Lori Freitas Houghton

Lori Freitas Houghton

Editor

Updated : 04/15/2020

Writing a graphic designer resume should be simple, but you want to do so with style and make sure it is just right. Our resume templates for graphic designers are fashioned to help you get the job you deserve.

Table Of Contents

1. Creating Your Perfect Graphic Designer Resume

As a graphic designer, you know how to combine beauty with functionality.

You understand the balance between getting information onto a page and composing an attractive design. A pleasing layout is important for all resumes, but it’s especially crucial for a designer.

No doubt you’ve seen how cluttered the internet is with generic resume guides and rigid “resume rules.” These often don’t take into account the real differences that exist by industry and by career stage. You need a resume guide especially tailored to your reality as a graphic designer.

Many people think of a resume as a comprehensive work summary, and try to include all they’ve ever done in any job position or project. However, a resume should be focused: it is a customized, abbreviated document tailored to show why an employer should hire you. Make your resume a beautiful advertisement of your key skills and achievements, rather than a long review of all your past job duties.

In this graphic designer resume guide, we’ll take you through the process of constructing your resume and provide free resume examples that you can use and customize. We’ll show how to market your strengths to potential employers and how to communicate why you’re the best candidate for the job!

Ready? Let’s get started.

2. Understanding Your Audience

To make your resume the best it can be, you need to know your reader. In most cases, your reader is initially nonhuman (an applicant tracking system), but eventually, the hiring manager. Your resume needs to work for both readers.

Let’s start with the human: the hiring manager is busy and needs to quickly review all job applicants. They may spend only seconds viewing your resume. Your graphic designer resume must be easy to understand and digest. Use the right industry language, but don’t load your resume with needless jargon. Respect their time by presenting a resume that’s clean, free from errors, and easy to scan in an expected format and file type.

“If your resume doesn’t look attractive, a hiring manager isn’t going to waste their time.”

How are graphic designer resumes different than others? Visual appeal counts much more heavily in the design field. If your resume doesn’t look attractive, a hiring manager isn’t going to waste their time. For some businesses, the look should be professionally attractive. If the content isn’t organized in a straightforward, easy-to-read manner, there’s no reason to look further. For some creative organizations, the look should be much more artistic and inventive. It depends on your audience. And remember, unless the company is very small, you need to compose all of this in a way that passes through the nonhuman eyes of an applicant tracking system (ATS).

3. Getting Past an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

An ATS is an automated resume-scanning software. It is the first gatekeeper your resume will meet. In fact, a hiring manager never sees your resume if it doesn’t first pass the applicant tracking system. Most large and medium-sized employers use an ATS to process applications. Otherwise, the workload is impossible to handle manually.

Thus, it’s essential that your resume follow the right format and include the right keywords. The ATS is programmed by employers to accept or reject applications based on specific rules. If your resume isn’t formatted properly or doesn’t include the right keywords, it will be rejected even if you are qualified for the position.

To get your resume past an ATS, two things matter most: how you format your resume and what keywords you use.

4. Formatting Your Resume for Graphic Designers

Formatting Your Resume

Stick with a tried-and-true, sans serif font; these fonts are readable by Optimal Character Recognition (OCR), which is often used in an ATS. Calibri or Arial are both good choices, according to a 2018 article in CIO magazine. Some serif fonts (even commonly used ones) are not understandable by a less effective ATS. Use simple round bullets. Special characters like arrows are usually unreadable.

It may be tempting, as a graphic designer, to express your creative sensibility with unique fonts, special characters, or even hand-crafted elements. You may want to play with the standard resume formatting or insert boxes of text along the left or right margins. However, those features will stump the ATS; unless you’re confident that your resume will go straight to human eyes, skip those creative elements and focus on using an attractive design within traditional boundaries.

File format also matters. Usually a Microsoft Word document and a PDF file are standard acceptable formats. Sometimes the job listing will specify the preferred file type. Microsoft Word is the easiest for an ATS to read, but PDFs might be preferable for human eyes. PDF format ensures that your formatting won’t be inadvertently changed. The best choice, of course, is to meet the specifications of the job ad.

