20 Feb 2010
Over the next month, I will be talking to three separate groups of young architects about the job market and what they can expect. I will be covering what type of jobs might be right for them, big firms versus small firms, etc. I feel qualified to talk on this subject because I have held a lot of jobs as an architect and I have never gone on an interview without getting a job offer. So I will share with you some tips and techniques that I think can make the difference between receiving an offer and someone offering to “keep your resume on file should anything come up”.
Dress Appropriately and Be on time
You should dress professionally but depending on your age, this could mean different things. You can recover from over-dressing but you can never recover from under-dressing. This may sound like an obvious thing to point out but you would be surprised to see what people have worn to their interview with me (unless you’re that guy). I always preferred to wear a suit and dress shirt with an open collar. Ties are tricky and you might be sending an unintentional message by the tie you choose. If you are meeting with someone for the first time, they will be judging you by your attire, it’s unavoidable, so for now, don’t make your attire part of your personal personality billboard.
Do some research on the firm you are interviewing
Don’t walk into an office thinking that you can wing it because you are amazing. You should know what market sectors they work in and how they are viewed in the marketplace. Be able to reference projects they have done and specific things about those projects that you admired. There is a fine line here – you don’t want it to come across that you studied their website prior to this meeting, but you want it to come across that you want to be here for reason other than just receiving a paycheck. Everyone, including the person you are interviewing with, appreciates hearing that their work is something worth aspiring to and that you can learn something from them.
Be Specific with your answers
There are a handful of questions you should be prepared to answer so think about what you might say when you hear them. People who know me might think this is a funny tip considering how much I blather on. I can usually talk for 10 minutes on just about anything whether you want to hear it or not but during an interview, I keep it brief, specific and on topic.
It isn’t just your answers to questions that are important; it’s also how you respond. Attitude can solve far more perceived ills than ability during an interview. Since I can’t truly evaluate your abilities during our conversation, I am dialing in on how you are presenting yourself. Some typical questions you should expect to hear include:
Why do you want to work here?
Why did you leave your last job?
What do you think is your best skill?
What are your goals for working here?
What are your expectations for this job?
How much money do you expect to make?
I am amazed that most people who have come in for a job interview don’t ask questions to the people who are interviewing them. That would always be a major strike against you in my evaluation. Not asking questions of your potential employer sends a message that you either 1) don’t have options, 2) don’t care as long as you get a job, 3) didn’t think ahead and aren’t prepared, or 4) you are task oriented rather than goal oriented. Take your pick, they are all bad. In every job interview I ever went on, I always asked very specific questions. Some of my typical questions might have included:
What will my role be?
What needs are they trying to fill with me?
What are my opportunities for advancement?
What is the pay structure and benefits?
How long did their employees stay with them?
I asked these questions because I wanted to know the answers but I also knew that it sent the message that I was motivated, goal oriented, willing to take on responsibility beyond my position (and pay), and that I expected them to be an active participant in my development. The employee – employer relationship has to be mutually beneficial if it has any chance of succeeding long-term and everybody needs to have some skin in the game.
Finally, you should gear your resume and portfolio towards the job you want. If you think you are a designer, your portfolio should reflect that. You should also bring the appropriate type of material to the interview. If you have been out of school for a while, don’t bring school work along – believe me when I tell you nobody cares about your ‘Dark Side of the Moon Aviary Research Center’. You should also be prepared to explain what your role was when showing someone a set of construction documents. I am not going to write a specific piece on resumes or cover letters – there is too much information available out there to anyone who cares. I will say that there are three things that drive me crazy when I see them:
- Don’t use a form letter for your cover. Make it specific to the firm you are sending it to. Call ahead and find out who the letter should be addressed to and for God’s sake SPELL CHECK EVERYTHING – TWICE!!
- Don’t list Microsoft Office products as software you know (e.g. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.). Everybody in the civilized world knows these products and either you’re dumb for not knowing that or you think I am.
- Don’t write that your goal is to “gain meaningful employment in the field of architecture”. You might as well say that your goal is to get a job. Isn’t that everybody’s goal if they’re sending out a resume? Instead, consider writing something like your goal is to “advance beyond your current position and earn the respect of your peers”. Can you see how much more information someone can infer about you just by this minor change?
Good luck and I would very much like to hear what you have to say on this matter.