For job seekers, your resume is the first impression you make on the people you hope to work with. For many fields, the content of the resume is the key factor in standing out from the crowd. But if you work in design, the decisions you make with your entire resume will also say a lot about your design skills.

When I get a resume to review, I am not just judging the content itself, although it is important. I am judging every single thing on it and I look at a number of the resume’s components to be good indicators of who you are as a designer.

I will have an impression of what type of designer you are in the first 30 seconds based on everything but your listed accomplishments
In fact, I will have an impression of what type of designer you are in the first 30 seconds based on everything but your listed accomplishments.

Here are some things that I will infer based on how you have designed your resume.

Can you get your message across?
I was taught, back in the olden days, that your resume should always be 1 page. Even after over a decade of work, I have found ways to keep things down to a single page.

Now that I have been put in the position to review resumes, the reason for this rule of thumb is clear. One of the goals of design is to provide clarity and get information across as easily as possible. The more data points you try to put into your resume, the more difficult this becomes. When your resume is 2 or 3 pages long, each individual item becomes less impactful. You are also asking that the person reviewing your resume spend more time digging through the content to find value.

This is generally the opposite of what we want to do as designers. We want to make sure the key information stands out. We want to be able to convince a person to take action with as little content as possible.

If you have a resume that is 2 or 3 pages long, what happens when I ask you to create a design for a product? I assume you are going to try to cram every single thing you can think of into that product. I think you are going to go on and on about the value when a couple of sentences would get the job done.

Do yourself a favour — keep things simple. Keep your resume short and to the point.

Do you consider your particular audience when you design?
A key principle of design is to know your audience (your user). This is why we have personas. We look at our users and figure out their goals and what information they need to make decisions. We need to do the same for our resumes.

The design manager has goals. So does the organization. Do you, the job seeker, understand these? Are you designing your resume accordingly? You should be highlighting the work you’ve done that relates to what the organization is trying to accomplish. If your target company is developing mobile apps, point out where you worked on mobile apps. If they are working with AI or analytics, see how you can relate your work to this. If you don’t have the experience, that’s ok, but if you do make sure it’s included.

Similarly, if the company is solely focused on Enterprise software, calling out your mobile work isn’t really relevant. This is another key reason to keep your resume short — so that you can tailor your message to your particular audience. Granted, this is more difficult to do early in your career (or when just starting out) when you have less content. But rather than try to fill out 2–3 pages of content, tailor what you have to your audience. That’s what we’re taught after all.

Do you know what makes your work valuable?
I’ve seen a lot of resumes that make the same basic mistake. These resumes talk in terms of what the designer did on the project.

While there is some value in telling me what role you played and what work you did, more important is what that work achieved. Don’t tell me you created wireframes, tell me how those wireframes made the users’ lives better. Don’t tell me you did user research, tell me the results of that research. How many key insights did you find? How many recommendations did you offer?

Don’t tell me you created wireframes, tell me how those wireframes made the users’ lives better
This is how you show value. These are the types of thing that you should be measuring in your products. If you do this, I get a better sense that you will measure your design outputs appropriately. If not, I fear that you think that design is all about producing deliverables.

What is your visual design sense?
Of course, I’m also judging the visual style of your resume. But how I look at it will depend on what position you are applying for. If I am trying to fill a Visual or UI Designer position, then I would expect some flourishes on the resume that indicate your style and approach. If you are applying for UX or IA positions, I am more looking at the structure, but do want to know if you at least understand some basic principles within your resume style.

Is your work grounded in reality?

I strongly advise against putting charts on your resume. Mostly because they don’t mean anything. Photo from freepik.
For some reason, a trend in the last few years is to try to quantify skill level within resumes. People will give themselves a score of 9/10 on User Research, for example. They might even include some form of histogram to go along with it.

The charts are a tiny bit helpful to inform me where you think you are strongest — although people rarely rank themselves low on any of the fields. But in general, it tells me that you often make stuff up and try to pass it off as good design, assuming visuals will do the trick. No one is going to get a set of resumes and compare them based on user self-assessments, so these are fairly meaningless. You should be able to stand out with the content of your work. Making up metrics and self-assessing yourself tells me you can’t do that.

No resume is perfect. I know I’ve had some pretty bad examples in my past. But please know that me and every other design manager looking to hire will be able to judge your work without even knowing about your actual work. It’s possible your portfolio and interview skills will be able to speak beyond what your resume is telling me, but first you have to get me excited to get you to that next step. Yes, your resume content is important. But if I can’t get past your resume design, then your content has that much more work to do to make up for the bad first impression.

With thanks to Brian McKenna.