Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A quick word on resumes (or, please don't try this at home)

I recently had lunch with an architect friend who brought me a handful of resumes to look at: the good, the bad, and the what-were-they-thinking. One resume she showed me that made me do a spit take, and while I didn't get a copy of it to post here for your viewing, I had to tell you what turned me off about it.

The candidate combined his cover letter and resume into one two-page document. The document had two columns, one narrow one that included basic info about where he worked and went to school, and another wider column describing his skills, talents/abilities, and qualities. I don't even know where to start on this, but I'll start here with my cardinal rule of intern resume writing:

If you are unlicensed, your resume should be no more than one page. Period.

And the corollary to that rule is this: if you decide to combine your cover letter and resume, it still should be only one page. Combining two documents into one is a risky move that could pay off, depending on what kind of firm (and person) receives and reviews your resume, but remember how different those two documents are: one is written in paragraph form and reads like a letter, while the other is written in bullet points and sentence fragments and meant to highlight skills into an easily-read and easily-comprehended form. This candidate's resume looked verbose and unwieldy and was frankly confusing. I was overwhelmed by all the text on the page that I stared at it for a good half-minute before I realized there was another column on the page which told me where he went to college.

I could forgive this, except that what also blew me away (and not in a good way) was that his entire resume/cover letter was written in third person. As in, "Mr. Smith spent a semester in France, where he worked extensively with restoring a medieval cathedral." Let me be very clear: your cover letter and resume are meant to be in first person. I know that after spending four to six years writing essays and research papers in third person, but resumes and cover letters are not research papers. They are meant to be coming from you, so when your cover letter and resume read like someone else wrote it, you can guarantee that you confuse your potential employer at best and annoy them at worst. The only people that use third-person when talking about themselves are sports figures like Rickey Henderson and Junior Seau (search for them on YouTube and you'll see what I mean), and they annoy even sports fans.

I can excuse the resume/cover letter combo as just a daring move, but the third-person writing point-of-view? Skip it.


  1. So, I think I asked something about this awhile back...The one page rule seems to make sense for the 20/early 30 something intern with one to maybe three architecture related jobs. How about the late 30/midlife intern with career experience in two or three careers? I agree it needs to be filtered and every livid detail of the sales numbers generated, % productivity gained or the projects completed doesn't need to be logged. There does seem to be difference between the business oriented "Knock em Dead" approach (you must state results, results, results!!)and the architecture resume, particularly for interns.

    However, still listing the job(s) and the filtered architecture/business/client competent summary can still take 3-8 lines. As a result, I've gone the functional resume route but still find it tough to get to a page and a half. I've considered an 8 1/2 x 14 with a fold over to 8.5 x 11. Works nice as a delivered piece, but violates the "you're never sure how it will be copied or printed out of email" principle. I also attempted something similar to the combined letter idea where I had a sidebar summary and objective and more bulleted resume section. I agree, it just seemed even more "dense" and harder to read.

    So... current thought is first page has the summary, architecture related experience and possibly the firms. The second page will be the other career skills and those companies. Thoughts?

  2. JD: Good question, and a valid one for those who are getting into architecture as a second or third career. My initial reaction is this: unless your past career involved being one of the guys that discovered a vaccine for cancer or involved pulling Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, you still need to keep it to one page. Regardless of what your career used to be, architecture is what it is now, so anything you highlight from that/those previous careers should be selective and relate strongly to architecture or to how your past experience can benefit a firm. Save more in-depth details for the interview.

    I think your question deserves more discussion, and I'd like to pass our question on to some of my licensed colleagues who do hiring at other firms.

  3. Thanks it would be interesting to hear those views on how they perceive us. I've run a previous version by a small handful of people before and generally the first reaction is "This looks long", then the next reaction while reading it is "You've had great experience so I don't think I'd change it much". It ends up being a dilemma. The first reaction says that it might not get looked at when someone opens the envelope or the PDF. The second reaction is based on me sitting across from them and they are more obligated to look. When they read it, they value it. Sooooo, it can be easy to wonder what really happens out in the ether!

  4. 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.