Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School: Resumes – Why Yours Won’t Work!

One piece of business communication that hasn’t changed in a thousand years is the résumé. It’s the first contact you have with a prospective employer and your chance to sell yourself in 20 seconds. With such pressure, most people make huge mistakes with their résumé.

Seasoned professionals struggle with issues such as the chronological vs. the functional, editing to keep a long career under two pages and how to truthfully show one’s life without broadcasting they are older, heavily experienced and most probably highly paid.

NOTE: This article, the first in a series of eight articles on Professional Practices which they don’t teach you in art school.

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Why Your Résumés Won’t Work?

For those just beginning, the biggest problem is having little to nothing to put on a résumé. You can go through books on résumés, web sites, examples of the résumés of friends and family members but the best way to see what is strong and what is frightening is to advertise a job opening and see what examples you receive. Every now and then, I find myself in a position that needs a designer, assistant or associate and hundreds of résumés pour in. Almost by nature, three piles form: possible, probably not but I’ll reconsider them and save these for a book of the worst résumés I have ever seen.

For those just starting out, what can you really put on a résumé? Perhaps you did a logo for your uncle’s business or made fliers for a school dance? That’s more than some people have. You will get many opinions and advice about your résumé but there are hard and fast rules and with many companies using on-line applications, it gets tougher. Computers and not people take the first round of the three piles, kicking out résumés without the dozen or so keywords programmed in to help the Dreamcrusher 3000 throw away those who don’t make each needed keyword. Keywords are little words a programmer installs in the search code to separate applicants by the words in their résumé. If it’s a management position, the words, “leadership,” “management” or “executive” will pass the filter. You can pick up on keywords from the job ad. Use the responsibilities listed in the ad to come up with keywords and install them into your résumé. I suggest you read up on keywords, cover letters and résumés. It’s an ever-changing field.

Whether just starting out or a you’re a seasoned professional, even with changes in hiring software and practices, these are the biggest problems you will find listed in endless articles about the proper résumé:

The “Goal” or “Objective.”

If you are applying for a position as a graphic designer, obviously that is your goal – to design! When I see someone list their goal as, “to make the world a better place, one design at a time,” or “to stretch myself as a designer and discover new techniques and experience,” I die a little inside. Actually, I laugh and throw them away. It’s foolish and reeks of amateurish attempts to be poetic and impressive. No one is buying it and you wouldn’t want to work for anyone who does.

Some advice, which I follow, is an untitled overview to catch the eye. List some specialty that pertains to the position to which you are applying. “Certified Google AdSense Expert.” It’s $10 to take the test, so seek out simple tests and certifications to pump up a résumé that has no or limited work history. Read and reread the Adobe manual for Photoshop and get certified as an Expert by Adobe. Find something to make the reader go to the next line!

Pictures or Photos of Yourself.

Bad move! At least in America, identifying your gender, color or culture before an interview is a problem for the Equal Employment Opportunities Act. The hiring manager will have to throw away your résumé no matter how much you may fit the position. In countries without the same hiring rules, you just run the chance the hiring manager will not like the way you look or you will remind them of someone they hate. A picture adds nothing.

Hobbies and Interests.

I skipped by a résumé that told me the applicant collected weapons and was a fourth degree black belt in mixed martial arts and enjoyed horror films. If you tell someone you have six cats, they will most likely be a dog lover. If you reveal you study clog dancing… well, no one will like you! Hobbies have no place in business communications and neither do your interests, living situation, number of kids, weapons or pets.

Jobs that have Nothing to Do with Your Field.

If you want to be a designer but have never worked as a designer, listing you were the assistant checker in the local supermarket means nothing. It is another red flag for a hiring manager that you are not serious enough to take a chance on.

Always keep in mind that every new employee represents a gamble for a company. Training, loss due to mistakes on the learning curve and severance pay for people who are fired can add up, so employers need to be 100% sure they have hired the right person.

Self-Proclaimed Skills.

