It’s been a little over six months since I started working in an architecture firm for the first time, and as I watch my fellow talented graduates still struggling to find the right job (or any job for that matter), I feel lucky to be where I am. But here’s the thing:
It wasn’t luck.
Work, strategy, and persistence - that’ll land you not only a job, but the job. Because who wants to spend countless sleepless nights and years of their life preparing for a career only to end up in a miserable trap of a position doing mindless work day in and day out? No thank you.
In a few months, thousands of graduating architecture students will be in the same position I was in – searching for somewhere to go and anxious to get there. Career Services has your standard good advice, you know that already. But maybe a few tips from a recent graduate who landed an awesome job right out of school couldn’t hurt, right? So to help you navigate this upcoming new territory, here are 10 tips that'll help you get hired for the RIGHT job. And with less than a few months to go, you should probably get started right now.
Side note - I was not one of those students that took the very smart advice to intern in an office while in school. While it's not a deal breaker, I highly recommend it.
1. Know what you want
And what you don’t want. Spend time thinking about the things that matter to you before you throw yourself out there. The very basics? Pay range you expect (check out Glassdoor for help), benefits you need (do you need insurance? a retirement plan? vacation?), location, work/life flexibility, etc. Just as important, though, is understanding what environment works best for you. Do you like a big and bustling office? Are you a little more of a family style worker? Are you picky about personal space? Do you want to work for honest and caring people? Are you looking for powerhouse inspiration? Do you plan on needing IDP support? Do you want career development support and mentorship?
Make a list of what you need, what you want to avoid, and desired but negotiable points. This is your baseline. When researching firms, responding to ads, and reviewing offers of employment, make sure you keep the list in mind. Always start by understanding your own needs in order to land a spot where you belong.
2. Be honest
With yourself AND your employer. In school you'll come to realize your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you're awesome with rendering - Rhino, Revit, SketchUp? You're the king! Or maybe you're like me and hand drawing is your thing - pencils, pens, watercolor all set your heart on fire. Perhaps you love programming - spatial arrangements just click. Or it could be that detailing makes you tick. Whatever it is, own it and promote it. Your passion will help you stand out. You'll also put yourself in a position assigned to do more of what you love - that's the goal.
DO NOT, however, fluff up your resume. Do not lie. Don't tell people you're a killer draftsman when you've never touched a construction set. Do not list yourself as certified in Autodesk products if you can't back it up. Lying about your abilities compromises your character, is disrespectful to future employers, and cheapens the things you ARE great at. I guarantee you will be tested and it'll become clear quickly if you've been dishonest. If you get hired on false premises, your coworkers or boss will catch on quickly. Don't put them in the awkward position of finding out you're full of it once they've grown to like and support you. "Everyone lies on their resume" is garbage. Just don't do it.
3. Give a good presentation
You've spent YEARS perfecting the art of presenting your ideas and now it’s time to present yourself. There are many facets to a great presentation - the announcement, the speech, the graphics, the timing, the follow-ups. Approach the process of finding the right job the same way. Prepare, package yourself well, check your work, be thorough and cohesive. These include most of the standard fare: resumes, portfolios, etc. But there's more you can do - take the extra effort. The following should be included as part of your job candidate package:
· Resume - Obvious, standard. Make sure it's clean, relevant, and without spelling or grammatical errors. Have a friend review. Compare to online examples. And be sure it's current. Not so obvious - give it a graphic pop, an artistic touch. Show off some design skills. Just don't detract from the content.
· Cover letter - Always have a cover letter. Always. I don't care if your friend got a job without one. I am telling you, as a hiring manager for 10 years, I've spent hours sifting through applicants. If there wasn't a cover letter it went in the trash. This is your opportunity to breathe life into your resume with a voice and to direct your attention to the employer. Do not use a form letter. Make it personal. Speak specifically to whom you are addressing with your own voice. And again, no spelling errors.
· Portfolio - Your entire education was, in a sense, to provide you with a solid portfolio upon graduation. Clean up your work, throw it in a nicely formatted package, and make sure there's a good balance of skills shown. Show process. Large images, small captions. No one will take the time to read about your project in an interview - be prepared to give a narrative verbally if someone shows interest in a particular image. I recommend a hard copy and digital version (iPad works great) of a handful of examples.
· Website - This is easy to do these days. I register my own domains for a personal touch and use Squarespace as my site builder, but there are plenty of free portfolio sites available. Pick one you like, and build a quick website for yourself. Link it to social media if you have professional accounts. This is easy self advertising to pass to hiring managers and is great for networking. It also gives more room to share a variety of projects in more depth should someone show further interest.
· Business Card - Some say it's an aging tradition, but I still like it. Look into creating a simple set somewhere like Moo. If you meet someone by happenstance that's hiring, it's a simple, memorable way to pass off your information. Yes, there are phones and address books and apps and endless tech for exchanging info. But there's something memorable about a card. Just a clean graphic and the basics. Here's what I handed my now-employer after our interview:
· Google yourself - do this now because others will too. Are the results professional? If it's less than desirable, it's easy to tailor. When you build a website, be sure it has your name. Setup a LinkedIn. Create an online presence dedicated to your profession. Put your name on everything. Or at least go through and remove anything you don't want employers to see. You'll notice I use my full name everywhere. This is because my first and last yield too many results that aren't me. Using all three names, though, brings up only my work. This process takes a few months due to site crawling bots that search and organize online content, so begin this early enough and you'll have a great looking search page. Finally, set any personal pages to private if you don't want them shared. Again, when I was hiring, I would check applicants out on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. and plenty of unprofessional, unsavory content came up. Clean up your online presence now.
