someone who might interview you for a job.
There are many professional (and free) resources for resume templates. Use one. Professionally designed templates are aligned with the need to present assets to a potential employer in a few seconds.
Why not design your own resume layout? You are likely a talented designer fluent in Adobe Illustrator. But your resume does not need, and should not have, the amazing array of effects available in Illustrator. And designing your resume layout in Illustrator (or Photoshop or InDesign) creates the potential for something to go wrong with the design.
Also, Illustrator does not have as robust spelling and grammar checking tools as the other options explored here–especially Microsoft Word or Google Docs. And careful spelling and grammar checking is essential in creating your resume.
Before exploring a few sources of templates and examples of good layouts, a few tips:
- In general, you are looking for two-column layouts with space for a photo in the upper left.
- You do not have to and most likely should not use the exact structure in the templates you find. As someone making the transition from graphic design student to working professional you will almost always want to list education first (whereas working professionals will list experience first).
- Rely on the design and structure of the template, but customizing content is not quite as simple as “filling in the blanks.”
- All templates do require some ability to design and layout content. Since there are multiple resources for graphic designer resume templates, choose a source you are comfortable working with.
Microsoft Word Templates
To access templates in Microsoft Word, choose File > New from Template… Resume templates in Word are not particularly accurately titled, so it is best to not rely on using the Search box. Just scroll through available resumes looking for simple, clean, two-column layouts with space for a photo in the upper left. The one here is simply called Resume (Professional).
As you can see, when you choose a resume template in Word, you can enable the LinkedIn Resume Assistant (BTW, if you weren’t aware by now, Microsoft owns LinkedIn). Resume Assistant shows examples of other graphic designer resumes. If, after reviewing the Privacy Statement, you decide to have a look at examples, you might find some useful inspiration, but the examples generally apply to experienced professionals, not someone looking for a first job.
A strength of the Microsoft resume template shown here is the nice space for a photo that allows for more than a headshot. And the photo itself is a nice example of a staged picture that can be used to present you “in your element” as a designer.
Like almost all resume templates, this one requires flipping Education and Experience until you build up an impressive set of jobs or projects. As a newly certificated job applicant, your education and your certificate or degree are your strong suit so list those first.
Google Docs Templates
At this writing, Google Docs’ selection of resume templates is weak on designer-friendly layouts. But Google Docs’ resume templates have two important positives. One is that Google Docs is free and accessible to anyone, anywhere. The other strength of the set of resumes in Google Docs is that they are paired with letter templates, so when you create a cover letter to customize what you present to a specific potential employer, the letter and the resume will match in style.
The currently available templates at Google Docs are probably a good fit if you elect not to include a photo in your resume.
You can access the selection of resume templates at Google Docs by choosing File > New From Template Gallery and scrolling down to review resume templates.
Designing a resume in Canva
Canva is a free online tool for designing publications (there is also a paid professional version but it is not necessary for creating a resume). Even if you are fluent and talented at designing in Adobe Illustrator or InDesign, Canva provides an extensive, quick, easy-to-use, and relatively “unbreakable” resume templates. When you log in and click the Create a Design button, scroll down to Resume and survey the options.
Because other designers share templates, Canva probably offers as large a selection of resume template options as you can find. The example here demonstrates features you are looking for, including a nice place for a photo, the Education section on top, and a no-frills layout.
Use but do not be bound by templates
The main value of using a resume template is layout and design. The specific template content may or may not be applicable. For example:
- As noted earlier, you will likely want the Education section of your resume to be first, followed by experience.
- Compress or delete the About paragraph. When HR screeners scan your resume, the About section just slows them down.
- As an overall rule: the advice in this article (and other expert, evidence-based advice you find online) overrules the content suggestions in resume templates.
Save and publish your resume
Once you’ve completed your resume, save it as a PDF to submit to job boards and employers. Save files with a file name that includes your name and the word “Resume.” For example: Alex_Lee_Resume.PDF.
And, save your resume in the native file format in which it was composed (a .docx file for Word or Google Docs, and an online file with Canva for example). Your resume will always be an iterative work in progress, so store your original file in an accessible folder on your computer or in the cloud.
And speaking of iteration: Periodically review your resume, add new projects, new skills, and new experiences.
Review! And then review again. And again.
Before submitting your resume, use this checklist to make sure it is ready for the world.
- Use Word or Google Docs to identify grammar or spelling errors
- Get someone else to review your resume
- Be concise and do not exceed one letter-sized page
- Keep font size to 10, 11, or 12 point and set margins to no less than 0.5 inch all around
- Avoid the word “I” or other first-person pronouns (we, “our group”)
- Use past tense in describing past positions and use present tense for your current position(s)
You can find more detailed advice at Indeed: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/resume-format-guide-with-examples.
Find someone to review your resume before submitting it to job search engines or an employer. That someone could be an instructor/professor, a mentor, a relative or a classmate who is particularly skilled at spelling and grammar.
There is no substitute for working with an expert, someone who is familiar in detail with your skills and strengths when reviewing your resume. They will pick up on missing experiences and projects, and ways you can project your skills and assets in ways that you will miss. Degree and certificate programs often have career counselors or resume editing resources. Noble Desktop, for example, provides access to an Industry Mentor and Career Advisor.
- Put complete contact information at the top: Name, photo, email, portfolio link, and URL of LinkedIn profile
- Lead with your school classes and projects, minimize experience before that
- Use a professional template and keep your resume to one-page maximum
- Review and proofread your resume before submitting it as a properly-named PDF
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