It is about the time of year architecture and design graduates are finishing up with school and starting the process of getting a great job. Anyone searching for a job or waiting for an interview could probably use any information they can get their hands on, so here is my personal story of how my interview process went and a few pointers based on what I have learned. Enjoy!
WHERE I STAND TODAY
So I moved to San Antonio, TX in August of 2015. This was not because of a job offer, it was just a quick decision I had made for my life since I knew Texas has a lot to offer in the architectural field. I needed quick money, so I got a job at Blackmon Mooring as a water mitigation technician (basically we would demolish and dry out any residential or commercial structures affected by water intrusion). At this point I was still slowly putting my portfolio together when I had free time, and I was very close to hitting the one year anniversary of graduating with my Bachelor’s of Science in Architecture (pathetic, right? Keep reading on for some great advice). So I FINALLY finished my portfolio and applied at a number of firms. The first three firms that I interviewed with were in Houston. The last interview was here in San Antonio, where I ended up getting hired.
Now here is something interesting. My girlfriend’s aunt is an architect that got me the first three interviews in Houston. In all of those interviews I was told that they either were not hiring at the moment or they were just waiting for the right person to come along. The interview that I got on my own in San Antonio was with the firm that was most interested in my work and personal skills, and it is the firm that I am now working at. So at this time, I would like to rule out anyone’s opinion that says that “connections in the field” significantly matter and that it is the easiest or only way to get a job in the architectural field. The amount of time and work and effort and passion that you put into your projects and portfolio is what is important when trying to get a job, and I promise you, from my own experience, THAT is what matters to a successful firm. Just go out there and have confidence that you can bring something amazing to the firm’s table.
There was one positive thing about interviewing at three firms before my last one where I got hired. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Going through the interview process three times in just two days, I was able to get a good feel for the interview process, and this helped me to become comfortable when it came to my last interview. I walked into the office and was seated in a conference room. The architect who had contacted me came in and we shook hands and sat down. Time for the interview, right? Wrong. Three more architects walk in as I introduce myself to each of them. They pulled up my digital portfolio on a T.V. screen, handed me the mouse and keyboard, and said “It’s all yours.”
Now that was intimidating… in a room with four architects that clearly have years and years of experience in the architectural field and I’m about to present my first portfolio page of a collage that I made out of magazine cut outs…But I stopped, took a deep breath, and just thought about my other interviews. I told myself, “I’ve done this three times already. It’s time to prove what I’m worth.” And from there on a wave of confidence came over me and any doubt that they had towards something, I came back and reassured them.
Some questions that I encountered:
– Was all of this work done by you or in a group? (It seems like a simple question, but when I replied that almost all of my portfolio projects were done by myself, that’s when they began to show interest in hiring me. personal work > group work unless you can very strongly back up the work load you were in charge of handling)
– How much are you expecting to get paid if you are hired? (I was asked this in all of my interviews, and I decided to go on a slightly different route than just saying a number. I just said that money was just a bonus, I was mainly looking for a great experience to further my education and firm experience so I can work towards becoming licensed. I just need enough money to survive. They were pretty impressed with this answer and actually offered a great starting pay.)
– What was your favorite part in developing your projects? ( They had mentioned before that if I did get a job at the firm, I would mainly start out doing detail work for their buildings, so I used that to my potential. My reply was that I enjoyed taking an idea or goal and using that inspiration to reflect that in the gestural design phase of the project and how it was exciting to see how that gesture translated to a final product. And then I mentioned at the end that I also enjoyed detailing buildings in section because I am very particular when it comes to how my building design pieces together. The key to answering a question the way that the interviewers want to hear it is by listening to what they expect from you as an employee.)
WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM MY EXPERIENCE
There are many things that can be learned from the interview process that I went through, not only for future interviews for myself but also anyone that is looking for a job in a firm. The most important thing is having confidence in yourself and your work. You didn’t go to school for multiple gruesome years to not learn anything. Reflect back on your first year of design classes and then look at where you are today. You would not have arrived at the knowledge capacity that you have today if it wasn’t for slowly (but surely) fighting through your design classes to better understand the field you are going into. You know more than you think, and in order to have confidence, you have to realize that off the bat. Yes, say what needs to be said to get through an interview, but don’t be afraid to let your work do some of the talking. The next most important thing to learn from my experience is that repetition is the key to comfort. Try and get as many interviews as you can, even if you aren’t really interested in what the firm has to offer. The experience you gain from multiple interviews at architectural firms will give you a sense of the interview process, and you’ll go into the next interview with that much more confidence, knowledge, and comfort.
