Posted 18 March 2021
Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Illustration by Robert Bandy

A guide to creating a great CV

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We all know that CVs are complicated, fiddly little things. What should you write? What should it look like? How long should it be? 😩 But putting together a successful CV doesn’t have to be hard, and it’s actually a task made much easier once you know how to do it.

Here, we’ve rounded up some useful tips to help get your CV ship-shape – from tailoring your experience to showing off your skills and finessing some all-important details. To get you started, we’ve also developed two CV templates you can download and personalise right here, right now!

What is a CV and why do you need one? 

A CV is concise document – no more than two sides of A4 – that you submit when applying for any job. It summarises who you are as an individual, and is used as a tool to sell yourself to potential employers.

CVs are normally submitted online, often alongside a cover letter and (for many creative roles) a portfolio. Anyone applying for a job will need to build a CV in order to submit an application.

A few timeless CV tips

These days, CVs come in all shapes and forms. In the past, we’ve seen people print their CVs on everything from cars to chocolate bar wrappers. And today, many 16-24-year-olds are turning towards social media as a means of sending their CVs – using platforms like Instagram Stories and Tiktok to stand out among the crowd.

There’s no harm in going down this route, but no matter what form your CV ends up taking, there are some universal tips that are good to keep in mind:

🧳 Keep it compact

Did you know that ‘CV’ is short for the Latin phrase, ‘Curriculum Vitae’ – which translates loosely to ‘the course of my life’? Sounds like it does exactly what is says on the tin, right? Well, think again! Your CV should in no way detail the entire story of your life.

A prospective employer doesn’t have time to read about your every interest, experience and hobby, so keep your CV to one or two pages, and be selective about what you include.

In fact, recruiters supposedly spend an average of five to seven seconds looking at a CV! That also means your should be CV easy to access and read. Where possible, use headings and bullet points to break up large sections of text.

🧵 Tailor your experience for each application

Every CV you send should be tailored specifically to the job you’re applying for. Only share relevant experiences and skills that demonstrate why you’d be a great candidate for the role.

For example, applying for a role at a print design studio? Show off any experience you’ve had working with print, taking the spotlight away from your digital work.

📏 Be accurate and truthful

Impressing a potential employer is the name of the CV game. But don’t be tempted to over-inflate or embellish the truth, to come across as more impressive. That means lying is a big no-no.

It’s far better to accurately acknowledge the extent of your experience, and express a desire to learn, rather than feel red-faced if you’re caught out. And of course, it’s always a good idea to triple-check all the details: scanning for mistakes on dates, grammar, punctuation and spelling.

🤩 Show off your personality

Your CV should be a reflection of who you are as a creative. Everything from the format and tone of voice, right down to the typeface you choose. All of this gives an employer a sense of your character.

There’s no harm in keeping things simple and letting your portfolio do the talking, but keep in mind that you can capture your personality in big or small details. We’ll come onto more about design a little later on.

What goes into a CV?

So, what do you even write on your CV? Here’s the bread and butter:

☎️ Your information

Start with the basics and list all essential contact details. This should include:

• Your full name and pronouns
• Your address
• Links to your website, portfolio, or social media
• Your email address*

*Did you know, apparently 76% of CVs are ignored if your email address is unprofessional? If you’re still using the email address you set up at school, consider signing up for something a bit more up-to-date, that just uses your name.

👋 A short introduction or ‘About Me’

This should be a few sentences that offer an overview of:
• Who you are
• What you do
• The types of projects or clients you’ve worked with

Consider the tone of voice you use here; if the role you’re applying for is for a characterful agency, it might be best to use a less serious tone of voice. And if you’re not sure, you can’t go wrong with just keeping things plain and simple! For more tips on writing about yourself, check out our guide to nailing your creative identity here.

💼 Your experience

Next, list your work experience, including internships, with the most recent first. For example:

Junior Designer, Design Studio (2019–2020)

  • Working to support senior designers, design deck documents and pitch ideas to clients including Brand One, Brand Two and Brand Three.
  • Creating guidelines and templates for Design Studio’s social media accounts. Reach and engagement increased by over 25% as a result.

Again, don’t feel tempted to list every job you’ve ever had – pick the most relevant examples, depending on the job requirements.

Summarise where you’ve worked along with some key points
This should be a few lines about your role and responsibilities during this time, and the main skills you used.

Highlight achievements made during the role
For example: Did you improve on a system or process? Or help win a pitch for some new work? And where possible, remember to link any live projects you mention.

📚 Your education

This is where you include any educational qualifications. Again, lead with your most recent qualification first. For example:

MA Subject you studied, Name of University (2015–2018)

BA (Hons) Subject you studied, Name of University (2015–2018)

Name of short course, Name of organisation (2018)

When it comes to A-Level or GCSEs, ask yourself whether it’s relevant to the role you’re applying for. You could, for example, simply write a few lines that capture the scope of your previous studies, for example: “10 GCSEs, A–C including Art; 4 A-Levels, A-C, including Graphic Design and Art.”

If you don’t have a lot of experience or didn’t attend university or higher education, then that’s totally fine! Know that this doesn’t necessarily disqualify you.

