March 05, 2013

Move Forward: Tips on the (Architecture) Job Hunt

Sorry for the delay on blog post my fellow readers. For the past few weeks I've been pushing and working to look for work in the architecture world.

It’s that time of the year when many students are beginning to flood the mailboxes of architecture offices with resumes and portfolios. I have to say it’s a tough market out there, especially for a profession that is saturated. In North America, architecture schools have been cranking out many graduates into a field that is small. For those who live in urbanized areas, looking for an architecture job in a metropolitan city with more than one architecture school in the region means tougher job competition. How do you manage to get your foot in the door to becoming a Junior or Intern Architect?

As a recent graduate, I am in the process of still trying to figure it out. No application is perfect and the more I apply the more I learn from each experience and improve in the next firm I am interested in applying to. For the past few months I have been strategizing and re-strategizing, tailoring resumes and cover letters, constantly revising my portfolio, learning new software to keep relevant and proficient, seeking help from my university’s career centre, working on my LinkedIn profile, cold calling, networking, looking at postings, submitting applications and the system goes back and forth, under and over.  Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Summer is quickly coming, and (for those graduating) summer is going to quickly end– everyone gets stressed out and anxious in figuring out their summer job or realizing what are they going to do after graduation. While I am still looking for full-time work, here are some tips you should be considering during “The Post-Grad Phase” in order to move forward. You have to build momentum because it requires effort to stand out from the ranks.

  1. Diversify your Means
    • Don’t just apply for work via emailing to respond to online job postings and call it a day of job searching. You have to try and use your means in finding out work. Consider cold calling, networking at professional events and being involved in professional associations, volunteering, talking to your network connections – classmates, family, community groups. Career centres and even employment agencies are also other means
      (employment agencies - I have been warned don't pay up front, and do a background research on the agency - personally I have not used this and I haven't found a lot of architecture employers using this as much. Realize that the employer will be paying the agency for getting you and that might mean a slash from your salary).
    • Realize that all means have led people to employment, but if you want to stand out, consider how employers would prefer their prospects.

      Notice that a lot of job seekers tend to look for work primarily with the methods
      that employers don't really prefer - just because it requires lots of effort.

      Used in this Infographic: People designed by Studio Het Mes from The Noun Project

  2. Job Searching Requires Effort
    • I have to admit, and I have been warned from career workshops at school: Looking for a job is a full-time job in itself. There is quite a lot of work ahead and you have to start chucking away - researching each firm you are interested in - what are their values, what are they working on, who to address your cover letter to. We have resumes, cover letters, and portfolios to revise and edit. Each application needs to be meaningful, specific, yet succinct. 
    • I've been told by some friends to shot-gun it (just crank out applications en masse...but to an extent it's also good to consider quality over quantity)
  3. Traditional Career Hunting vs. Design Professions (We can break the rules)
    • I've attended workshops and met with career counselors. Being in a a design field, there is some flexibility to the rules that typical HR representatives have enforced in other professions and fields. From looking at those rules, looking at what architects say, and from my friends, here's some good general advice to keep in mind:
      • Resume Style
        • Some firms don't mind Graphic Design resumes while others prefer the standard MS Word resume format, particularly large corporate firms.
      • Portfolio / Portfolio samples
        • We have to show some of our work. For design fields, your design projects that you present with a portfolio are critical in landing your job.
      • Method of Approach
        • Some firms are okay with you coming in person - some are not. Corporate firms ask you to create a profile on their site. You have to play it by ear.
      • Architects are Busy - DON'T PISS EM' OFF!
        • Resumes and Cover letters - keep it short and sweet, specific and succinct. General rule 1 page max each - especially if you are looking for entry-level.
        • Keep file size as small as possible if emailing your work, and application. 1-2 projects you have done is a good amount of sample work to show, more or less. Don't block an inbox with a heavy, full-sized portfolio.
        • I was told by a career counselor to go around the receptionist and talk to the architect and ask for an information interview. I'm sure it would work 18/20 times if you were working in another field, but I knew that architects are busy and the last thing I'd want to do is piss them off, get blacklisted and not get considered. Initiate information interviews at networking works
        • If a firm says DO NOT CALL - then don't call. some firms would rather have “To Whom It May Concern” than a persistent grad interrupting their busy schedule. As much as it's a BIG "no-no" in Job Hunting 101, some firms would rather have you write that since they do not have HR and your applications would be looked at by different people in the firm.
So here you have it. One of the toughest challenges is looking for work, especially for a lot of architecture graduates such as myself. However it`s really about putting the effort, standing out of the crowd, and making sure that each application you send is at a quality that will hopefully provide a better yield in scoring interviews and even work. Stay strong my friends!

Bite Back! - The Post Grad Phase
Personal Branding (Part 1)
Personal Branding (Part 2)


  1. Excellent post Ulysses.

    The only thing I would add is to research the name of the person you want to speak with. Don't send "To whom it may concern" letters or emails. They automatically get trashed at my studio.

    ...and NEVER misspell the name of the person or the name of the firm.

    There is enough information on the Internet to never get this wrong.

    Be remarkable!

    Well done. Best of luck with your job search.

    1. Thanks Mark!

      Definitely good to make sure that you get the names of the firm, and whoever you are addressing it to in the salutation correctly.

      My challenge is those firms that say email us, but we do not accept phone calls and even looking up on linkedin yields no results(this makes its harder to make a tailored cover letter).

      Other than that, it's always good to ensure each cover letter and resume and tailored to that firm!


  2. During the job search you need to have an established main goal. This goal may be a little flexible if you have multiple skills that allow for a wider range of possibilities, but having a specific goal in mind will greatly assist you in what key areas really need your focus during the job search. Knowing and understanding what type of job would fit the best with your skills, personality and what type of work preferences you desire, will help to establish the best path to initially pursue.

    1. Hi Immigration to Australia,

      Great point on the ensuring an established main goal. It's good for individuals to really analyze their strengths, weaknesses via a SWOT analysis to really see where they want to go. There have been firms that I have researched and really decided to not pursue applying to them because I felt that my values, strengths, work does not align to them. You have to find the right architecture firm with an environment that works with yours.

  3. Appreciating the commitment you put into your website and detailed information you provide.

  4. I am a researcher trying to understand what students value most in a prospective employer. How do you decide which Firms you will apply to? I'd like to understand both factors related to architecture, but also culture, work-life balance, etc. What is most important??

    1. Hi Lucy,

      I believe this depends on a variety of issues and would vary from person to person. I think everyone would like to aim for the famous firms that they heard of in school. I think for those people who are more informed of what to look for or realize that they value better work-life balance would look for those firms. Some students may already have a specialty or interest and might want to cater to working at a firm that focuses on it. On the other hand, there's those students that need a job after college and the need for money can impair the decision to stick with the firm that hires you first or the firm you want to be working for.

      I think the most critical issue is the amount of experience and learning they can get from the firm. I think for all aspiring architects, the issue lies whether you can learn quickly to be able to become the architect one wants to be. There is a lot of skills an architect needs to be good at so I think going into a firm that does not piegeon-hole it's intern would be a good firm to go to.

  5. Great post especially for the students who are hunting architecture jobs. Great guidance for them.