An Architect's Introduction to Resumes - How to Develop the Story of You
Whether you’re an Architecture Student getting ready to look for your first job or a seasoned Architect searching for your next one, everyone needs a way to convey their experience succinctly to a prospective employer.
If only there was a document out there that could describe the story of you.
Enter the Resume.
The Purpose of a Resume
A resume is in its simplest sense, a summary of you.
It presents your background, skills, and accomplishments in a brief and clear format for others to understand.
When you think about it, the format is extremely useful. Consider the alternative - hiring managers don’t have the time or resources to simply meet every person who applies for a job. The resume is a document that helps the person who hires new personnel sift through the people who might not be a good fit for the position or company.
The Test of a Resume
But the resume is far more than just a document, it’s also a test.
A resume can immediately help a hiring manager know whether you can create a single page (yes, only one page!) document about yourself without making any errors in spelling or grammar.
It also serves as a gauge of whether or not you can accurately ‘sell’ your personal brand as something worthwhile to others. You may not be looking for a job directly in sales, but a hiring manager will want to see if you have communication skills that are at the bare minimum persuasive.
It’s also a test in graphic creativity and restraint. As architects, we work in an inherently creative field. Not only that, we work within parameters that require us to edit our work and establish internal guidelines for the designs we develop based on budget, codes, and all manner of external forces.
For better or worse, this means that our resumes, cover letters, and portfolios need to be treated with a similar sense of design rigor to get past the initial viewing.
The Big Picture Format of a Resume
Some might say that a resume is just a list of accomplishments, stitched together through proper phrasing, sentences, and grammar. Instead, I want you to think of a resume as something that requires just as much control of the content as the graphic representation of that content.
The easiest way to start your resume is to develop the overall theme graphically that will provide the overall framework. This might seem daunting at first. I mean, there are literally thousands upon thousands of graphic variations you could utilize as you design your resume.
That said, I think there are a few general formats that seem to work best for almost any situation. For our purposes, let’s take these three.
Straight - This format is the most conservative. It’s a classic, but can immediately feel dated if you’re not careful. It’s also the easiest to work with because it’s what most word processors (i.e. Microsoft Word) will default to.
Columns - This format establishes each category as a block within two separate columns. Think of each block as a piece that holds up the structure of the next.
Spine - This format takes the approach from the Straight format and typically offsets the margin to make a hard graphical edge somewhere in the middle of the page. This is my personal favorite because it keeps things simple without seeming dated.
Don’t think too deeply on the overall format. If you want to, you can change it later. Pick one and move on.
The Details of a Resume
Now that you have a big picture format, consider more nuanced items in your design such as font type, colors, and white space.
Fonts - Think of how different fonts work across the page. You want to minimize how many types of fonts you have at all costs (and yes, different fonts include size change, italics, bold, and every other variation you can think of for a given font family).
Serif fonts tend to be easier to read (the ones with the wavy little articulations - Think ‘Times New Roman’), but they can feel a bit more conservative than their Sans-Serif siblings (Think ‘Arial’ or ‘Century Gothic’)
Color - I typically recommend that you do NOT use color unless absolutely necessary. It goes back to who could be reviewing your resume. If a manager prints out a copy of your resume and then someone else makes a copy and then someone else makes yet another copy, you have no control on whether or not that color will even make it through.
Be sure to test print your resume as both black and white and as color if you choose to use a color accent at all. If you do use color, use only ONE accent color with the majority of the resume in black and white.
White Space - As designers and creatives, we sometimes overlook white space as a design element. But let me assure you that white space can make or break a resume.
Be sure to leave yourself ample margins on all sides of the page to avoid printer crop and to give the hiring manager’s eyes enough room to scan the page adequately.
You may have the desire to cram every piece of information you can think of into your resume, but ample white space can often show restraint and care.
Regardless of the above, make sure that your resume is no longer than ONE page in length. It doesn’t need to be longer than that. If you can’t fit everything, start editing things out that don’t really need to be there.
The Content of a Resume
After you’ve established a general format, let’s talk content.
Essentially, every resume is the same. Two sections you must have are Education and Experience. After that, you can supplement with sections like Skills, Accomplishments, and Volunteering to flesh out the summary of who you are and what you’re about.
Content Block 1 // Education vs Experience
Depending upon whether you’re just starting your career or a seasoned veteran, you want the most relevant information from top to bottom. That means that if you’re coming out of college, you probably don’t have that much experience yet and should place your education above experience.
The farther removed you are from school, the more likely you have experience and should list that at the top. If you can’t decide what’s more important, ask a friend what seems more impressive.
After that, be sure to list your education and experience in reverse chronological order starting with the most recent job or degree. Try and write a brief sentence to establish your role and then bullet list the accomplishments you made while working there.
Pro Tip: Your last job should have more items listed (if possible) than your previous jobs. This subconsciously shows both that you're growing in your career and that you have more responsibility.
Content Block 2 // Skills
Everyone has skills. Even if you don’t think you do, you’re probably versed enough in either hard skills or software skills that you can speak briefly to them.
List relevant computer software you know how to use and abilities such as model-making to establish what you’re interested in. It’s not just about listing every program you’ve ever opened either.
You want to list your skills in order of how well you know something, emphasizing skills relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Content Block 3 // Accomplishments
This is the ‘fun’ category because it tends to be among the most eclectic. Accomplishments don’t have to be entirely professional. Did you win a chess tournament? Did you enter a design competition?
These kinds of items establish your interests and your skill without directly saying they are either. Try and think about what you do outside of studio or the office and try to bring those interests into your story here.
Additional Tips and Tricks
Now that you’ve written out each of the primary categories, congrats!, you should have the start of your very own resume. Here are a few extra bits of advice to keep you moving.
Always be thinking about what makes you stand out. Consider that your resume is more than likely going to be lumped in with many others. If you wanted to stand out from the crowd, how would you do that it a tasteful, but compelling way?
Use the specific job description of the position you’re applying to and reverse engineer it into your resume. Is the firm looking for a licensed Architect and you just got your license? Make sure to emphasize it. Is the firm looking for a BIM expert and you taught a class in Revit? You better list it well.
NO SPELLING or GRAMMATICAL ERRORS! Make sure that one or two people other than yourself review your submission first. Spellcheck may catch most things, but a person is more likely to catch even more.
Don’t exaggerate. If you don’t have every single piece of what someone is looking for, don’t over exaggerate, or even worse lie, to make it seem like you have the proper credentials. It’s okay if you don’t have everything. Many employers can look past one or two deficiencies. Honesty though is always the best policy.
Don’t include your references. It is common practice for a hiring manager to ask for your references if they are interested in following up on your background. It’s unnecessary, however, to include them directly in your resume. Keep them ready in a separate file on your letterhead upon request. Side note: don’t say that your references are available upon request anywhere. The managers knows they are. Also, please make sure any reference you list KNOWS they’re a reference.
Use grown up contact info. If you’re applying for a job at an architecture office, leading with an email like firstname.lastname@example.org is probably not going to do you any favors. Use something simple that includes part of your name and a commonly used url (ie. email@example.com). Also, keep all of your contact info in an easy-to-find location at the top or left-hand side of your resume.
Keep it updated. You may think that you only need a resume every time you’re looking for a new job, but I think that you should be updating it at least once a year. You never know when you’ll need it for an unexpected opportunity or if you lose your job. You just never know.
So with a better understanding of what a resume can be, go forth and create one of your own or update the one you have to reflect the amazing person you are.
Make everything extremely easy for a hiring manager to find and understand.
There will be many decisions to make about your resume. Just make sure that you build the story of you with every choice.
Good luck in your next job search!