Navigating the unpredictable landscape of job hunting is an arduous task that demands unrelenting patience. When you're at your wit's end, it's tempting to throw caution to the wind and send the same exact resume to multiple design firms. But no two firms are identical. Although certain technical skills are required across the industry, there are particular essential qualities — and red flags — that aren't always listed on a firm's job ad. In Archinect's “How to Get a Job at _____”, we asked some architecture firms how candidates can stand out from the crowd when applying to their practice.
As a small New York City firm that works on various types of projects, Studio Link-Arc employees need to have a versatile skill set and open-mindedness to help get the job done. In other words, constantly stepping out of one's comfort zone is expected. Their growing portfolio includes the 2015 Expo Milan China Pavilion, the Shenzhen Bay Gallery, and the CVIC Gallery Guiyang Membership Clubhouse. Senior Associate Kenneth Namkung took a moment with Archinect to share what the firm looks for in potential hires.
1. What positions are most in-demand at your firm?
Most of the applications we receive are for Architectural Designer roles. For this we typically look for candidates with between 3 to 5 years of experience.
2. What are the three most important qualities for any new hire to have at your firm?
The first trait we look for is versatility. We are always looking for people who can push projects and designs forward using all means and methods available — physical modeling, digital modeling, CAD, and presentation software. We avoid hiring people who can only work in one medium (say, AutoCAD or Rhino). Ideally, everyone does everything.
3. What is the best thing about working for your firm?
We’re always thinking about how to make great architecture.
4. What is the most challenging thing about working for your firm?
We’re always thinking about how to make great architecture.
5. What are some “red flags” for you in applications?
If we see that someone whose resume shows short tenures at many offices, that’s a huge concern for obvious reasons. We also get worried when we see a portfolio where each project looks exactly the same or is a result of the same methodology. To us, that means someone is stuck within a certain aesthetic or is only good at a narrow range of activities. We are a small office — we need everyone to be versatile, and because of the range of work that we do, people should have the flexibility to adopt different approaches as the project requires.
6. After reviewing their CV, what are you looking to learn about an applicant from an interview?
During the interview we look to understand three things about an applicant: their design skills, their ability to work independently, and their ability to integrate into the office.
In terms of understanding design skills, we like to see clarity of thought and a strong design process, so we often ask detailed and incisive questions to really understand the projects- it’s almost like a final review. We like to see process images as well — it’s not always about glossy final pictures. If someone has a good design eye, that’s usually immediately visible, but we want to see the process that backs that up.
A candidate’s ability to work independently is not always easy to determine. When we see group work, always try very hard to understand their role in the project, to make sure that he or she played a substantial role and was not merely a background player. We also find that multifaceted candidates who can approach design from multiple angles can work well independently since they’re more adaptable, so we look for evidence of that.
When we say “ability to integrate into the office” we’re specifically talking about their ability to work on a team. For us that’s more of a personality issue. Usually you can tell within three or four minutes after the interview starts.
7. What’s the most common mistake candidates make when applying to work with you?
We find that candidates often put too many projects into their portfolios. If you have five good projects, and three middling ones, you should show five projects. Another thing that we see often is an inability to present work clearly. Many younger candidates put too many images onto each page, which makes the portfolio really difficult to understand. We’re constantly inundated with work samples — clear presentation strategies help cut through the clutter.
8. What kind of technical skills are absolutely essential for applicants?
For us, it’s less about specific technical skills, and it’s more about having a certain familiarity with a range of tools. We find that if you have exposure to a wide range of tools, and are willing to learn what you don’t know, you can grow with the office. We try very hard to be a learning environment.
9. What kind of training do new hires undergo when they’re first starting?
As we mentioned above, we do our best to make sure that each person we hire comes in with the skill set we are looking for. As a result, an extensive training program is typically not required. We have office-specific standards for most of what we do so there is a short introductory session, but that’s usually all we need. In addition, we have a number of people in the office who are experts in digital modeling, fabrication, presentation, detailing and CAD. Since we’re a small, informal environment you can just walk over and ask.
10. Do you have an internship program? If so, briefly describe.
We typically provide a number of summer internship positions every year. We look for candidates with strong portfolios and design skills above all else. Depending on the needs of the office at any given time, the duties for our interns can change rapidly — it’s never a boring day.
11. What are three words that your employees might use to describe your firm?
This is a loaded question! How about: exploratory, young, and energetic.
12. Which areas of your firm are growing the fastest?
Our cultural and institutional practice is growing rapidly. We are designing a campus library and a public high school, and we’ve also been shortlisted for a major cultural project in Asia.
13. How do you see your firm growing in the next five years?
Here in New York, we might grow from our current staff of 15 to maybe 25 people. To us, this is a good size. We want to be big enough to take on more complex projects, but we don’t want to get to a size where anyone feels anonymous.