Young Architect Guide: How to Create a Killer Résumé and Portfolio

Here are the tips you won’t find in résumé-writing articles.

Brady Ernst Brady Ernst

Brady Ernst is a licensed architect from Bozeman, Mont., and author of the popular blog Soapbox Architect, blending helpful guidance for budding architects with witty anecdotes about life in the profession.

You have commenced on a mission of great importance. At the top of Mount Interview awaits your destiny: the job interview. However, on this quest, danger and obstacles abound. Three major obstacles lie in your wake.

1. The hiring manager (also known as architect) must read your cover letter (typed in the body of the email) and be intrigued enough to open your résumé and portfolio attachments.

Your quest continues.

2. You have now reached the penultimate challenge: The Résumé. (Foreboding theme music plays in the background.) You already know how to write a résumé. You place your contact information at the top. Then you list your jobs in (reverse) chronological order, finishing with your education and computer skills. Easy.

End of blog post … ?

The problem is everyone reads the same repetitive books and articles instructing you to construct the ideal résumé, thereby reducing you to an autonomous robot. Even if you are a Series 800 autonomous robot from the future, you will still be typecast as another mindless business major — not an impassioned architectural graduate.

Your quest continues.

3. After the intimidating hiring manager scans your résumé for 15 seconds, you now meet your formidable foe — the hiring manager — yet again, armed only with The Portfolio. (Climactic battle scene commences.) Your portfolio is the definitive presentation of your skills, ideas and presentation capabilities; if your portfolio is insufficient, you will lose the final battle and never reach Mount Interview.

Ultimately, your job interview starts with an emailed cover letter — with your résumé and portfolio attached. If your résumé and portfolio are unprofessional or uninspiring, you will come across to portray the same mundane ethos. Thus, here are the tips you won’t find in résumé-writing articles for constructing your architectural résumé and portfolio.

Image courtesy jamesteohart

Your Résumé

Your résumé should be only one page — graphically, yet simply, designed. Use InDesign to lay out your résumé. You can have a separate Word résumé, but you are a creative individual and should be utilizing the proper software to highlight your talents.

Hiring managers skim your résumé in probably 30 seconds. They look at your work history and perhaps your education. Therefore, you shouldn’t make it more than one page in length. If all of your amazing content won’t fit within the confines of one page, then shrink your font and expand your margins.

Only Nicholas Felton can make an 18-page résumé (that also serves as his portfolio) showcasing his amazing graphic design capabilities. Unless you also produce an annual Feltron Report, just keep it simple — showcase your amazing Photoshop skills within your portfolio.

Objective Statement

Many people suggest eliminating your Objective Statement. This is true if all you have to say is, “I want a job so I can afford to pay my rent — and then I won’t have to shamefully move back to my parents’ house.” Rather, it should say something fun, creative and intellectually stimulating about yourself. Capture your work ethic and personality. You could even include a short poem that encapsulates your tenacity or write one yourself.

Work Experience

If you are a recent graduate and don’t have much work history, then attempt to add a few jobs with relatable skills. If your employer knows you just graduated, they probably expect you to have little knowledge anyways — but summer internships greatly help!

Many résumé critics hate superfluous adjectives attempting to augment your plebeian job roles. However, I think it is a skill to use 17 different synonyms for the word ambitious. It’s rather ambitious, if you will.

If you want to be the one jokester in your office, then attempt to impart humor within your job descriptions, but making your résumé amusing doesn’t need to be your ultimate goal. Hiring managers only look for the bold items: dates of employment, employer name and job title. The rest of the information, while important, often becomes secondary.

Do your résumé and portfolio stand out or blend in?; via BUILD


This should be an easy one. List the names of your colleges, degrees earned and dates you graduated. However, if you graduated five years ago, and are still struggling to get your first architectural internship, then — and this may be controversial — FUCKING LIE.

I have thought through every possible scenario for this situation, and I find no problem with lying about your graduation date. Most companies would rather hire a fresh graduate than someone still attempting to find their first job. Even if you have taken supplemental Revit training, honed your construction knowledge and entered several architectural design competitions — you are still viewed as an inferior candidate. The hiring manager will assume that if other firms haven’t hired you, there must be a reason. In addition, as the years progress, it becomes even more difficult to break into the industry. You have become a Recession Leper — nobody wants to touch you.

I don’t encourage intentional fraud that could be traced back to you. Therefore, I would just leave the graduation dates off your résumé. But in the interview, you can say, “I received my bachelor’s in 2009, but then I went back home to help my dad on the farm and just returned to school last year and received my master’s degree.” Your age won’t be an inherent red flag; I graduated with people that were 60 years old. Furthermore, even if you work with a person from your same university, they will not know when you graduated. They could have graduated a year apart from you, but your story of returning home, and then coming back to school to finish, will be convincing.

