When I work with my students and we create their applications for jobs (portfolio-cv-cover letter), the CV always comes last in the discussion. Never intentionally; students all want to focus on the portfolio and then I naturally follow with the cover letter.
But of all the documents necessary to apply for a job, the CV seems like the simplest and most straightforward one for students. And in the whole interview process it feels like CV is the least important document, especially since most of us have a LinkedIn or Xing page.
Yet most companies start by looking at the CV, which means it can stop companies from even looking at your portfolio if it isn’t done well.
Your CV should spark interest
Imagine the following scenario: you go to the doctor and describe what’s wrong. He sits back and thinks for a minute, and you expect him to give a short diagnosis, maybe run a few tests. But instead he starts to tell you everything he knows, beginning with what he learned when he first went to medical school. He talks and talks. Minutes turn into hours.
Aside from the basic “why should I care” question, it’s too much! Nobody needs the doctor’s entire life story to know whether they are competent or not!
This is something many students do — especially when applying to that perfect job — to show just how passionate and knowledgeable they are. To give every little piece of experience. So they create huge documents (websites, Behance profiles, etc.) that can overwhelm anyone reading them, including (and especially) hiring managers.
Unsurprisingly this is very close to what happens, especially if we forget the goal of applications: to spark interest. No amount of fluff will make anyone interested enough to call you for an interview.
I believe that professions which require a CV and Portfolio for an application don’t need an extensive CV. You can keep it brief and write about your work experience and knowledge. More specific and detailed information is for the Portfolio.
This is true for UX designers. We are problem solvers, and as much as we’d love to say how much our solutions improved the product, pushed a company forward, or how valuable we actually are, that might not be the best place to do it.
That aside, let’s see what we can do to make CV good.
Make it easy for people to contact you. Add your contact details right up on top of the CV. Full name, telephone number, Skype, Email, and LinkedIn if you have it. A Blog or an online portfolio is a good thing to list here as well. Don’t put too much though. Either Skype or a phone number should be enough, and links to websites with relevant information only.
Don’t include your birthdate, age, marital status, and kids unless specific country allows/demands that. Some European countries actually forbid companies from asking for this information. Inform yourself.
Profile (About me)
Tell a short story about who you are and what you love to do. At this point, you should already know which is the company you’re applying to. Can you find things you both like or value? Put that there, but keep it really short and sweet. It should be more of a statement than a novel, and it should show your personality, not show off more skills or character traits.
Start with your current employment, unless you are changing career. In that case, put relevant work experience first.
Your work experience and responsibilities will most probably be similar from one job to another, so instead of “copy and pasting” those responsibilities between jobs, focus on the most recent one or two and just list the others. It’s important to show that you don’t have any “holes” in your employment, so list relevant jobs from a reasonable timeframe, like the last four jobs over the past ten years. Don’t worry if you can’t include everything! Remember, relevant experience.
Make sure to include the names of the company or projects you’ve worked on, your role or title, and the time you’ve spent working on it.
Education is especially relevant for people entering the industry. Seniors working in the industry for 10+ years can skip that section altogether. It is obvious that they have knowledge. Keep the education relevant to the job you wish to get. If your degree doesn’t match the type of job, only list the university and degree (BA, MA, or Doctorate) as it also showcases your ability to work in teams, under pressure, catching the deadlines, making presentations, rhetoric skills, etc.
Skills are not the same as tools. Skill is an ability to do something well. It indicates expertise in something. Focus on UX skills like quantitative/qualitative research, wireframing, prototyping, copywriting, interaction design, information architecture, service design, competitive analysis, project management…
Tools, on the other hand, are products we use to work. In our case, design and prototyping tools. Don’t bother with MS Office suite unless you’re an expert of experts or you are applying to Microsoft. Knowing how to use a text editor is not knowing a tool, it is a necessity.
You think you haven’t covered it all? Do you have any special certifications, awards, perhaps you speak multiple languages? Is there anything else that might be interesting for your future employer? Put it here, but don’t overdo it.
Typos and grammar mistakes
We all make mistakes, but not here! Your CV represents you. Why would a company hire you if they see mistakes in your CV, a document that represents you?!
Check for typos. Check for grammar mistakes. Then check again. And again. Have a friend read it to make sure there are no errors. A second pair of eyes is always good. And a third pair. The more the better.
This is just one of the three (at least) documents that you’ll deliver. It should be scannable and easy to read. No need for a novel. Remember the doctor story? Keep it one page, no more.
Well, if you’ve been job hopping, you can’t do much about it. List them there, but know that no one appreciates employees that search for a new in-house job in less than 2 years. Why would someone invest in you if they know that you’ll run away as soon as you actually get useful for them?
No prior relevant employment
This is a tricky one. I know a lot of newcomers are trying to get into the industry, but I’ll be honest, it will not be easy. Try to have at least one or two projects where you can showcase what you can do. But please, never make a redesign of a famous website or an app without permission. That is just rude and not appropriate. Especially not for a junior.
Big holes in your employment that cannot be explained
Do you have holes in your work experience? Be prepared to be questioned about them. Gaps by themselves are not a problem, but there is a difference if you were studying, having a baby, was sick, took a sabbatical…or you’ve just laid on your couch watching Netflix for a year.
You try to be too creative
Because we are designers the CV shouldn’t just look good, it should be useful and usable. If it looks great but doesn’t present your content in a structured and meaningful way, then it has failed! For UX that’s especially important, so think of the CV as a UX project. Make sure your design is pleasant to the eye and that, most importantly, it makes sense as a CV.
All in all
Your CV is the key that opens the second doors for you. (First is the cover letter, third is the portfolio.) If you fit by experience, knowledge, skills, and tools, recruiters, HR, or managers will look deeper. If you don’t, they won’t even bother. Make it easy for anyone to see that you are a good fit. Believe me, this is good for everyone – you and them. Both parties want to find the best possible fit. That is what we’re all trying to do. Design your CV with that in mind, and it’ll be a success!
Are you ready to make your own?
Use the guidelines above and write your own CV. If you want me to display it here, among examples, send it to me and if it fits I’ll happily publish it.
Until next time, check your CV and turn it into your own silver key,