Unsolicited Advice: Resumes Part I

Colin asked: I was wondering if you might be able to give me some advice on writing my resume. It’s been a few years since I’ve had to think about it but I need to produce a new one and I don’t have the faintest idea of how to begin. I know it’s not an easy question but any thoughts would be very very greatly appreciated!

This post was originally published May 15, 2012

A friend emailed me for some resume-writing advice. No clue why they asked me, because all my jobs happen by accident or dumb luck, but I collected some thoughts together in an email and sent them his way. Feel free to reply with your own advice or thoughts on the subject, especially because I think it really varies based on the industry!

Black and white — This is probably outdated thinking, but I’ve always believed it to be true. People load up their resume with colour and while I don’t think it’s detrimental, I do think there’s something to be said for a traditional black and white resume. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done up in other ways, like a coloured paper maybe. But not that linen “resume” paper with your type set in Garamond so it looks like a “Microsoft DIY Printables” wedding invitation or restaurant that isn’t as high-end as it’d like to be.

Hierarchy — This is most important, see I’ve already fucked it up by not including this one first. Name and contact info need to be at the top. You want them to contact you and if it takes even five seconds to find your information, that’s five less seconds that they even bother looking at your other content.

Be a little clever — There are ways to inject your personality into your resume, you just need to think about who you are and what you want to portray. I did a pretty “cool” but simple resume for a friend who wanted a job at a popular store that gets dozens of applications a week. I printed it on the white backside of a neon pink paperstock… It was still black and white, like I prefer, but with a twist. Though his experience is the reason he was hired, I’m sure the resume didn’t hurt his chances of standing out in a pile.

Short and sweet — Giving some detail on what you did at past jobs is good, but long, full sentences aren’t necessary, I don’t think. A few bullet points written in a way that shows action should be good. “Worked with design team to create new branding system,” boom. This really goes for the whole resume — don’t overload it or reading it will be a chore, and that’s the last thing you want.

But don’t be too clever — I think personality is a good thing, but I feel like those long paragraph resumes that try to incorporate everything into a written, quirky paragraph are just obnoxious. “Oh hello there I’m Adam and I am a photographer, designer, artist, blogger, and social media enthusiast!” I don’t even want to hang out with that person so I can’t imagine what someone hiring would think.

Play up your specific experience — Focus on the experience that matters for the job you want. I have foodservice and retail experience, but that’s not on my primary resume because that’s not the kind of work I’m looking for. When I had less work experience I did list some of my earlier “teenage” jobs, but focused on the relevant tasks, like office management duties, basic computer skills, and customer/”people in general” interaction.

Education and grades — College graduates (at least in the US) often include a GPA with their educational information. I think after your first “real” job, you can ditch that. If you have a degree, include your school name and city, maybe your graduating year, but I don’t think you need to break it down. I have an Art History minor that hasn’t been mentioned on my resume maybe ever, and a Media Studies certificate that says I basically did the entire program save for three credits. Does anyone actually care? Focus on what matters for the job, and don’t spend too much precious space on this stuff.

Objective and References — I feel like these things are filler for lighter resumes. Some people do them, some don’t. I think it’s pretty obvious that if you’ve worked for several years, there are people who can vouch for your work. If a job wants some references, they can ask (or will have asked) for them. Your objective is more useful for retail jobs or internships maybe, where your reason for taking them on isn’t necessarily obvious. You can tell a high end boutique about your passion for the fashion industry and your hopes to work amongst decision makers or some bullshit, maybe that will matter. Most of the time this stuff can go in a cover letter.

Fuck resumes! …maybe? — To be honest, and I don’t know how accurate this is, but I feel like resumes hardly matter. I mean, you should have one, sure, but I really think my own resume has been requested maybe four times ever, and only one or two of those were for actual design jobs. Being good at what you have to offer is more important than the perfect resume, at least in creative fields, I think. Of course, a really awful resume is a big warning sign — as designers, we’re expected to manage content well.

Obviously I’m not the expert, and there are tons of awesome resumes that don’t follow with much of anything I’ve said. Figure out what works for you, tailor your resume for the type of job you want, and just make sure your contact information is readily available.

Adam J. Kurtz is an artist and author whose illustrative work is rooted in honesty, humor and a little darkness.

AdviceAlyssa Nassner