And if your employer somehow finds out — and deems it grounds for termination — then you can find a new employer, but now with actual work history. Moreover, when you decide to run for president, this will solely be a verbal narrative and will never be a traceable lie back to your fabricated résume.

Via Alpecin Shampoo Reviews

Computer Proficiency

I don’t know why employers even want this category. They just want to know if you are an expert in Revit. Listing all the software programs you are proficient with leaves a wide margin of interpretation. I have seen some adequate résumés with two categories: Computer Expert and Computer Proficient. Being an AutoCAD expert implies that you carry around your acad.pgp file on a jump drive; you could teach classes on the subject. Proficiency implies everything else.

However, leave Word, Excel and any other Microsoft Office product off your résumé. I used to include Word and Excel until I was told, “My third-grade daughter knows how to use Word and Excel.”

But I bet your third-grade daughter doesn’t know how to create a table of contents in Word with interactive hyperlinks throughout the document. I bet your third-grade daughter doesn’t know how to create custom macro-scripts for conditional formatting within Excel. Your third-grade daughter only knows how to use the keyboard; she does not know how to leverage the entire tool-set of these software products.

By the same merit, if you teach your third-grade daughter the LINE command in AutoCAD, is she now a proficient drafter? Regardless, architectural offices rarely require modifications to Word templates. Instead of saying you are proficient in Word, hiring managers would probably be more impressed if you said you typed 60 words per minute.


Don’t include references on your résumé. And NEVER add the tagline: References available by request. I don’t think many architects actually call your references, but put all your references on a separate sheet anyways. Hand them this near the end of your interview, and they will seem very impressed with your meticulousness.


Your Portfolio

After you just read 2,000 words telling you how to craft the ideal résumé, you will be disheartened to learn that hiring managers spend only 20 seconds reviewing your information. Your portfolio is the key to landing any job interview.

Your portfolio should be well-organized and graphically pleasing. There are a multitudinous number of ways to design your portfolio; thus, I will offer a few bonus tips to enhance your presentation.

Printed Portfolio

Your entire portfolio will be numerous pages in length. However, try to create a reduced 5-megabyte portfolio to send via email. Nobody wants to wait two minutes to open your portfolio, and I found I could include anywhere from 10 to 30 pages (dependent upon graphics) within 5 megabytes.

You can then take your full-length portfolio to the interview (this could even be a hard-backed book) to present your projects more in depth. However, I find a shorter portfolio works well as a leave-behind. Many firms will ask if they can “hang on” to your portfolio post-interview. Even if they say they want to “just review it for a week,” they will never return it.

Architecture portfolio box by Ashley Mayes

Packaged Portfolio

Any unique portfolio technique can set you apart from other job-seekers. I knew a guy who crafted a perfect little wooden box and then placed postcard-sized images of his projects within the box. The partners of the firm were so smitten with his box that he got a job.

Everyone loves receiving packages, and if you send your portfolio in the mail, it creates a sense of fanfare. But pick and choose which firms to mail your portfolio to. It might set you apart in this improved economy, but if I crafted and mailed a wooden box to 439 architectural firms, I would still be paying off my printing (and USPS) costs.

Digital Portfolio

I actually can’t believe people get jobs without an online presence. I can’t imagine firms receive hundreds of job applicants if the firm itself doesn’t have a website. This should be the same situation for employers hiring new employees. I always put a link in my cover letter, telling them if they want to view my entire portfolio, then go to link.

Many hiring managers print out your cover letter and thus will never hyperlink to your personal website. This is why a personal domain name could be handy. Even if they don’t have the hyperlink, they can remember to go to if they have time later. However, I began adding a personal webpage if they clicked the hyperlink from the body of my cover letter. I didn’t get much response from this tactic, but any endeavor above and beyond another candidate can get you noticed.

Ideally, make your portfolio cleanly formatted — utilize white space — and market your all-encompassing skills within your portfolio pages.

May your job quest continue …

This article first appeared on Soapbox Architect. Enjoy this article? Check out more of our Young Architect Guides:

The 7 Secrets to Happy Interning

7 Tips for Getting Hired After Graduation

Building Great Architecture Models

Architectural Redlines

5 Lies Told About the Profession You Must Ignore

How to Convince Your Audience With a Powerful Project Narrative

How to Write About Architecture

5 Specifying Tips for First-Time Architects

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