You can still list any additional experiences as you would any other job, and talk about relevant skills you used, along with any achievements. This could include things like volunteering, workshops, short courses or side projects.

🏆 Other achievements

Exhibited your work, been published, or received any press or awards? Feel free to list these, too.

📄 References

When it comes to references, it’s best to write something along the lines of “References available on request”, particularly if you’re already working somewhere. You’ll regret it later if a potential employer were to call your current boss, who had no idea you were thinking about leaving!

What should a CV look like?

As we mentioned earlier, while you want your CV to stand out from the crowd, you’ll want it to stand out in the right way.

Before making moves on the design, analyse the job advert and work out what type of company it might be – and amend your approach based on this information.

🎨 Be as creative as you like

If you’re applying for a creative role, feel free to be a bit more creative! Hiring art directors, for example, will likely pay attention to the layout of your CV as much as the content. So if you’re applying for a graphic design role, for example, whoever’s hiring will likely be reading into your choice of typeface, or composition.

While you certainly have the option to treat it as a design project, know that your CV doesn’t have to be wild or ingenious, either. Making simple design decisions about colour, typeface and a few thoughtful touches can go a long way to making a pared-back CV feel more personable.

For example, below, we’ve taken the same CV layout and interpreted it in a few different ways:

CV Guide Illustrations

CV Guide Illustrations2

CV Guide Illustrations3

CV Guide Illustrations4

At the end of the day, the purpose of your CV is to highlight facts about you, and your online portfolio is where your work can shine. If you’re in need of some further reading on this, then check out our portfolio tips here.

🔠 Pick a typeface you like, that’s also legible

Legibility is key, so whether you like a bold, or more conservative typeface, make sure it’s readable above all else. If you have Adobe Creative Cloud, have a browse of Adobe Fonts, or check out sites like:

Google Fonts
DaFont
Font Space

Be sure to check all the licensing terms and and usage information, too.

Before you click ‘Send’

🧐 Do a final spell-check

It‘s never a bad idea to do a final spell-check, keeping an eye out for names in particular. You could always ask someone you trust to have a read of it, too, and see if they spot anything.

🔢 Number your pages

Hopefully you‘ll only have a maximum of two pages, so this should be a cinch. Pick a corner of your CV and clearly indicate what page the reader is on. For example:

• 1/1
• 1/2
• 2/2


This will mean a recruiter or employer knows exactly where they are, and won‘t be left wondering if there‘s a page missing.

📂 What’s in a name?

We’ve all done that thing where you’ve exported a hundred variations of one file, or quickly smashed the keyboard and saved a document as ‘KWJEbfkwejg8vd.pdf’ or similar. We get it, we’ve all been there, but now’s not the time for it.

With so many job applications being submitted online, take care when naming the files you upload to sites. Keep it clean and simple with your full name, job title and the current year. Not only does it make it easier to file and find, it shows that you sweat the details. For example:

‘JoannaDoe_GraphicDesigner_CV_2021.pdf’

We suggest keeping a working file of your CV, so that it’s easy and simple to update as you apply to more jobs in the future. And having a clear label will make it easier for you to find and refer to later on, too.

How else can you use a CV?

So you’ve thought carefully about the role; you’ve added the relevant information and compiled a great, tailored document and you’ve hit ‘Send’. Congrats!

The work you’ve put into your CV doesn’t just have to be for job applications, though – it can also be used across your online presence.

🖥 Include key information on your website

About Me pages on your website
Some creatives, like artists Elena Rotenberg and Jon Key, or graphic designer Bára, include CV information in the ‘About Me’ section of their websites.

An incentive to get others emailing
You could include a call to action, such as writing “Detailed CV and portfolio and request” like photographer Bastian Thiery, to give website visitors the option to contact you for more information.

Downloadable PDF

Or you could offer your full CV as a downloadable PDF, like designer Chloe Scheffe, or designer, Dennis Krawec.

Key takeaways

So what can we learn from all of this? Well, your best bet is to:

• Keep your CV clean and simple
• Go for quality over quantity
Tailor each CV to the job application
• Keep it concise; your CV shouldn’t be too long, too detailed, or over-designed (you don’t want to overwhelm anyone!)

🔔 Your CV doesn’t have to get you work

Remember; your CV won’t necessarily be the thing that gets you the job. It just has to grab someone’s attention enough that they want to talk to you.

Everyone will tell you different things about what they look for in a CV. Some might love an attention-grabbing spectacular, others prefer something more simple and pared-back. As long as you’re confidently and concisely communicating why you’re a great candidate, you can’t go wrong – no matter what format your CV comes in.

And there you have it. It’s a lot to take in, but once you learn the basics we’re confident that you’ll be dishing out top-quality CVs in no time.

⬇️ Download a template CV to get started!

🏁 Get started right now

The best CVs are the ones that fully represent who you are as a creative in both content and design. But we also know that it can be pretty intimidating starting from scratch. To help, we’ve worked with designer Robert Bandy to create two downloadable CV templates that you can use as a foundation.

Whether you’re a Microsoft user, or are happier on InDesign, take these as your official starting point. Get downloading, filling them in and personalising them to your heart’s content!

Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Illustration by Robert Bandy