Stand out from the crowd

11 February 2011, in Work method | 27 comments »

Lately I’ve been going through lots of CV’s, as Canonical, the company I work for, is hiring a multitude of visual designers, user experience architects, front-end developers, etc.

The other side

Although I can’t say I have much experience interviewing and hiring people, when you’re suddenly on this side of the hiring process, some things become clear, mainly on how people could easily make their CV’s stand out from everyone else’s.

Your 15 minutes of fame

We’re busy all the time, so even though we make our best effort to make sure we only hire the best people, looking at applicants’ emails, agency referrals, CV’s, portfolios, takes a lot of time. So the first thing you should keep in mind is that people are busy. They want to see your work and capabilities straight away. Try to make that as clear a process as you can.

Emails and cover letters

Friendly but professional. We’re talking about web roles here, you’re not applying for a job as a lawyer or an accountant. A friendly, polite, clear, concise—and professional—email about you, your skills and why you’re interested in the job go a long way.

The CV

Some people say CV’s don’t matter, especially for a web designer. I disagree. I’d rather follow links to your most important work from a CV than trying to figure out how the navigation on your site works.

Details on what your role was on each project are highly useful—if you’re called in for an interview, you’ll be asked that anyway.

Try to make the CV as short as possible, but let it be representative of your career so far and/or your accomplishments.

I would recommend you don’t forget to mention the following:

  • Name, contact (email, city, phone number)
  • Short blurb summarising your competences and what you’re looking for in a job
  • Link to online portfolio (if you have one…)
  • Perhaps a LinkedIn profile link (for example, you may have recommendations there)
  • Education info (I don’t need to see your primary school though)
  • Your skills (use known keywords here, and point out whether you’re an expert at something or only know it at a basic level), languages you speak, etc.
  • Employment history with description for each role, links to projects you were involved in (make this relevant to the position you’re applying to)
  • Published work, or link to your blog
  • Other accomplishments such as any relevant awards, or speaking you’ve done

If you want to you can add references or recommendations, although not necessary and this may make your CV too long.

Links are indispensable if the sites are online somewhere (even if just as a screen grab on a portfolio site).


When making your CV, ask someone else to review it for you. If you can find someone with more experience than you (someone who’s used to looking at CV’s would be perfect), and that knows your skills, so they can remind you of any skills you might have forgotten to mention, or tell you you don’t really have a particular skill you mentioned.

If you’re applying in a language other than your own, ask someone who speaks the language to proofread it.

The last time I revamped my CV, I asked a couple of people to look at it, with different backgrounds, but from the industry, and some native English speakers. Their recommendations were invaluable and made my CV ten times better.

Writing and personal projects

Having a personal blog where you express your thoughts and ideas about what you do always gives a good impression (exceptions aside). Writing shows you are capable of expressing yourself, and writing about your work shows a level of commitment and engagement with what you do that is invaluable and usually a synonym of someone who is willing to learn and also willing to share—indispensable attributes for working in a team.

This is especially important if you are a developer, with no visual work to show on a portfolio site. I still don’t know which is the best way for a developer to showcase their work other than in a show & tell/writing scenario. Ideas are welcome, feel free to use the comment form.

A blog is a personal project, but other types of personal explorations are always a plus (apps you’ve made, research, experiments, etc.).

Your skills

By showing you’re interested and engaged (I don’t think you can be in this industry if you dread it—it’s a labour of love), that you can communicate with others, and that you are willing to learn, you will be one step ahead of most people.

If the person or team recruiting notice this, they might be open to take you in as a junior who can progress, who they can mentor and help advance in their career—even when the original idea was to hire someone for a more senior position.

Where are the good ones?

It’s extremely hard to hire good people, especially for full time positions. If you’re good and you know it, and your skills are relevant, you’ll probably get more offers than you need, even if you already have a job or are freelancing.
So what I’d like to ask, besides asking for tips on how to create a good first impression when looking for work, is where would you go to find the good ones? And how can you make sure that they’ll want to work with (or for) you?

Note: I know I’ve focussed mostly on the CV and writing/personal projects part of the story. I could have mentioned actual portfolios, or interviews, or even the importance of expanding your network (people are more likely to interview someone they know or that someone has recommended), but this post is already long as it is, and I’m not in the mood for writing another book right now.

Update, 20 October 2013: Czech translation of this post

  • Excellent advice.
    Two things I would add from experience.

    1. Write your CV, leave it for a few days, ignore it and then come back to it reading it like a recruiter – would you recruit you?

    2. If you end up with a CV that you just can’t seem to polish in the best way do consider getting it written professionally. This isn’t a cop-out or cheating, it is reasonable to ask for prefessional advice in any area that you’re not an expert in. Don’t forget, you’re an expert in what you do, not writing CV’s.

    In the UK you can write this down to tax as publicity costs and marketing. When you consider that an expertly written CV could net you a much better paid job – or get you through the door, then it could provide a good return on investment.

  • If you work in the fields of web design, UX or information architecture, then the aesthetics of your CV may be more important than you think.

    Overcome any disdain you might feel for word processing software and think carefully about indentation, bullet styles, headings, sub-headings, vertical rhythm and layout. Your CV needn’t be a work of art but it is ultimately a piece of information design, and your chances of advancing to the interview stage rely on its effectiveness.

