Common Questions About Artist Resumes
We sometimes use the expression, “it looked good on paper,” to suggest our own shortsightedness when we look back on a prospect that seemed worth our time but ended in failure. However, we could just as easily state the same phrase as a reason why we invested in a million dollar idea and are celebrating a big win. Either case is a potential outcome of a larger truth – that calculated risks often begin with a written document in favor of a particular venture.
As with any prospective candidate for an open position, an artistic applicant might be considered a venture as well. Every candidate carries some level of risk in terms of performance and financial impact – so it’s the candidate’s job to demonstrate how they represent a better prospect to a client than the competition. There are a variety of ways to do this, from offering a greater experience or skill to proving better value, to showing great merit in craft, to having the right referrals – or perhaps some combination of the above
Artists typically provide clients with some of these assurances through their portfolios, but a catalog of work simply cannot reveal all relevant information to everyone in the hiring process. As we discussed in the previous article, a portfolio should be viewed as part of a greater whole, a service product artists design to convince others to hire them. Balancing the portfolio within this product is a great resume – a tool that does nothing else but makes you look good enough on paper that prospective employers will want to further inquire about your services.
However, beyond simply knowing what goes into a resume, it may be worth addressing ways to improve the end user experience so that you’ll end up impressing (or at least not annoying) the people who are helping you find work. In this section of the article, I’ll address some of the hanging issues from the Primer Article and weigh in with arguments from my own experience and conversations over the past decade.
As I said previously: my advice may not apply in every situation out there – so do take it with some skepticism and decide for yourself if you agree with the points discussed. You are the arbiter of your resume, so make it your own!
As you ponder, here are five common resume questions with my suggestions.
1. Should I show my personality through added art and a list of personal interests?
Simple answer: No. A resume should be an objective text driven document.
Detailed answer: Let’s talk interests first. Not only have I been noticing more and more personal interests making an appearance on CVs, but I have even seen articles on LinkedIn from working professionals suggesting that they want to see more of this on the resumes they review.
The core reason commonly cited in these articles: “We just want to get a general sense about the personality of the candidate before we bring them in for an interview.” Personally, I find this line of reasoning baffling, especially if you are looking to hire an artist. There are three main reasons I take issue.
The first is philosophical. I’m not sure one can truly get a sense of personality through a bulleted list of interests. Unlike a listed skill set of verifiable qualities related to a craft, “interests” may be nothing more than an affectation to impress. To be sure, this isn’t always the case, but the fact that this section is innately unreliable should be a red flag.
Secondly, almost every interview experience I’ve had begins with the interviewer(s) engaging the candidate by asking them to talk about themselves. Almost inevitably, there’s also a question about what the applicant does for fun. The advantage of asking these questions in the interview is both understanding WHY an applicant enjoys what they do for leisure and watching an applicant talk about a personal passion to SEE their personality.
Why must the interviewer assume the candidate’s personality and passions prior to asking these questions? If anything, this seems like an area in which a candidate can misstep even before the interview begins, simply by playing into the prejudices of someone they’ve likely never met before.
And thirdly, if someone is hiring a commercial artist, might they not have a catalog of that artist’s work to look through? Isn’t it the artist’s job to emote through their work? Isn’t that why employers are interested in them with? If interviewers are trying to divine personality, shouldn’t the portfolio provide enough material for discussion? I can hardly agree with wanting to see interests when hiring to a non-creative position- but artists? To me at, the concept seems way off base!
So, that might be out – but what about adding personality in other ways to the CV? Maybe add a watermarked image to the background or add in some visual flourishes and drawings? Well, I don’t recommend these either.
For one thing, drawings and visual flourishes are a distraction on a document that is supposed to be easy to read. There is also the added issue that these flourishes supplant page real estate that might be more useful for text. Finally, these additions make editing the page a nightmare – especially as one gains more experience and expands their skill set.
It might seem counter-intuitive to be “impersonal” on a resume, but the reality is that there are many practical reasons to keep your personality to yourself on documents like a CV. Remember, what’s boring to you – a list of skills and a work history – will in and of itself be exciting to someone else looking for just that level of skill and experience. Allow clients to get excited about your services and later learn about your personality in an interview!
2. Should I have an objective or an artist’s statement?
Short answer: Probably not, but maybe.
Detailed answer: Artist’s statements can be useful if kept brief and used thoughtfully. In general, an artist’s statement briefly introduces the artist’s discipline and experience. It’s essentially a long form of your typical job title (Character Artist, Environment Artist, Layout Artist, etc.) – or should be. This sort of statement is best used if you’re looking to looking to change disciplines within your field. For example, “I am a digital artist with a professional history in concept art and a mastery of 3D skills offering services as a 3D character artist.”
While there are reasons these statements might make it into your resume, in my opinion, it’s still best to list this information on a cover letter instead.
The reality is that in most situations it’s preferred to let a resume just exist as a plain text document while you let the pictures or portfolio or reel sell your creativity and attitude.
