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The coach: My CV is too long

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AJ careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect how to effectively present their extensive experience without going on for pages

I am ready to look for a new job and am revisiting my CV, which is pretty out of date. I have a good track record, but the problem is my CV gets longer and longer. How can I cover my experience without it being too long? 

Matthew turner

Matthew turner

The longer your career, the more care you need to take with editing and structure, to help the reader quickly grasp your strengths. Just because your experience is complex, it doesn’t mean it can’t be summarised in a few words.

You have sent your CV through, and I can see there are a few issues with it, so here are some tips. 

Firstly editing. What you have ended up with is extremely dense and hard to take in. Four pages in very small font is way too long. I think two sides is better for someone at your stage, or you could even try a one-page summary CV. 

In all CVs, it is important to balance between over-claiming and selling your achievements sufficiently. In your case, it’s not clear what your actual role was on the projects you have worked on. This is not helped by alternating between the third and first person; try to be consistent. If you are not confident with your writing skills, get some help from a friend or a CV writer. 

Be aware that many CVs are skim-read very quickly

Set out what you actually did, rather than just rattling out your job title, describing the project, and the contract value. Stating your actual role on a project, eg ‘responsible for M&E coordination’, is much more helpful for a prospective employer than sentences describing the design intent. Sure, your ability to analyse the design is important, but it is unlikely to be the main skill you need to sell. If you really think potential employers need to be told lots of detail about projects, consider moving some of this to the example pages that presumably accompany your CV.

You should also consider the structure. Be aware that many CVs are skim-read very quickly. In the world of architecture, names sell, so ensure that a quick glance will reveal the two well-known firms you have worked for, even though these are way back in your career.

Your CV does not need to be an exhaustive list of every day of your working life. Rather than an ever-increasing list of practices and projects, consider thematic groupings (like ‘masterplanning experience ’, or ‘experience as project lead on site’); it helps the reader decipher your track record much faster, and is a great way to push the prominence of a given experience back and forward. 

Once you have sorted the bones of your CV, you should also incorporate a pen portrait into your CV – a sentence or two summarising your skills or strengths. With this you can foreground certain skills or ways of working that are relevant to the particular job you are applying for (such as experience of running a team, or knowledge from working internationally) without altering the body of your CV. 

Once you have this well written, you should also use this material to update your LinkedIn profile.

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 hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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