The importance of branding your CV and portfolio with graduate design show season upon us can’t be underestimated. With thousands of newly qualified graphic designers leaving education are you doing everything you can to make sure you will stand out from the hundreds of other job applicants?

Your CV and portfolio are your shop window
The days of graduating and walking straight into a job off the back of a recommendation or work experience are now pretty elusive. Getting to the interview stage is difficult enough. With hundreds of applicants for every job you need to make sure that what the recruiter sees within the first few seconds gives the best impression of you and your work.

Let’s start with you – self branding
So first things first, much like an actual shop you need an identity that will entice people in and not put people off. How do you know what will put people off? Well this is very much about distancing yourself from the exercise (easier said than done). You need to take a step back and put yourself in the shoes of the end user. Who do you want to see your work? And from this give you a job? If you can understand the type of candidate and designer particular agencies, that take your fancy, are after this will give you a head start in trying to pitch yourself at the right level for them.

You may have done a personal branding exercise as part of your course which is great as hopefully you’ll know the process you need to go through to generate ideas and refine your style, however, is the brand identity you came up with a year ago now suitable for the graduating designer you now are? If not maybe now is the time to take stock and re-think and tweak your personal branding.

Important things to include in your branding exercise
As part of your branding exercise you’ve probably come up with some logo concepts and looked at different colours. But how far have you taken it to make sure your brand will work everywhere you want to be seen?

  1. Does your logo work across different media? Will it work on your CV, portfolio, website, social media pages? If it doesn’t, create variations that retain your identity but work for the platform requirements?
  2. Does it work in both portrait and landscape variations? e,g a portrait CV and landscape portfolio/website.
  3. Have you set brand guidelines? e,g what complementing fonts you will use on all of your material? What weights and sizes to use? When you have, make sure you use these consistently throughout your branding.
  4. Have you set rules for spacing and layout?
  5. Does your brand complement the style of design you will be showing in your portfolio?
  6. If you have a strap-line does it convey the right message? How will you use it? Every time your logo appears, or on key pieces of material?

Branding your self effectively is probably the best way to illustrate your skills as a thinking, practical and competent designer. So don’t underestimate how important this is. You’ve probably made a ton of new design friends on your course, so why not pick someone you trust and help each other to take an objective look at your branding?

Top tips for what to put on your CV
First and foremost this is about conveying who you are and why you make a great designer:

  1. The information you select needs to be considered. It mustn’t assume a certain level of understanding and it needs to be written in clear, concise language.
  2. The information should highlight educational experiences and grades. Include work experiences/jobs and modules that are relevant to the area of the industry you want to get into. Additional information such as hobbies should be short & concise as you won’t have space and the recruiter won’t have time to read it.
  3. The standard length of a CV is 2 A4 pages max. If you’re being considered with the information and are a good editorial designer then you’re going to be able to do a great job of laying everything out on one page.
  4. The other advantage of keeping it to one page is that when we are looking at candidates we print out everyone’s CVs and portfolios, so by having a one page CV it’s more likely for all of your information to be kept (and looked at) in one place.
  5. Our final tip is to supply your CV as a PDF. Our biggest bugbear are designers who have spent 3+ years learning industry software who then send us their CV in Word!

Designing your CV
Providing you’ve done your branding exercise and have your definitive branding rules the actual designing of your CV should now be relatively straight forward. Your CV should be a showcase for exemplifying just how good a designer you are. For us as (editorial agency) it needs to show that you have mastered great, clean layout design and typography. This is the place where you are giving people a lot of information in a short amount of space, so clean, considered, easy to navigate and read text is paramount.

If you’re at the beginning stages of deciding how to lay your CV out then take a look at one of our Design Manager’s (Amy) Pinterest page for some ideas.

Tips for creating your portfolio
The first thing to think about is how are you going to present your work? This will really follow on from your branding and CV exercise:

  1. The layout should be consistent with your CV. It should follow the same branding rules you have for all of your material, cv, social media, website. Why is this so important?
    • It shows us that you understand visual consistency,
    • it demonstrates that you can apply a design across multiple platforms,
    • and it shows that you understand who your end user is (someone that is looking for every reason to either employ you or put your application on the no pile).
  2. Your branding shouldn’t detract/distract from the work you are showing off. It shouldn’t scream out from the page. It should sing and complement the work you are showing. That’s why it’s so important to do a thorough branding exercise before you start laying out your portfolio.
  3. Set up a template to keep key portfolio elements consistent on every page. There’s nothing more irritating to flick through someones portfolio and to see headings, page numbers, logos etc jolt out of place on every page. A final check before submitting your portfolio is to do the flick test…
  4. Choosing your work is really important, don’t cram every piece of work you’ve done over the length of your course into your portfolio. You need to select the pieces that best represent your style as well as your competence level.
  5. Variety of work is useful as it shows off different skill sets. However, it’s important to order the work depending on the area of the industry you are going into. For example, if you are applying to our graduate scheme and you have some amazing editorial pieces put these as the first projects you show us – this immediately gets us thinking “ooo they like editorial design”. So selecting and ordering your work is really important.
  6. Consider having multiple versions of the same portfolio but aimed at different industry sectors. It’s a little bit more work, but if you’ve set up your template correctly then switching pages about won’t be too much of a problem.
  7. File naming is important too, we’d suggest something like Firstname_Surname_portfolio.pdf.
  8. Describing your projects… don’t take up valuable showcase space with lengthy descriptions about the brief, project, what you did/didn’t do. It will very likely not be read, especially if it’s full of guff. A short sentence to give a bit of context is all you need. Save the detail for interview stage.
  9. Make sure that the majority of the work you put in your portfolio is actually your own work. Collaborative projects can be great but when we are trying to assess your individual ability as a designer and all we see are collaborative pieces it makes it very difficult to ascertain what your design style is. If you have collaborative pieces make a small side note to say so and if you can show the elements you personally contributed to. (This is perhaps more relevant for when you get to interview stage where you can show concept stages, scrap books, idea generation). If you’ve not got a huge amount of your own work then do some self-initiated briefs and include these.

Why bother with a portfolio – can’t I just send you to my website?
Whilst having your own website is great and it gives extra weight to your credibility as a designer (it shows us your digital skills, that you can brand consistently across different platforms and it’s a nice way to present your work) we would still strongly recommend having a traditional portfolio too. For us and many other agencies, having a portfolio that you can physically email is important as it shows us that you are competent at branding yourself, laying out consistently a longer document and demonstrates your ability to select your work. It also helps us as the recruiter as it helps us to streamline the selection process by having PDF portfolios we can quickly flick through. We also compare designers to each other and to do this we print out every top candidate’s CV and portfolio, lay these out and get everyone in the studio to take a look. If you only have your work digitally available this process is pretty tricky for us to do, so it makes us less inclined to add you to our literal top table. Or we have to spend time taking screen shots of your website to print out to include as part of our selection process.

As you can see there are a lot of considerations to make before starting to apply for jobs. As well as taking time to ensure what your presenting is a true reflection of your abilities as a designer. We hope that you’ve found these hints and tips useful, as we really want you to find your dream design job. Hopefully that might be with us via our graduate design scheme if you’re into editorial design. Do you have any other suggestions or questions?