Says who? If you include a few claims, like, “great leadership qualities,” or “intense desire to grow as a designer,” the reader will just throw out your résumé. Once you have experience under your belt, either as a staff or freelance person, you should include accomplishments such as, saving production costs, a successful campaign that brought in higher revenue or more business. Companies want people who will make them money and not just someone who will park themselves at a desk all day and then leave.

I’ve always sought out opportunities I could do that would benefit the company and be a great entry in my résumé. While at one corporation, my daily emails to a number of coworkers, which included innovative technologies that could apply to our products, became a weekly e-newsletter that eventually was distributed company wide. It took 20-30 hours a week, eating up my lunch time, a few hours after work and a couple of hours on weekends but the notoriety within the company still has people talking about the newsletter over three years since I departed that corporation and it’s a great tick on my résumé!

Even seeking out volunteer opportunities outside your company, if it has to do with your field, can be very impressive on a résumé. If you are still in art school, try volunteering to design something for a non-profit organization. Aside from the freebie entitling you to do what you want without design-by-committee, you create a portfolio piece as well as a great listing on your résumé and networking connections, too!

So, what do I do?

So, you have nothing to list for work experience. What do you do? Time to become creative… but not TOO creative. Here’s a few creative résumés that creatives love and emulate. They don’t work and here’s why:

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

While I can’t make heads or tails of this résumé, the person to whom it belongs claims, “Been busy working for the man. This is my CV which I did at the beginning of the year which probably laid me the job.” (sic). I don’t know if he landed a fulltime job or a project but being “laid” doesn’t sound too bad. His post reminds us all that you need to have your résumé proofread by several people because too many people will miss a typo and that’s a deal-breaker for most employers.

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

An interesting approach which, for better or worse, resembles a WordPress theme. If anything positive can be said… it looks like a nice WordPress theme. On the negative side, it’s very busy will not printout well on a black and white printer (remember, most human resources/hiring managers have a laser printer for printing) and will end up being thrown away once the recipient sees it’s too grayed out.

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

Yikes! It looks like a car accident without the charm. The biggest mistake the person to whom this belongs makes is in his posting; “I use some picture that i got from [link]. if you own those picture. msg me for credit.” (sic). Again, plenty of typos and admitting to pirating images tells me the person may be a liability to my business. It’s also too long to be printed out in one piece. Despite what you may think, no hiring manager wants one résumé sticking out of a neat pile of 8.5×11 papers and it won’t fit into their file tray. Won’t fit? Out it goes!

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

More interesting as a leave behind portfolio. As a résumé, it’s too much work to read it. I’m also willing to bet it was really expensive!

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

I’ll say this for her résumé – it’s clean! Personally, I hate the timeline because it makes the reader work to decipher the dates. The big mistake, at least in the United States, is the equal opportunities law mentioned before. Keep the photos for a dating site. In business, it’s better to let your experience and work speak for itself. To be truthful, if you are a stunning beauty, you may have a better than average chance at getting the job. You also have a better than average chance of your boss wanting certain “favors.”

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

I’m a huge fan of retro design and this is well done. Otherwise, between the format, colors and content, it breaks too many rules… and not in the good way.

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

Closer on the readability scale, there are still the mistakes of experience that has nothing to do with design and aside from the flowery objective/goals entries, the design is needlessly “flowery.”

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

I love the creative angle and this would impress a creative director to whom it was given. It’s a reminder that everyone needs not one but several résumés. Know to whom you are submitting your résumé! If it’s a hiring manager, go more traditional. If it’s a creative director, then you should go for impressing them with your creative ability. The previous examples, despite my comments, should be aimed ONLY at creative directors.

For these pieces, I would leave several in a coffee shop near a large agency or even in the reception area of a large agency or design firm. Get friendly with the receptionist and he/she might put a stack in the company kitchen!

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

Absolutely brilliant! You’ll get a great waiter job with this résumé.

