Alumni advice: The moment, you own it, you’d better never let it go

The issue I think a lot of Architecture students have is that it is a very subjective course. It’s hard to really define grades or numbers with anyone’s work, because each person has their own way of expression, creativity and design. I say this because the myth I want to completely break apart is that the higher grade you get, the better job you get. Before my final results came out and my Masters in Architecture degree classification came out, I already had a job interview. No, not even one. Two interviews. Some of my friends had interviews too; some already employed! Why? It all came down to a completed portfolio. Your personality via your personal best images.

The two biggest tips I can give to architecture job applications are: get your timing of applying right and get your portfolio content right. For the former, most students who nab interviews sooner apply at least a few days before, or even the day, after final assessments. This is because around the May/June time, vacancies are hot and aplenty. I had written my covering letter for my dream firm about two months in advance so that it was ready, and got my portfolio with my final thesis project put together a few days before my final assessment at the end of May. The next day once I finished everything, I sent everything out. Two weeks later, got invited for an interview. I found they really enjoyed meeting me and that they wanted to invite me a second time to meet the Director. I’m just going to treat this meeting like the first one: with energy, determination but above all, passion.

That’s where the portfolio comes in. If you feel, that your portfolio and work is good enough and you believe so without having to apologise for any of it, employers will believe it too. I spent a good few minutes during the first interview talking about each project with the same praise and narrative, regardless of what marks or grades I got for them. I always tell the same story: where projects are based, what influenced them, what the building consists of and what I enjoyed most about each of them. Whatever the outcome after the second round with the Director, I see all of this as a positive experience; getting my foot through the door of the firm I really want to work for was certainly a pleasant surprise! Getting a Masters degree in itself is incredibly difficult and a lot of hard work, so I’m pretty sure employers are aware of that too.

The first interview is one that I will always cite as a perfectly structured interview in terms of the fair questions they asked. As I see these questions as expected, I’d like to share them for others so that they brace themselves. These are what they asked me and what I would imagine others would get asked too:

  • Tell us about yourself, what you have achieved and what you would like to achieve
  • How do you see your career progressing?
  • Why do you want to work for us? What do you know about us?
  • Name an example of when teamwork was important. What makes a good team?
  • What has been your best highlight this past year?
  • Do you have any questions for us?

Of course, the rest of the hour-long discussion was mainly about my portfolio and they picked particular parts of my CV that they wanted me to elaborate on. So for example, expanding further on a teaching role I did, what I got out of that, how long I did that for etc. I had questions prepared for the end, like whether they would support me to get my full-architect qualification and whether I will get to work on international projects around the world. It showed I was keen and offered the opportunity for good mutual discussion, which is not just about me selling to them, but them also selling to me. When they asked me if I was applying anywhere else, I said yes, but they insisted I contact them if anyone else gave an offer. To me, it was saying they still wanted me to have the chance come back to the second stage. And they did. If I have the opportunity on a plate to be so close to getting the job I want, then I’m glad I’m still going for it!

Finally, there’s the question about salary. How you answer this question gets brownie points. If they ask, always go into a small introduction saying it’s about the quality of experience and what you get out of it. Show that although money is important, satisfaction in the job and your career development is more important. Then you can give a range. But do your research first. I had to look up my figures on the Royal Institute of British Architects website and I gave an estimate. I don’t know what they are going to offer me, but perhaps I’ll find out in the second stage.

So, I’m still in limbo as to whether or not I get this job, but the process is both nerve-wracking and incredibly exciting all at the same time. I can’t wait to see how it turns out and whether it is positive or negative, I’m proud to be sharing my experience and I’m proud to have still got so far. Be confident, keep positive with applications and you too can get to shine to your dream firm…without a grade stamped to your head.

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