Rule #1 - A Cover Letter is Important
I can't tell you how many people don't include a cover letter in their application. For me a cover letter serves as an introduction to how a candidate carries themselves. It displays attention to detail, how they speak, and if they have a personality. A cover letter should be its own document, not a paragraph in an e-mail. It should be on some sort of letterhead (ideally one that you designed) and it should be free of grammatical and spelling errors. In my opinion, it should also be tailored to the firm you are applying to. In a perfect world, the candidate should be familiar with the kind of work that we do and why they are applying to work with us.
Rule #2 - Sweat the details
Design is all about details. The more attention you pay to your details, the more confidence that I have about hiring you to pay attention to mine. Look at the e-mail address you are using for your contact information. It should be a professional address at a known domain. You wouldn't believe the weird e-mail addresses I've seen. Also, make sure to send PDF documents that can be opened easily. Don't send Word files that change on the user when they open them. If I don't have the font that you used to create your document it won't look right when I open it. Note what the hiring company is requesting in the ad. If they ask for a portfolio, send a portfolio in a separate document. Don't send me a link to a web site where I have to look for your work. Also make sure your skills match what the employer is requesting. If they are looking for an industrial designer, make sure your resume isn't focusing on interior design. Again, it all sounds pretty basic but very few people take the time to get this stuff right.
Rule #3 - Find a way to stand out
Not everyone can have the best resume or portfolio. That doesn't mean you wouldn't make a great employee. You can still get my attention by doing some simple things. In the cover letter demonstrate that you have at least looked at my web site and have an opinion on our work. Make sure that your resume looks like you 'designed' it since you are supposed to be a 'designer'. Look on the web for examples of great resumes by graphic designers and Architects. A resume doesn't have to be electronic only. Don't hesitate to print out a cover letter and resume and send it by mail in a flat envelope. Something that lands on my desk is more likely to be seen than something that lands in my inbox. Be creative. Include a card with your best recipe in your application. People remember things like that.
Rule #4 - Don't avoid your weaknesses - embrace them
Most resumes have huge gaps in them. Whether it's a particular skill set or strange dates of employment, they are always there. I don't have time to play detective as to why the parts don't add up. If you are lacking a particular skill address it in your cover letter. You might say "I realize that I don't have an extensive background in 3D modeling but I am currently working with the software and expect to achieve proficiency within eight weeks." If you worked at a supermarket instead of a good firm, discuss what skills you learned there that might be applicable. The most successful people don't start out successful. They get there by working through adversity and making the best out of each opportunity.
Rule #5 - EDIT, EDIT, EDIT
If you are applying to an employer that you have never met before, you have to put your best foot forward. You may have four or five years of school work, but I don't want to see it all. I want to see the best of those years. 10 great images are better than 40 average ones with 10 great ones mixed in. Trust me on this one. The ability to critique one's self is a mature and desirable attribute. If you aren't able to objectively look at your work then you won't last long in a collaborative environment. That's not to say you can't bring them to the interview and pull one out if the conversation turns that way. I'm just saying it's easier to get your foot in the door if you only show the best of your best.
This goes true for resumes too. I don't need to know that you had four part time jobs while you were in high school. I don't care if you haven't had any jobs provided that you acknowledge this and turn it into a strength. Adding filler to any resume to make it look substantial never works. I'd rather see candidates add images of their work to the page than a lot of irrelevant information. If you're not sure about what you should put on the page, go to your career center or a job fair to get some critiques before you send anything out. A little investment in this area goes a long way.
Alot of the above information seems like common sense but I can honestly say that in the hundreds of resumes and applications that I have received only a handful have followed these rules. Put your best foot forward and follow these rules and I can guarantee you will have a higher rate of response from prospective employers.
Good Luck out there!
Good Luck out there!