Monday, August 16, 2010

Architects, experience, and resumes

Anonymous commented on a recent post about content and length of resumes:

As one of three principals of a growing architectural practice, I take issue with this post. Normally your info is quite good, but this one falls into the heading of 'What is Wrong with the Architecture Profession'.

Like you, I have about 10 years of experience. Seven of those years were before the 3rd year of a 4+2 MArch degree. I have two more exams to become licensed thanks to the new early testing rules.

So tell me, is your experience more valuable than mine? Is your list of accomplishments more relevant because you are licensed and I am not?

I know plenty of Principal and Senior Associate people who, had they passed a two page resume to you, would have been denied review because they are unlicensed.

Lastly, we need to set the record straight. You have been an architect for four years, not 10. An architect is someone who has passed the ARE and received a license to practice architecture, something that happened 4 years ago.

Anonymous makes some interesting points here, but I wonder if s/he missed the intent of my original post. Commenter JD asked about what to include on a resume if one's previous careers were non-architectural. Prevailing resume advice for business in general says that a candidate must fill their resume with lots of action-type bullet points about how s/he "increased sales by 15%" or "did X and Y W times faster." But architecture is...well, architecture. You're certainly welcome to allude to your previous careers in your architectural resume, but I recommend that you edit that information very strictly by keeping this in mind: how did what you used to do affect how well you can do the job of an architect or architectural intern?

I polled a couple of people in my firm who have been doing hiring recently, and they said that regardless of a candidate's licensure, s/he has five seconds to get a firm's attention, especially in the wake of the recent recession. And typically--certainly not all the time, but typically--interns are not managing projects, especially an intern with less than ten years' experience. What I want to caution interns against is potentially padding their resumes with extraneous information, especially at a time when there is so much competition for a position at a firm, and you want to make sure that your resume gets read. And here's the double-edged sword of having lots of experience in other careers: while it shows that you've worked for a living before and you're competent, it can reveal your age to a firm and they'll decide not to hire you because of your age. (Which is illegal, by the way, and it's a dumb reason not to hire a person, but I'm sure it happens.) One of the managers to whom I presented the "how do you talk about other careers on your resume" question had this to say: "If someone writes a ton of stuff on their resume about how awesome they were in their last career, then why aren't they still in that career?" I told him that was kind of a mean/nasty question, but there's a grain of truth in it--be careful how you sell your past careers. At the very least, have a good, positive reason for leaving a career at which you were really good--maybe architecture was always your passion, etc.

(Note: if you were in the military, just say it and say what position you had there. You don't have to elaborate; the fact that you could hold your own in the military is proof enough that you're tough, efficient, and effective.)

Having hopefully clarified that, let me address Anonymous' comments: you're absolutely right. My sidebar information should in fact say "I've been in the architectural profession for ten years, licensed for four." However, by Anon's own admission, s/he is not licensed, so s/he cannot call him/herself an architect even now...and I can. And here's the truth about this profession: passing the ARE is not just an attempt by our profession to maintain some minimal threshold of competency, but in the end it is also a rite of passage and, in a way, a form of dues-paying and proving oneself. Anonymous may be a principal in a firm, but (and not to belittle Anon's efforts) anyone can be a principal in a design firm...actually, in any kind of firm. All you need is a business license. Any intern out there right now can start a one-person consulting company and call themselves a principal. And this is good, in many ways--if you were a victim of this cruddy economy, you can hang out your own shingle and work as a contract employee for another firm or even do drawings yourself for residential projects....

...but, as Anonymous him/herself pointed out: you cannot call yourself an architect if you are not licensed.

Plus, depending on what you design, someone else may have to stamp and sign it if you are not licensed. If you are in fact licensed, you answer to yourself (and anyone that sues you); the glory and pain are all yours. But if you are unlicensed, you are still beholden to someone else. And here's the inequality of that situation: you could have spent your time doing some amazing projects and learning a lot of really useful stuff about designing and building projects and learning your craft through the school of hard knocks (crazy clients, argumentative contractors, recalcitrant consultants), and someone with same number of years' experience maybe just did really crappy work and spent most of their time sheltered by their project managers and really nice, easy-to-work-with clients, but if that cheesy person gets licensed and you don't...they have more prestige than you. The principal of an architecture firm, typically speaking, wants to be able to put you in front of an owner and hold you out as the best of the best and as a competent and talented professional...and that by-and-large means a licensed architect. And that architect may have less experience than you do as an unlicensed person, but they got the gig and you didn't. And it sucks. But that's the truth.

And it used to make me angry. But then, I looked around my office and saw some of the gooberheads that were licensed...and suddenly, my fear of the ARE dissolved. I realized, "Mary, Joseph, and Rem Koolhaas! If that dumpster fire of a guy can pass the ARE and get licensed, then so can I!" And I did. I got licensed in ten months while working 60 hours a week--that's how motivated I was. And that's why I encourage all of you to get licensed--it's a minimal standard of competency as well as a hoop to jump through that, at the end of it all, isn't actually that hard to jump through. If you go through college in a fairly typical manner (i.e., not long after leaving high school) but then wait around and still aren't licensed at the age of 40, nearly everyone interviewing you will wonder, "What's the effing problem?" That is, if they even make it through your resume and decide to call you.

