Designing a Creative Resume

Now that I think about it… This is going to be a tough one to write about. It’s also going to be very subjective.

Let me summarize why I’m doing this first.

I have experience in the automotive industry. I have experience in the game industry, both as a professional game designer and as an indie developer. Finally, I have experience in the software industry, now working as a backend team lead for a data analytics company. A company that was a startup, now transitioning to become a global brand.

For 2 of these jobs, including the current one, part of my responsibility was/is to be a hiring manager.

To elaborate, that usually means you get to see a lot of resumes. Sometimes fully related to your department and/or your discipline, and sometimes it’s from a position you don’t know much about, yet you’re asked to give an opinion. You get to attend a lot of interviews too, but that’s a topic for another day.

There are times they are a delight to look at. You glance over, and you know what that person is about. Even when they may not have enough experience, you can see that they spent a lot of time to show you that they care about how they communicate. They are organized and they know how to get to the point.

There are times it’s neither here nor there. You see that they understand that quite often resumes are just a way to open the door for an interview. The goal is to talk about the actual experience during the interview rather than trying to squeeze everything together within 1-2 pages.

Sometimes though, as experienced as they may be, you see that they spent the minimal amount of time going over their resume. It’s messy, hard to read, disorganized, it’s using Comic Sans… And no, not in an ironic way.

All 3 industries I listed above demand a different approach of course. You can’t expect a one size fits all method to save you for whichever industry you’re aiming to work for. If you’re reading this and you want tips specific to an industry that I didn’t list above, I may not be able to provide help in any way.

While we are at the topic of help, I’d like to clearly state that this article will be based on my personal experience and opinions. That’s about it. So the goal is to share what I think is best, and how I designed my resumes over the course of my career. Nothing really makes me an expert. As a matter of fact, you can imagine me like the dog below to make this article more readable going forward.

The Industry Demands

Let me go over some similarities and differences and how my experience with these 3 industries I mentioned above shaped my thoughts.

Automotive Industry:

  • Especially when it comes to the factories, the overall approach is very business-like and cold-mannered.
  • The positions usually demand hard technical skills, with soft skills being seen as a not-so-necessary bonus.
  • The screening process tends to stick to the point. If you have the technical skills, you get the interview no matter how bad your resume may look.
  • The resumes quite often are slick, modern looking, yet not so flashy. Showing professionalism is the priority.

Software / IT:

  • More casual environment. People tend to make jokes, even during the meetings.
  • You won’t be politely asked to go and take a breather if you made a joke and giggled during a presentation.
  • Especially for tech companies and startups trying to follow the latest trends, showing relevant skills and a modern/unique look on your resume goes a long way.
  • The industry is incredibly fast paced. Anything and everything can change over a few weeks. The employee retention rates are often lower than other industries where hard labor is involved. What does this actually mean for a potential candidate? Well, people can create the time to go over your resume but don’t expect them to deep dive into the details.
  • The demand for fresh developers is very high, however this doesn’t mean that people don’t go through a screening process. You still need to stand out.

Video Game Industry:

  • Interestingly, It’s a more serious environment comparing to the tech companies.
  • The screening process is much more unforgiving. The competition is highly fierce.
  • If people are taking some time to look at your resume, they are usually also thinking about a deadline they have to meet, or how to deliver their next feature without breaking the rest of the game. Stick to the point.
  • Developing games is like writing a book, especially when it comes to a design related discipline. Anyone can type words on a keyboard, but it takes a lot of time, education, practice, experience, hard work and failure to get to a state where you can actually make people read your book. The same applies to video games. Be aware of this while you’re creating your resume. Showcase what you can do or already did, not what you think you can do if you had a 20 million $ funding.

So What Are My Demands for a Resume?