There are three different resume formats: reverse chronological, functional, and hybrid. Below, we will explain each format. But the vast majority of hiring managers and ATS configurations expect one format: reverse chronological. That is the format we recommend. However, sometimes that format may look a little different for some graphic designers. And ultimately, a design portfolio will likely carry more weight in the hiring process. More on that below.

Format 1: Reverse Chronological Resume

What it is: It’s the most common kind of resume. On a reverse chronological resume, list your work experience based on how recently you worked at an employer. Your latest or current job comes first, and any other positions follow, from most recent to oldest.

Pros

  • It’s the most common resume format in the U.S., so most hiring managers and recruiters expect to see a reverse chronological format. If you’re applying for a graphic design position that’s a traditional business or communications type of job, this is the format they will trust.
  • Most applicant tracking systems are configured for reverse chronological resumes. Without this format, an ATS is more likely to reject your resume.
  • This format enables you to show your career progression easily, with your most recent positions getting the most attention.
  • You can show your job commitment and years of experience in the field, as well as how you’ve broadened your expertise or taken on special roles.

Cons

  • This format easily highlights gaps in your work history (and that’s why hiring managers like it. It saves them time).
  • If you’re fresh out of school, you don’t have much work experience to show. However, there are ways around this for graphic designers. We’ll explain below.

Format 2: Functional Resume

What it is: Functional resumes are organized by skills or pieces of experience, rather than dates and a linear progression.

Pros

  • Functional resumes were designed to deal with special circumstances–career changes, lack of experience, gaps of unemployment, short-tenured job hopping. They’re more flexible.
  • Perhaps this approach will work for a very small company (no ATS) with an inexperienced, open-minded hiring manager.

Cons

  • The problem is this: nearly all recruiters and hiring managers understand that a functional resume is often used to conceal unfavorable work histories. So they quickly reject them. (The graphic design field tends to have more leniency, however, for functional resumes.)
  • If the company uses an ATS, hiring managers will probably never see a functional resume as the ATS isn’t designed to scan this format.
  • Functional resumes tend to be a waste of time for both candidates and hiring managers.

Format 3: Hybrid Resume

What it is: A hybrid resume is a catch-all term for some combination of a functional and a chronological resume. Some use this term to describe a format that an ATS can scan (basically a reverse chronological resume with an opening section focused on skills); some use this term to describe a format that an ATS doesn’t scan well (basically a functional resume with some chronological component).

Our advice is that a reverse chronological resume is the way to go; however, one opening section that highlights key skills or a professional summary can be very effective, and ATS systems and hiring managers accept them. If that’s what a “hybrid format” means in this sense, hybrids are worth considering.

5. Using the Reverse Chronological Format

Graphic design jobs can be traditional, full-time jobs working long-term with a company. That type of work history lends itself naturally to a regular reverse chronological format.

But graphic design jobs can also be single projects or short-term gigs. What do you do, for example, if you have been employed by one client for three months and then by another one for only two weeks? Maybe you had a client for a short-term project and that same client for another short-term project two years later. It might seem like you can’t use a reverse chronological resume format because that will emphasize big gaps of unemployment and frequently changing employers.

Or here’s another tricky situation. Maybe you’re a new graduate and your work experience is limited to some school projects, unpaid projects for friends, and volunteer graphic design work to gain some experience. What format should you use if employers and the ATS are wanting a reverse chronological resume?

