What do architecture firms really look for in a new hire? What should your resume look like? And what about networking?
There are lots of articles on job hunting for new grads. We went straight to the source. In a recent webinar, students and new grads asked three experienced architects—Gabrielle Bullock, FAIA, IIDA, NOMA, LEED AP, Principal and Director of Global Diversity at Perkins+Will in Los Angeles; Tammy Eagle Bull, FAIA, NCARB, AICAE, President of Encompass Architects in Lincoln, Nebraska; and Guy Geier, FAIA, FIIDA, LEED AP, Managing Partner at FXCollaborative in New York—for their insights on the interviewing and hiring process. Here are a few of their responses.
Q: What do you look for when looking through resumes and cover letters? How can I make my resume and portfolio interesting? Should I consider a graphic-centric resume instead of a traditional textual resume?
Geier prefers text-centric resumes that are well composed, have no typos, and have the firm’s name and individual names spelled correctly. “Portfolios, on the other hand, should be mostly strong graphics—plans, elevations, sections, perspectives, computer, and hand drawn,” he says. “Model photographs are great as well. Text should be minimized, as most people don’t read it anyway. Just include the basic facts that support the concept.”
And what about cover letters? “The purpose of the cover letter is to show why you are interested in that particular firm. The purpose of the resume is to show your qualifications. If both are well done, you should get an interview and that is the opportunity to show your personality and other qualities,” Eagle Bull says. “If I see a cover letter and it’s obviously a boilerplate text with nothing specifically directed at my firm, I’m not very interested in the applicant, regardless of their resume. If the cover letter talks about our firm and why the applicant is interested and how they will fit in, I am very interested in them, again regardless of resume. So do your research and write a good, specific and thoughtful cover letter.”
Q: What types of questions should applicants ask during the interview?
First, it’s good to know what NOT to ask: Basic questions about the firm you should already know. “Job applicants should be researching the firm,” says Eagle Bull. By knowing a lot about the firm, the principals, and the kind of work they do, applicants should be able to come armed with detailed questions about the type of projects they will be expected to work on, the specific tasks they’ll be doing right away, travel expectations, etc. “Ask pointed questions about the firm you’re hoping to work for, because that shows that it’s the right fit rather than you’re just out there looking for any job.”
Indeed, ask questions that help you understand what life and a career are like at the firm, such as these suggested by Bullock: “How is feedback delivered? Can you describe the culture of the firm? Can you explain how the teams work?”
“You’re interviewing the firm the same way they’re interviewing you,” Bullock adds. “Look at their firm structure and the people in leadership positions. Not every firm is right for every candidate, so it’s important to ask yourself if you can see yourself there.”
Q: Is it best to work at a large or small firm right out of college?
You can get good experience at either, says Eagle Bull, noting that many large firms feel like small firms. “I don’t think it matters as much about the size of the firm as it does the culture of the firm.”
Geier agrees: “The experiences you can get as a new graduate can be tremendous at all kinds of firms if you take advantage of what opportunities are before you.”
Eagle Bull also recommends getting a variety of experience the first five to 10 years out of school to see what’s best for you.
Q: How do you answer the question “Tell me about yourself?”
This is a “gotcha” question, Bullock says, but if asked, she recommends talking about what makes you tick, what drives you in the field, and why you want to work there. “Turn it around to a question highlighting your best and most valuable attributes as you see it and what makes you excited.”
Q: Networking is awkward. How does one do it effectively?
Networking is one of the hardest things to do, Eagle Bull acknowledges. She finds she has the most success when she’s able to connect to a person on a professional level and when she doesn’t go into it with a script or preconceived notions. Connect on a person-to-person level and establish that real-life connection; then things will naturally flow. “Just try to be yourself,” she advises. “Be interested in the person, and things will flow.”
Q: How much weight is given to software experience in the hiring process? Do you consider hiring applicants without experience with Revit or your firm’s preferred software?
“While we provide ongoing training for a wide range of software, the more a candidate already knows, the better,” Geier says. “We like staff that can hit the ground running. Revit is extremely important, but we will consider applicants that do not have it, depending on the position they are filling.”
Geier says that along with Revit, other important software programs that applicants to his firm should have experience with are AutoCad, 3Dstudio Max, Rhino, Grasshopper, V-Ray, SketchUp, Photoshop, Bluebeam, and Microsoft Office.
Q: What type of qualities and skills help young candidates stand out the most? What are employers looking for when they are hiring entry-level architects?
A friendly and open personality, a willingness to learn, and being open to new opportunities are some of the attributes that catch Eagle Bull’s attention. “We look for people who are looking to make a difference through design,” she says. “Entry-level architects need to show that they can contribute from the start, even if they have some training to do. Being willing to work on all aspects of a project so you can be billable and useful even if you can’t contribute on REVIT initially. This will show that you can be productive while you are training. Many new graduates feel that certain tasks are beneath them since they have a degree. So showing that you are willing and able to help the team, project, and firm in other ways is a bonus.”
Another way to be better prepared for interviews and first jobs is to take advantage of AIA’s networking events, endless resources, education, and more. Learn more about free AIA membership options for recent graduates here.
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