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I've seen many, many examples of flashy résumés by various designers, and I was wondering if this approach is effective. For example, Michael Farrow's multi-paged CV, and these infographic-styled approaches. Are they beneficial? Are they beyond the scope of a traditional résumé? Is this information useful to prospective employers? Is there such thing as an "overdesigned résumé"?

I suppose the most important question I have would be: Is a résumé a vehicle for a designer to experiment with being 'clever' to attract attention? Or, is something with a simple message, good typography and clear hierarchical structure enough to stand out?

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  • Similar question here. Might even qualify as a dupe: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/5906/is-a-graphical-original-resume-a-good-idea-for-a-designer/ Nov 27, 2012 at 11:14
  • I didn't see that one—probably because I searched for résumé and not resume before asking! Nov 27, 2012 at 20:00
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    I'm a computer programmer. To show my 'leet' status, my resume is entirely in binary, 1's and 0's. I'm still waiting for my first reply. Some people just don't 'get it'! Of course, I'm joking. It's in hex. Nov 29, 2012 at 18:38
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    Haha & lolz @Slydog
    – paddotk
    Nov 30, 2012 at 16:23
  • Lauren's link as a link so the link links as being linked graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/5906 Dec 8, 2012 at 21:47

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Design isn't solely about 'being creative'. It's part of it, but a big part is about 'effective communication'.

What is the purpose of a resume? For the most part, it's to effectively communicate something.

A vast majority of the time, a resume should be a utilitarian tool. That doesn't mean it needs to be plain, nor that care doesn't have to be put into the design, but this is not the place to stretch your 'cleverness' or 'decorative' skills.

Your portfolio, on the other hand, that is where you absolutely want to show off your skills at creating visual flourishes and the like.

As for your specific question:

Is a résumé a vehicle for a designer to showcase skill in design? Or, is something with a simple message, good typography and clear hierarchical structure enough to stand out?

I don't see those as being mutually exclusive. Yes, a resume is a vehicle for a designer to showcase their design skills--specifically their skills of page layout, writing and typography.

I think what you perhaps meant to ask is: Are resumes are a place to experiment and being 'clever' to attract attention? I'd say they CAN be, but that's the exception, rather than the rule, and, IMHO, you have to a) be VERY clever to pull it off successfully b) targeting the right firm with the resume.

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    +1 highly agree, design IS communication. Both design skill and good, clear, typography are not mutually exclusive in a designer's resume.
    – Scott
    Nov 27, 2012 at 7:22
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    I edited the question as per your suggestion. If I'm understanding correctly, you're saying that above any sort of "cleverness", a designer has to show sensitivity to the message they're trying to convey, right? Nov 27, 2012 at 7:24
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    Sure, that's one way to think of it.
    – DA01
    Nov 27, 2012 at 7:27
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If you look at a resume and your attention is drawn to its layout or design, it is over-designed.

The most important function of a resume is to provide information. Use design and typography to increase the accesibiliy of that information, but beware not to cover the facts under too much visual candy. A strong resume is one that provides insights to the reader and ultimately stems from the textual content you put in it.

The people cheering for complex visual solutions like the ones you linked are designers and artists, not neccesaily the target reader of your resume. Keep it simple and short. In my personal view, having a resume that is overdesiged communicates that your understanding of visual communication means not caring about the content.

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I feel I've become pretty good at this as I've helped a large number of people write their résumé and have been very successful with my own. I've also seen and read even more. Just yesterday in fact the Office Manager here showed me a few we recently received for a Marketing Position. One is well designed with a sidebar and structural hierarchy, but when you get down to the content and message its incredibly wordy and inflated with meaningless buzzwords that often sacrifice grammar to fit even more buzzwords in. One is really poorly designed with abnormally large bullets - we're talking these look more like black circles all over the page then bullet points. One that is pretty plain in its design but consistent and says the important things. That person is top of our list.

What I advocate to résumé writers are a few key things:

Consistency. More than anything you must be consistent in your layout. Tabs and lists and content in general need to be arranged flawlessly. Even more so if you're a designer.

So to not make this answer any longer then it needs to be:

Is a résumé a vehicle for a designer to experiment with being 'clever' to attract attention? Or, is something with a simple message, good typography and clear hierarchical structure enough to stand out?

