You’ve got the skills of being a graphic designer and are ready to show them to the world.
But so is everybody else.
To stand out from the hundreds of graphic designers out there, you have to make your resume shine and let employers know that you are the right person for the job.
In this article, I’ll tell you how to do exactly that including how to format your graphic design resume, how to get it past the ATS, how and where to display all your education, skills, experience, and portfolio, and how to make an entry-level resume with no work experience.
Understanding the reader
The first thing you need to focus your attention on is who you are writing this resume for.
Nowadays, many companies in the U.S. and U.K. have adapted an applicant tracking system (ATS) through which your resume will be checked and then transferred to the HR department.
Your resume needs to stand out for both the machine and the manager.
First, you need to understand the human reader. Managers don’t read your resume they just skim through it trying to find things of their interest. They may only spend a few seconds looking at your resume meaning you have to make your resume stand out and make their job easier to make sure you get selected.
Here are a few steps to do this:
- Use the right industry language; be sure to use the right graphic design terms and positions to outline your experience and skills.
- Keep it simple; your graphic designer resume should be easy to understand and something your reader can quickly skim through.
- Be sure to use the right formatting; Managers might be expecting a reverse-chronological format so make sure your graphic designer resume meets that standard so they know where to look for the most important information.
- Use the right format; most graphic designer resumes are in PDF or DOCX file formats. Any other kind of format might not even be considered by the manager.
- Avoid technical jargon; you might think that using technical and advanced words in your resume might make the manager think you know your stuff but in reality, it just backfires on you. If your graphic design resume is even slightly difficult to read they’ll skip right past it.
These are the appropriate steps you could take to satisfy most of the manager’s demands however you still need to get your graphic design resume past the ATS.
What is an ATS and how to get your resume past it?
An applicant tracking system or ATS is an automated resume-scanning software. Usually, your graphic design resume will pass through this first before going through to the hiring manager. If the ATS rejects your resume it might never even be seen by a hiring manager.
Most companies use an ATS to scan applications as they reduce the workload of the HR department. It’s often impossible for managers to check every single resume manually which is why this technology comes in handy.
Here’s the issue, some ATS software might reject candidates who are qualified graphic designers and a great fit for the job.
This is because even though graphic designers have the skills and qualifications necessary they might not include the right keywords and formatting for the ATS. This leads to the software not being able to properly detect and scan the resume and eventually rejecting it.
No need to worry however, at the end of this guide I’ll highlight all the steps you need to take to not only get past the ATS but also the hiring manager.
Formatting your Graphic Designer Resume
The first thing to focus on will be the formatting of your graphic design resume.
No employer wants to try reading a resume with terrible formatting no matter how qualified you are for the position. To make things worse many ATS software won’t be able to scan your resume properly which will already rule you out from the other designers and put you straight into the reject pile.
According to Zety, the HR manager checks each resume for an average of about 7 seconds meaning if your resume doesn’t catch the reader’s attention at first glance say goodbye to that job.
There are 3 main ways to format your graphic design resume:
- Reverse-Chronological Resume
- Functional Resume
- Combination or Hybrid Resume
Let’s discuss these formats in more detail.
The reverse chronological resume is the most common kind of resume format. In this, you list your experience with your most recent employer first and then list other positions in descending order.
The main benefits of designing a reverse-chronological resume are:
- It is the most common kind of resume format in the U.S. and U.K. so most employers would be expecting this type of formatting from a reliable candidate.
- The reverse-chronological resume is tried and tested on multiple ATS and is the main preference for it. Some ATS might even reject any other kind of format.
- Since all your work experience will be mentioned on the resume it will be convenient for the employers and save their time to scan through your qualifications. It will also highlight your most recent experience as it would be placed on top.
The main disadvantage to using a reverse-chronological resume might be that it clearly highlights employment gaps in your resume.
The reverse-chronological order is also heavily focused on industry experience so if you are a fresher with no experience you may be interested in taking a look at the other formats below.
