Resumes are portfolio pieces too.

In these economically straining times, you may have found yourself on the receiving end of the dreaded pink-slip. If so, I’m really sorry. Layoffs seem to have become perfectly acceptable these days – and for many businesses, it’s the first bailout option that management uses. It’s not right — and when it’s your turn to make these decisions, remember that people will stick by you in the hard times if you help them out in the good times. But we’re not here to talk about poor management. We’re here to talk about resumes.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say that in the design field, your resume is not as important as your portfolio. I understand what they mean, but I feel like a more accurate statement would be that “your resume is part of your portfolio.” One of my tips to presenting your portfolio is to remember that God is in the details. This statement holds true with your resume as well.

I do not argue the point that your portfolio will speak volumes about you and your work. But all too often I come across a resume that is so poorly designed, so underwhelming, so poorly written, that is just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. After experiencing one of these, I look at the work with a certain level of skepticism — a nagging feeling that when not being art-directed, your work would suffer a similar fate. I do believe resumes should be seen as opportunities, instead of just a formality. Here are some tips that may help with that:

First of all, pick good paper. By good paper, I don’t mean go to OfficeMax and grab a “premium” Linen sheet or other crazy “resume” paper. Pick a slightly heavier weight (24lb. – 28lb.), clean white sheet. No crazy textures or flecks or whatnot. Neenah’s Classic Crest or Wausau’s Royal Cotton lines are good places to start. Some warmth to the white would be nice – stopping short of a beige or cream paper.

Keep it simple. Use the standard 8.5 x 11 inch sheet if in the US (A4 if in Europe). Don’t get anything bigger thinking this will make your resume stand out. It will just make your resume the annoying one.

Also, I have heard time and time again, keep your resume on one page. I say this is baloney. I say you’re safe so long as you keep it contained to no more than two pages. Don’t get me wrong, if all you need is one page, then by all means! But if you’ve got lots of experience and relevant information to share, I think you’re okay “breaking the rule.” (And just to be clear, your two pages should be one-side only – held together by a paper clip, not a staple).

This is your chance to shine! Pick your font(s) carefully and show exceptional command of the typeface(s) you picked. I cannot emphasize this enough. Just keep in mind that the people who will get your resume are designers too — have you ever met a [good] designer who’s not a type snob? If you pick a sans-serif/serif pair, be sure to have a reason for pairing them up (i.e. x-heights are consistent, designed by the same designer, etc). Avoid trendy fonts like a week-old burrito!

Some fonts you might consider include Sabon, Garamond, Minion, Scala Serif & Sans, News Gothic, Trade Gothic. Whenever possible (and appropriate), use old-style figures for your numbers. Don’t forget ligatures, italics if appropriate, etc.

The way you design the layout of your resume is almost as important as the content it holds. If your design is cluttered and difficult to follow, your content will suffer. Allow plenty of white space and organize your content into logical, cohesive sections. Designers have some tendencies you should avoid, such as small type (nothing below 9pts.), or grey type (stick with black whenever possible), or useless decoration. Anything that distracts the reader from the content should be avoided. Remember content is king! The layout should be there to reinforce the content, and then it should take a step back so as not to get in the way of the message.

Last, but certainly not least, your resume should provide the reader with relevant, useful information. What is your experience, your education, what do you bring to the table as a designer, as a person? Remember, this paper is not just a formality! It’s an opportunity.

Spell-check your resume once, twice, even three times! Have someone else spell-check it for you. Check your grammar. Avoid lengthy descriptions of useless information (I’m guilty of this myself – but I have seen the light). Pay as much attention to the details of your resume as you would any other work on your portfolio.

I certainly have my own opinions about resumes that I will keep to myself as they’re more stylistic than informative. But keep in mind that this is an important piece to show people what you’re all about – in a very condensed form. Make it do as much heavy-lifting as it can!

Here are two other posts that may interest you regarding portfolios and personal development:
Tips on Presenting Your Portfolio
Staying Relevant