A reverse chronological format can still work effectively in all of these situations. The trick is to group your projects and gigs under a single umbrella, usually of self-employment. Simply name your “business,” even if you’ve never thought of it that way. Then list the years (it’s not necessary to list months) that you’ve been creating designs and completing projects. You can include both paid and unpaid work. List the clients and some details about the projects, including keywords (more on that below). Here’s an example:

✓ Recent Graduate Experience Example
Graphic Designer
Chris Blackwell Designs
Client: Johnson County Continuing Education
Created appealing design used in website and print promotional materials, resulting in greater visual recognition for community

 

Client: Busbee Architecture Firm
Designed impactful logo and brochure for opening of new architecture firm; listened to client ideas and offered multiple concept alternatives to capture desired message

 

Client: Rosie’s Cookies
Sketched and created 3D signs for displays in expanding bakery business; integrated permanent design element with seasonal components

2015 – present

If the hiring manager truly understands the nature of project work, short or long periods of employment or unemployment are much more fluid and acceptable. They may be much more interested in who your clients have been, the types of projects you’ve worked on, and most of all, what your portfolio of designs looks like. But the reverse chronological format is important because you may need your resume content in a format that’s recognizable for an ATS system, so it actually gets past the screen to the hiring manager’s eyes.

6. Using Keywords in Your Graphic Designer Resume

Formatting Your Resume

An ATS works by tracking specific keywords, which are programmed in. Often, there is a level set for match ratio or percentage. To “pass the ATS” each resume must meet whatever standard has ben set: for example, all candidates that go to the next level must match 80% of the desired keywords. The actual ATS rules might be more complex, but the principle is simple enough: it’s very important to use the right keywords on your graphic designer resume.

Your challenge is to discover which keywords are the right keywords. Start by reviewing the job ad. It will often include the keywords that an employer is seeking. It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway): you can only use keywords that fit your actual skills and experience.

However, many candidates have the skills and the experience, but don’t use the needed keywords. For example, a job candidate may list experience with designing ads for “social networks” or “social platforms” and the ATS may not recognize this as a match for “social media.” Take the time to find those keywords: review the job ad, read the company website, and find out what terms they use.

It’s helpful to use specific graphic design keywords like Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, HTML, product design, 3D, logos, mockups, etc. It really depends on the job listing.

Read the listing carefully. Highlight potential keywords. Then use all the words you can legitimately put on your resume when describing your work experience or listing your skills.

Remember, too, that your resume needs to pass the ATS, and then be appealing to the hiring manager. You need more than a random assembly of keywords and abbreviations. Read your resume aloud to identify any issues with readability. Or have a friend or colleague review it and point out any phrasing that doesn’t make sense.

7. Gaining Experience for Your Design Resume

Most entry-level design jobs require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so education can be key in many job searches. There are certainly individuals who break that rule, though, and get gigs through the merits of their design portfolio. If you don’t have a degree, be sure to put extra effort into networking. If your contacts are strong and your designs are appealing to potential employers, you could break through. Even better, you could work on your degree while you freelance as a designer.

The best way to prepare for an entry-level design job is to get experience in your field. There are several ways to gain experience. The formal internship is a traditional method, but you can also start with online freelancing platforms, take on side projects, and volunteer your skills for community or non-profit needs. Once you have a little experience in your back pocket, you’ll be ready to take on bigger clients and projects.

8. Gathering Information for Your Design Resume

If you’re writing your resume for the first time or it’s been a while since you last updated it, get all the information you’ll need in one place (often a digital or physical file). A little preparation will make the process so much easier:

  • Go through your calendar or financial records for accurate start and end dates on your previous jobs. You only need the month and year. Sometimes you will just use the year. But be consistent, however you approach it.
  • Get your educational details right. Those further along in their career will include minimal information, but recent graduates may benefit by adding other relevant details. Those details might include pertinent courses, trainings, or projects, GPA, volunteer involvement in college, etc. (See the Education section below for more details.)
  • You don’t need to include references on your resume. In fact, you shouldn’t–most companies consider this an outdated practice. And you certainly don’t need to include a line such as: “References available upon request.” Employers already know this and if they want references, they will ask for them. You will want to decide what people you’ll use as references, though, so you’re ready if that comes up during the job application process.

Once you’ve collected the pertinent documents and files, you can verify the details as you put information into your resume. Ensure that all your details are correct and your resume will be easy to update, customize, and use for job openings as needed. Careers often stall simply because individuals don’t keep their resumes up-to-date and then miss opportunities.

