May 14, 2013

Portfolios: Some advice from a recent grad (Part II - Momentum)

I would like to finish off this portfolio advice series with a less prescriptive outlook on how to get your collection of work off to interviews. We're hitting summer in North America and that moment of freedom from architecture school can put a lot of students behind in the job hunt. After years of toiling through the night in studio to just being free from school it is too easy to have fun and lose focus after school. The weather is nicer outside and it can be really tempting to slack off and chill and come September realize and you still have not found a job. 

So continuing from last week's portfolio blog post based on an amazing Portfolio Review organized by Architecture for Humanity Toronto, I'd like to give some of my personal experience from choosing to do my portfolio after school. It was not the best decision I had made and If I wasn't that struggling student that was always catching up with the class, I'd probably would've worked on my portfolio throughout university since first year. I've seen myself and many other peers put off the portfolio until after graduation and I have seen many end up leaving the field. If you are truly hungry, then I suggest really push yourself to applying to jobs and getting a portfolio, resume, and cover letter done - the longer you are out of the architecture field, the harder it is to get back in.

Start somewhere. Anywhere. Earlier the better.
You will not get any momentum when you feel overwhelmed that your projects were not the best you had imagined, or you feel like each project needs to be redone. It also doesn’t help feeling the joy of freedom from architecture school and the nice warm sun screaming your name at the beach.
Right away layout all your work and treat it as placeholders. You want to have a base portfolio you can work with and judge upon to keep improving. Keep updating your content as you find things that need more refinement. This is a field of constant revision and iteration – it’s like redlining and greenlining drawings in an office.
Be strategic
I was always hard on myself for not being able to crank out the best work in my class – and as designers we will always be dissatisfied with our earlier work. Ergo, every time I talked about portfolios I was always worried and psyched out at the fact that I felt like I had to redo everything. No – you really have to be critical of how long redoing a project is and the repercussions. It means that you won’t get your portfolio done on time; it may mean that you have to abandon weeks and months of process (which is not really good if you need to show your thought process of a project). Really be careful before you make a move like this. Do you have enough projects to keep a basic portfolio? Do you think you can leave it for the next edition of your portfolio? Is it really a matter of redesign or is it a matter of figuring out a better way of design representation. It’s a matter of time and how fast you need a portfolio and when do you want a job.
Be critical of your work, and revise accordingly. Be resourceful to get help.
As much as my post on the “Post-Grad” phase was recently published in TalentEgg. I look back on it recently, and reflected on my job hunting experience and I mentioned that it might be good to get professors to give you feedback. In the past year I emailed 4 professors, and 3 emailed me back...and eventually only 1 let me visit her in studio. It is good to seek out the advice of mentors, professional associations and groups, and your networks, but I have felt alone in this moment of job hunting at times. You also need to be resourceful on your design portfolio and there are a great amount of books and sites that can be a valuable tool. There are also websites where people post their portfolios and you can gauge and see where you have to go as you make your portfolio for work, or for grad school applications.
Work where you will be productive.
At the end of getting my first iteration/placeholder version done, I decided to get my portfolio critiqued before graduation to improve. It was a bit of a harder pill to swallow and it put me on a journey of just avoiding the portfolio for a bulk of my summer. It took one of my friends to wake me up (in August) and make me realize that every graduate is just as capable to find work. I was never productive at home and I no longer had a studio or architecture school to go back to. Work in the library or coffee shop – work in a spot that will keep you motivated and productive. I could have been ready with my portfolio earlier in the game than I would have. So I warn my readers who are finishing – don’t slack after graduation. Stay hungry and keep trucking away especially if you want to land your first job ASAP.
These are my experiences when I was hunting for work after graduating from Architecture School. To the graduating class of 2013 and of the years to come, I wish you all the best of luck in your endeavors. It’s an uphill battle for a entry-level Junior designer, but you have to really push and work to get your foot in the door, much more when you don't really have connections. Don't disappoint the inner child that wanted to be an architect.

Architecture for Humanity Toronto is an organization dedicated to architectural and design with social consciousness and public interest design. You can find out more about their organization through their website and more about the symposium on social architecture through their facebook fan page


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