A functional resume or skills-based resume showcases your skills and how you use them to tackle certain problems.
Functional resumes are hated by experienced HR managers as they think of them as a way to hide insufficient qualities.
Because of this reason, most employers won’t even bother to read your resume. On top of this, if the company uses an ATS it will instantly reject your resume as most ATS don’t consider the functional resume.
So, you might be thinking “why even bother with a functional resume?”
Despite the disadvantages, the functional resume format was designed for several reasons.
Firstly, it gave young college graduates a chance to display their skills for entry-level jobs. Most college graduates don’t have any relative work experience to show on their resume despite having the skills to fulfill the position.
With this resume format, they could shift the attention from their experience to their strengths.
It also works well for employment gaps, career-switching, and job-hopping (switching jobs after a short time.)
You should use the functional resume format if:
- The company you are applying for doesn’t use an ATS
- The HR manager is slightly inexperienced
- The business is small with a tight budget
However, there is no solid way of telling that.
So, does this mean a functional resume is totally worthless?
Well, not exactly.
See, for jobs with a creative nature like graphic design, your portfolio is the main star of the show, not necessarily your work experience.
By having a functional graphic design resume you might be able to describe your skills in depth and your portfolio will back it up for you.
Combination or Hybrid Resume
A combination or hybrid resume is a format that combines both the functional and reverse-chronological order together.
There might be different definitions for this kind of hybrid resume but I would define it as a reverse-chronological resume that gives a deeper insight into a graphic designer’s skillset.
It is still debated if this kind of resume could pass the ATS scan or not. Some say it does some say it doesn’t.
After discussing all the format options, I would advise you stick with the reverse-chronological resume as it is the most reliable with the best chance of success. However, if you do manage to add an opening summary to describe your skills it would be a great addition for the ATS and managers.
Further down the line, I’ll explain how to use the reverse-chronological format even if you don’t have much experience or are a beginner.
Using keywords in your graphic design resume
An ATS is programmed to scan for job-appropriate keywords. These keywords help filter out the relevant job applications from the others and make them easier to work through. These filtered results are then collected and stored into the ATS database for managers to search through.
A hiring manager can then enter the keywords into their ATS manager which would highlight all the keywords that match so they can take the time to view only these relevant applications.
The following is a screenshot of a managers ATS database with the option of “keyword search”:
There are much more technical back-end operations that go on behind the ATS but this is all you need to know as a job-seeker.
These keywords are usually the same as the requirements in the job description so it is necessary to keep your keywords relevant to the job description.
For example, let’s say a fitness company is looking for a graphic designer that can create highly engaging infographics and has marketing experience in the fitness or health industry.
In this job description, the main keywords highlighted are, “create highly engaging infographics” and “marketing experience in the fitness or health industry.”
Now, let’s say you have tons of graphic design experience, achievements, and skills for this job but you have to target the main keywords.
January 2017 – March 2018
- Created social media designs daily for a fitness Facebook and Instagram page.
- Translated fitness-related blog posts into infographics which increased user engagement by 30%.
- Facilitated team meetings for a website in the health and fitness industry that led to a 10% increase in online sales in the first year of launch.
January 2017 – March 2018
- Created social media imagery daily.
- Translated client blog posts to highly attractive visuals.
- Responsible for the team that collaborated on web design to increase online revenue.
Both are good ways to jot down your experience but the first application has a higher chance of passing the ATS and manager as they are relevant to the job description and include all the right keywords.
Adding your Contact details
The contact details are essential to include, you do want the manager to be able to contact you right?
There is a proper way to list your contact info so that it doesn’t harm the overall look of your graphic designer resume. The things to include in your contact details are:
- Phone number
- Professional email address
- A link to your online portfolio
Some important points to keep in mind:
- Make sure you write your first and last name.
