TypeTalk: How Good Typography Can Help Your Job Search


Karl Heine, principal and solutionist of creativeplacement with offices in CT and NY, knows what it takes for creatives to nab that perfect job. After all, he has been placing creative talent for over 25 years, with many extremely satisfied clients and employers. Karl often lectures designers and students on how to best present themselves and their work to prospective employers or clients to get noticed amidst a sea of potential candidates, and hopefully get that job. One important element that most employers are looking at is a candidate’s typography skills. kHyal is a creative director, strategist and writer who partners with Karl in life and work—including museum, conference and design school workshops, lectures on business practices and marketing for creative professionals, as well as portfolio and resume reviews. We spoke with both Karl and kHyal about this very important topic.

Karl and kHyal. ©Photo by Mark Mann.

Q. How important is good typography for creatives when looking for a job?

A. Graphic Design has become an increasingly overcrowded industry. And, in the US, still does not require certification of any kind. While untrained, or under-trained, designers are able to find full- and part-time jobs, and freelance projects, the top tier opportunities still require a high level of talent, skill and knowledge in all aspects of design, and very heavily in typography. Design professionals hiring within agencies and in-house corporate design departments meticulously review all materials from prospective candidates, starting with typography. Many design firm owners and creative directors pride themselves on being typographically savvy, and if they see the incorrect use of type, spacing and style, it can determine whether if they will go to the next step of viewing a portfolio or website.

Q. How important is the type and design of one’s resume? Any tips?  

A. Type and design excellence on a resume are critical. They are key to having a hiring manager look at your portfolio and consider an in-person interview. Creative directors often won’t consider a candidate if they see typographic or design errors on a resume. And, most won’t take the time to tell you. Using an easy-to-read, professional typeface with a clean layout is fundamental—as is keeping all relevant information within the top third of the page, knowing that most resume views are in the 10 to 15 second range.

People take resume advice from many sources. In the case of graphic design, it’s important to understand what design professionals look for, which is very specific to the industry. This means a general expert on resume writing may suggest the exact opposite of what’s needed for a design career job, which can result in resumes that are poorly executed using incorrect terminology, inappropriate formatting, template-like design and a system typeface exported to a PDF from a Word document. This is the kiss of death for designers.

Simple yet impactful, this resume catches the eye with an opening quotation that is relevant to this person’s area of experience. Generous white space helps draw attention to the content.

A pop of color combined with a strong type treatment make this resume a standout.

Naming your resume is of the same importance as naming your client files. For instance, you would never name a project file “Branding Manual” without specifying the client name and other organizational information. Naming your resume “resume” usually results in that file ending up in the trashcan, or being overwritten with someone else’s file that has made a similar file-naming mistake. Remember, that there are often dozens, or even hundreds of applicants for most publicized opportunities. Your resume and how the file is named need to be professional and distinguishable.

An example of best practices for resume file naming would be: LastName_FirstName_Resume_Year. Using underscores provides clarity and the least possibility for file corruption. When it comes to email addresses, it’s best to have your first and last name connected to either your website, or a user-friendly/most accepted portal like Gmail. Many companies organize their prospects by name and by email. If you make up an unrelated pseudonym like [email protected], no one will remember it or find you. It is much better to identify yourself clearly with an email that makes sense, like: [email protected] or [email protected]. We advise against using initials with birthdates or any other extraneous information in your email address.

Q. What about typography in a portfolio—does a potential employer really have time to notice these details?

A. All portfolios and related marketing materials should be consistent and use excellent typography. Portfolio pieces should be annotated with short descriptions, using type that isn’t too large or distracting so that it detracts from the actual work. Minimal, understated design is always the best answer when it comes to portfolios, so the actual work remains the focal point.

Most potential employers want to see examples of design work. At first they will spend a short time to review the level of talent and appropriateness of work for the position. If the typography and other elements take their focus away, a designer might lose out entirely. This includes things like not putting all of your contact information on every page with a logo.