    Also, try to think of something you can say about yourself that another person of equivalent experience and capability wouldn’t say. Something distinct, that expresses an aspect of your character that is unique to you. When you read lots of CVs, sentences like “I leverage technology and creativity to create unique experiences” start to blur into one another and it’s difficult to recall CVs where all content is like this. Don’t be zany for the sake of it, but don’t let your character be buried by bland declarations either.

  • How about my CV:

    Will it help me to stand out?

    • Shekhard, I really like your CV!

      My recommendations (as the president of a graphic design agency) would be to lighten up some of the pie chart colors, adjust the font so it is readable (I could not see Illustrator, or whatever is in the black piece of pie), make sure your 3 blocks of selected links are even and adjusted, and I’d choose a more readable font for your name.

  • Hi,

    As a web designer I think it’s quite a good idea to make a resumé-site. Why?

    First of all, you can put all the info (personalia, experience, etc.) in this site, cause a Resumé really does matter when allying for a new job.

    But second, what is better to show of your skills as a web designer ..? With a good, valide and hand-coded design of your CV-site!

    I made mine a month ago, wanna see it:

    Thanks for sharing this great info, Cheers & Ciao ..

  • What do you guys think about this? Too much?

    Personally, I think it’s simply amazing.

  • “I’d rather follow links to your most important work from a CV than trying to figure out how the navigation on your site works.”

    If you have to “figure out” how the navigation on a Web Designer’s site works, that’s probably a good indicator that you shouldn’t hire them.

    • It might be a developer’s site :)

  • I used to think that having a CV these days were kind of useless since everyone is at LinkedIn anyway and all the info you need is there.

    But I guess the title of this post says it all. People are unique and so should be our CVs. Your personality should be there too.

  • Recently, I was in the market for a new job and decided I wanted to really stand out from the crowd. I spent some time really putting together a CV that is a snapshot of my experience and skills, mixed with a simple, professional design. I quickly found myself with several offers and yesterday I accepted an offer with a company that I REALLY want to work with.

    What do you think?

    • Janice

      Nice job!

  • Well, just when I’m looking for a job, there’s an article somewhere that makes my day.

    I really liked this article, but still have some questions… How about EuroPass curriculum vitae type? Should I consider making a custom curriculum vitae rather than a standard one? I know the subject is stand out from the crowd, but, can’t that be … well… excessive?

    I also have a LinkedIn account and a ‘one-page-only’ resumé (my personal webpage). But don’t think that those thinks can supress the need of a CV.

    Finally, in my case (always about me ehehe) I don’t have many personal projects nor a lot of professional experience (at least not as much as my personal experience)… How will that count for a company?

    Nice article and in the “right hour”

    • The thing is that many companies and recruitment agencies will require a CV. I was never asked for an official EuroPass one though. Maybe for some jobs they’ll require that specifically?

      When I got my first job in London, it was mainly for my freelance work rather than what I was doing for my current employer at the time, but they were for real clients. I guess it depends for what kind of role you’re applying to. If you’re going for a senior role, then you’ll definitely need actual professional experience :)

  • I’ve always thought that a CV is a personal reflection of one’s creative ability to represent themselves quickly and efficiently. (As stated in the article above under “15 minutes of fame”). I’ve gone through about 10 different interpretations of my CV until I finally arrived at this solution a while back…

    I am still in the process of translating it into an interactive online portfolio where my “Career” boxes will reveal past/present projects.

    My advice to anyone who is currently working on theirs, REVISE, REVISE, REVISE. (Time consuming but well worth it!)

    What do you guys think?

  • First of all, I’m so thrilled to see a Green Superfan Suit a the top of this posting. Nice touch!

    CV is the one chance to really add your own voice to the application process. I think too many people use canned CV’s, replace the names (even worse when they forget to replace the names!) and hit submit. So sad!

  • Heh, I’m yet to see one of those, sounds like fun :)

    • All types of colors! Haha.

    • My friend recently made a shortfilm in which I got to wear one just like the one in the picture :) It was loads of fun walking about town completely incognito doing wierd stuff!

      check out his film

  • Thanks for tips……!


  • Tiago Vieira

    Great as always. The other side of “the force” (hope you start enjoying Starwars) is all about CV’s and a felling. Glad i was right from the beginning. Bejos

  • I think I need more volunteer experience. Otherwise, I made my resume fairly casual sounding, since I want to work more with flexible, fun types of people, not corporate or hard ass types.

  • This is a great article on something that has always been difficult.

  • I must consider myself lucky that I found out your site before preparing my CV. I shall take a note of the useful tips provided by you and make use of them while preparing my cv

  • i love inayaili…eh
    i l0ve this site \m/

  • Awesome article. I appreciate the author for a really useful tips about CV/resume and i can really tweak mine and make it better.

    Iam still in a process of making it better and including links of the work i have done unfortunately some of them are either not using the website or closed down the business.

    What you guys think:

  • susanna

    Hi! I jut came across this. Your article is wonderful! I am wondering if you had any advice for choosing arts/design colleges? My daughter will be going to university next year (in 2013) and she doesn’t quite know which design/art field she wants to specialize in yet. We live in Calgary, Canada but wouldn’t mind exploring colleges outside of canada.