Creative CV Design: the do’s and don’ts.

Creative CV Design: the do's and don'ts

There is lots of advice out there on how to write a good CV for most roles in publishing, and one of the key things you are told is not to put images in and not to get too creative with your layout.

But what if you are designer and images and creative layout are what you do?

So here are some things to help when applying for book designer roles * (this will post mainly talk about roles in Trade book design, but the same hints/tips can be applicable for most sectors).

Before we get started:
Firstly, bear in mind that the CV, cover letter, and your portfolio, all need to work together. Let’s call this bundle “the application pack”. Whist most people will read a cover letter first, you cannot guarantee it won’t be the CV (or even the portfolio) that they start with. So make sure each part of your application pack gives the very best impression of you and your skills that they can.

Next, remember you are a designer. You profession is essentially about imparting information in a visually impactful way. The application pack are the first pieces of your work a potential employer will see. So make sure they are good!

One hiring manager I spoke to takes all the application packs submitted for a particular job, prints them out (in black and white) and spreads them over the meeting room table. All the team then walk around, picking up their favourites. The lesson to take from this? You have to be prepared for the application pack to be viewed in multiple ways – print, screen, colour, black and white… The way to go is A4 and portrait for the CV and cover letter. A4 and either portrait or landscape for the portfolio.

Creative CV Advice

Designers, a “creative CV” can be helpful. However, it can go horribly wrong if it is badly designed or illegible.

  1. Make sure the layout is clean and readable. It is quite common to have a one page CV as a designer, but if you need more room take the full two pages.
  2. Get some personality in there – don’t just use a stock template.
  3. At the same time, don’t go over the top. The CV has a fairly traditional format for a reason. If it doesn’t clearly show your past work experience, education, and relevant skills, then it isn’t doing its job.
  4. Put dates on your CV – dates of qualifications, education, and past employment.
  5. Include a link to your portfolio on the CV. Be prepared for the CV to get separated from the rest of the application pack and handed/emailed round the office. Make it easy for the person viewing just your CV to get to the relevant information about you.
  6. Detail what your responsibilities were in each role: if you were working on covers; did layout; worked with illustrated books, children’s or adults; if you were dealing with illustrators; if you were commissioning freelancers, managing staff, etc. It’s not all about your design skills, you also have other skills to show!
  7. If your CV is in PDF format (standard for designers) and you’ve put in a link to your portfolio, make sure that the link is clickable but also fully visible. Show the person viewing on a screen that you are aware of the possibilities of InDesign. Show the person viewing a print-out that you can design for multiple audiences.
  8. Lastly, (and to reiterate the first point) it needs to be readable! Showing your skills and your creativity is great, but most importantly we need to be able to see at a glance what your experience is. If it is too much of an effort to see what you’ve been up to, the recruiter/HR might give up quickly as they likely have a big pile of CVs to go through.

Portfolio Advice

As a designer, a portfolio is essential to show that you actually have the skills you said you have in the CV.

  1. We highly recommend you have a website version of your portfolio. You don’t have to pay for a personal domain, or for a very elaborate design – unless you want to! There are lots of free services out there – behance, Tumblr, WordPress, Deviantart to name just a few. At a minimum you need a place to display examples of your work. It also shows recruiters you have technical skills in digital software
  2. But you also need to have a curated PDF version of your portfolio ready to supply if asked for it (especially if the advert expressly wants this). This demonstrates your ability to select your work, and to present it in an orderly and beautifully designed way.
  3. Try to make sure this is a fairly small file size because quite a lot of companies limit the size of attachments that can be received. 4MB is a good guide size. It also shows you are capable of choosing the appropriate resolution and image size for your audience.
  4. Avoid dark backgrounds in your application pack – it is still very common to print out applications, and often only on a B&W printer. Dark backgrounds become unreadable really easily.
  5. TAILOR YOUR PORTFOLIO – applying for a print job? Make sure your book/magazine layouts are at the top. Web-design? Feature them first. And be aware of your audience – applying for a job at a children’s publisher? Don’t feature NSFW art!
  6. In the portfolio – both web and PDF – consider using headings (books, web design, product design, adverts) and providing a bit more description about each project (e.g., “I did the full layout for this book for a paying client” , or “This is a self-started cover design to practice” …)

Cover Letter Advice

We’ve talked about cover letters before on the blog and all of that advice still holds true for designer roles. Whilst your portfolio is your main selling tool for design jobs, don’t ignore the cover letter – especially in publishing, where words matter. Take the one A4 page to clearly demonstrate your suitable skills and why you want this particular job at this particular company (and don’t forget to include that link to your portfolio!)

Some general advice

(a.k.a what-not-to-dos from a recruiter who has looked at a lot of CVs from Designers of all levels in the last few months):

  1. Illustration is not book design. Whilst the two are related, and there is often overlap, the two are different skill sets. For example, your experience illustrating gift cards doesn’t necessarily mean you have what it takes to do interior layouts for text books. Know what you are applying for and what your relevant skills/experience are.
  2. And book design can be more than just cover design. You will often need to be able to do layouts, both text and visuals. If this is specified in the job description, make sure your portfolio (and CV) details any relevant experience you have.
  3. Don’t have printers/formatting marks on the edges of your CV/portfolio/cover letter. The first impression these give is that you cannot export a document from InDesign that is suitable for your audience.
  4. Don’t try and take over my screen with Full Screen mode in the PDF. It’s just rude. Most of us live with multiple windows open.
  5. Keep your website simple – see everything I’ve already said about making things easy and readable – (and please avoid Flash if you possibly can!)

And that is it from us. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please do add them in the comments.

If you have any questions we haven’t answered through our blog or website let us know through anyone of our social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.

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