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

Apparently, according to the artist, she still hasn’t found employment. Perhaps she’ll read this article and find out why. Her screen name “cunt-art” won’t win any fans among hiring managers.

instantShift - Professional Practices They Don’t Teach You In Art School

Fans of negative space will love this résumé. It still leans too heavily on non-design personal information. Clean and readable can work for hiring managers as well as creative directors. Many times both will share one résumé. It can be a tough choice for the designer.


The truth is, as mentioned, a résumé is usually viewed by someone who isn’t creative and they don’t understand the previous examples. They are familiar with the age-old rules and that’s what they want to see. Creative directors want to be amazed by a résumé. So what do you do?

  • Research the name of the hiring manager and creative director. Use the internet! Look on LinkedIn and Google to see to whom you are sending your résumé. If the company has a web site, which it should, perhaps there’s a “meet our team” section. Read up on who these people are.
  • Reach out to your network. Perhaps a connection knows the creative director or hiring manager. A personal connection will get you closer.
  • Make sure your résumé has NO TYPOS! Have several friends read and re-read it and then go over it yourself, word for word. One typo says you might blow something on a big campaign or web site.
  • No personal information. Your hobbies might be strange or frightening to a prospective employer. It has nothing to do with your professional work.
  • If work experience has nothing to do with the position for which you are applying, leave it off. Better to have one job with great experience than having three jobs with no experience in design.
  • Follow up but don’t stalk! A day after you submit your résumé via email or fax (yes, some people still use fax machines, although more often then not, faxes go right into email), send an email telling the person that you have submitted your résumé the previous day and they should contact you if they did not receive it. Sometimes emails for to spam folders and people don’t look there.
  • After three weeks, you can send another follow-up asking if the position is still open and if they need any further material from you. Leave it simple and pleasant. People are frightened by desperation.
  • If you receive no reply, don’t take it personally. Send a “thank you for considering me” email after six weeks. Either they haven’t filled the position and it’s a classy reminder you are still interested or they have filled the position but will take note you are classy and perhaps, if the other person doesn’t work out, you’ll be at the top of the list for next time. Worst case, they will remember you as being classy and they will become part of your network as they move around the field. The high road is the best way to travel the industry.


In conclusion, a résumé should not be written in stone. It has to be flexible for the position to which you are applying. As with some of the cleaner designed résumés shown as examples, you must be able to plug in different information based on the position’s requirements. You have to know your audience with each résumé, much like any web site or print piece you design. Your résumé, after all, is an ad for yourself and you want an employer to buy you. As with any ad, if you clutter it up with information people don’t believe or want (i.e. non-related job history, self assessed skills and personal information), you aren’t going to sell a thing.

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  1. Excellent article! I’ve seen quite a few of these resume blogs floating around the web that shows examples of these resumes, but I love how you are critical. These artsy resumes won’t land a senior design position. I’ve recently redesigned my resume and still think it needs work. Thanks for the great article.

  2. Very nice Curriculum Vitae, it’s really amazing…

  3. Very good article… Nicely written. I must add that the direct attack on the example resumes are quite amazing.

  4. A good resume indeed gets you lot of opportunities for future. Some nice tips here.

  5. @Jack – Thanks for the kudos. I knew I’d get comments about critiquing the creative résumés that, as @Timothy points out, are used in many sites and articles as GREAT examples of creative résumés. They are creative. There’s no arguing that! The point I wanted to make is that they are not effective. Even some of the creators admit they haven’t had any luck getting a job as of yet.

    My criticism is not on their talent but on the hard decisions one has to make when dealing with such a subjective means of communicating. It’s also a very important means of communication as it comes down to getting a job interview or not.

  6. Great article!

    I disagree with the point about interests/hobbies however. I usually use that section to illustrate non-technical skills and to give my resume some more dimension/personality.

    In my experience I have found most recruiters don’t hire on skills alone but how well you will fit into their team.

  7. This article is very informative. Bio is important.

  8. Thanks, Rich! I understand your point, however, a résumé is the ad that gets you into the door and sometimes less is more. If you look up any résumé article, they will all say that hobbies and interests should be left out. It has to do with not offering up TOO much information. The more information outside the job description, the more of a chance you will say something to sabotage yourself in the eyes of the person deciding whether you live or die.