- Write your main specialization without trying to be creative. If you are a graphic designer, write a graphic designer, not a “graphic designing guru.”
- Mention a professional email address rather than the one you made to sign in to your gaming console. If you don’t have a professional email address, make one.
- Separate your mobile number with dashes
- A link to your online portfolio is often better than attaching your portfolio with the application as most of the times managers themselves won’t go through them.
John Doe, Graphic designer – email@example.com – 202 – 555 – 0193 – johndoe.com
Mr. John Doe – Graphic Design Expert, 2283 Rose Street, Elmhurst, IL, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, 202 – 555 – 0193
Writing a Graphic Designer Resume Summary or Resume Objective
Till now you know that managers are busy people and don’t have time to check every single graphic designer resume manually.
So, you need to figure out a way that can tell them exactly what they need to know without having to look for it.
A great way to do that is to include a graphic designer resume summary.
The summary is a section that goes on top of your resume giving employers a brief description of your skills, experiences, and awards (if any.)
Keep these important points in mind when writing your resume summary:
- Keep it relevant to the job description.
- Don’t describe yourself too much rather let them know what you can do for them.
- Don’t make it very long; keep your summary at a maximum of 4-5 lines.
- Use numbers and figures to really make your resume stand out.
Freelance graphic designer responsible for designing client websites for small and medium-sized businesses. Helped multiple firms to transfer their business online by designing engaging graphics, layout, typography, and a satisfactory user experience. Developed 70+ websites from scratch including theme, advertising, and branding which helped increase online sales by 40%.
Graphic designing expert with 8+ years of experience in the field. Looking to further challenge my skills and express my creativity as a graphic designer. Skilled at Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.
If you don’t have tons of experience to show in your graphic designer resume, just starting out or changing careers, you should write a graphic designer resume objective instead.
A graphic designer’s resume objective focuses more on skills rather than experience and would still give the employer a good idea of your qualifications.
Passionate graphic designer with solid problem-solving skills. Seeking to increase online conversions for Company XYZ as part of the design team through my critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration skills. Skilled in industry-standard software including Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign.
Graphic design student looking for a job in graphic designing. Skilled in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
Writing the Experience section for your graphic design resume
The experience section is a crucial part of your graphic designer resume.
Experience matters a lot to employers and if you don’t present yours in the right way chances are you’re not going to be considered.
Write your experience in reverse-chronological order.
On your graphic designer resume start your experience section with your most recent job title and then list your responsibilities and achievements in bullet points.
As always keep your resume relevant to the job description.
Let’s take another job example.
A small-sized business is looking for a graphic designer who can create social media posts daily for their health and nutrition page.
Now, let’s imagine you have quite a lot of experience as a graphic designer with a variety of jobs done. A best practice is to make a list of all the achievements you have and only pick the ones that are relevant to the application.
So, you make a list of 30 milestones you may have achieved but only include 5 of them:
February 2018 – December 2019
ABC Design Agency, San Francisco
- Responsible for daily social media designs for a small business
- Facilitated team meetings for a project to increase client’s fresh food e-commerce sales by 17%
- Charged with designing all social media pages for ABC Design Agency.
- Increased brand awareness and leads for multiple clients through Facebook and Instagram in the health and fitness industry.
- Contributed to a client’s site that won a 2020 Shopify E-commerce Design Award.
February 2018 – December 2019
ABC Design Agency, San Francisco
- Responsible for designing visual content daily
- Head of the team responsible for increasing revenue for clients in the automotive industry.
- Developed 70+ logos, and marketing materials for medium and large-sized businesses.
- Increased brand awareness for 100+ clients.
- Contributed to a client’s website design that was mentioned in Forbes.
Both are good example sections of a good graphic designer resume but the first one is more likely to land the job as it is tailored to the request and the other won’t even get through the ATS.
Writing your Graphic designer resume with no experience
Anyone who has tons of experience, clients, and awards would be able to write a great experience section and make his graphic designer resume stand out.
