If you’re looking to change job or switch career sometime soon, or if you’re a recent graduate and have just started thinking about the world of 9 ’till 5, then getting a really compelling CV together is going to be your first hurdle. You might want to buy a beer and watch your favorite TV show first, because writing a CV is no fun at all! I can safely say that most of us truly hate it, but getting the job done right is going to make all the difference for your long term prospects.
I won’t pretend to be an expert in the field of recruitment, nor will I claim to have the best CV out there – but like most studio managers, I’ve had the benefit of seeing both sides of the coin.
This article is intended for those of you who are seeking employment in the Graphic Design industry, but much of it could really apply to any creative role, whether its copywriting or sound design.
Have Realistic Expectations
If you’ve applied for any positions yet then you’re probably already aware that jobs in the creative industries are very competitive. In my experience, a Graphic Design position in Brighton (UK) posted on any popular job site is likely to be read by over 1,000 jobseekers within its first month of publication. I would expect to receive no less than 100 applications for any position advertised at a Junior to Middleweight level with a competitive salary associated.
Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that your efforts are hopeless! This oversubscription is partly made up of fantastic people who would be a great asset to any company, but many who are seriously underqualified or far too inexperienced for the position advertised. A lot of jobseekers punch above their weight, especially if they’re applying for lots of jobs at a time – there’s just nothing to lose with this, and it presents a unique problem for employers who manage their own recruitment. They’re going to have to file through all those applications, weed out all the ones who aren’t up the job, and then find clear points of comparison between the rest.
What it does mean for you is that you’re going to have to do your best to promote yourself in the best light possible, showing yourself as a cut above the rest. But you already knew that!
Early Bird Gets The Worm
This point is really short – find jobs that were posted recently. Get in at the start of a recruitment campaign and you’ll probably find someone reading your CV who isn’t tired of all the nonsense they’ve been sent yet. Plus, if you’re the right candidate then they might just offer it to you before someone else swoops in.
Get It All Out
All your qualifications, your career history, your training, experience in your current workplace, your pastimes, your personal qualities and everything in between might have a place somewhere on your CV. If you don’t already have a CV in some form or another, then a good starting point can be just getting everything you think applies down in writing – you can then group each point into a more accessible headline category.
Short and Sweet
Talk to any recruitment agency and they’ll tell you that a CV should be no more than 2-3 pages in total. I say ignore their advice – but take notice of the principle.
A lot of people write great lengths of prose in their CV and although you might have lots to say about each aspect of your education and career history, learning to summarise could not be more critical. A CV of 5 pages could be exactly right – traditionally long side in terms of paper, but give each page a dedicated theme and strip the content right back and it’ll be 10x easier to read.
Always assume the person reading your CV is rushed off their feet – you need to make sure all of your essential information can be easily found at a glance. That means making use of really clear titles, cutting paragraphs into sentences and learning the wonders that a bulletised list can do.
Find a Format That Works
You’re a Graphic Designer (or, if not, then you may know someone who is and can help), so make sure your CV looks really really really good. It’s your first showcase after all!
Keep it simple. Your CV doesn’t have to look like a piece of corporate literature, it can have personal style and express your own concept, it should obey basic design principles when treating a multi-page document, or it could break them if you so desire. Just remember to keep it easily readable, and don’t over do it.
Obvious pitfalls occur if you’re trying anything that’s too adventurous. Over the top concepts will put off as many people as they attract, and using really recent design trends can date very quickly too. It’s worth saying again – just keep it simple.
Make it Relevant
If you’re serious about applying for a job then writing a good covering letter is important. It’s going to be your first impression to any potential employer, so make sure it says something relevant to the job itself and reveals a little about your own personality. A covering letter can be included straight in the body of your application email, so don’t worry about sending it as a separate PDF. Including a generic cover letter can work if it’s phrased cleverly, but spending an extra 15 minutes on a bespoke one may make all the difference. Getting the company name wrong if you use a generic letter, on the other hand, is probably going to take your chances of success down to a zero.
Some jobs are going to be worth investing a little more time than others. If you find an ad that either really appeals, or you think you fit perfectly with, then consider putting in an extra hour to customise some of the content of your CV to fit the position. There are elements of every job that can be stressed more than others, so always put yourself in the position of a prospective employer and think about the kind of things they want to read.
A CV is NOT Enough
You’d be surprised to see quite how many applications I receive with just a CV and covering letter included. For a job in Graphic Design this is a big no-no. Specifically for this industry, you should expect a big part of any employer’s decision to be based upon the work contained in your portfolio. If your work doesn’t fit the company style or you’re just simply not skilled enough to undertake the level of work they expect, then there wont be any quantity of words in your CV long enough to convince that employer otherwise. If you’re not including a portfolio PDF or a link to your portfolio site in your application then expect to hear nothing back.
If you’re seeking work as a web designer, then there’s equally no excuse for not having a personal portfolio site. Building a relevant blog into this will help show employers that you’re dedicated to your field (inside and out of work), and that your knowledge of the industry has a wider scope. It’s also a great opportunity to show some work with a free reign creatively – use it to cut your teeth!
Fully expect your prospective employer to search for you on social networking sites, especially Twitter and Facebook, as they could hold a little bit of background information about an applicant that reveals a lot more about their personality or lifestyle than intended. Making sure your Facebook privacy settings don’t allow non-friends to see pictures and wall posts is probably a good idea to avoid drunken photos letting you down. Simply keep Twitter conversation to topics that are safe for work or (even better) relevant to your industry!
Avoid procrastinating if you’re serious about job hunting – it only takes an evening to get a really solid CV together. After that it’s just a matter of search and email… and your interview!
The opinion of employers out there is quite varied, so make sure you find a way of presenting your talent that works for you but really delivers information with impact. I’ve created a list of a few further bits of reading that could help in the meantime…
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