Want a Great Architecture Job? Don't Send a Resume

Let me be clear, I have acquired many of my jobs through the use of an architecture resume. I have even written articles on how to craft an architecture resume to land an interview

However, these resume rules are relatively straightforward to follow. These principles can be easily explained step by step.

The Complete Package: Find Your Dream Architecture Job

"Great jobs, world class jobs, jobs people kill for... those jobs don't get filled by people emailing in resumes. Ever."
--Seth Godin

It is much easier to tell someone how to create a unique thing than it is to create a unique you. Making you unique - despite what your mother told you - is much, much more difficult.

So what do you have if you don't have a resume?

  • How about three letters of recommendation from architects your future employer respects? 
  • A great and well known reputation in the architecture community? 
  • An outstanding project you developed outside of work or school? 
  • A phone call from your previous employer raving about how great you are?

You say: “But I don’t have these things?”

That is precisely my point. 

If you want a great job in architecture you have to be unique. What will set you apart from the sea of applicants? Many of the top architecture firms I speak with receive TENS OF THOUSANDS of resumes every year.

So what makes you remarkable? What makes you stand out? If you think it is the formatting of your resume you might be disappointed.

1. Concentrate on the hard work

Listing your accomplishments, arranging a portfolio, emailing an application - these are all easy. Therefore they are not valuable. If it is easy then everyone is doing it and if everyone is doing it then it is not worth doing. 

Still with me? Ok. 

2. So what should you focus your time on?

If something seems like too much work, that’s exactly what you should focus on.

For example, you need to create separate portfolios for every step in the architecture application process:

In The Two Page Architecture Portfolio I covered the initial application process. In 4 Reasons Why You Need a STAR Portfolio I went over the supplementary interview document.

I know it is a lot of work, but that’s why no one does it and why it gets results.

Not only should you concentrate on things that are difficult, but also things that take time. Building a network of trusted friends and references within the architecture community takes time. You need to start today. 

3. It’s a small world

The architecture world is relatively small. There are currently around 100,000 licensed architects in the United States. This may sound like a lot, but not when compared to other professions. Nursing, for example, has more than three million RN’s. Obviously then, architecture is a tight knit community. This can be to your advantage or disadvantage. If word gets out that you are difficult to work with it could be detrimental to your career. 

The AIA is a great way to get involved with members of the community. Whether you are licensed or not you can join the local chapter. The AIA can help you get your name out there, especially if you are just starting out or moving to a new area. 

4. Who are you?

I see a common theme when speaking with architecture hiring managers and HR directors. Most of their new hires come from word of mouth. 

Let me repeat that: most of the new hires at top architecture offices come from word of mouth. 

This is essential for you to realize.

Many applicants complain that they are sending dozens of resumes with no response. Work in an architecture firm is a very team oriented exercise. Finding someone the team works well with can often be more important than pure talent or experience.

It is human nature to want to interact with members of our own tribe. A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected by a common idea, someone to share interests. Hiring a known associate increases the likelihood this person will fit into the office tribe versus an outsider. 

The easy part is the paperwork. The hard part is the [net]work. For every hour you spend working on projects you need to be spending the same amount of time building your own tribe.

5. References

Never put “references available upon request” on anything, if I want references I will request them. Better yet, just provide the references. In your application include one or two letters from your previous employer and/ or professor.

If he or she doesn't write a lot of letters, coach them up on what to talk about. Ask them if they will comment on a specific project and your role on that project - how you were outstanding. Try to get a range of topics from each of the letters. Perhaps one covers your project management experience and the other, your excellent design skills.

6. Is this good enough?

If you're asking, then no, it’s not. 

I get dozens of requests every week from architects and recent graduates to review their portfolios. While I enjoy doing it and love to see the work, they are often missing the point. They spend so much time and energy stressing over the little things. Is my font too big? What is the maximum number of font sizes? Is there enough white space?

