Anecdotes and advice on everything that comes with studying architecture
So, you’re near or at the end of third year and you have decided that maybe this architecture thing is alright, and you’re at least intrigued enough to go to the next step of getting a job as a Part I Architectural Assistant. The idea of having a working routine that allows for evenings and weekends and finally a bit of money in your bank account is exciting. But first, you’re going to need a CV and a Portfolio, and how on earth do we do that?
I did a few things to get my own CV to a standard I was really pleased with. I will explain each step in this article. I will include advice I got from a friend in recruitment who knows generally what employers look for in a good CV. This all worked well for me as I got a job and my favourite practice. I hope it can help you do the same. There are many ways to make a great CV, so take and leave bits of this advice as you wish.
Step 1: Decide on a layout
It’s good to start with layout because then you’ll know what sections you will have and can keep that in mind when writing.
Layout can be plain and simple or a more labour-intensive design. Just make sure it is clear and easy to read. Some people find inventive, unique and successful ways to display their skills that get them noticed. However, don’t force this as you risk over-complicating things, which wastes time and could lead to a CV that seems too much effort for employers to interpret.
It’s important to remember that employers may have vast amounts of CVs to sieve through. So consider that, in all aspects, you are trying to make your CV clear but not generic and memorable but not complex.
Use the same font/s as in your portfolio and covering letter as consistency is important and is something architects will look out for.
I had a look on Pinterest for layout inspiration. I searched ‘designer CV’ and then based my layout on the one I liked most, using the same fonts as in my portfolio. The layout I chose included a vertical timeline, I thought this was easy to read and instantly understandable.
Photo or no photo?
There’s a big debate on whether photos should be included on your CV or not. If you think it adds to your CV and gives it personality, include one. If you think its weird or looks tacky, then leave it out.
Based on advice I have received in CV workshops and from architects, the maximum size of your CV should be two sides of A4.
Although layout is important, its also important not to over-complicate it. A simple, minimalist layout can be the easiest to do and have a clarity that will make you stand out against others.
Step 2: Decide what to include
Here’s what I included in mine…
Address, email and phone number – double/triple check that they are correct!
A short summary of you. Stating, for example, your goals, personality traits and what drives/motivates you.
It can be surprisingly difficult to talk about yourself. Something that really helped me with this is a website called www.16personalities.com. The site asks you 100 multiple choice questions and then matches you to one of 16 personalities. It then gives you an analysis of your personality; strengths, weaknesses etc. I found the descriptions to be incredibly accurate - almost creepy. This can give you insight into yourself that allows you to write a CV that stands out against the typical, ‘I am a passionate and hard-working architecture student,’ introduction.
Of course, you wouldn’t talk about your weaknesses in a CV but a very common interview question is ‘What are your weaknesses?’ so the knowledge will come in handy later. Insight is something that employers look out for because it shows maturity and a willingness to improve.
I used this to include any important achievements that didn’t fit into the other sections, such as, being student rep at uni. I also used it to highlight the work and travel I did in the US, as this was something that made me stand out from other candidates and I didn’t want it to go unnoticed amongst my waitressing and retail jobs in the ‘Work Experience’ section.
Architectural Education and Experience
I chose to simply list the software I can use (Photoshop, SketchUp…). I did not rate my skills as you may have seen on some CV examples as my own opinion of how good I am at a software is subjective. However, if you have done a course to get you to an official level of proficiency in a software then definitely mention it.
When writing grades in this section, tailor it to your strengths again. If you want to show off that you got an A* in Art GCSE, nine As and one C, then list out your individual grades. If you got one A* and ten Cs, for example, you may be more inclined to simply write, ’11 GCSEs from grade A* - C’.
It’s arguable that there’s no need to list jobs that are not directly relevant to the position you are applying for. I wouldn’t expect my mum’s CV to include the Saturday job she had at the local pub, 30 years ago. However, at our age, I feel it’s different because we’re relatively early in our working life and taking on any extra responsibilities can show you are hard-working, flexible and down to earth. For this reason, I included every job I’ve had since my very first job in a grocery shop when I was 16. We’re also unlikely to have much architecture-related work experience at this stage so including other jobs helps build the CV. For some jobs I simply listed the job title and employer and for a couple of the more interesting/recent positions I included a little description of what I gained from the role.
This short section adds a bit of personality to the CV.
E.g. you could state that you have a driver’s license, if you do.
My head of year at uni recommended that I included one referee from university (e.g. a tutor) and one from something outside of uni (e.g. a previous employer). Make sure you check that each referee doesn’t mind being a reference for you before sending the CV to potential employers.
Include their job title, name of organisation and contact info (e.g. email address).
Tailor the sections to yourself – play to your strengths. If you’ve only had one job before then don’t have a whole section on work experience that is going to look empty, have a section like ‘Non-Academic Achievements,’ that can include that job, along with the charity that you raised money for and the competition you entered last year; then the section will look full.
Step 3: Write it out
A CV that is simply a series of lists can seem impersonal and bland. A way to avoid this is to add mini descriptions beneath important headers.
You might know what you were responsible for as an ‘Administrator at PICS’ but an employer doesn’t have a clue and the achievement could go ignored. Instead you could say, ‘Administrator at Primary Integrated Community Services, NHS’. It can also be helpful to add a short description to your most recent/relevant achievements. An example from mine would be,
‘Last summer, I worked for an NHS provider, which involved handling confidential information, typing up doctors’ letters and speaking to patients of respiratory, pain, cardiology and gynaecology clinics. This taught me about how the NHS works, which was interesting to me as someone with an interest in architecture for healthcare and wellbeing.’
This way can be much more informative than simply listing previous job titles and activities. It is unlikely an employer will read every description, but it is helpful for them to be able to read a bit more under a heading they are interested in.
Remember – maximum 2 sides of A4 so be concise.
Step 4: Read it through
Read through your CV as though you are reading a stranger’s CV and evaluate it. You could also ask someone else to read it - a friend, parent or tutor. They can point out sections that are unclear from an outsider's perspective.
What are your impressions of it?
Is it presented clearly and logically?
Is the style consistent throughout? And with your other documents (e.g. portfolio, cover letter)?
Are you bored reading it?
It’s not going to be the most thrilling thing anyone’s ever read but if you’re finding it dull and repetitive, maybe you need to condense it down or work on the language you’ve used.
Is it specific and understandable?
Assume the reader is unfamiliar with your uncle’s architecture practice, where you worked last summer, called ‘I2J’ – if you write,
‘I2J: I helped out on a variety of projects,’
the reader will have no idea that this experience is architecture-related and from the phrases ‘helped out on’ and ‘various projects’ will have no idea what kind of work you did or what projects you experienced. Instead you could put,
‘I2J, Architecture Practice in Devon: I worked at I2J for six weeks last summer, where I mostly worked on a Revit Model for a local community centre.’
This has now given them some information to spark interest and is something they may ask you to elaborate on in an interview.