9. Resume for Graphic Designers: Opening Section

It’s not absolutely necessary to start with an opening section to your resume before getting to your reverse chronology work experience, but an opening section is often beneficial. And the ATS will usually anticipate a resume having one.

This opening section comes right after your contact information at the top of the resume.

Here are some options for writing your opener:

1. A short, specific resume summary statement

In 1-3 sentences, explain the value you’d add to the graphic design position you’re seeking. You don’t have much time to draw your reader in, so make sure your concise statement is only filled with the essentials. Your summary statement should describe you: your design specializations, skills, or interests.

“Graphic Designer with 4 years of experience in both digital and print design; innovative problem-solver and precise communicator.”

“Graphic Designer with 8 years of expertise working with Photoshop and Indesign, as well as HTML and CSS programming languages.”

2. A professional summary

This is similar to a resume summary statement, but more detailed. It might be a full paragraph or 4-8 bullet points of career highlights. A professional summary is essential for those who have more than 10 years of experience. It’s also useful for those who have only 5-10 years, but diversity of experience. (They usually aren’t advisable for early career individuals.) Detail the number of years you’ve specialized in a particular field or area, your special certifications, awards that are particularly relevant, major projects or achievements in your work, whether you’ve managed people, etc. If you can find a way to quantify something, do it: 3 years in design management role, overseeing a creative team of 4 full-time staff is more effective than managerial experience.

Here are two professional summary examples for a graphic designer:

  • Innovative Graphic Designer with 15 years of experience in consumer products industry. Proven ability to drive interest with millennials through social media campaigns. Strong aesthetic skills, combined with current sense of trends and effective SEM principles. Versatile in range of styles–whimsical, masculine, classic, sophisticated, trendy, avant-garde–for demographics from 8-80. Clients have included Fortune 500 companies and start-ups.
  • Experienced graphic designer with 12 years of experience in web design and 3D product design. Diverse range of projects appealing to a wide demographic spectrum. High referral and return client rates because of reputation for finishing projects on time and under budget. Exceptional aesthetic sense – 2014 AIGA National Award winner for design solutions.

3. An objective statement

Objective statements are usually a one-sentence statement of purpose which clarifies the type of position someone is seeking. Objectives are one place where it’s acceptable to switch from third person to first person (for example, using “me” or “my”). Objectives used to be much more common but have kind of gone out of fashion in the resume world.

There are a few limited situations where they could be helpful:

  • Early career situation – Objective statements can be helpful in explaining why there isn’t much experience on a resume; the applicant simply wants a chance at an entry-level position. For example: Recent graphic design grad with substantial portfolio seeking contract position to contribute my design skills.
  • Mid-career switch – Resumes may appear confusing when someone has switched career fields. Say, for example, you worked in retail for ten years before deciding that you wanted a more creative career and went back to school to get your graphic design degree. The resume may initially look like a retail resume, but you’re applying for a graphic design role. Objective statements can explain that quickly, so the hiring manager isn’t wondering: Recent graphic design graduate with a previous career in retail seeking opportunity to demonstrate my skills and passion for the field of design.
  • Seeking promotion – Let’s say you’ve been a graphic designer, but you’ve recently gone back to school to become an art director. You’re applying for that new role, but your resume doesn’t reflect that new title yet. Objective statements can signal your intention to move up a level: Experienced graphic designer seeking upward career opportunity managing a team as Art Director.

Customize Your Opening Section

Your approach to your resume opener should really depend on your career stage and circumstances. Whatever approach you take, make sure you include some of those ever-important keywords. For example, if one position you pursue is an artistically sophisticated contract project and another is a 9-5 traditional business communications position, you’d want some customization to reflect that in your statement.

Customize the summary statement, tweaking it when needed for specific positions. This is particularly important for mid- to late-career professional summary statements. Review the job listing and look for keywords, specific responsibilities, highlighted skills, or other clues that tell you what’s most important for that particular job.

