The New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects is offering a series of  Not Business As Usual lunchtime workshops geared toward unemployed architects. Dana Byrne, manager of talent acquisition and professional development at RMJM, recently attended one of the sessions to offer suggestions on how to make cover letters and resumes shine.

Dana Byrne
Photo © Danielle Austen/Architectural Record

1. Be targeted and personalized.
Now more than ever it is critical that you leverage your social and professional network. In your cover letter, be sure to mention any contacts you have within the organization or the names of professors or consultants who have referred you.

2. Clearly demonstrate your value.
If you are responding to a specific job advertisement, review the description of the role, responsibilities, and qualifications, and carefully craft your cover letter and your resume to highlight the salient points in your experience and skill set that speak to the needs of the employer.

If you are applying blindly to a firm, be sure to do your research about what practice areas the firm specializes in and what projects “put them on the map.” Once again, note where your experience intersects with theirs.

3. Ensure your cover letter and resume are error-free.
Architecture is an aesthetic profession in which attention is paid to the grand gesture, as well as to the smallest of details. Be rigorous in your editing and make sure to double and triple-check for grammatical and spelling mistakes.

4. Stay formal and businesslike in all correspondence. 
Never just send an e-mail with an informal message like, “Here’s my resume…”. You would never believe how many people actually do this. Place the text of your cover letter into the body of the e-mail and attach your resume and work samples.

5. Define your role on projects and their scope and scale.
Be specific in your resume about your project involvements and your role as a team member. Give a brief description of the project, including name/location/scale, and the phases in which you contributed and deliverables you produced or to which you contributed.

6. Do not include personal hobbies.
It is more important to use the precious space on your resume to highlight awards, publications, software skills, and language proficiency. No one really cares that you ski; but they do want to know that you know REVIT and speak and write Chinese.

7. The tag “References Provided Upon Request” is unnecessary.
It’s just another space waster. It goes without saying that you would provide references if a potential employer asked for them.

8. Keep graphics simple and clean.
Be aware of font size and spacing, making sure the text is easily legible. Take cues from your favorite design publications or branding consultancy websites. They are great resources for examples of clear and concise messaging.

9. Be strategic when using images.
When in doubt, less is more. Don’t waste space on your resume with small thumbnail images in the margins. They are generally hard to read and are better placed in a larger format on a separate work sample page(s).

10. Use a black-and-white version of your resume when submitting it digitally.
Many architects are gifted with a strong graphic sensibility and are effective in using color as an eye-catching element in the design of their resumes, but most hiring managers will not spend the money to print resumes in color. Even in the age of e-mail, resumes get printed out and passed around, and a resume in a pale gray-scale can be annoyingly difficult to read.