4. Get personal
You’ll ultimately go further in your career if you believe in your employer and peers. Research potential firms and understand their mission. Only apply to those you’d be proud to work for. You can't really love what you do if you don't love what your firm does. Learn all you can before walking in the door.
During the interview, ask smart, relevant questions. You'll learn more about what you need to know (back to #1 - are they what you want?) AND you'll come across as an engaging applicant. By asking more personal questions, you'll be much more memorable. Don't ask blindly, though. The quality of your questions are just as important. Research first, and be thoughtful. It's a two-way dialogue.
Finally, share something personal about yourself (without getting overly emotional or inappropriate, please). When I interviewed candidates for my replacement at my previous job, I couldn't get the small, almost timid girl that confidently told me she loves shooting guns in her free time out of my mind. It was unexpected and ballsy - we remembered her, and she got the job. She was perfect for it and is now a great friend. We're all people - connect with someone.
5. Follow Up
This is fairly standard and good advice - keep in touch. When you walk out the door, confirm when the decision to hire will be made. Go home and write an e-mail to your interviewer thanking them for their time. Keep your presence fresh. This is also a good opportunity to continue the conversation - did something get mentioned in the meeting you weren’t prepared for? Respond in the message. Did they mention something personal you identified with but couldn’t find the right words? Mention it. Don't beg for the job but let it be known if you identified with the position and firm. This is part of your overall presentation, and even if you aren't selected initially, you may be kept in consideration for another position down the road.
6. Don’t take no for an answer
It's time for a little story about how I ended up where I am now. I had an overwhelming fear of being hired to work as a draftsman, a CAD monkey, as most fresh graduates are, so I interviewed for positions related to architecture indirectly. This particular interview was for an office manager position in a small firm in Mountain View. I fell in love with the office and area and felt at home during the interview. Unfortunately, I got the call afterward that I was overqualified for the position. Admittedly, he was right, but I had a gut feeling about the place. I remembered hearing that business was picking up and one of their designers had just put in her 2 weeks. When I called back to thank the principal for his honesty and time, I suggested he bring me on as a designer instead, knowing it was a better fit and that they could use the help. The next day I was back in with my portfolio, interviewing for a more appropriate position, and I was hired a few days later.
Sometimes a no isn't a shut door, but an opportunity to reroute. But on the other hand, sometimes you just aren’t right for any of the available positions. And that’s ok.
7. Grow from rejection
You’ve made it through architecture school - you should know how to deal with rejection by now. This is a great skill to have when searching for the right job. If you didn’t get it, ask why. Most of the time an employer will be honest about their decision. If it’s something you can work on, do it. Strengthen your toolbox and move forward. You'll be ready for the next one. If you just don't seem to fit the job postings out there, though, maybe it's time you try and….
8. Define your own position
You've taken the time to know your worth and what you want. You have the presentation down to an art. There may be a lot of opportunities out there, but what if none of them feel like the right fit? Not everyone fits into the tidy package job listings claim they want. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, perhaps it's time you try and pitch your own position.
It's been my experience, especially in smaller offices, there is plenty of opportunity for improvement and advancement in any company - it just takes keen observation. When the existing pool of workers is limited, or a system has been set in place for decades, often newer techniques and technologies are virtually unknown to the powers in charge. Without knowing what they're missing, an ad for a job you might be perfect for will never be written. Identify a weakness, a hole, YOUR niche, and show them why they need you. This takes a little extra work researching firms, finding the right contact, and tailoring your presentation to prove a job should exist where it didn't before, but if done correctly and with confidence, you'll land yourself instant value and serious job security. You're creative - be creative in the way you see and create your own opportunities.
9. Don’t accept what you don’t want
Let's go back to tip #1. You've been offered a job. Congrats and well done! But before you accept, consider: is it THE job? Does it sound like you’ll be happy? Did you like the firm? Are the people YOUR kind of people? Are you going to be compensated enough? If it's a close call, negotiate a better solution. If not, say no thank you, it's not the right fit. You don't have to take the first offer that comes around. Don't be too picky, but don't settle for less than your baseline. A miserable employee is bad for the company and bad for your career trajectory. Say yes only if it's what you want.
10. The interview isn’t over once you get hired
The last tip to remember is that once you're offered a position, accept, and start working, don't drop the ball. You're there because someone believes in you - don't let them down. Take the opportunity to use your first few months, first year, indefinitely really, to continue to prove your worth and value, both to your employer and yourself. If you constantly push boundaries and work as though you’re still interviewing for bigger and better, your journey will be full of reward. Life is long and who knows where you'll end up? If you slack off... not so far.
A final personal example: I knew nothing about working in a firm when I was hired. 6 months later I was managing massive projects. Design, client interfacing, coordinating consultants, city reviews, construction docs, the works. I'm here because someone believed in me and took a chance, and I've spent every day making sure their bet paid off.
This is an exciting industry and you're lucky to be entering during an upswing. Work hard, ride the wave, and enjoy life.
Oh, and get your license. Really.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post below or send me an e-mail.