Q. What about business cards, emails, and follow up lettersare they necessary?

A. Business cards are your in-person greeting and introduction. You only have one first impression, and as a designer you have the opportunity to showcase your work in a compact form. If you make it special, it also provides a chance to talk about process. This is a major opportunity to strike up a conversation with a potential employer or client, and it allows the receiving party a look into how you present and think.

This should not be a time for making excuses for a card you created but don’t believe in. We have actually heard things like: “Here’s my card, I printed it out at home with what I had for copy paper and my scissors were a little off, sorry.” It’s better not to hand someone a card, than to give him or her something that doesn’t prove that you have professional skills. With specialty printing getting better and less expensive every day, including digital printing and quick turn around times—it’s well worth the investment.

Left: A clever concept (the corner appears burned off) that plays off of the unusual company name makes for an unforgettable business card. Right: The most important information stands out amidst the highly decorative background pattern.

Left: This letterpress business card uses type to create a textural pattern of information. Right: The beautiful curves of an oversized g is the focal point of this card, enhanced by the dimension of letterpress printing.

Left: A clever dye cut and a textured stock highlight the focus of this studio. Right: A gold foil embossed turkey steals the show in this quirky card.

Left: An inventive and memorable business card treatment that harks back to pre-digital age designers’ tools. Right: A whimsical typographic logo catches the eye, as it sits atop a simple text treatment.

After the meet and greet, it’s imperative to send a thank you email right away. That means the same day, not two or three days later. This level of follow up is expected. Additionally, it’s even better to also send a “Thank You” card or letter in the mail. A very small percentage of people do this, so it truly makes you stand out. The card should be handmade, not a store-bought version, which provides yet another opportunity to show off your work. Take the time to be inventive.

Q. Do good typography skills give potential candidates an edge or advantage?

A. Great typography goes a long way, and provides a huge advantage over other candidates vying for design jobs. We have seen many skilled designers take this one step further and create their own typeface, then apply it to a personal project or license it for sale.

Q. What have you heard from potential employees in this regard?

A. We have seen many occurrences where designers working under a well-known typographer during an internship have radically improved their understanding of typography and design, and changed the course of their future careers.

Q. What should you do if you think your typography skills aren’t up to the same level as your design?

A. This is a common problem that can typically be remedied with additional typography training and outside classes geared toward raising the level of typographic awareness and skill. It’s mostly an issue of time and how it applies to growth, and to a lesser degree natural talent and aptitude. Learning and development in this area takes practice, trial and error, and the ability to break old habits. We believe that learning is a life-long process and that designers at all levels should strive to learn and improve their skills constantly. There are countless ways to do that through traditional classes, workshops, talks, books, and online courses.

Q. Any final words or suggestions?

A. In a time where there are more graduates in graphic design than there are jobs, it’s important to learn as much as you can, and constantly improve on those skills with practice and additional learning. Since your resume is often the first introduction to a potential employer and is primarily type-based, understanding best practices is key.

Ilene Strizver is a noted typographic educator, author, designer and founder of The Type Studio in Westport, Connecticut. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, is now in its 4th edition.
  • Bonnie J. Ramon says:

    I completely agree with everything in this article regarding good typography. The only question I would pose is for those of us with design resumes applying to corporations. Have you found that any resume they receive outside the standard looking business resume with standard typefaces would deter that company from wanting to move forward with that person’s resume? For instance, adding simple graphic elements, color and a legible font, but not a business industry standard choice?

    • Ilene Strizver says:

      Hi Bonnie, this is what Karl said in reply to your query:

      Thank you for your comment. I still feel it is very important to keep with best practices and excellent typographic choices, styled to show you are a designer. Ultimately, your resume is going to be evaluated by a Design Director within the corporation, so making that first impression is very important. Many corporations request a Word document to work with their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software. This presents another difficulty for design and fonts available within this program. Again, keep to legible fonts, design the content for maximum visibility and make sure to proof read several times before sending it through.

  • Jlightfield says:

    This is great timeless advice.

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