Tuesday, November 24, 2009

So, You Want to Find an Architecture Job: 12+ Tips

If you're looking for an architecture job in today's tough market, chances are good that following some of these tips will help you stand out and get a better than average shot at landing one of the few positions available.

These tips come from experience of being both an potential employee and a small firm potential employer. Let us know what you think in the comments section below, especially if you have any additional tips.

Reality Check:
The majority of architecture firms are small businesses which don't have the ability to staff full time HR departments or hiring directors. This means that chances are good that the person who reviews your incoming cover letter and resume will have little time to do so, and will probably not have a formal system for keeping track of your attempts to get their attention. Think of the following tips as making this person's job as easy as possible.

Sending out resumes:
Sending out unsolicited resumes is time consuming and daunting. If you Staying organized about the task is the only way to avoid spending too much time with this activity.

5+ Tips for Sending out Resumes Electronically:
  1. Show you're not a spammer: Personalize the body of the email with a short indication that shows you reviewed the firm's website or otherwise makes clear that you are not copy-pasting and blasting 500 firms at once. 2-3 sentences will suffice.
  2. What a body!: Don't be afraid to include more information than not in the body of your email. You should include an attachment (see below), but it's better to get all important info in the body of the email (text only); this includes resume information.
  3. Keep it simple: Number of attachments: One. It is better to include all the info that you want to send in one file, rather than many. Sometimes this might not be possible, but remember: It is easier for a potential employer to scroll down through several pages than open multiple files, and getting them to open one file is a victory on your part. Send Adobe Acrobat files (.pdf) only, as this insures formatting will be retained and all of your superior aesthetic effort will not go to waste.
  4. Contents of attachments: Cover letter is great to include, but should be basically redundant to the letter in the body of the email. A one- or two-page formatted resume should follow the cover letter, and one or two pages of work samples with some brief text explaining the projects.
  5. Follow up!: Send out the info as described above, wait two weeks, and follow up with your targeted firm again, even if you don't hear back from them. The impact of this step is enormous, because it places you in a small, organized minority of job seekers who are organized enough to accomplish this task. Your follow up email should contain specific questions that might elicit a response or helpful feedback.
  6. BONUS TIP: huge attachments (+5MB) are generally a bad idea.
Your Portfolio:
Your full portfolio is what you would take on an interview, and is different from the selected works page(s) which can be easily distributed electronically.

3 Tips for your Interview Portfolio:
  1. Breadth of work is more important than bulk of work. In other words, highlight the full range of building types, sizes, geographic locations, and computer programs within your experience, rather than overloading with a bunch of very similar projects or drawings.
  2. Know something interesting to say about every drawing or project in your portfolio. This will allow you to focus the attention of the interviewer on a strength you want them to notice.
  3. Showing working drawings in a portfolio is okay, even better if it is accompanied by a design sketch or drawings from other phases of the design process.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, 70% of all job hires are based on a networking connection. The importance of online and face-to-face networking cannot be overstated, even if you are following all of the tips above.

Check out this cheat sheet (.pdf) from Careerspots.com for 20 Tips on Networking.

The following networking tips, which are not on the Careerspots list, are also useful:
  1. Network with your fellow alumni: alumni events in your area is one of the top recommendations not on the list.
  2. Attend events that are not necessarily business related, but approach them as a way to meet people and potentially expand your professional network. It is important to know professionals outside of architecture.
  3. Be open-minded: Don't judge people too quickly based on the answers to just a few questions. You may find yourself doing this after going to about four meetings and feeling like you're not getting anywhere.
  4. Be helpful: You are more likely to experience success when you start to think of things from the other person's perspective. Don't be afraid to lead with the question, "How do you think I could help you?"

Andrew C. Wilson, AIA, LEED AP is a Principal at [1016] Architecture in Chicago and New York. Contact him for networking opportunities in either of these cities.

[1016] Architecture is ready. Are you?
Let us know: Think about it, comment below, then:
Check out [1016] elsewhere on the web: Facebook, eHow, SlideShare


  1. Dear Mr. Wilson,

    It is wonderful that you are posting advice to the many unemployed architects in the job search. However, your advice appears to me as hypocritical and also catered to the non-intuitive individual.

    I say this because the website of your firm only accepts text for resume submission, therefore nullifying all of the information you have posted about e-mailing resumes. I am curious as to what advice you would give for a resume submission toward a firm such as your own.

    Christina Bies

  2. @Christiana
    Thanks for your comments, and I hope that you found the advice useful.

    While it is true that [1016] Architecture has a formalized resume submission process, many firms have not. The tips above will be useful for unsolicited applications to these firms. We feel your goal should be to make it as easy as possible for someone at your target firm to review your information.

    As for advice regarding applying directly to [1016] Architecture, once you fill out the web form, the pricipals of the firm will immediately see your (text) info and you will be included in future communications from our company. This means you will be amongst the first to know if open positions are available. We feel this is a better alternative for us and applicants.

    Let me know if you have further questions or comments.


Comments welcome.