Writing your resumé

Bob Borson —  May 19, 2011 — 120 Comments

It’s that time of year again and the resumes from graduating college seniors are starting to crash our office door. What better time than now to have a little chat about them?

What this post isn’t going to be a list of how to write a resume – according to Google, the search “resume+books” returned 81,500,000 hits so you newbies should start there. What I want to talk about is the “what not to do’s” and the other nuances within resumes – the information you can plant between the lines to tell the reader something extra about you.

These are the categories that seem to show up in most resumes:

  • Contact information
  • Education
  • Objective
  • Professional Experience
  • Skills
  • Honors/ Awards
  • Personal Interests

At first blush, they all seem like reasonable areas of focus for one’s resume. I would, however, like to break down my pet peeves for each category.

.

Contact information

This is an important area on your resume – you want the job and people need to be able to contact you. Please, please please get a reasonable sounding email address! It might have been cool to have   mega.overlord@hotmail.com or fluffybunny@me.com when you signed up for it when you were 13 years old … but that’s not the image you should be putting out there. Go ahead and pony up for a free email account at Gmail (or almost any other for that matter) that is direct –  firstname.lastname@providor.com.   If you need to add a middle initial or an “01” somewhere in there, go ahead and do it. This will demonstrate to me that you have the most basic level of problem solving skills.

.

Education

Keep it simple and straight forward but include the dates of attendance please. You don’t have to do this … but if you went back to school as a 40 or 50-something, and you are feeling a little insecure and you think leaving those dates off is going to make the difference between getting a call to come in or not – you don’t want to work there in the first place. Nothing wrong with taking a break and starting over.

.

Objective

Leave this section off if the best thing you can come up with is:

“To find meaningful employment in a design oriented firm”

You might as well say what this really means … “if this is an architectural firm, I would like to work for you” which is pretty much the objective of every person sending in a resume. This is an area where you can spend a few minutes taking advantage of that superior education you received and come up with a better objective that will convey a better image of yourself. Just off the top of my head I came up with this:

“To work in an environment that pushes the current limits of my abilities and allows me the opportunities to gain the respect of my peers.”

See? Isn’t mine a lot better? Both statements convey your desire to find employment but mine lets the reader know that you are willing to work hard, you will look for opportunities for advancement rather than waiting for them to be provided to you, and by earning the respect of your peers, you want to be better than the people around you. All in 15 more words … not bad if I do say so myself. (maybe I should save that one for myself)

..

Professional Experience

This is a hard section to fill in if you haven’t actually had any professional experience before. So what are you going to do? This is a tricky section because you want to show that you have done something other than breathe air, sponge off your parents, and go to school. Maybe a good place to start is to just call it “Experience” and look back at anything you’ve done that could contribute to your value as an employee. Depending on what that is, this could be a short list – and that’s okay. Please resist the temptation to fill this section out with every random job you might have had. I have packed bags in a grocer’s, cut lawns, worked as a projectionist in a movie theater, and on and on – lots of jobs – and none of them have ever graced my resume.

I should add that you can get away with a lot on an architectural resume – call it creative license – if it’s done consistently and thoroughly. If you fancy yourself as clever and want to convey that side of your personality, feel free to call your lawn mowing job as an urban horticultural maintenance facilitator” but be careful here. If it isn’t funny, that’s worse than leaving this area overly brief.

If you do have some experience you want listed here, please make sure that there aren’t gaps in your dates. Whenever I see a date gap I think – “2 years, hmmmmm, I wonder what they went to prison for?” Pretty sure I don’t want an ex B+E perp working here so let’s just avoid that situation all together and don’t put me in a position to judge you for that – because I will. That’s sort of the point of submitting a resume.

.

Skills

This is the section that almost always gives me the biggest chuckle and slap my forehead moments. Architecturally educated folks generally know a lot of software – feel free to list it out because it is definitely an asset. But please, and I am on my knees begging you, do not list generic software titles on here – whether to pad your list or to achieve some sort of symmetry. Everyone knows ‘Word’, ‘Excel’, and yes, ‘Internet Explorer’ – leave these off your list. If I see them on your resume I am either thinking that you think it’s important that I know you know the most widely known software on the planet, or you think I’m silly and need to tell me that you know the most widely known software on the planet. Either way, you lose. I would rather see “fluent in Klingon” listed as a skill other than “Word”. One makes me go “reaaallllyyyy” while the other one requires an “ughh” as I lower my head onto my keyboard while my hand instinctively reaches for the bottle of Irish Whiskey I keep in the office for such “special occasions”.

.

Honors and Awards

If you have them, great, if not – not the end of the world. Remove this category and move on. This is not the section to be clever and tell me that you received the award for throwing the ‘bitchin-ist party this side of the Red River” (I really received that one by the way). I’m in my 40’s now and my idea of a bitchin party involves going to bed early and catching up on either sleep or TV.

.

Interests

I, for one, am okay with this section of the resume. It might not be the most professional of sections and depending on where you are sending your resume, you might want to take it off and have two versions of your resume. This is the area where you can put all the baton-twirling, bear-wrestling, cheese-grilling activities that round you out as a human being. If you were to add “model train collector” on a resume that came to my office, one of the partners would be sure to ask you about it. It might not be much, but these days anything short of cat juggling that sets you apart is probably worth adding to your resume.

So there it is – if other people wish to add their two cents, I’m sure people would appreciate the additional input and guidance.

