Architectural Interns ~huuh ~ yeah
What are they good for?
Absolutely nothing~ awwwhuh-uhhuhh
[if you don’t know the Edwin Starr version of the song ‘War’ you need to go here after reading this post]
Other than slowing things down, interns aren’t very useful in small firms because we run fast and lean. Everybody wears almost every hat and as a result (and despite them generally being the most interesting people in the office) summer interns are generally more work than they are worth. That isn’t to say they aren’t worth anything, this has more to do with setting expectations at the proper level – mostly for the intern. Since they don’t typically know enough practical matters to come in and contribute, frequently they end up being relegated to menial tasks (model building, preparing renderings, etc.). There is still value in being around the culture of an architectural office, see how they really function rather than the urban myths that students hear while up at school.
The southern hemisphere is heading into summer so I have been receiving a handful of emails lately from people looking for advice or tips on how to go about securing a summer internship in an architectural firm. Well, I’ve had a few summer internships in my day but almost all unilaterally sucked in one way or another. Not knowing anything other than I should try to get a job in an architectural office, I got whatever job I could. When I showed up for work at my first “real” job” this is what happened:
Bob [first day, just walked in the front door] Ahhhhh … so this is what a real architectural office smells like [breathing deeply] … wonder what I am going to be designing?
New Boss #1: You can sit over there in the corner, just move that stuff, you should find a chair around here somewhere, just make sure somebody else isn’t already using it.
Bob: Okay … sure. Where should I put all that stuff that’s on the desk?
New Boss #1: You’re not at the desk, just sitting over there by the desk.
New Boss #2: Hey! You – new guy! It was Bill’s turn to mow the grass but he’s on vacation so that means it’s your turn.
Bob [looking up and down at new fancy work clothes, bought just for this occasion so I would look professional] Uhm, I didn’t really know I would be mowing the grass…
New Boss #2: Don’t be a such a pu**y! [turns and walks away]
Bob: [looking back at New Boss #1] Did he … just …… what?!
New Boss #1: It’s not that bad, the mower is electric so it doesn’t work very well so the grass won’t get on your clothes … just don’t run over the power cord. And it’s going to get hot today so I would get started so you won’t sweat. As much.
That is a totally true story – no hyperbole at all, but despite the context, I bet there are a lot of other similar stories available to share. The gosh honest truth is that when we have summer interns, it’s usually done as a favor to someone (i.e. client) who has a kid in some architecture program … but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any insider tips to help you get an internship. To supplement my thoughts on the matter, I spoke with good friends Andrew van Leeuwen from Build LLC, Mark LePage from Fivecat Studio, and Andrew Hawkins from Hawkins Architecture, to see if they had some unique insight into how an architecture student can rise to the top of a pile of resumes and get that coveted architectural intern position. In no particular order, some bullet points to consider:
- Don’t expect an internship just because you sent in a resume. Everyone has a resume and it takes much more to get the attention of a potential employer. In fact, if all you do is send a resume … they’re always hiring at the Post Office.
- Make sure that you take advantage of your personality and that your resume looks like something an architect designed and not someone who wants to ultimately work for IBM. I am a big fan of the “Interests” section on a resume. I’ve said it before but this is the area where you can put all the baton-twirling, bear-wrestling, cheese-grilling activities that round you out as a human being. If you were to add “model train collector” on a resume that came to my office, one of the partners would be sure to ask you about it. It might not be much, but these days anything short of cat juggling that sets you apart is probably worth adding to your resume.
- Use the full potential of social media in your search for an internship. Today’s interns have networking tools at their disposal that their potential employers couldn’t dream of when they were hitting the pavement with their resumes. If you’re not following the tweets of a firm you want to work for, you are dropping the ball.
- Connect via Facebook and Twitter. Build relationships with architects. Being involved in the ongoing discussions will indicate that you are dedicated and engaged in the profession. Build context, so when you reach out with your “remarkable” resume, you will not be ignored by the decision makers.
- Face time will always trump emails – figure out ways to get in front of potential employers. If the firm is having an event, a partner giving a lecture, maybe someone from the firm is manning a house that is on a local home tour, you should make it a point to show up and say hello. Now instead of just a name, you’re a name AND a face which is a big difference.
- Take 30 minutes and get to know something about the firm and its partners (a.k.a. the people who will probably be the ones interviewing you). “To whom it may concern” earns you a place in the trash. Google is an amazing tool…
- Most employers aren’t enticed by a potential candidate buying them a cup of coffee. Coffee grows on trees in most architecture firms. You need to make contact with potential employers in ways that make their lives easier.
- Make sure that any and everything you send in is free of spelling errors. I don’t know of a single person who regularly looks at resumes that doesn’t shut down as soon as they find a typo. Running spell check isn’t good enough, it’s LePage, not Lepage … and it’s Fivecat, not Five Cat or FiveCat or Fivecats.
- Honor the employers time. I don’t want to see your entire history of academic work. Include 2 or 3 projects that exemplify your best projects in a file of no more than 3MB. File sizes of 8MB or larger don’t even get opened.
- Do not send a resume in Word format. Please, please PLEASE do not do this – it’s not difficult to PDF things these days so sending in a raw format document just makes you seem incompetent … or at the least, lacking in technical skills. You should also follow-up with people who take the time to meet with you if you get that far. Send an email to your interviewer a day or two after the interview so that you can keep yourself on their radar. It might also be a good idea to expand or comment on something from the interview, just to show that you were paying attention and left with something.
- Offering to work for free just to get a resume padding job is a bad idea – it sends the wrong idea of how you value your time. Besides, would you really want to work in a culture that is okay with not paying people for the work they do?
The other day, as I was thinking about writing this post, I received an email from Helena Tse, a grade 12 student from British Columbia. In it, she writes:
I am very interested in architecture and I have been wanting to build a 3D model of a house for the past few years. Finally, I come across a house that I love and that is the house you designed for your Modern House Challenge. Not to mention, you posted the floor plans which makes it doable for me.
and she attached a dozen or so photos of the model she built based on the drawings I included in this post. All I can say is … WOW! I was blown away by the initiative and tenacity that Helena showed by building a model of a project from non-dimensioned drawings. Here is a look at the SketchUp Model and one of Helena’s photos:
Talk about leaving an impression. This was the first foam core model Helena ever made and I was beyond flattered that she saw one of my projects and decided to build it. Things like this leave an impression beyond just the architectural ramifications – this speaks to you as a person. I would much rather have someone of strong character with work ethic and a sense of their value as an individual than some hot-shot future starchitect wannabe. The point of all of this is to leave a mark – a positive impression about who you are as a person. If you can find a way to convey that to the person you are trying to hire you, I think you will find that your success rate will go way up.
Happy Summer Intern job hunting (ask ahead of time about the mowing the lawn)