I don't know if the following true confession makes any of you (Anonymous included) feel better or worse, but here it is: My resume, with ten years' experience and licensed for four, is...




Even though I've done some really cool projects and done some really fantastic things in the past ten-plus years of my life that might make me look even awesomer (not that that's even a word) if I included them, I've edited and edited that information to one page of an actual resume. I have a one-page cover letter, and then I also have a one-page document that is optional to send that talks about my the event that someone actually wanted to see it. (I made the document more for myself, so I could remember all the stuff I've done in ten years.) And my husband, a licensed architect with 18 months more experience than me, plus a stint in the military, plus having worked on some really big and amazing projects that were bigger and more involved than any of my projects, has only a one-page resume.

Why? Because, ultimately resume length is not about licensed versus unlicensed, but really about content: all you need are the simple truths about your skills and your experiences, and too much else will be picked up on the radar as fluff. The architects I've talked to recently who have been conducting interviews and reviewing resumes for the past month have been unanimous on one point: they can read between the lines and see if you're B.S'ing or making yourself sound better than you are. They have a thick stack of resumes to read, and you have five seconds--sometimes less--to make your point about you, your education, and your skills. Be short and to the point (unlike this post, hyuk hyuk hyuk!), don't make them work hard to understand your strengths, and make sure your resume fits the job being offered (write yourself two resumes that play up different strengths and focus on different things, if it helps). The whole point of a resume to highlight your strengths and experience--licensed or not!--and to find a firm that is the best fit for you (and you for them), so give it the attention it deserves so that you look your absolute best on paper and get your foot in the door.


  1. "how did what you used to do affect how well you can do the job of an architect or architectural intern?"

    I think that's the relevant question and one I've tried to stick with, but will go back to again. Frankly, it's also valid for any architecture job you've had. It's not worth noting that you were "Responsible for compiling final documentation" when you just pushed "Print" and typed the transmittals. Saying intern assumes a broad brush on "meniality" that gets you in the trash can if you try to pretty it up too much.

    Back to the business, other career talk... Your point and your co-workers point about showing age and too much passion for the old job is valid. Keeping the "what's relevant to architecture" in mind, I've tried to it filter so that it shows relevancy, but will take another pass. My intent always though is to show...

    You can trust me in front of a client. I am connected to my brain and can solve a problem beyond Revit shortcuts. I might be able to help more in depth at some point. All that and I'm still a cheap intern, please consider me over the dumpster fire guy.

    Somewhere there's the fine line of rising to the top of the pile vs. the fact that the pile right now is full of similar people. Maybe I'm still putting too much faith that past experience matters over knowing those Revit shortcuts right now?

  2. Anon: LOL at your last sentence! You make some excellent, excellent points here. I think in response to that last sentence, the short answer is this: it depends. Some firms are only looking for the super-cheap interns who know Revit shortcuts. If that's the case, any intern with more than even four years' experience is out of the running. Other firms are looking for sharp and talented people, knowing that in some ways, you get what you pay for.

    Also, I think the fact that there are SO MANY equally-qualified folks out there vying for SO FEW jobs right now kinda throws all the rules out the window. For example, a well-qualified intern or architect with ten years' experience might have been able to get a second look and an interview with a two-page resume in 2000, but that same well-qualified resume now makes a recruiter work too hard to learn about them.

    And I'm totally stealing "Responsible for compiling final documentation" as a euphemism for "hitting the print button". Effing. hilarious.

  3. Any insight on breaking past "SO MANY equally qualified..." issue when approaching firms where you don't have experience with their project type? Having an inside contact who can vouch for you seems to be the primary path, but when there's already a handful of people with that specialty in the resume pile, how do you get them to take a chance on you? For example, making a housing to medical jump. I certainly wouldn't leave a job in one right now for the other w/o a solid offer, but what about already being out there looking?

    BTW - "dumpster fire guy"...very funny and brings up many eye rolling flashbacks..."That person is STILL here? He must know those shortcuts. Hmmm, better get with it myself.". What else can you do but laugh and get on with it.

  4. Just a quick note/loophole with the comment from Anonymous regarding the "Architect" issue...

    There's only one thing that changed when I officially became an architect - I received a piece of paper telling me so. My skills remained the same, my experience remained the same, and my professional demeanor, my ambition, and my love for architecture remained the same.

    If you have ten years of experience and you've been a registered architect for only four of those years, then yes, you shouldn't be telling people you've been an architect for ten years.

    What you should be telling people (especially if you don't want to get into a twenty conversation describing the technicalities of the IDP, ARE, and state boards) - "I'm an architect with ten years of professional experience."