Bob AIA signature

.

  • mahyar mostafavy

    Hi Bob
    this question might be silly but dose font matter in the resume? you know how architect want to show their creativity and sometimes they show it with their different font in the resume. i was wondering if this is a good idea or a bad idea?

  • Natalia

    Hello Bob thank you so much for this information. I´m about to write my CV to apply for a job in a real estate development company and i´m really focus in giving them the right information. Beside being an architect, i´m a professional dancer, and i know they wouldn´t really care about that but i have a lot of professional experience in that field and gained a lot of charismatic skills through this years… knowing all of that experience has nothing to do with Architecture… how would you say is the best way to letting them know that without writing “dancer” in my Professional Experience part? Hope you can help me.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      without making things to complicated (or job specific), I tend to take the approach that you decide to either own something or not. This means you either add the professional dancing to your resume (which in my office would create some conversation) or you leave it off entirely. Sometimes, this could create the gap in your timeline that I mentioned that I wasn’t a big fan of seeing … which is why I would tell you to put it on your resume. It’s part of who you are and as you said in your comment, it has shaped who you have become.

      Good luck.

      • Natalia

        Wow i didnt expect such a fast answer, Ok Bob i´ll do that!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN! Huge hug from Costa Rica ;)

  • Pingback: More Resume Tips for Interns from Dallas Architect |HPD Architecture | Dallas Architects, Interior Designers()

  • ISHA

    hey Bob- what should i write in the experience section?as me a fresher. I want to write resume for my internship in an architectural firm.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I kind of covered that in the “Professional Experience” section …

      If you literally haven’t done anything, this section is blank. Otherwise, list what you’ve been doing, just try and reference it back to some sort of growth skill, i.e. if you’ve been bagging groceries, you can list that job and describe it “Client Relationship/ Spatial Packaging Quality Control” (at least, that’s something I would have done … you have to be your own person)

  • stacy

    Bob – In the “experience” section, you mentioned that it was kind of a red flag if you have a gap in your dates. After 6 years of professional experience, I was laid off due to the economy. The following year and a half was spent utilizing and expanding my design and construction skillsets to physically gut and renovate a historic house. On my resume, how would you suggest I handle this time period? Your insight would be greatly appreciated!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      with some humor. List it on your resume and make it a talking point. Architects now that a lot of folks went without work so this is really about filling in the gap. In your case, you did some construction work, manage highly intelligent but woefully incapable physical labor (that would be you) …

      See what I’m saying here?

  • LJ_1986

    Hi Bob,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your witty and informative post. I am currently working on my license and am employed at an architectural firm for almost 3 years. I would like to eventually re-locate to a larger firm (current firm size is 4) and broaden my horizons, so to speak. How do you react to resumes you’ve received that are outside of your city/ state? Do you immediately rule that candidate out or do you at least review his/hers resume? Some job posts request that the position be locally filled, if one is willing to re-locate on one’s own dime, would it be criminal to state a friend/family’s address? I appreciate any input you may bestow upon me. Thank you in advance!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I don’t see it as a problem, but considering the amount of local talent available, some firms might think that you are looking for money to relocate or fund your move – an expense they wouldn’t have it they simply hired locally. If you know you want to move to an area but are waiting until you have a job in place before you move, I would add that information to your cover letter.

  • Geoffrey Cavalier

    Hello Bob,

    You said that you personally enjoy having an “Interest” section on the resume. I too enjoy the idea of seeing a more personal side to this person that so far is limited to a sheet of paper that just list labels describing their self, but I looked up some other people’s opinions on this section and a number of people said it was not necessary, and others even said it was a waste of time and no one cares. So is this just an architecture thing? Is it a good idea to include, or should I play it safe and leave it off?

    Thank you very much for your time.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      the world of architects and architecture is different, we march to the beat of our own drum and an individuals personality figures in to the type of architect they are – it’s important information from where I sit (which is at the head of the table)

  • Olivia

    Hi Bob
    You’re post is awesome and really helped me to understand what to include in my resume. I’m currently in year 10 and will be doing work experience for a week. I was planning on creating my resume and a portfolio of architects/architecture and interior designs, making multiple copies and handing in hard copies whilst also emailing architect and interior design firms in the Brisbane/ Sunshine Coast region. Do you think this is appropriate? And would you have any other suggestions that would help to gain work experience from professional architects with the possibility of getting a job there?

    Thanks so much Bob!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      it sounds a bit unnecessary – I rarely hire someone off the strength of a resume, more times than not, the person is recommended to us by someone we know or we have met the individual at some function or we’ve worked with them in some public service (AIA) capacity. I think people underestimate the “who you know” angle far too often.

  • Hayley

    Hello! Thank you so much for this informative post. It’s really helpful. I just had a few questions that need clarifying. 1. Under ‘Personal Experience’ what did you mean by “gaps in your dates”? What if I only worked somewhere part-time let’s say in my first year of university and then my third year of university?
    Also, how would you demonstrate that you have technical proficiency without listing all the basic software that we all learn in grade school to your potential employer?

    Thanks for your help!!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Gaps in your timeline while you are in school don’t really matter – I was speaking more about gaps that happen in your professional post-educational timeline.

      Listing software isn’t a bad thing, just don’t list the ones that everyone in the world knows. Knowing how to use “Word” isn’t a plus but not knowing it is definitely a minus. The software you want to list would be specific to the practice of architecture (drafting + rendering software)