  • Use some of the words you pulled from the job listing in your summary statement, as appropriate.
  • Keep the roles and skills that are most relevant for the job; cut the roles or skills that aren’t.
  • Add in adjectives, nouns, or phrases that match the job listing exactly, if needed.

Review your summary statement one last time and try to find a few ways to make it more specific.

Here are some examples:

  • Graphic design experience → 12 years of experience in web design and 3D product design.
  • Time management skills → High referral and return client rates because of reputation for finishing projects on time and under budget.
  • Strong aesthetic → One of 19 National AIGA Award Winners in 2014 for Exceptional Design Solutions.

Note: Do NOT follow the practice of simply listing keywords or skills as your opening statement. Skills belong in their own section (see below). While important, a bulleted list of your skills is not a substitute for a well-crafted, customized opening statement.

10. Resume for Graphic Designers: Experience Section

The experience section is usually the second section in a resume, unless you’re a recent graduate. This section may be titled: Experience, Work Experience, Design Experience, or Professional Experience. It should be filled with specifics, it should be achievement- or evidence-oriented, and it should incorporate all relevant keywords in a natural way. Work experience should always be listed in reverse chronological order: start with your most recent job at the top and work your way backwards through your experience.

If your work history as a graphic designer is based primarily on short-term projects and contract work, you want to find a way to bundle all the gigs into a coherent category (usually self-employment). See our advice listed earlier in this guide for that type of work history. What follows below is for a more traditional, long-term job work history.

The standard elements for each work experience entry are:

✓ Job title

✓ Place of employment

✓ Dates of employment

✓ Accomplishments: Brief description of your accomplishments and responsibilities in the job, as well as skills gained and used in that piece of experience

Sometimes job title is listed first, sometimes the place of employment is listed first. Just be consistent in whichever approach you take. And listing the dates along the right-hand margin helps hiring managers and recruiters quickly scan dates so they can assess career level.

Resume Examples for Teachers: Opening Section

Writing descriptions of your accomplishments, responsibilities, and skills gained is the difficult, but essential part of writing your resume. Use bullet points, not paragraphs, and be concise, but specific. Use examples to show evidence of your effectiveness:

“Updated company logo and other visuals into fresh, modern design as part of rebranding initiative; revamped brand resulted in +15% growth in revenues from 2014-2016.”

Think through any significant projects you were part of or oversaw, any major organizational changes or administrative shifts you supported, the size of staff you managed, scheduling challenges, increased responsibilities, recognitions, and awards. It’s also a good idea to think through what made each job most satisfying for you and the areas in which you consistently exceeded expectations. Focus, as often as possible, on evidence of your effectiveness in your role, as opposed to simply describing job duties or responsibilities.

Key guidelines for work descriptions:

