Estimated reading time: 5 min
Landing your first interview with an architecture firm is an exciting, albeit nerve-racking time. You can go through your portfolio a thousand times, read up on every aspect of the firm and research every piece of design software from the past twenty years and you’ll still feel nervous. It’s natural to be anxious about an interview, but preparation, research and a dose of bravado can make a huge difference to your prospects. Every interview is different, but every one will require you hit some key points. We asked some of the industry’s top professionals from studios across the world for their own advice on how to ace the interview process.
Keep it concise
One of the easiest things to do in any interview is to ramble on, hoping the interviewer will find a few golden nuggets of information. Your first architecture interview is not the place to be loquacious; You’re unlikely to be the only interviewee, and your life story, by its very definition, is never going to fit into an hour-long slot. Before entering the interview, you should have memorised answers to questions like “What are your key skills?” and “Why do you want to work for us?” You can only do this by learning the most important points. Interviewers, particularly those in architecture, need to know you can edit your thoughts to give only the most concise information; down the line, they want to know you would be comfortable talking to clients, contractors and handling other aspects of a project without blurting out trivial knowledge.
Be honest about your weaknesses
There are only a few big no-no’s in an interview situation, and one of those is to try and create ‘weaknesses’ that are actually strengths. If the interviewer asks what your weaknesses are, don’t reply with clichés such as “I care too much” or “I work too hard”. Instead, try to be honest without giving away too much about yourself. If you lack experience in a certain area, it’s far better to acknowledge this and turn it on its head. Prove you’re eager to learn, and give an example of when you recognised your lack of expertise and took steps to remedy it. Remember, the interviewer will likely have heard these ‘weaknesses’ a thousand times before. Some honesty, mixed with a determination to better yourself will encourage them you have a realistic understanding of your own abilities.
Simone Cellitti – Executive Director of RMJM Italia: “During an interview I ask questions about everything but architecture. I am more interested in how they would interact with the team. I don’t expect them to be able to build a skyscraper. My expectations are on their interpersonal skills. After the interview, we ask the architects to work on file. It could be anything: I don’t mind if it is a simple room or a cool skyscraper. What I am interested in is their organization skill and how they manage the project.“
Have a relevant portfolio
Regardless of the firm you are applying to, it’s important that your portfolio proves you understand their style. Don’t focus your portfolio around large-scale high-rises if the firm specialises in small-scale residentials. That doesn’t mean you can’t include your most ambitious designs, but it does mean you should edit your portfolio to suit that particular firm. Likewise, it can be tempting to include designs from projects you were only vaguely involved in, but this will backfire if the interviewer wants to go into any further detail. It’s best to be open about your experience, but communicate your interest in expanding your skill-set. If you can communicate your eagerness to learn, the interviewer is likely to see you as an opportunity rather than a potential burden.
Sotiris Tsoulos, Managing Partner of RMJM Istanbul: “Unlike large companies, young architects often don’t have enough projects to present to a client or rearrange to fit the client’s profile. In this situation, the architect can only sell himself. Researching and understanding the client’s needs before entering is the main asset. If the firm is small and the experience of the interviewee is limited, this inexperience can be a weapon rather than a flaw.”
Relate everything to the firm
When asked about your career goals, your intended contribution to the firm or your experience, ensure your answer relates to the firm’s own output. Not only does this show you understand the company, it proves your vision matches that of theirs. If the interviewer chooses to ask about your portfolio, be honest about your inspirations, but do some pre-interview research to see how you could relate your style to theirs. Sincerity is important, so don’t hide behind a mask of relentless enthusiasm. Gushing about how ‘great the firm is’ will get you nowhere. Discussing how their design method has influenced your own proves you understand them and, more importantly, you understand your own design ethic.
John Clemow – RMJM Principal: “I often ask candidates “What RMJM buildings do you most admire, and why?” A blank look and inability to identify any will be the end of the interview as far as I am concerned. Naming one or two buildings but not being able to give a rational explanation will have the same result. We are looking for architects and designers to create our work with us, maybe over many years to come.“
Come prepared with your own questions
An interview doesn’t have to be a one-way street. Showing up, answering questions and leaving shows you can handle a quiz, but it gives the interviewer too little about yourself. Asking your own questions shows you are passionate about your own career direction, as well as your position within the company. Don’t be afraid to ask questions regarding salary. This might seem presumptuous, but it also conveys your confidence and shows potential employers you value your own time. Remember, an interview isn’t just to see how good a fit you are for the firm, it’s also an opportunity to see if the firm will be a good fit for you.