But what if you have no experience on your resume?
It’s a dreadful cycle.
You need clients to get experience but you need the experience to get clients.
However, as a graphic designer, you’re in luck.
As a beginner graphic designer, there are multiple ways you can get experience and gather work to showcase on your portfolio.
You can do this by:
- Registering yourself on a freelance platform such as UpWork or Fiverr and work on some gigs.
- Entering graphic design contests on freelancer.com, guru.com, and 99designs.
- Finding local businesses in your area and design some cheap logos or posters for them.
- Doing some unpaid work for family or relatives
- Creating an imaginary brief and design its branding
When you grab this chunk of experience and have something to show for it in your portfolio you can now start writing your resume.
A good example for a freelance graphic designer resume might be something like this:
Freelance Graphic Designer
July 2017 – July 2018
- Designed Logo for ‘Mom & Son Cookies’, Atlanta
- Featured on Upwork as Top Seller in Graphic Design
- Won 20+ contests on RedBubble, 99Designs, and Freelancer.com
Writing the Education section of your graphic designer resume
The nature of this field isn’t dependent on education rather on your skill level, experience, and portfolio.
However, that doesn’t mean a graphic design degree is totally worthless. In fact, many companies require potential candidates to have a degree in graphic design.
If you don’t you can quickly gain some real-world experience to make up for it but with a degree, you are better eligible for multiple job opportunities.
In your education you should include:
- University name and location
- Degree type and major
- Honors, courses, or any other certifications
Masters in Graphic Design
California Institute of the Arts. Valencia, CA
2018 – 2020
- GPA 3.2
- Area of specialization: Web design
- Collaborated in a school-side project of designing an E-commerce website.
- Worked on the university’s website by designing original illustrations.
Masters in Graphic design
- GPA 3.2
- Graduated in 2020
Writing the Skills section of your graphic designer resume
When recruiters and art directors are going through resumes your skills section needs to stand out.
To do this you need to have relevant skills to the job description highlighted in your graphic designer resume.
There are a set of hard and soft skills that the manager might be expecting from you.
Hard skills are a specific set of skills or talents that can be measured and are often acquired through some form of formal training or schooling.
Soft skills are skills that cannot be measured such as communication and creativity and are universal skills that can apply to any job. These are usually part of a person’s personality and are not learned through some formal institute.
Here are a set of common hard and soft skills for graphic designers you might see on job applications:
- After Effects
- Corel Draw
- Time management
- Decision making
- Taking criticism
- Quick learner
Make sure to choose the skills that you possess and are relevant to the job application.
For example, if it is required for a graphic designer to be creative and skilled in Photoshop and Illustrator it would be irrelevant to mention that you are a quick learner and skilled in Corel draw or Sketch.
Include Your Awards and Certifications
Awards and certifications are usually considered a plus for employers as they give a deeper insight into a graphic designer’s skill-set.
If you have completed a course on Udemy or are an Adobe certified expert mention these on your graphic designer resume.
Awards and Certifications example:
- Designed multiple Infographics featured on Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.
- Adobe Certified Expert
- AutoDesk Certified
- Certificate in Advanced Web Design course on Udemy.
Having a nice-looking Awards and Certifications section on your graphic designer resume will surely make employers want you.
In conclusion, if you want to make a winning graphic designer resume you should:
- Format your resume in reverse-chronological order.
- Write a well-phrased graphic designer resume objective or summary.
- Highlight all your work experience in a proper way
- If you are a beginner or fresh out of college grab some experience through local work and freelancing.
- Keep your resume relevant to the job description and use keywords in your graphic designer resume.
Ibrahim Ahmed is the founder and CEO of Mediacaterer – an Art & Design blog covering the latest news, tips, guides, and product reviews for beginners, intermediates, and professionals. He’s a self-taught graphic designer and writer hoping to help aspiring artists and designers make it big in the industry