These days, I’m sure there are a lot of us out there beating the pavement and engaging in this time honored process of “selling ourselves” to the highest bidder….or really to any bidder. :-\ I myself have interviewed with a fair few in the last couple of months and I was thinking about “the keys to successful interviewing” in the architecture profession. And more importantly, are there any specific tips/tricks for architects and interns out there facing the grueling search for employment?
In my first search for “interviewing tips”, a ton of information came up most of it from sites like career builder or monster and the like. There are even many college websites that have “interviewing tips” in their career sections, which I think is immensely helpful for future graduates or those just entering the professional workforce after graduation. That first interview can be INSANELY STRESSFUL.
I remember my first interview for a intern position. I was asked “how do you feel about architecture as a business?” And of course I immediately blasted into a long speech that boiled down to “I believe architecture has the power to change how people perceive their world…blah blah blah”. My interviewer (who later became my boss a couple weeks later) just sort of smiled and said “well, I’ll ask you that question again in a couple years and we’ll see.” :-\
With that experience, and the experience I’ve gained at the few firms that I interviewed with and subsequently worked for, I’ve come up with a couple bullet points that hopefully will help you on your next architectural interview. These are in my own personal order. Feel free to shuffle as required.
A lot of the “literature” on interviewing seems to begin with something about “putting your best self forward”. I think this line of thinking is a little misleading, because most of us see that as covering up all the strange quirks and peccadilloes that make us US, and putting on a benign and “safe” face that our interviewer (and potential boss) will like and want to hire. That’s all well and good, and may even work 9 times out of 10, but the real goal here is not just to find a job, but to find a job and then KEEP IT. Now, by “being genuine” I’m not suggesting picking your nose or dropping the f-bomb or oggling the hot receptionist during your interview. That sort of “honesty” is best left at the frat house. What I do mean is that you should be relaxed in who you are. Realize that there was already something about you, your resume and/or your cover letter, that got their attention and they simply want to know more. Be forthcoming and direct with your answers and even ask a few questions of your own. Realize that you have nothing to lose. After all, the worst they can do is say “no”.
Know your worth
This kind of goes along with being genuine, but takes a step further in that you have to know that you bring something to the table, some “worth” that your interviewer should consider apart and above the other applicants he/she has lined up. This can be stated either verbally (and trust me, they’ll ask) or stated in your work (which we’ll get to in a minute) or in some other demonstrated ability. And be confident in that ability, that worth. Don’t dance around it, don’t sugar coat it, just put it out there clearly and simply. Let your interviewer judge whether or not it’s in their best interest.
Have a solid portfolio
A portfolio, apart from almost everything else, is what can really sell “you” to a potential employer. If you’re a recent graduate, obviously, your portfolio will be mostly design work done in studio, but you may have done a internship over a summer, so be sure to have that handy as well (always get permission from previous employers). If you’ve interned for a while, or are licensed, your portfolio should reflect the best and worst of all your work. I know many out there will say “why in God’s name would you want to put out your worst work”. Well, that’s simple. Architecture is about finding success in every project from the most mundane to the most magnanimous. If you can’t demonstrate an architectural success in that crappy tenant improvement project what does it matter that you were such a shining glory on that multi-million dollar jewel project? A diverse and honest portfolio shows a potential employer that you’re serious about your career and your profession. Again, be genuine.
Finally, leave your pride in the car
Know with 100% certainty that you are not the cat’s meow, you are not the creme that rose to the top, you are not the next Pritzker Prize winner and you are certainly not the future starchitect of your own little world. You are an intern/architect with a long road ahead full of learning and full of opportunity to serve your employer and your clients to the best of your ability. It’s not about you, it’s about what skills you can offer and how well those skills will help grow the firm in reputation and business. You are a servant to the firm and to the client. Take pride only in ensuring the the client’s project (cause it ain’t your project, honey) is built on time, on budget and in a quality and lasting manner while maintaining design intent.
So, that’s my “4 points to a successful architecture interview”. If all else fails you can always beg. Just don’t be the guy who cried. Cause then you’ll always be the guy who cried. No, wait that’s for break ups…yeah, go ahead and cry. It could work….right?