    Leave the hobbies and interests for the interview… if you’re asked!

  9. Thanks again for another great article!, Nice Tips !

  10. Thanks for stalking me across the web, Lee! ;) Always more on the way.

  11. Hi Speider,

    great article and finally someone with practical and real critique! The people who actually read the resumés are not interested in an arty-farty layout where they have to search for the info they need ..

    BTW: I do include personal info (e.g. hobbies), this makes you HUMAN and gives more insight who you really are, when you’re not working.

    And second, if you’re a webdesigner, why not make your resumé as a website? I’ve done this a couple of months ago and the reactions (from people who really deal with resumés on a daily basis) are great so far: (website is in Dutch!)

    Thanks for sharing this article, well done! Cheers & Ciao ..

  12. Thanks, Gonzo! I still insist, and this is from someone who has had to view résumés in various positions of team leadership I have held, that hobbies and interests just detract from your chances. Leave the human stuff for the interview. Face-to-face is what will bring out the real you. For getting to the interview stage, you need the cold, hard facts that fulfill the job description, being read by a usually cold, robotic person with little or no personality. You do, unfortunately, run the risk of displeasing them with one of your hobbies or interests.

    I also have a visual CV on the internet and I think it’s the wave of the future. I said that ten years ago when I did it and it’s still not the preferred method of submitting a résumé. I think that the actual effort of clicking on a link in a cover letter by email and then having to print out the page is too much for the person who is dealing with literally hundreds of résumés for one open position.

    Then there’s the electronic submission process where a computer scans your cv. I talk about that in the article. The best way is to research the position, company, people and then write up a whole new cv based on what you have found. Keywords and the right statements will get you the interview. From there… well, that’s another article! ;)

  13. Cunt-art? Amazing. I’d like to meet her…haha

  14. Hmmm… maybe I was wrong? Sometimes outrageous can work!

  15. Actually the most talked about thing on my resume is under my ‘personal interests and hobbies’: FAA Licensed Hot-Air Balloon Pilot.

    Remember you can use those as Ice breakers if they are interesting and unique, but too many or inane things would fallow what is described above.

  16. I understand your point, Mike and there are always exceptions to the rule. For a small design firm, that might indeed be a talking point if they excitedly think you will be able to take the staff hot air ballooning. A bigger firm might be afraid you’ll take the HR department for a ride, head the balloon towards high voltage wires and then parachute out screaming, “so long, suckers!” ;)

    I knew a guy who was really into paintball and the job ad he saw talked about how the staff of the small studio was into paintball. He played it up on his résumé and got the job. It all comes back to my point of doing research on the company first. If the firm is into volunteering, then mention volunteer work you have done.

    The general rule, still has to be, leave it off and bring up hobbies when asked at the interview. It may be that when you are asked if you have any questions about the company, you ask if the staff has any joint hobbies. You might want to say, “I notice you do a lot of work with (blank) charity. I’ve done some work with them in the past.”

    It all comes back to the age-old advertising basic — know your target, show them the need and then give them the means to fulfill it!

  17. Thanks for writing this great article. It really does change everyone’s perspective about redesigning their resumes.

  18. This article is very informative, I have the hobby.

  19. “You also have a better than average chance of your boss wanting certain “favors.””
    hah made my night… as my friend would say “Big **** count as 2, and sometimes more, university degrees”

  20. I cringed.

    And became forever grateful that I sent a similar resume just once to a company I never heard from again. (Before I was hired by someone who knows my work experience and wasn’t asking to be impressed.)

    Actually, this is how I was hired:
    “Hey, we have this opening blah blah blah… and if you want it, it’s yours. Send us your resume.”
    “What kind of resume are you looking for?”
    “Just put your damn name on it and list what you did for the past year! We already saw your work. Just whip up a resume in MS Word. No one’s going to look at it.”

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