  • Don’t use personal pronouns. Instead, as in the examples above, start with a verb (“Managed”) and leave off the understood pronouns (“I”). Example:
    X Don’t Use
    “I used printing materials such as banner, xintra, plywood, metal and acrylic.”
    ✓ Use
    Managed impressions using various techniques and materials such as banner, xintra, plywood, metal and acrylic.”
  • For past jobs, use past tense verbs. For any position you currently hold, use present tense verbs.
    X For Past Jobs Don’t Use
    “have”“Have supervision of visual projects.”
    ✓ Use
    “had”“Had most visual projects under supervision.”
  • Use bullet points, one for each sentence or phrase. You can end your sentence or phrase with a period or leave it off. Just be consistent–use one method or the other.
X Don’t Use Full Paragraphs
Led and developed creative projects for 3D gaming industry from ideation to rollout. Managed development teams engaged in digital game creation from storylines to coding for scenes and backgrounds. Launched over 10 individual titles aimed at global competitive gaming demographic.
✓ Use Bullet Points
  • Led and developed creative projects for 3D gaming industry from ideation to rollout.
  • Managed development teams and engaged in digital game creation from storylines to coding for scenes and backgrounds.
  • Launched over 10 individual titles aimed at global competitive gaming demographic.
  • Avoid superlatives. Exaggerating does not fit the culture of your profession. But use adjectives and adverbs that show your level of performance. Be concise and stick to the facts.
    X Don’t Use Superlatives
    Very good finding the quickest solutions to visual printing problems.”
    ✓ Use Adjectives And Adverbs
    Efficient finding quick solutions with impression problems.”
  • Generally, use 2-4 bullet points per job. For jobs where you stayed for many years and had several important components, you might use up to 6 or 7 bullets.
    One to Three Years
    in the Same Job Position
    • Used Adobe Creative Suite and 3D digital code development to create backgrounds, environments, textures and effects for 3D gaming products.
    • Worked within creative team to develop and launch multiple titles involving complex plots and settings with highly detailed artwork.
    • Led documentation for single-player games, warfare simulations and multi-player environments.
    Three to Seven Years
    in the Same Job Position
    • Used Adobe Creative Suite and 3D digital code development to create backgrounds, environments, textures and effects for 3D gaming products.
    • Worked within creative team to develop and launch multiple titles involving complex plots and settings with highly detailed artwork.
    • Led documentation for single-player games, warfare simulations and multi-player environments.
    • Managed creative processes for game marketing, branding, and visuals for 3D gaming products.
    • Developed unique plots and new game schemes with multiple levels, revenue options, and innovative design creation.
    • Drove product marketing and branding for over five best-selling 3D game titles.
  • Quantify, quantify, quantify! Anytime you can tie in data, measurable results, or specific numbers, do so.
    X Don’t Use
    In charge of multiple magazine front covers.
    ✓ Use
    “Designed three front cover artworks for the September 2017, June 2018, and August 2019 issues of the New Yorker Magazine.

Once you’ve drafted the work experience bullet points for each job, don’t forget to scan the job ad and note the keywords and job requirements used. Then scan your work experience. Can you add or substitute a keyword from the job ad? Can you reorder a point to highlight one of the job requirements? Can you adjust your wording to match the tone and language of the job ad more closely?

These changes will generally be small–you may not change every bullet point on your experience section–but they can make a big difference. First, you’ll have a better chance of getting past the ATS when you match the wording for the job. And second, you’ll show hiring managers that you’ve paid close attention to the open position and you’re well-suited for the job.

What if you are early career and have little relevant experience or are just finishing your graphic design degree? To emphasize your strengths, you can list the education section before the work experience section.

11. Resume for Graphic Designers: Skills Section

Get Ready to Create Your Teaching Resume

Some professions can get by with a separate section on a resume for technical skills. Graphic Design isn’t one of them. However, your technical skills are vital, so make sure you have a small section (usually second-to-last on a resume) listing all of your skills. Focus on your tech credentials. You might title it “Technologies” or “Skills” or “Tech Skills” or “Computer Skills.”

You want to include operating systems, design software, programming languages, etc. with which you have experience or familiarity. You can pack an incredibly dense listing of technology skills into three or four lines. No fluff or special wording as filler. It’s simply a listing of technologies. Some designers list their proficiency levels with various software; some don’t. Either approach is acceptable on a resume. Some list certifications and coursework. Just make sure you’ve included every keyword that might be tracked by an ATS.

Soft skills are great, but when presented in a random list, they come across as fairly insincere to human eyes. It’s better to incorporate your significant soft skills into your opening statement than to put them in your skills list. If you are customer-focused, describe in your opening statement how you’ve revved up social media campaigns. If you’re innovative, give evidence of the awards you’ve received because of your beautiful solutions to tricky problems. Those are more effective approaches.

While the traditional placement for the skills section is toward the end of the resume, many resume templates now place the skills section below the opening section. That’s a perfectly acceptable format for a designer resume, and should present no issue for an ATS. Some hiring managers prefer this arrangement, as they can quickly scan your skills list before reading through your work history. No matter where you put your skills section, however, focus on hard skills over soft skills. Tailor your skills for each application, listing the most relevant skills for the position you want.