Combining what I know from these industries, my personal approach, and the hundreds of examples I’ve seen so far:

  • Stick to 1 page. The only people that justifiably have 2-3 pages on their resume are the ones that have 10-15 years of experience. If you’re not one of those, then you can say what you need to say on a single page. Not more. If you’d like to give more detail on something, create a separate link or a portfolio. If the recruiters or hiring managers are interested, they will take the time to look at it.
  • Organize things. While a single page word document may be doing the job, it may get very hard to read. From top to bottom, try to have sections where people can go and find out the relevant information. A messy resume can instantly make people lose interest, since they may be getting 50 of them per day.
  • Highlight what’s important, and stay away from unnecessary information. Writing about being a reader or a traveler doesn’t add much and it’s very common. Talk about hobbies or interests that can lead a conversation.
  • People tend to take a look at your information on a computer screen. Don’t be afraid to use colors or designs that can help the overall feel.
  • Check out other examples. Behance, Canva, freeresumes.com or other websites can act as a source of inspiration.
  • Do show that you have the soft skills. I’ve been in heated debates about what makes a good developer. If you’re thinking that all you need is to know coding, I’m afraid you’re very wrong. A big part of any development related job is to be able to communicate, and sometimes candidates who show less technical skills but are very good at communication are favored over the ones who can just code very efficiently.
  • Get another opinion or feedback, and don’t be afraid to iterate. I often show my resumes to friends who work in different industries. Ideally at least one of them should be in a similar industry you’re applying for, so you can figure out if the relevant skills are being explained properly.
  • Make it interesting to read. It’s a skill to be able to explain things, especially in written form. One of my biggest takes from my master’s education was that, if you understand a topic well, you can explain and discuss it comfortably. When you’re adding information about your skills or tools that are relevant to the job, make it easy to understand. After all, there is a good chance that the recruiter or HR representative may not know the low level technical details about the position. They should simply be able to figure out if you can contribute to the team with your skills and experience.

The Design of My Creative Resumes

So did I follow all these points in the end?

More ore less I’d say…

But that’s the thing, there is no perfect version. Just like a video game or a software project, you iterate over time to get the best result. Then the industry changes, so you have to as well. Gaining new experience, you learn to add and omit different things.

Here’s the version that I’ve used in 2018 to get a job in the video game industry:

Back then, all I had were prototypes and aspirations. I had some visual design skills, so I decided to put them in use. The idea was to get a 90s Macintosh computer sort of feeling, while trying to get a character creator layout. I had to get stand out somehow. This may not have been the best way, but it worked to a certain extent.

What I liked about this version was it’s layout. The character in the middle, and the relevant information popping up in separate windows connected to it. It was both organized, and stuck to the point.

It had major problems though. First of which was, I didn’t have too much to showcase when it came to the video game industry. Another thing was, it was too much out there. I was applying to positions as a junior, yet this resume gave people the feeling that I was overly confident. I was not, not at all.

Last but not least, I didn’t use the space well. My Photoshop skills were quite limited and I was getting help, but in the end I didn’t know how to use all that space without making it look more crowded.

Overall, it got me a lot of interviews, but it also got quite a few passive-aggressive e-mails where the recruiters politely asked for a more professional resume.

Fast forward to 2020, here’s a slightly different take on the same character creation screen idea that I decided to do as a Christmas challenge this year. (Oh 2020, we’ll definitely miss you)

The first version:

My 2020 Resume v1

A more modern look, where I tried to create a more UI-like overall feel. I aimed for a pastel color palette with a scenic background, and used only 1 font for the typography. Showing it to 5 different people, I got mixed feedback. Most of it was focusing on the background being too visible and distracting, how the colors blended in too much with the background, how some of the information wasn’t very readable because of the paper texture behind the text. I also made several changes on the information written there, with people stating that it was too technical.

So after 3 more iterations, I reached to a final version:

My 2020 resume v2

Changes on the background, different color palette, lighter panel backgrounds, and the usage of different fonts inside the same panel to increase the readability. It’s not perfect, yet for me it does did the job quite well.


Taking on yet another Christmas challenge, I went back and took another shot at re-designing my resume in 2021.

In the end my current approach is simple and clean will win the day.

So I scratched the use of all colors, fancy concept UIs and even my picture and ended up with a black and white resume that’s somewhat text based.

Conclusion

I’m sure there are much better creative resumes out there. Mine can still use a lot of work and feedback.

The good thing is, after many iterations I’m aware of this and totally open to changing it again if needed. The process of creating a resume can be exhausting, but make sure to understand that it’s also a way for you to communicate who you are and what you can offer.

In the end, I’d much rather have a resume that represents who I am rather than having one that looks stylish yet I don’t feel confident about.