9 Resume Tips Hiring Managers Wished Creative Pros Knew

Recruiters from advertising and Web marketing agencies share their advice for would-be job seekers applying for positions in creative fields.


They send their resumes in pizza boxes.

They send in construction boots with notes about getting a foot in the door.

They send in resumes with black backgrounds and white text that make hiring managers’ eyeballs buzz.

Maybe once, far away and long ago, these were cutting-edge ways for creative professionals like artists, designers, marketing executives and writers to grab the attention of hiring managers. Now they’re just desperate pleas. Ladders spoke to managers who hire creatives to find out what catches their attention, what arouses their sympathy and what disturbs them.

1. Restrain yourself
It’s natural for creative professionals to present artistic cover letters, resumes and portfolios. While the creative rendition of these materials is of course relevant for creative positions, creative types must bear in mind that the first person who reviews a resume is often not a designer. “What might be real edgy and innovative to you, the designer, can be seen as too far out or unprofessional to the non-designer,” said Mary Ann Henker, a recruiter for the ad agency The Henker Group. Hence, the overall package must speak to the fact that you’re a solid designer who also understands that you’re “submitting a business document that will be reviewed potentially by a non-designer and (is) easy to read.” In other words, save the black background and white text for another project, not your resume.

2. Show tangibles
Out of hundreds of creative resumes Henker reviews, only a handful include information that shows a given creative pro understands business and can orchestrate success for a potential employer. Your resume will stand out if you can project that you also have a business side to your creative thinking. Henker recommends that job seekers include numbers, percentages and dollar amounts relating to growth or size and communicate this information in business short-hand to illustrate that you truly can “speak business.” Her examples: Your recommendations on a fall print campaign saved a client 18 percent in paper costs, or a product advertising campaign increased company sales 12 percent during Q1 of FY ‘09.

3. Compress your files
Henker said that nearly all designers submit portfolios on their own or in response to a position submission requirement. Of those, a startling number fail to reduce image files or compress JPEGs or PDFs. “We as recruiters are not expecting to review high-resolution portfolios at this stage,” Henker said. “Please reduce image files and compress when you can. It’s a red flag to us when a designer tries to e-mail through a portfolio that is 12MB,” an extremely large size for an e-mail attachment. “It usually promotes a response, ‛Does this person know the basics of compressing or reducing a file size?’ Of course all designers know how to do this but it prompts us to think, ‛This person doesn’t understand the end user of the documents she is sending.’ ”

4. Avoid clutter
Henker suggested that for online portfolios, creative professionals should remember that what can be highly artistic and edgy to a designer might be seen as cluttered and hard to navigate to the non-designer. She discards online portfolios all the time because they’re so difficult to navigate and cited factors such as an over-reliance on Flash multimedia that make pages load slowly or the fact that a portfolio lacks specific samples appropriate to the position.

5. Have a job-specific portfolio page
To show that you have relevant experience for a given job, put up a site that has a portfolio page specific for job applications, Henker suggested. It will demonstrate that you understand what type of portfolio pieces a given employer would like to see.

6. Don’t offend
Henker has seen portfolio pieces that range from disturbing to pornographic. “Be mindful that what is considered art could be offensive to the viewer,” she said. “Art is supposed to evoke emotion and it is a honed skill; however, be mindful of not aiming for shock value when deciding which pieces to put in your portfolio. Save the blood, guts, disturbing and XXX images till after you get the job! You don’t want the person reviewing your resume and portfolio to overlook what could be great credentials by perceived inappropriate images by the reviewer.”

7. List design awards
Don’t be bashful here, Henker said. Design awards are a testament in a highly competitive field. Awards let your resume reader know that your resume is worth spending time with to determine if you’re a good match for a position.

8. Show that you can work to deadline
Kelley Rexroad, a career coach and consultant, noted that people are hired for their creative talent and fired for their inability to create relationships and alliances, many times because of poor communication. She says that the best thing a creative pro can have on his resume and cover letter is proof that he can work to a deadline. “It is a flaw I have seen over and over — ‛I can’t be creative on the spot,’ ” Rexroad said. “He doesn’t reply to the call for the deadline, thinking no response is a response. … Next thing you know, it is a performance issue. Having the words on the resume and/or cover letter and the examples to share in an interview will make a difference.”

9. Show your stuff online
And then there’s the K.I.S.S. aproach – Keep It Simple, Stupid – said Phil Tadros of the Web marketing agency Doejo. Appropriately enough, he delivered his advice in a two-line message: “All you need is a simple ‘hello’ one-liner and a link to your work,” he said. “If you don’t have your s**t together online under one link, then I don’t want you to work for me.”