12. Resume for Graphic Designer: Education Section

Resume Examples for Teachers: Opening Section

If you’re early career (let’s define “early career” as roughly 5 years or less of experience in graphic design), your resume could flow like this: Opening section, Education section, Work Experience section, and so forth. It’s smart to expand this Education section when you don’t have much relevant work experience. Add in all pertinent courses, trainings, or projects, as well as volunteer involvement in college, etc. Bulk up that section with evidence of your training and competence. Demonstrate that you really have experience creating amazing designs, even if you haven’t been paid for it yet.

For job seekers with several years of experience, however, the Education section will come last on a resume and will be very brief.

What if you don’t have a college degree? Unless you have an associate’s degree or some impressive certification or coursework in graphic design from a respected source, it’s advisable just to omit the Education section. This is an acceptable approach. Most savvy hiring managers will realize that this means that you don’t have a degree and they may ask you a question to verify that during an interview. Don’t fret too much about it – they probably suspected you didn’t have a degree when they invited you in for an interview. Most likely, it’s not a dealbreaker and your portfolio was the more important factor for them.

If you have a degree, list it! The most common way to list your education is with your degree title first, followed by the institution name. You can include your GPA if it was particularly favorable (3.5 or over). Many people remove their GPA and even graduation date from their resume when it was a long time ago (10+ years).

Resume Examples for Teachers: Opening Section

✓ Standard Example
BFA Graphic Design
Virginia Commonwealth University – Richmond, VA
✓ Recent Graduate with high GPA Example
BFA Graphic Design – 2017
Virginia Commonwealth University – Richmond, VA
Summa Cum Laude, GPA 3.8

A traditional business firm may not care a great deal about where you received your education. A more artistic position may be in search of graduates from certain design schools with enormous cachet. Above all, however, if your portfolio is amazing, that may still be the most important factor with any artistic position. (See the Portfolio section below for more details.)

13. Emphasizing and Sharing a Design Portfolio

Get Ready to Create Your Teaching Resume

Though this is a resume guide, it makes sense to reiterate this point: for many hiring managers, a graphic designer’s portfolio may be more important than anything on the resume.

If this sounds intimidating, remember that you have a lot of power over what goes into your portfolio. It doesn’t need to be limited to jobs for hire. If you’re starting out or you’re going through a period of unemployment, remember that design is a field where you aren’t constrained by someone else’s willingness to give you a job and see that you’re ready. You may start working for yourself without experience or even credentials (though, naturally, you eventually want to get paid).

If you act diligently self-employed, even while you’re unemployed, you can produce amazing projects for your portfolio. Take free technology or creative tutorials online or in a classroom, give yourself assignments for an imaginary client, and develop your creative skills while you expand your portfolio. The more hours you log and projects you complete, the more likely you are to impress a future hiring manager with what you’ve produced. Most professions don’t have that amount of control over getting started in an industry.

If you’ve begun a career, but have been unemployed, you can legitimately list it as a period of self-employment as you try to find clients, so there’s no gap on your resume.

The other side of this autonomy is that, unsupervised, you could be creating a portfolio with very little impact. It could be dull, uninspiring, or dated. Get feedback from people you admire, who have gained success in graphic design. You want to make sure your portfolio is effective in marketing your skills.

Quick Tips for a Great Portfolio

✓ Range and context.

Show a range (of style, of product, of audience/consumer, etc.) in your skillset, give your work some context and continuously update your portfolio.

✓ Clear labels, numbers, and project titles.

Make it easy for hiring directors to earmark designs they like.

✓ Choose an online portfolio platform.

Spend some time researching options, so you can carefully curate the work you showcase.

✓ Use writing sparingly and purposefully.

Your medium is visual; don’t detract from it with lengthy written descriptions.

✓ Stay current with trends and demographics.

