Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Finding a job as an intern: more than just a pretty resume

January marks the beginning of spring semester, and for some this is their final semester before stepping into the work world. For others, a new year inspires a sense of renewed optimism: maybe this year the economy will finally get better and you'll either get a raise or move to a new firm where you can get more experience and do more interesting projects. No one really knows what the economy is going to do this year, though by most reports I've heard is that layoffs should stabilize this year and perhaps hiring will even begin again. I've blogged before about getting a job in a down economy, and that information is still good, but I wanted to share a few tips culled from some recent newspaper articles that I think would be useful.

First off, think hard about your skills when putting together your resume. Do you just have experience with Revit and Adobe Illustrator, or are you proficient in them? Do you have organizational skills gained from running your school's chapter of AIAS? Do you have construction experience due to being a major member of your church or synagogue's facility improvement committee? If you've already had an architectural job and are trying to get a new one, think about all the things you did at your past architectural jobs. Use active verbs as much as you can: instead of "Did construction documents," say "Involved in all aspects of construction documents on large hospital project." Figure out ways to let potential employers know about your skills, but at the same time, be honest.

Being honest is twofold here: one, don't exaggerate your skills, plump up your GPA (not that you even need to include it--if you graduated, you graduated, done deal), lie about your job experience, etc. When you're unlicensed, it can be pretty obvious to potential employers when you're lying about your job experience. Unless you worked at a really small firm, chances are pretty good that you never were a "project manager." Maybe a "job captain", but not a "project manager." That brings me to the second part of being honest on your resume: if you're unlicensed with less than ten years of experience, keep your resume to one page. Anything longer and people are going to think that you're padding.

When you're sending off your resume, remember that this is still a pretty craptastic job market, so don't take rejection personally. Use your unemployed time to do or learn other things, maybe even earn some IDP credits. And when you're sending off your resume, stay focused and be reasonable about positions for which you are a good fit. If the position wants at least five years' experience and you only have three, don't waste your time--there are plenty of unemployed five-year interns who will be considered first for that position. Also, if a job is advertised for which you are a good fit, but it's an hour commute each way, be realistic about it--will your old beater car really make it, or will you be able to take public transit there in a reasonable amount of time?

Finally, it's not just what you know, but alas, who you know. Networking face-to-face is still the best way to meet people, so try joining trade or industry groups or at least attending one or more of their functions. Ask around with your friends and see if their firms are hiring or if they know if anyone is hiring (you can even call former coworkers to find out if they've heard anything about hirings). Apparently, some recruiting companies are using LinkedIn to find good candidates, and you can use LinkedIn to find people who work at the company with whom you want to interview. Regardless of how you make contacts, be able to sell yourself in a minute or less--if you call a firm and get the very person you want to talk to, being articulate right off the bat can help get your foot in the door.

Some of the tips in this post have been culled from articles in the Denver Post (Page 1K & 8K, 11/8/09; and page 1D & 10D, 1/12/10). Next time, I'll talk about being on the other side of the equation: what if you're employed and you're trying to help a friend get a job? If you have questions or a topic you'd like to see discussed here, let me know in the comments or drop me a line via email from the sidebar. Thanks!


  1. Hey Lulu

    I've added your feed to my google reader for a few months now, you do a great job of telling the facts as they are. Very helpful as I get ready to finish up Grad School this June and try to re-enter the job market back home in Denver! Keep up the good work!

  2. Casey: thanks for the readership and the support, man! Keep in touch and feel free to drop me a line. (And when you hit the workforce again, let me know for better or for worse how wrong I am--this is one architect's experience, and I need to hear from interns everywhere!)

  3. Hi Lulu,

    I really need some help. I have been looking for a job in architecture for 3 years now and I have never gotten a response or an interview.
    I graduated in 2008 (I began my job search during my last year of UG) from the University of Michigan. After graduation I took off one year of school and picked up a municipal job where I deal with construction contractors on right of way construction. I started my NCARB council record in 2009 as well. During my years of I applied to several firms.

    In 2009 I enrolled at Lawrence Technological University in Michigan, and am working toward my M.Arch which I expect in 2011.

    I am really beginning to loose motivation. I have never had troubles in finding and keeping jobs, and I have always excelled on any job that I have held. Even on my current job I have been chosen to lead on our department's most significant project.

    I am wondering how to market my skills to an architectural firm. I have a great disadvantage because I have never worked for a firm. What do I need to do?

  4. Pierre, you ask a good question. The short answer is that if you're still in Michigan, there' not a lot of work in ANY field. The longer answer requires some thought. Feel free to email me in the sidebar if you'd like to provide more details about your situation (where have you applied to, what's on your resume (or even send me your resume!), tell me more about what your work history is like, etc.).

  5. Hi Lulu,
    I was laid off from my four year job as an intern architect in February 2009 only a few months before I graduated from grad school in May 2009. In the last year I've probably sent my resume to nearly every firm in town with few responses at all. Should I resend it now that things are looking slightly better or is that just annoying for the recipient?
    Everyone says not to take it personally, but is there any way to actually find out if it IS me?

    Lost in Atlanta