Practice Makes Passable: Resumes and Work Samples #3

This is the third in a series of posts documenting my evolution as a designer through the lens of resumes and work samples. If you missed the first two, you can find them here and here.


This one got me several interviews and my first real job out of college. As you can see, the resume hasn't changed much, but the work samples are almost completely different. The only thing that I didn't change was the idea of featuring one type of work on each page.

Page One: I Like Books
I've always struggled with professionalism and adult etiquette — don't talk politics and all that. I'm not good at being professional in the traditional sense. I think that work, especially design work, is or should be personal. I loved studio culture at school and I really hoped to find a firm with a similar working atmosphere. The book page was almost meant to be a litmus test for potential employers: if they saw the books and found the page interesting or compelling, then there was a good chance I would find them and their work interesting and compelling, right? And of course, on the flip-side, if they didn't like it or get it, then they probably weren't the kind of people I was looking for. This is one of the few things that I've produced that I'm not ashamed of yet. I don't necessarily think it's the best way to present myself to potential employers, but I do like it a lot. And coincidentally, when I was interviewing for my first job out of college, the interviewer had me walk him through each of the titles. Either he was humoring me, or he was interested/compelled, so I guess it worked.

Page Two: Architecture Models
As in my first work samples, this page is dedicated entirely to my best/favorite models. I thought it very clever at the time to have as little text as possible. The idea was that work samples should stand alone and communicate 80% of their message at a quick glance.

The best thing about this set of work samples is that somewhere between this one and the one before, I must have discovered that there's no need to reinvent the wheel every time you do something. When in doubt, use a simple grid system. Don't struggle and fight with images and type in pursuit of the perfect layout or composition. Just communicate as simply as possible and walk away. The painful irony is that I probably worked a lot harder on the terrible one.

Also, I'm pretty proud of these images. I still use them.

Page Three: Urban Design
On this one, I strayed from the formula. This one lacks the simplicity and clarity of my books and models. The text is hard to read, the images are too small to be descriptive, and its confusing: what's with the grid of faded images in the background? I don't know.

Page Four: Thesis
Again, too complicated. Text is hard to read and the images are too small. I think I was falling into the old trap of working too much on the computer screen and not printing enough. On a computer, 8.5 x 11 can seem infinite, but it's not. A single sheet of paper should only hold so much information, and this is way too much. Also, my thesis wasn't attractive enough or compelling enough to justify its own work sample page.


When I got laid off last year, I spent a lot of time generating a new portfolio and fresh new resumes and work samples. This is where I landed. With these, I chose to format the work samples to be consistent with my resume, an approach that I think is very appropriate. The layouts are simple, the hierarchies are clear, and I guess I think these are pretty good.

I sent these out all over the city, and I've actually received a lot of really good feedback (apocalyptic recession notwithstanding). A detail of note is that instead of communicating personality through a full page of books that I liked, this one uses more subtle cues. My favorite one is that I specify 1983-Present beside my name. It's not a loud joke, but I think it's kind of funny. And it's consistent with the formatting, so why not? I'm sure that not many people notice, and that even of those that notice only a very few give it a second thought, but I recently got the following email from a firm I'd contacted:


We got your resume some time ago and while I don't have any good news for you, I wanted to email you anyway to say that I appreciate you sending it to us. Of the many we're getting these days, yours stands out for several reasons:

1. You're an Auburn guy... War Eagle!
2. Your work is very nice. I like the hand drawn elevations on the last 2 projects.
3. The 1983-Present by your name is hilarious. My partner and I laughed and laughed and wondered what we would do with the resume if it said 1983-2010. We hoped you were trying to be funny about it... if not, I feel a little ridiculous now.

Sorry about the job market these days. I'm afraid it will be like this for a while. There are few firms that seem to still be working - you may want to check with the [...] (I see job ads for them every once in a while). There may be some others - just keep on trying.

Please stay in touch. Who knows what the future will bring..."

So I haven't heard from him since, but he got the joke, and he liked it. So now he's on my list of people in the city that I'll follow from now on. I want to work with people that are ready and willing to laugh. People that won't laugh aren't funny.

Practice Makes Passable: Resumes and Work Samples #2

This is the second in a series of posts documenting my evolution as a designer through the lens of resumes and work samples. If you missed the first one, you can find it here.


So in my last Practice Makes Passable post, remember the disclaimer I attached to my first resumes - "...I didn't spend a lot of time or energy...they didn't represent me to any prospective employers..." Right? Well, that was all said in truth, but also to amplify our appreciation of this sample. In contrast to the first, this one does represent some time and energy; it was created specifically for a prospective employer, and I think it's far worse than the first two. I'm not sure what the fonts are, or why "SKILLS" isn’t the same as everything else. I'm also not sure why it's so so terrible.

