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. Click here for more of Brady’s architectural insights.
Congratulations! You have just graduated from architecture school. You are now an “intern architect” and still do not have enough knowledge to actually construct a building. However, as a recent architecture graduate, you will never be adequately prepared for a “real-world” job.
Mario Andretti once quipped, “If things seem under control, you are just not going fast enough.” Whenever you start a new job, it should be a challenge. If you walk in on day one and you are totally prepared for the job, you took the wrong job. Therefore, do not be scared to apply for any job.
I graduated in 2008 at the start of the Great Recession. I would watch other classmates land their first jobs, while I would bitterly toil away on my computer perusing the interwebs for yet another firm I would literally die to work for.*
I would read other people’s Facebook posts exclaiming, “Ugh. Monday, back to work for another eight hours of drudgery,” whereas I would literally reincarnate myself — just to die again — to work for an architectural office on any mundane Monday.
The architecture profession in the Northwest was hit especially hard during the recession, so after aimlessly sending portfolios to every architectural office I yearned to work for, I began to research Top U.S. Economies, Best Cities for Young Professionals and Lowest Unemployment Cities.
I would create Excel spreadsheets of every architecture firm in that city and then rate them on a one-to-five scale. After perusing their websites — dissecting firm culture, personal fit and design aesthetics — I would send my cover letter, résumé and portfolio to every three- to five-star-rated firm. I did this for Chicago, Austin, Denver and San Francisco.
Then I began to lower my standards and target specific sectors and generic firms. Healthcare seemed to be the only sector that was not devastatingly impacted by the recession; therefore, I claimed to have a predilection toward healthcare architecture. This landed me a few interviews, but still no jobs.
Peers who graduated a year before me, or even just one semester, would often apply to nine firms, receive interviews at five and job offers from three. Apparently, for me, 438 job applications are not enough to get one job; 439 applications are sometimes necessary.
Image courtesy 5second
If you don’t believe me, here are all the firms I applied to from 2008 to 2010.
Therefore, I probably am not the de facto resource to guarantee an architecture job, but after
months years toiling away, there are several important tidbits I have gleaned that will not only get your foot in the door, but also get your foot in the door the fastest.
1. Obtain a professional email address.
Your email address is the first impression upon hiring managers.
Gmail is professional, and if you are still using the same Hotmail account you had when you entered middle school, then now is the time to upgrade to a professional email account.
Try to get an email account with your name like firstname.lastname@example.org. Unless your name is Zaha Hadid, the email email@example.com will be flippantly dismissed.
2. Apply directly to the hiring manager.
Large firms with black-hole recruiting portals are the biggest burdens for applicants.†
Not only are you required to register, but you also need to spend two hours retyping your résumé — the same résumé you spent weeks constructing to be the ideal portrayal of your abilities. It is graphically creative yet cleanly formatted to highlight your specific skills and attributes. Then you finally reach the HTML page to upload your portfolio, and it can only receive a 3-MB file. You spent days whittling down your portfolio to the best five projects to keep the file size under 4 MB. Now you must delete two projects and reformat your table of contents.
Via Beyond Words
Furthermore, after researching specific projects in specific regions to optimize your cover letter to the specific firm location, you still do not know if an actual person received your submittal. A robot probably scanned your résumé for keywords, and then someone in HR, without any architectural expertise, selected the candidates to hire — not the best candidates, but the ones who followed the rules.
So instead of applying this way, send your résumé and portfolio directly to the architect doing the hiring. This is what you need to do to apply to any firm, regardless of size. You may never receive a response email, but there is a high likelihood — if it landed in their inbox — they viewed your portfolio.
3. Make yourself available.
If you’ve just been skimming this post, and not actually reading all of my amazing content, then this is the single most important tip I can proffer.
Most firms will NOT propose an interview if you live in a separate city. Gone are the days when a firm will fly a candidate cross-country solely for an interview. If you live in Montana, but would have no hesitation moving to San Diego for a job, then make the firm aware of your plans.
Tell them these two things:
1. I plan to move to San Diego in the near future.
2. I will be in the San Diego area from the 8th through the 10th (your dates will vary) and would welcome the opportunity to schedule an interview to further discuss the work I have been doing and to find out what new and exciting projects are happening in your office.
Target multiple firms and commit to spending a couple days in San Diego for several interviews. Firms typically need two or three weeks advanced notice, but many will be happy to meet with you if you’ve traveled the distance.
It is an unfortunate occurrence, but usually the last candidate to walk through the door becomes the firm’s next hire. Therefore, you need to be the person with whom they spoke last. Moreover, if nobody in San Diego responds, then try the same tactic in the next city on your list. You could be the greatest candidate in the world, but most firms will never consider anyone that needs to travel for an interview.
Thus, you have now shown your commitment, alleviated their insecurities and most likely ascended to the top of their candidate list; however, do not be afraid of being bothersome! You might not immediately land your dream job, but you doubtlessly will not toil away on your computer spell-checking 439 job applications.
* Yes, I realize the catch-22 of this situation: If I actually died to work for a firm, I no longer would have the cognitive brain functions to perform the work.
† I’m looking at you, Gensler!