How not to write a web design CV/resume

Writing a CV (resume) for a web design job isn’t too dissimilar to writing a CV for any other job. So don’t try to be too clever.

As my last function as Web Coordinator for JJB Sports, I was asked (along with a colleague) to find a new web designer. Some of the CVs I received were truly awful so I’ve summarised some of the biggest mistakes people made in the hope less people will make the same errors.

Note: People looking for my CV will find it here.

1. Don’t try to be too creative

A CV should be 1-2 white pieces of paper with black text. That’s all. It’s your job to use the right font and to layout the CV in such a way that you cram-in as much information without making it seem cramped.

We got CVs that were covered in pictures, literally covering the text so it couldn’t be read. CV’s that were only a page long with virtually no writing on them surrounded by a wonky 1px border.

2. Don’t (for God’s sake) put your exam results on your CV

If you have a degree; state where you went, what you did and the times your were there. If you just have A-levels state how many, maybe what they were in e.g. English, Chemistry, etc and once again; the time and where you did them. Same goes for GCSEs. Whatever you do don’t put on your CV what you achieved.

I saw lots of CVs where people started with their personal details then followed on with half a page of GCSE results including some A grades and some D grades.

Firstly, I don’t care if you did GCSEs or never went to school, I just want to know if you can make websites. Secondly, if I see that you got a poor grade in a subject I immediately think you might be a bit, well, thick. Whereas, a guy you went to school with, who got 5 Fs and nothing else, may sail through the CV sieve because he simply stated that he had 5 GCSEs.

The same goes for good grades. If you state that you have a 1st degree, some companies may think you’ll cost too much money and if you say you got a 2:1 they may wonder ‘Why didn’t they get a 1st?

3. Only put relevant information

I want to see people who have a passion for web design so cram your CV and/or covering letter with proof that you love web design. Don’t just tell me that you work in a shop and hope you’ll be able to express your web design passion in the interview because you won’t get an interview.

Tell me why you like it; and if you have no experience, tell me what it was at school/college/uni that inspired you to go into this field. Tell me what you like to do in your spare time – if it relates to web design then that’s a bonus.

4. Provide examples

If your CV isn’t great, you should have a blog or a portfolio site containing proof that you know what you are doing. If it’s a blog, don’t have it filled with myspace-style crap about your cats. If your CV is good and your portfolio is good you might have got the job before you even walk into the interview.

5. Provide a covering letter

Don’t just send an email with your CV attached with a message like ‘Here’s my CV’. This is your chance to sell yourself so don’t waste the opportunity. Your covering letter is your chance to reiterate everything in your CV and provide extra information about yourself. So, make sure the person reading the application knows why you are the best candidate for this job.

The interview

Before the interviews have started, (I suspect most) interviewers have already picked who they think will get the job therefore, it is imperative you give them a good CV, covering letter and portfolio.

It’s worth pointing out that you can change the interviewer’s mind at interview. If you perform badly you may go from favourite to no-chancer and if you perform well, you may go from outsider to favourite quite easily.

This post first appeared on the 25th September 2006.

19 responses to “How not to write a web design CV/resume”

  1. well said!these guidelines don’t only apply for web design jobs, they apply for all other jobs as well. CVs should be small,clear and to the point

  2. Cheers, Good tips. Will put them to use.
    Will also add one important tip of my own…

    Don’t forget to spellcheck everything!
    Have it proof read by someone before you send it.

  3. […] Thought I’d update my CV as it is coming close to the end of my course, Its hard to fit everything into those 2 pages specially trying to describe what my skills and experience are.Been searching for good ways of writing web designer CV, came across this good article […]

  4. Hello

    This article was interesting although I don’t agree with all your comments on qualifications.
    I do agree that including O / A / GCSE results is a waste of ink but, in contrast, think that the grades of degrees / postrad. degrees can be of relevance.

  5. Stephen, They can probably be relevant for some careers but not for web design.

    The point is though, that allows a prospective employer may welcome the information, it is potentially damaging to the applicant – so it should be left off the CV.

    A high grade could tell the employer, that this applicant will be too expensive and any lower grades will make the employer ask the question, ‘Why didn’t this applicant get a higher grade?’

  6. My feeling is that an ungraded degree mark will be presumed to be 2ii or lower, and should always be included unless you got a 3rd.

  7. there is a sea of black and white cv’s how do you break out of it without being too creative with it?;)

  8. MR mayynee, the key is not to break out of it – its structure exists for a reason. The key is to express yourself eloquently – if you become too ‘creative’ you risk a situation where you CV is unreadable.

  9. The best way of promoting your ability to a design agency is to show them what you can do. A’s B’s and C’s in ‘Graphics’ might look good on paper (providing they use a nice typeface ;o) ) but you need to give examples of what you can do. It’s a shame that so many people look at qualifications as such a big issue.

  10. good tips thanks!

    but I disagree with regards to Uni results. All employers need to know what grade you achieved as its the most important part of your educational history. its what we paid 20k for! :D

  11. @richard: I have never known of an employer to ask what grade I got. Maybe it’s important in other industries – in this one it is not.

    Uni/college isn’t just about your grade, it’s about growing up and learning to discipline yourself to do work and yes, in some cases, a higher grade may show a higher level of commitment to hard work.

    The point is, if you leave the grades off your CV, the chances are that you’ll never be asked about them and consequently, you’ll never be judged, but if you put those results on your CV you could well be perceived negatively whether your grade is high or low.

  12. As an employer I don’t really care what Grades you got (with few exceptions). The higher you get on the career ladder the more insignificant they become, in fact probably after a just few years commercial experience.

    If you’ve little experience, then yes I would ‘be interested in’ your University grade; but in actuality I’m more concerned about what your University taught you and how long it would take me to un-program your university mindset (and how you’d cope with real-world commercial situations), also how you’ve flexed your developer muscles in your own time or minmimal commercial experience.


  13. You make some good points.

    I’ll tell you this; a month ago I was applying for web designer roles and was getting nowhere – fresh out of Uni with a 2:1 and nada! I read this article and others you have on the subject and took your advice and re-formatted it, including reluctantly removing grades…. and over the week I handed in my CV to a hand full of places

    Coincidence or not, I have had 3 job interviews this week, one being a large e-commerce company, hence me re-commenting.

    All interviews never mentioned grades or uni, just what COMMERICAL EXPERIENCE i have….

    which leads me onto another subject (which you should do a article on!) – most positions want 1 or 2yrs experience, how do you get it without someone giving you that chance to prove yourself? tricky!

    which leads me onto yet another subject – why did i bother with uni when i could have freelanced for 3yrs gaining some sort of commerical experience. hell of debate!!