Many artists, especially those with less experience, tend to conflate an “artist’s statement” with a “curatorial rationale,” such as those one might find on a placard next to a work of high art in a museum. In such cases, artists may entrap themselves in deeply philosophical, verbose, and discussions of the importance and meaning of their art when applying for a position at commercial studios; studios that build products for clients and are almost certainly uninterested in the fine art dissertations of applicants!
Senior commercial artists may find themselves writing rationales for things like style guides and branding materials on the job, but the general truth of the matter is that in a resume your artistic point of view may come off as unwarranted, elitist, and even silly depending on where you might apply. Be safe. Statements of this nature are worth leaving off.
Then objective sections. These are almost wholly unwarranted, though they appear on resumes all the time. Similarly, leave them off because:
A. Objectives are better shared on a cover letter. Remember, a cover letter is essentially a sales document that announces the position you’re looking for, why you’re suited for the job, and links to all relevant personal and professional information that will demonstrate your aptitude. Effectively, this IS the objective section, only you’ve got more room to say what you need to say!
B. Objective sections tend to ramble and reveal too much information about personal attitude. It is easy to say too much or inadvertently set a tone to your resume that is undesirable with phrases like:
“I hope I can work for you doing what I have dreamt about since I was young!” (I hope so too – but your childhood ambitions are not what this job is about)
“Pleased to meetcha! We don’t know each other yet, but I’m just the type of self-starter crackpot ninja artist you should hire!” (You’re being WAY too familiar, and come off as manic and unprofessional)
“As a fast learner, I aspire to one day prove that I am worthy of your illustrious team and fantastic games.” (Sooo… you don’t think that you’re good enough to be on our team yet? Pass.)
C. Anecdotally, many people I’ve spoken to who look through a resume tend to skip over the objective. Why waste the time and space if that’s the case?
Carrying the theme from our first question – objectives statements might seem like a good idea because they can infuse personality into an otherwise stiff document. However, the reality is that in most situations it’s preferred to let a resume just exist as a plain text document while you let the pictures or portfolio reel sell your creativity and attitude.
3. What’s the best format and layout for my resume?
Simple answer: You should at a minimum have editable Word and PDF versions of your resume. Layout varies – but the ideal is whatever enables you to present your info neatly with some level of detail.
Detailed answer: As mentioned earlier, formatting is one of the of the biggest reasons to keep your resume clean and art/ picture free. Not only does it mean fewer items to adjust when you update your work, but it might be less of an issue for others as well.
Not everyone works with recruiters when looking for employment. However, the more experience you’ve got, the more likely it is that you’ll run across recruiters that are happy to help you find placement at a studio. If you’re willing to them, it will probably be extremely useful to have an editable PDF version (and a Word doc version in your back pocket).
Why editable? Because sometimes minor edits and phrasing changes are essential for selling your services to a prospective employer. Recruiters know this better than anyone and often ask candidates for permission to make such edits ahead of submission. Typically, submissions use PDF format – but some recruiters or HR departments might prefer a Word doc. Have both ready!
One other format I find helpful is “online.” In this case, I recommend posting to a resume-only blog page (or equivalent). On this page, you may want to obfuscate your address somewhat – but otherwise, the format is quite liberating. On a blog, page limits are far less important and you can supply a more complete breakdown of your duties on projects. Blogs are also easy to update, function well on phones and tablets, and are accessible 24/7 all over the world.
In terms of layout – this varies depending on your level of experience and number of project credits. However, there are some general things I’d suggest:
- Make sure your name is large and bold at the top of the page.
- I recommend adjusting margins and line spacing to ensure you maximize the amount of text real estate on your page.
- If you have more than a single page, ensure that the there’s a reason (number of projects exceed one page, etc). Don’t print out a second page that has a single line of text on it.
- Make sure that if you have more than one page, you both number your pages and add your name (and potentially contact information) to the footers of each.
- Don’t like your layout even after spending tons of time on it? Borrow from someone else! Find an artist you respect on LinkedIn and take a look at how they do things – then mimic their example using your own information.
4. What If I have employment gaps or don’t have enough experience in my field?
Short answer: It’s OK – but don’t pad your experience. Use your cover letter to explain any potential issues.
Detailed answer: If you’re new to your industry, it’s easy to feel discouraged or even embarrassed by a work history that doesn’t highlight your art skills. What do you do if your only other professional experience has been working in a stockroom, making coffee as a barista, or keeping the register at a local grocery store? What if you took a Capstone course (or courses) at college that are close to industry experience? Should that sort of thing be listed on your resume in place of unrelated work experience?
Relevant experience is “relevant” only insofar as both a school project and industry project have some overlap in technical skill.
First, if the job for which you’ve applied does not require any previous art experience, then it’s not necessarily important what your previous work might have been. However, it’s probably worth listing that experience regardless. Demonstrating that you have been employed before, that you’ve worked with the public, that you know how to conduct yourself around other employees, and that you can hold a job are all valuable bits of information that mitigate some of in a new hire.