What if I said they needed to redo one of their projects? Crazy? Probably, but remember you are often judged by your weakest work.

Instead of worrying if the page should have ½” or ¼” borders you should be thinking, “Do I need this project in my portfolio?” “How is this helping my application?” “How can I make this project more relevant to the position?”

If a project isn’t your best work then redo it or take it out. Don't just fill pages for the sake of filling pages. 

Remember in high school when you made the margins bigger while triple spacing the sentences on a four page paper? Regardless of the length, if the content isn't good you will still get an F.

7. Be nice

I read a story recently about a woman that was on the way to her job interview, she was crossing the street and was narrowly missed by a car at the intersection. She yelled at the driver and provided a few helpful gestures for future reference. It turned out the driver was in a hurry because he had to interview her in ten minutes. Oops.

Other than being an overall benefit to society, being courteous to others can be the key to landing that great job. Be nice to your coworkers, professors, colleagues, classmates and your uncle’s friend. You never know who will provide you with a crucial contact down the line. 

Think of it like the snowball effect. Good references and connections roll over as you gain more career momentum. Soon you will be an unstoppable pile of positive recommendations careening toward the Swiss village.

8. Get a mentor

Find someone in your office, architecture community or college that can be your mentor. Usually this means awkwardly cornering your supervisor at the end of the day to ask if he or she will mentor you. This often results in a strange look and hesitation because they are not sure how much time they can commit.

I typically recommend having several mentors but they don’t necessarily have to know it. As creepy as that sounds, pick someone you admire for their professionalism or leadership and copy everything they do. In business this is called “best practices”, when you take an existing company that has successfully done what you want to do and simply copy it.

Often there is a pattern to what makes an architect successful. How they treat others? How they handle themselves in meetings? How they deal with problems? What they worry about? What they don't worry about?

Learning from others who have mastered these skills can be a shortcut to your own success.

9. Promote a promotion

The obvious way to get a great job without a resume is to be a linchpin within your own organization. If you are an essential team member, a high octane architect that gets things done you will never look for a job. Jobs will look for you. 

Try to go above and beyond what is defined as “your role” in a typical work day. Is there a major deadline? Could you stay late to help out a colleague? Just a few hours of work could mean a lifetime of positive words about you. 

Don't complain, don't come in late, don’t blame others. Be amazing. Don't ask for permission, just do it. If it doesn’t work, apologize and move on.

Asking to do something begs for a no. Taking the initiative, taking risks, that gets you noticed. As the saying goes, "ask for forgiveness, not for permission."

For example, many young architects have advanced software knowledge that could be utilized throughout a less informed office. By rolling out a new BIM program or script plugin a fresh graduate could quickly become an essential team member.

Don't ask for raises, earn your raises.  Do not get into a calculation of number of hours worked versus salary. Minimum wage workers worry about their hourly rate.

Working long hours? Are you just working slower or really producing? You need to be concerned with communicating WHAT you are accomplishing in that time and HOW you are contributing. Just like in the application process you need to stand out, working in an office is no different. 

10. Goodbye

The average employee in the US stays at a job only around four years (half that if you're a younger worker). Odds are you are going to be having a lot of leaving parties throughout your career.

This should be obvious but any time you move on from a previous employer make sure you leave on good terms. Regardless of the reasons for leaving, walking out the door on a positive note is very important. 

As discussed, the architecture community is quite small. The last thing you want is a poor reputation. Take the high road. There is no upside to making a scene on your last day. Remember to keep that leaving email short and courteous, you will be glad you did.

So the good news is you can finally throw away that resume. The bad news is you have a lot of work to do. So get to it!

Remember, if it is easy, don't waste time on it.

For further reading on applications, interview preparation and questions see The Complete Package below:

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

The Top 5 Architecture Interview Questions

Where To Apply For Architecture Jobs Online

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Have a suggestion for a future blog post? Please let me know in the comments below.

Brandon Hubbard4 Comments