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Writing the perfect student CV

Know who you’re up against

Every year there are thousands of graphic design graduates competing for comparatively few jobs.

After surveying more than 2,000 design business teams, the Design Council reported that three quarters of design consultancies working in communications design were employing fewer than five designers – with almost all employing fewer than 10. 29% of those businesses recruited at least one designer last year. Of those businesses offering employment, 43% recruited graduates/college students and 30% recruited professional designers from other design companies.

The rate of employers’ being ‘Completely Satisfied’ with the quality of their graduate recruits was 56% whereas the same rate of satisfaction from their experienced designers was 76%.

I have not included these statistics to scare you or put you off applying for jobs. The information is here to highlight the importance of getting your application right. You’re competing against your peers and potentially already employed designers so you need to stand out from the crowd.

Getting it right

Designing a personal CV and website is one of the hardest tasks for any designer. It makes a first impression to potential employers who are looking through other CVs at the same time as yours. Remember that your CV will be directly comparable to your rivals’. There are a lot of balancing acts to get right. Your CV needs to be well-written and nicely designed; it needs to get some personality across but not be showy and self-important; it needs to impress.

Writing your CV

There is absolutely no point in having a beautifully designed CV and it not saying anything that your potential employer wants to hear. Equally it could be very well-written but be presented badly. A CV should be a perfect balance of content and design.

A good CV should take up no more than a single side of A4. The mistake a lot of people make is to have too much content. Your CV should be divided into clear sections: contact details; education; qualifications/awards; work placements and a bit about yourself. It should be clear and to the point.

What to include

List where you have been educated. Put your university/college first and work backwards from there. List your qualifications starting with the course you’ve graduated from. List any art foundation courses and A levels/college qualifications but don’t list every GCSE (see below). Include any work placements you have undertaken as employers like to see that you’ve had some experience of a design studio environment.

Always spell-check your CV. Show that you pay attention to the details. It is off-putting to potential employers if your CV is full of errors. A designer friend of mine once received an application CV which had the name of his company incorrectly spelled – not a good sign. If you are not confident in writing, have a couple of people read it for you before sending it out.

What to leave out

Although you might feel that your GCSEs are super important, once you’ve got your degree/HND employers are not particularly going to care that you got a B in Geography or an A in Spanish. Group your GCSEs together with the grades that you got and leave them at a sentence long. Employers are much more interested in where you’ve just graduated from. Equally employers are not bothered about any jobs you’ve had that are not relevant to the design job that you’re applying for. It is better to have no employment history than to put bar staff, shop assistant or any other non-related job.

Designing your CV (the tricky bit)

There are no hard and fast rules to designing your CV. I would say that it’s more important to be a great looking page with easy-to-read information than to be über trendy or over-the-top and illegible. You want to come across as professional and creative. A good way to present yourself is though well-written text laid out beautifully with a really good typeface and attention to the details.

Your CV is not the place to get creative with unusual paper sizes. Received CVs will be filled together and often photocopied, so non-standard formats are not going to impress. You should have loads of great work examples in your portfolio so save the really creative pieces for there.

It is good to send a few work examples with your CV. Have some work examples laid out nicely on A4 pages to match your CV. Do not email large file size pdfs to prospective. Keep the page to a maximum of about 2mb. It is important to have a good portfolio website too, include the url in your contact details. Wordpress has several portfolio website templates which are relatively simple to use and free.

How to provide your CV

Never provide your CV in Word – ever. If you get the job, you are expecting to be treated as a professional. Would you design a brochure in Word? Also make sure that in your cover letter/email you address the person who will receive it personally. If you don’t have their name, find it out. Do not write ‘sir/madam’ or ‘to whom it may concern’ no-one receiving it will be concerned. Check the company’s website for staff listings or phone the company and ask who to address your application to.

If you are emailing your CV, send it – and any work examples – as a pdf. However, if you want to stand out from the crowd then one of the best things you can do is to print and post it. Design companies rarely get posted student CVs. Choose a really nice paper stock and make sure it’s printed properly – no inkjet lines or smudges. If you want to provide work examples, send them on some nice heavyweight paper. Demonstrate that you care about the whole design process including the finish and it’s sure to impress.

Remember that it’s a competitive world out there and if you can make a great first impression you are likely to go far. Good luck.


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