Ironically, putting even fast food experience down on a resume is (in many ways) more valuable than replacing “work experience” with the “relevant experience” of a capstone or team class at school. Initially, this may seem counter-intuitive, but consider things from an employer’s perspective.
A studio has no idea who taught your class, how specialized the instructor might have been, whether the school pushed irrelevant or outdated conditions on the course (this happens surprisingly often), who was on your school team and their relative level of experience, what (specifically) you made as a project, how you made it, to what standard it was held, and what you might have learned from the process. However, whatever you made – it’s generally a safe bet that your team A) didn’t try to sell it on the market and B) if they did, it likely didn’t make any money.
To be sure, I’m not trying to put down anyone’s capstone project! I’m only showing that the standards and practices of a school project often generate more questions than answers to wary employers.
Relevant experience is “relevant” only insofar as both a school project and industry project have some overlap in technical skill – and those technical skills will already be on display in the portfolio (ideally)! So, between someone with a good portfolio and school project experience and someone with a good portfolio and retail experience – who presents a greater employment risk?
But what about gaps in a resume? They do happen, and it is true that they usually imply risk. However, panic!
In most cases, I recommend being tactful and forthright your cover letter about any lapse in employment. You don’t have to air your “dirty laundry,” but acknowledge that you understand that a gap in employment might be of concern and generalize concerns. “I was taking time for my family,” or “I took time to address personal health,” or “I took time off to learn more skills,” are all valid potential and general reasons one might give for a wide variety of issues that might cause an employment gap. Just don’t lie or cover the issue – if anyone finds out, it may prove to be a costly mistake!
Whatever your circumstances might be (or have been), remember: art is a service-based business. In a cover letter, try not to focus on your employment gap – none of what you’re presenting is about your life story (per se). Rather, it’s about satisfying a client by selling your services – in spite of life’s interventions into yours.
5. Can’t a LinkedIn Profile just replace my resume? It has all my experience – and more!
Short answer: No. LinkedIn is a powerful tool that does not serve the same purpose as a resume.
Detailed answer: At last, we reach LinkedIn. Isn’t LinkedIn a resume for the 21st century?
Well, not exactly. Try telling an employer or recruiter asking for a resume to just visit your LinkedIn profile. Or rather, don’t! They’re quite different!
But why? There certainly is a lot of crossover – work history, education, endorsements, recommendations, links to portfolio work, an introductory space, thoughts and articles, things you like – even a picture of you! It seems like the whole package and more if you’re looking to get hired.
Well, of course, LinkedIn is a professional network. As such, it is built in such a way that other professionals can learn about you and your business – passively, informally, and in some level of detail. Think of it a big cocktail party where people can network with each other and hand out business cards (without things getting too drunk or awkward). In your business card (profile link) drops a contact onto a page that invites them to stay a while and learn about you, your work, and your interests.
I can say from experience – this works! I’ve met many outstanding, friendly, and helpful contacts on LinkedIn. It’s an outstanding networking and marketing tool. However, the needs involved in networking are different the needs involved in hiring. Here’s why LinkedIn and CVs don’t quite match:
A. Hiring and networking scale differently in terms of immediate needs. Hiring managers don’t necessarily have the time to sift through the LinkedIn profile of every applicant to find the information they need for an open position that needs to be filled within days or weeks – especially not on a site that changes layout and functionality from time to time. Anecdotally, as a frequent user of LinkedIn, I’m surprised how often I can’t find the information I’m looking for on other people’s profiles for one reason or another.
On the other hand, resumes are a distillation of relevant hiring information. This saves clients time and frustration. In this way, a resume is an extension of your own customer service.
B. Resumes are about a proven record of successfully rendering services to clients. The tone should be business-like. LinkedIn is about making points of professional contact with whom may or may not exchange services. The tone should be conversational.
C. Resumes are a tailored and formal package that carry forward your ability for a specific position at a studio/ client. LinkedIn isn’t about targeting anyone or any position in particular – if anything, it’s a great place to cast a wide net!
D. Resumes may provide some practical use (as long as they have been downloaded or mailed) that LinkedIn can’t match. For instance, they can be accessed and distributed whether the internet is working properly or not at your client’s building. Or, as mentioned earlier, recruiters may have the option to edit a resume – but they will not have the same access to your LinkedIn profile.
In short, both are useful tools with some overlap, but the purposes of each shouldn’t be confused, and one should not replace the other.
Just like constructing a great portfolio, writing a resume that is of service to both you and a prospective employer is essential. As a written collection of facts and employment history, they may not seem tremendously interesting or personable. That’s OK. Not every document needs to be exciting. As long as your resume is formal, easy to read and presents information relevant to the position for which you are applying, you’ll probably excite someone! Let the other parts of your hiring package – your portfolio, your cover letter, and (later) your conduct in an interview all lend their voices to convince a prospective client that YOU are the one they’ve been looking for.
Just remember, you’ll need to look good on paper first.