A FEW TIPS THAT CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE
Here is a list of advice that I have compiled to aid in your job hunting and interview process:
1. Dress for the job you want, not the job you are applying for (If you know that becoming a well-known licensed architect is your dream, put that suit or fancy dress on and strut your stuff! I was better dressed than all of my interviewers, and It made a bold statement, not only for myself, but for what the interviewers saw in me as a future long-term employee)
2. Give a firm handshake with a quick introduction of your name and say how excited you are to be interviewing with the firm on that day.
3. Smile…and keep smiling through the intimidation. It’s just another way of showing your confidence even when your confidence level is low.
4. Remember that your interviewers are human beings just like you who started in the same exact situation you are in at that moment.
5. Do not move to a city before you get a job thinking that you are “hot stuff” and can get a job at whatever firm you want. It’s tough to get that dream job, and if a firm does not think you are ready to handle what they want you to handle, you may just have to build your experience up at another firm first.
6. Don’t get your hopes up on just one firm. When I moved to San Antonio, I was stuck on one specific firm that I was so adamant about getting a job at and even had a few connections within the firm. Unfortunately, I never got a reply back. There is something that any architectural firm can offer to your knowledge and experience, so just jump on whatever opportunity you may come by.
7. Don’t wait until you finish school to put your portfolio together. I made that mistake and boy was I in a bind. I had to take a job that I wasn’t so excited about, and use any of my spare time to work on my portfolio. That’s not a fun life to live and I was fortunate enough for my parents to help me out with financial needs. Work on your portfolio during school so that when you graduate, your knowledge is fresh. It looks better when a firm reviews your résumé and they see that you are jumping right into your passion. That explanation about what took so long to start finding a job can be very awkward. Please learn from my mistake.
8. Bring ALL of your work to the interview. My work that I brought included a flash drive with my digital copy of my portfolio, my hard copy portfolio, multiple copies of my résumé and an introduction that I wrote about myself to hand out, a binder of a thorough site analysis and thesis work for a specific project in my portfolio, construction documents, and BUSINESS CARDS. Always have a business card on you. It’s what a firm remembers you by, so get creative. I personally had wooden, laser engraved business cards with my name, “architecture” (I could have instead put “designer”), my phone number, email address, portfolio website address, and a logo that I designed for myself.
9. Always have a piece of paper, binder, or folder in your hands. This could be some sample work, a résumé, a list of questions you want to ask the firm, etc. Show that you have something to offer the firm and that you aren’t just there to see what they have to offer to you.
10. Include your personal skills in your portfolio that show you off. In my portfolio I included visual arts, photography, bike restoration, and logo tagging. The firm was impressed with my photography skills and said that it was a skill the firm has been lacking in. I’m almost certain that it is one of the reasons I was hired, so show off your skills, it could be the deciding factor for the firm.
11. Practice interview questions. My girlfriend and I were on a three-hour drive to Houston, so we looked up popular interview questions online that architectural firms might ask. She would ask me a question and I would answer it to the best of my ability. It’s a great way to get into the mindset of interviewing and a great way to be that much more prepared.
12. Talk to professors for advice, whether it be about what firms you should apply at or what their experience was like and how you should prepare, they’ve been through the process and they should be your #1 mentors when it comes to interviewing and finding a job.
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice…NETWORKING. Talk to whomever you can find who has any relation to the architectural field. Introducing yourself could be the reason you land a job…
When I was working for Blackmon Mooring, we got called to a job where a house had water damage. As we scoped the house, I noticed some construction documents sitting in a corner by a desk. Come to find out, the owner was a civil engineer. When we finished the job, I stayed behind to talk to the civil engineer. I told him I was a recent architecture graduate and I was working towards getting a job in a firm. He sat down with me and made a list of all of the architectural firms that he thought were great firms to work for in San Antonio, along with contacts that he knew personally. He gave me a business card and said that I should mention his name in any emails to these firms saying that I spoke with him and was very interested in working for the firm. Because of that list of firms and contacts, I now have an exciting job at the oldest practicing firm in San Antonio.
Talk to people who have a career in the architectural field because you never know when you might get an opportunity to prove yourself to a firm.
Best of luck to anyone who is looking for a job in the field and God bless! Go make your dream a reality!