Stand out from the crowd

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