As before, I have no record of grades or criticism. The only thing I can offer by way of feedback is that I did not get the job.


This one actually got me a job - my first internship. I remember thinking it was good at the time, although the first time I printed it out the size of the type really caught me off guard. I'd grown used to looking at it on a computer screen, and it didn't look good on a real sheet of paper — print often. In spite of this realization, I proceeded to hand them out at Auburn's internship fair, an annual gathering of 70-100 firms from all over the country. In addition to the cartoon layout and type sizes, this resume suffers from bad/excessive_use_of_underscore and bad use | of | the | pipe. But the work samples...

I had a couple dozen interviews at the internship fair, and two of them went particularly well: a firm in Huntsville (my home town) made me an offer, and a firm in Memphis requested some work samples and maybe a follow-up. I'd never done work samples before and so after the interviews, I scrambled to put something together. The results are above, and man are they lousy. As lousy as they are though, they're hard to critique; all I can think of to say is "No, no, no, no, no, no...Wrong. No. Bad. That's bad. Yeah. No, don't sent that. Don't. No." I just can't figure out what I was thinking. Part of the idea was to have one page each for architecture models, architecture drawings, and urban design work. I don't know what the deal was with the black, gray, and white backgrounds. BAD, BAD, BAD.

I sent the work samples and never heard back from the firm in Memphis, which was okay. I couldn't afford to go to Memphis anyway. I took the job in Huntsville and stayed with my folks for free. But most importantly, I consider this a very valuable humiliation. If I hadn't done these bad work samples then, I probably would have done them later, and that would have been a lot worse. My advice is to start failing as early as possible. Young failures come off as adventurous, ambitious, and endearing; old failures are just sad because, after all, they should know better by now, shouldn't they?

In spite of it's shortcomings, I kept this resume around for a couple of years. There were minor changes, but most of my energy went into trying to figure out how to do work samples and portfolios. Someday soon I'm going to post the evolution of my portfolio designs.

Practice Makes Passable: Resumes and Work Samples #1

For a while now I've been meaning to do a series on the difficult, often painful process of becoming a competent designer. My primary focus as a designer has traditionally been in the realm of architecture and urban design; those are the degrees I earned in school and most of my work since graduation has been in these fields. But I'm also really interested in - ever increasingly interested in, I should say - graphic design, web design, and writing. I've dove (doven? HA!) into these three headlong over the past several months and, while I'm learning a lot, I'm struggling quite a bit more. Everyone has experienced this phenomenon where the more you learn and the better you get, the more you're ashamed of everything you've ever worked on (SEE ALSO). I look forward to the day when I can produce something and be proud of it for more than a couple of weeks, but I'm not very confident that it's going to happen.

Also, I should say that my interest in other design mediums isn't entirely new. During school, I felt the acute need to improve my layout, presentation, and overall graphic sensibilities. Architecture is great, but the best design is nothing if you aren't capable of effectively communicating your ideas. Architecture is often (sometimes unfortunately) a heavily visual medium, and successful design work can depend on one's skill with visual communication.

This will be the first of many posts that will show my personal growth. I've chosen to start with resume design, and discuss how each iteration led to where I am now - hopefully a respectable level of competency. With each iteration, feel free to laugh. But more than anything, feel free to marvel at how far I've come. I'm not saying that I'm great by any means; I'm only saying that practice makes passable and I've worked hard to catch up to some of my peers who, I think, may have had a nature or nurture head start on me.


This resume and the one below were turned in for a professional development class (in a design program at college, if you can believe it), so in all fairness I didn't spend a lot of time or energy working on them. After all, they didn't represent me to any prospective employers; they were just assignments. That being said, they're still wretched.

In case you're wondering, the fonts are Skia and Baskerville. While I find Baskerville somewhat respectable, I have no idea what compelled me to choose Skia, a font that I didn't know existed until I found these old files of mine hanging out in the closet of the basement of my computer.

Never was Microsoft Word so deftly manipulated as when I drafted these tasty morsels of composition. Note the skillful application of italics, bold, and m a n u a l (space bar) k e a r n I n g. Really classic work, if you ask me. I wish I had some record of the response these received at school, but sadly I don't have any grades or criticism.


Just a variation on Resume 1. This one has a "Purpose" section - an expressive outlet that will replace studio in between academic terms? It's so bad. I also like that I called myself an "adept hand draftsman." Pretty much everything about everything that's written on these resumes is terrible. They get better, I promise.

SEE ALSO this excellent series of videos in which Ira Glass discusses his personal struggle towards excellence in storytelling (Clip 3 of 4) and Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule.