CV and Résumé Design Help. How To Design Your CV Or Résumé Properly And Not Suck
Every so often, I stumble upon a CV/résumé based blog post while trawling my design-blog RSS feeds. The post will usually boast a title along the lines of “50 jaw dropping, effective résumé designs” or “20 CV designs that will guarantee you an awesome job” or even something a little less hyped, like “100 great CV or résumé templates”. Invariably these posts are a collection of the most horrendously ugly, over embellished, badly designed CVs and résumés ever to have existed. In fact, more often than not, these so called “designs” will largely be out-done by the kind of template-based tat that Microsoft Word or Open Office spews out.
So what about good CV design? Where are all these sadly misjudged résumés and CVs going wrong?
Well ultimately, these CVs are considered “designed” when really it appears that very little design sense has gone in whatsoever. Granted, some will display solid content hierarchy and a sympathy for the content and context, but for the most part, they will be overblown gaudy looking documents with huge swathes of colour, inconceivable relationships between text and titles, and poor attempts at displaying what should be very straightforward, with apparent “solutions” which over-complicate things.
These self-proclaimed designer types are getting over excited about info-graphics, or going bananas for the latest Photoshop brushes, or tilting text for the sake of trying to appear trendy, without any apparent thought process. Perhaps it’ll get their CV noticed in a pile, but if it’s a pile of CVs for a design job, then their one will stand out for the wrong reasons.
One could argue that in that case, perhaps the CV has done it’s job. Alerted the end-user to the content, and secured that initial glance. My retaliation to that would be that despite being able to attract attention in this way, once the end-user realises that the attraction was for all the wrong reasons, their dismay at seeing such an atrociously considered document will turn them off instantly.
I understand that a CV should represent you, and so in doing that one might allow their inner “designer” to come out, and try and make an impression, but there are two worries to this. If that is indeed your understanding of good design, then you might as well give up now, since “good design” that is not. The other worry is that the content alone should be representative of you, so if you need to jazz it up with unnecessary flourishes, then you’re clearly trying to obscure something.
For me, design is about simplicity. Not necessarily, minimalism, but the notion that something should be intuitive and simple to use. Visually it shouldn’t be difficult to understand at a glance, and it should be sympathetic to both the content within and the context out-with. Considering the content, it should be considerate of the viewer and considering the context it should be considerate towards the medium upon which it resides.
So taking that in to consideration, I’d expect a document that was easy to read both on screen and on paper. Something that was well suited to being printed (consider the volume that may get printed for review) and read within a short timespan, and something that presented the content requiring the least amount of effort on behalf of the user. That, for me would constitute a “well designed” CV or résumé.
Lest we forget the oodles of people submitting CVs via interpretive dance, on embroidered quilts, in packets of jelly babies, QR codes printed on to orange peel, or résumés delivered in singing telegram format. These memorable submissions will certainly be noticed but let’s remember that paper-based CVs are tried and tested. Most of the time they need to be referred to again and again throughout the recruitment process, so your live tree-frog based synthesiser rendition of “Oops My Résumé Did It Again” probably won’t work so well second time around.
Employers will want and arguably need the facts first and foremost, so instead of a graph depicting how good you are at making marmalade, compared with painting Easter eggs, let’s just all help each other out here and cut to the chase. That’s great that you have a sense of humour, but nobody is employing you for your sense of humour, unless your application is to be a clown, in which case I’m out of my depth on giving advice. That’s a whole different bucket of confetti.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (author of “The Little Prince” – the most read and translated book in the French language, and voted the best book of the 20th century in France) is known to have said “Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.”
I think that sentiment describes exactly what I, as an employer would look for in a CV or résumé. Even when looking for a designer to employ. I think the applicant needs to be able to fulfil those requirements when submitting a document; aware that by allowing too much “design fluff” (as an old creative director once put it) would be detrimental to their application.
Once they have the job, they can perhaps exercise a little less restraint within their work, wherever appropriate, but design for me is all about allowing the end-user to get to what they require quickly and efficiently, and design fluff is merely attrition in this process.
So how do you design a good CV or résumé?
Content precedes design
Well like any design work that needs to be undertaken, you should first collect the content – don’t start putting in your information and styling it up until you have collected everything you want to display and communicate with the document.
Content structure and hierarchy
When you have all your content you can consider order, and hierarchy of the information. What do employers want to see first, what don’t they need to see at all? Things like contact details and a short informative statement should sit at the top, so that at a glance, an employer can get a feel for who you are and how to get hold of you. Consider your audience.
The actual data should be readable so that means no crazy fonts, and the hierarchy should be easily interpreted so that means no crazy font-sizes or odd mismatching of titles and content. Again, consider your reader and take in to account that it will likely be printed, but may also be viewed on screen first. It might be passed around to more than one person, so does it still work out of context? Is it easy to grasp who you are and what you can do from the content of the document?
Aim for a single page
Ideally aim for a single page CV. If you can comfortably fit all the relevant information on a single page, then do so. The less an employer has to trawl through to get the information he or she is looking for, the more effective your CV or résumé has been. I have seen a CV or résumé stretch to two pages, but beyond that and you’ve not exercised enough restraint, or are trying to tell your potential employer far to much at this stage.
Export the document as a PDF
I’ve lost track of the amount of Microsoft Word documents I’ve been sent in the past. Documents with bizarre formatting issues or fonts that I don’t have on my system. That’s if I can even open them in the first place! Consider exporting the file as a PDF (Portable Document Format) it’s more widely readable, and will also mean that people can’t accidentally delete the content out of your CV, or change anything as it’s passed to someone else.
CV and résumé design is an oft-contested subject, and I’m sure others will have differing views to mine, but put it this way: If you’re applying for a job that I’ve advertised, one of the worst things you can do is submit something I can’t read, understand or print and scan. If I have to deplete the rest of my cyan toner just to print an unnecessary, and frankly quite stupid looking background colour on your graph about how many Tunnock’s Tea Cakes you can juggle, then not only will you not get the job, I’ll probably bill you for a new printer cartridge.
This post was originally written for the QueryClick blog.
About The Author: Alex Cowles
A largely cynical and often sarcastic designer and front-end developer by day. Unknown international DJ & music producer extraordinaire by night (and at weekends). You probably won't like him.