Make sure your portfolio doesn’t become outdated. This can quickly turn off a hiring manager looking for something fresh and new.

14. Writing a Cover Letter
For a Graphic Designer Job

Do hiring managers read cover letters? Well, some do–they value them highly and read them carefully. And some don’t–they pay no attention to what a cover letter says. Because you never know, you need to act like any hiring manager could value your cover letter. Craft it carefully.

Just like with your resume, for a designer’s cover letter you need to pay more attention to a well-styled layout than other careers. Simple, but effective uses of color and unique formatting are essential to showcase your creativity before you even get to the letter’s content.

If you’re applying to a highly creative company or industry, your documents should be striking (not ordinary). At the same time, they can also become too flamboyant or impractical for the hiring company. It’s a fine line.

The business world, by contrast, often prefers the ordinary. In a regular graphic design job, your documents just need to be clean, readable, and aesthetically-pleasing (not works of art). Use plenty of white space and make sure it’s intuitive to visually scan.

Find out who the hiring manager is at the company you’re applying to work for and directly address the letter to them. This research will go a long way in showing your interest in their specific company, and not just the field in general.

A cover letter should supplement your resume by allowing you to expand on relevant work experiences. Often, there isn’t enough space on your resume to detail how you handled particular situations or workplaces, and your cover letter gives you the chance to showcase key skill sets for the job you’re applying for (like the ones we covered above). There are several different acceptable approaches, but the general purpose of a cover letter is to:

  1. Demonstrate your specific interest in a company or role.
  2. Highlight 2-3 particular skills or areas of expertise.
  3. When needed, give you an opportunity to explain any extenuating circumstances that make your resume look unusual.

Cover letters should be between half a page and one page. Don’t exceed this or you’ve lost your reader. Use standard business letter formatting. Around three to four single-spaced brief paragraphs is a good length. Order is not necessarily key here; whatever flows best can work. But here’s a sample approach:

  • In the first paragraph, introduce yourself with a one phrase summary of your experience; state that you are seeking the position and reference the job ID#, if applicable. That helps ensure the resume gets to the right place. Explain what attracts you to this role at their organization.

    “I love the emotional content in the design of your ads. That is also a particular strength and interest of mine.”

  • In the second (and maybe third) paragraph, expand on a couple of strengths you want to emphasize and give some specifics to give your candidacy some vibrance.
  • If you have extenuating circumstances, such as a mid-life career change or several years out of the workforce, explain the circumstances very briefly and confidently. One example:

“After ten years in a field that never really inspired me, I discovered my passion for beauty and design and am graduating this spring with my graphic arts degree.”

Just briefly address the issue. Another example:

“I loved graphic design, but needed to drop out of the workforce for several years due to family needs. I always maintained an interest in design trends and have looked forward to returning to graphic design full-time.”

Don’t spend too long addressing potential concerns in your work history or you may attract more attention than is necessary.

  • In the final paragraph, close by mentioning how you’re a good match, including some of the information you gained from research.

“I’d love to be part of the exciting mission of your organization and communicate your mission in compelling visuals.”

Best Cover Letter Tip: Show Your Design Experience

If you’re struggling to figure out what to put in your cover letter, think about experiences where you exemplified qualities you know hiring managers want.

Do they want someone adaptable? Write about the time you revamped your design completely after a company changed its strategy at the last minute. Are they looking for someone with excellent technical skills? Explain how you became the mentor for your team, the “go-to” person for Adobe Suite questions, because of your vast technical knowledge. Whatever the application calls for, find an experience that fits the need.

About the Author

Lori Freitas Houghton

Lori Freitas Houghton

Editor

In her 15+ years in human resources, Lori Freitas Houghton has worked on both sides of the hiring equation. She’s experienced as a recruiter and partner with hiring managers. She is also a proven career coach with a high success rate at helping job candidates create breakthrough resumes that gain them interviews. With a BA in English and a Master of Organizational Behavior (MBA) degree, Lori also has considerable experience writing and editing HR content.

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