Monday, April 9, 2012

Redlined Resumes: the importance of narrative, and the importance of reflection

Today's Redlined Resume is a sharp one, and it has a lot of points to discuss (and for debate, I'm sure), so I've saved it for last in this string for RRs.  (I've received some more resumes to redline, but I'll comment on a few other topics before we go back to another string of these.)

RF's resume takes a unique approach--its narrative style makes it a cover letter and resume all in one.  I recommend a little editing here as well as bolding text that points out really important information.  Most people use bullet points in their resumes because that format quickly highlights the most important information for the reader.  When the resume takes a more narrative form, as RF's does, it can give the reader a better feel for the candidate's personality, but now the reader has to work a little harder to know what the facts are.  Putting specific pieces of text in bold type allows a reader to skim the resume as if it used bullet points, but also read it like a narrative.  RF's choice here is bit daring, and I really like it.

You'll notice at the bottom I've suggested to delete the mention of Dean's List, Eagle Scout, and the fraternity.  Now, if this fraternity is a type of co-ed honors society, I might leave it in and find a better way to describe it.  But if not, I would leave it out, no matter how much of a leader you might have been.  And here's where the importance of reflection on your resume comes in: when I have mere seconds to make a good impression, what about me on paper will tell my story and set me apart in a good way?  What matters most to those looking at my resume?

Here's what matters to an architect at a firm, in no particular order:
  • honors and achievements earned during college (related to design)
  • work experience during and after college
  • architecture/firm-related work experience during and after college
  • degree from an NAAB-accredited school
  • LEED AP or other design-related achievements
  • military or intensive volunteer service (e.g., Peace Corps)
Here's what doesn't matter to an architect at a firm, in no particular order:
  • honors and achievements earned during high school
  • work experience during high school
  • whether or not your college or grad school was an elite design school*
  • your hobbies and general interests
Here's what might matter to an architect at a firm and could work against you, in no particular order:
  • what college you attended, and whether or not it was an elite design school*
  • certain activities, including polarizing political/social groups or Greek societies
The hard truth is this: what might matter to you might not matter at all to a firm in terms of getting hired, and it could hurt your chances.  My albeit informal poll of my colleagues as well as my own experience revealed that architecture students usually had to pick between being in a Greek organization or being an architecture student.  Those who chose to remain in Greek organizations generally weren't very strong in the program because they had a very strong alternate force competing for their attention (i.e., the fraternity or sorority).  Firms may see this as not being as serious about architecture, just as your career is taking off and you're about to be asked to work late nights and weekends...the same late nights and weekends you might have refused to work as an architecture student.  

The other part of that hard truth is that not everyone knows how important your achievements are, and trying to explain how important they are could waste valuable resume space.  Until a reader commented here that being an Eagle Scout is a rare and important achievement, all I knew about it is that it's the highest you can go in Boy Scouts and not that many Boy Scouts do it...and that Boy Scouts is something that boys and teenage guys do in elementary school and junior high, and maybe high school.  But after you've spent five or six years in college, nothing you did in high school really matters anymore.  

I was a drummer in high school band, and my school was in the most musically-competitive district in my state.  I made State Honor Band three of my four high school years, which was no easy feat and would demonstrate to anyone in the know that I was physically very coordinated and could sight-read unfamiliar music very well, which meant I could adapt to unfamiliar situations quickly.  This is a skill I can now use as an architect...but including this on my first post-grad-school resume wouldn't have helped me, even if I had applied for a job in my home state.  It's likely that no one would have understood its importance in the way I did, and explaining it on a resume would have taken up space where I could have been touting more directly relevant experience, like the time I spent working in a hospital (which would tell a healthcare-design firm that I had direct experience with the kinds of buildings that I'd be designing with them).

In the years since I finished college, I spent some time doing improv and stand-up comedy.  I learned and practiced skills in those settings that are infinitely helpful when I deal with clients and consultants--I know how to read a crowd and say what needs to be said to get them on board with my ideas (or with the decisions that need to be made at that meeting). I know how to use inoffensive humor as a way to break the ice or break tension, I know how to stand in front of a semi-hostile group of people and present my case convincingly (and am not afraid to do so, such as in interviews when pursuing a project), and I understand the power of word choice in both spoken and written formats.   I think my on-stage comedy experience is incredibly important, but I know that no one else will likely see it that way.  Including "Member of Mixed Nuts Comedy Brigade in Littleton, CO 2001-2002" on my resume looks like fluff to any outsider, so I save it for an interview or even a deeper conversation after I've gotten to know my project team.

That's what I'm asking all of you to do when you include hobbies, interests, and achievements on your resumes.  Think about what's really going to be meaningful to the people who are flipping through dozens if not hundreds of resumes, and edit for focus and impact.

*You might occasionally meet someone who will only hire people from Ivy League colleges or refuse to hire people from certain other colleges, but for the most part a professional is a professional.  It's kind of a crapshoot sometimes, but the work world for architects is an interesting playing field.

1 comment:

  1. skim the resume as if it used bullet points, but also read it like a narrative. RF's choice here is bit daring, and I really like it.