What can you do to make your CV stand out from the rest? And why should you pursue Part 3 when so many people make a career around architecture without becoming architects? Matthew Turner advises
How do I make my CV stand out?
I am looking for a new job. I have good experience but I feel my CV is getting quite long, owing to the number of projects I have worked on. How can I improve it?
THE COACH It is great that you are planning ahead, and you are right to concentrate on presenting your experience well. Your profile is something to constantly work on throughout your career and can appear in a number of formats, such as portfolio sheets or, increasingly importantly, your LinkedIn profile.
There are a few issues with the CV you sent me, so here are some tips to improve it, which you can apply to all methods of marketing your most valuable asset – you.
The first thing is length. A basic CV should never be more than two or maybe three pages, especially as architects’ CVs usually include visuals on top. Yours is much longer, yet, even so, what you have ended up with is extremely dense and hard to take in. Mixing vertical and horizontal text is inadvisable; your CV is primarily to transmit information, so save your graphical creativity for your example sheets.
More important is structure. Your CV does not need to be an exhaustive list of every day of your working life. People care less about gaps in CVs these days. Rather than a chronological list of practices and projects, consider thematic groupings (like ‘experience in the hospitality sector’, or ‘experience as project lead on site’); it will help the reader decipher your experience.
You should set out what you actually did, rather than just giving your job title, describing the project and the contract value. A simple statement like ‘responsible for all liaison with M&E and structural engineers during detailed design phase of £3 million commercial office scheme’ is much more helpful for a prospective employer than describing the project at length. In all cases, it is important to strike a balance between over-claiming (or being vague about your role), and selling your achievements sufficiently.
You include superfluous information, such as your driving licence, date of birth and school grades. Also, given that they don’t demonstrate a tangible transferable skill, including details of your interests is of debatable relevance.
Be aware, especially if you plan to reply to ads, that many CVs are skim-read very quickly, so your attributes need to stand out. In the world of architecture, names sell, so I would take care that a quick glance reveals the couple of well-known firms you have worked for, even though these are way back in your career. A lot of this can be achieved through attention to the space around the words and formatting of text.
Review your whole CV for passive statements, for example you might rephrase ‘undertook feasibility and outline planning application’ to include more positive actions as appropriate, such as ‘resolved’, ‘led’, ‘achieved’. Tweaking the language in this way will make your experience shine through.
Once you have sorted the bones of your CV you should tailor it to every job you apply for. It isn’t good enough to fire off the same one all the time. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is by starting your CV with a pen portrait: a sentence or two summarising your skills or strengths. So, if you will be applying for a job that specifically requires experience of running a team or knowledge of working with listed buildings, you can use this section to highlight your experience of these without restructuring the whole CV.
Lastly, check, and check again. Get someone else to proof-read it. Poor grammar and spelling mistakes in a CV are completely unacceptable and a sure way to send it straight to the bin.
Should I do my Part 3?
I never got round to doing my Part 3, though I have worked for a number of years in practice, performing many aspects of the role of an architect. Now I mostly work on masterplanning. Will the lack of a Part 3 really limit my career prospects?
THE COACH This quandary comes up for a number of people whose careers after university have gone well. Their experience has come fast in medium and large practices and they find themselves questioning the need to go back and study.
One thing to point out is the content of Part 3 is mostly about aspects you should know about, such as law, and some would say by avoiding it you are undermining the profession, being only partially aware of what you should provide to clients.
Whether it is career-limiting, I would say, depends on what kind of career you wish to pursue. There are many people with successful careers in and around architecture who don’t have Part 3.
However, if in the longer term you want to set up or work in small teams, then it is probably a good idea on balance to bite the bullet and complete your education. You could have the mindset to approach doing your Part 3 more like CPD and a recap of what you have picked up.
AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at email@example.com