A simple message, good typography and a clear structure is enough to stand out. Most people aren't designers and will not do this. Even "professional" résumé writers aren't as good as us designers are. My sister went to a professional and after they reviewed she still had Company Name, City, Date on some past employers but Company Name, City, State then a new line with the date on other employers. Bad for anyone but I couldn't imagine hiring a designer that lacks basic details in composition.

Just like a design is only as good as its ability to convey the message. I can have the flashiest résumé in the world, but if it doesn't clearly serve its function - I failed as a designer.

Last unless you're really confident and the position is with a smaller company like a new start-up I would avoid any variant in size. It makes it harder on HR departments and as a designer you should be able to get your message across in a set size restriction.

If you're interested I wrote a blog post about this a while ago you're welcome to check out: http://www.ryanwaxberg.com/copywriting/resume-critical-thinking-approach/

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  • Thanks for well-thought-out response and the reading material! Nov 27, 2012 at 19:58
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    No problem, I enjoy helping people on their résumés. Its one of the few areas of design and copywriting that lay people can appreciate once shown.
    – Ryan
    Nov 27, 2012 at 20:20
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Imagine you're a boss and you're looking to hire a graphic designer. You received 50 CV from different candidates and eager to work with you. Most of them presents their CV on a A4 standard paper. I would called them 'standard designers'.

Among a pile of CV you received, there is on CV that caught your attention. The CV is about a size of normal business card and at a glance you know what this designer can do. So as a boss, which designers would you choose?

Designer's CV is not about showcasing your talent or to stand out among the rest. It's about the message. A good designer can convey a message clearly and the CV should be able to reflect that.

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  • Good insight! I'm just wary, because it's hard to balance "standing out" with "pointless decoration" at times. Obviously, this just means that I have a lot more to learn. Nov 27, 2012 at 6:40
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    But that's a terrible message. To me that shows a designer that can't work effectively in the established parameters of your standard resume. It also says to me that they aren't terribly smart as a business-card-sized resume would more often than not end up on the floor somewhere rather than on my desk.
    – DA01
    Nov 27, 2012 at 7:15
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    I agree with DA01 here as well. Odd sizes are NOT liked among people who hire. Imagine you've got a stack of resumes on your desk.. then you've got 2 or 3 resumes which are much larger or much smaller. The odd sized pieces are troublesome, not "interesting" to anyone doing the hiring. It's a resume, NOT a portfolio. Stick to the rules and design within them to show off your skill. A resume should be a single sheet of 8.5x11 (A4) paper and nothing more. Now, what you do on that single sheet shows how talented you may be as a designer.
    – Scott
    Nov 27, 2012 at 7:32
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    In addition to DA01 and Scott's objections; if HR can't stuff your resume into their keyword scraping tool you've greatly reduced the likelihood of it getting to the boss of anything except a very small business (in which case being known by a current employee is likely to matter more than anything in your resume anyway). Nov 27, 2012 at 15:03
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The primary consideration is the market you're going after.

For in-house work in a conservative corporation, you're probably passing through an HR gatekeeper. You want to be sure they can find what they need and they don't think you're a weirdo. After that point, you're portfolio page is going to have to deliver the punch.

For an agency or less corporate environment, breaking away from the pack is going to get you in the door. Of course your information should be clear, no one would argue against that. But that doesn't mean you have to present yourself like a bureaucrat.

Even with my consulting work I have about six different flavors of my first response letter. Everything from safe and corporate to slightly irreverent. Nothing that's untrue to my business, just paced differently depending on the mindset of the client.

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Very important because it shows to your client how good are you in this field as a graphic or web designer.

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  • Your portfolio shows you how good you are at those things. The resume is meant to communicate your work history, qualifications and the like.
    – DA01
    Nov 28, 2012 at 22:32
  • @DA01 True, but having a nice looking and creative CV DOES accentuate your creativity. I'm quite sure that a creative CV, as long as the content isn't negatively affected by the design, increases the chance of getting hired.
    – paddotk
    Nov 30, 2012 at 16:32
  • It depends on what we mean by 'creative'. My hunch is that the OP is asking in the sense of 'highly stylized' and I would argue in that situation, it may actually decrease your chances in a lot of situations. That's not to say your resume shouldn't be thoughtfully designed, however. So I agree on that level.
    – DA01
    Nov 30, 2012 at 16:42

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