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What does an architecture firm look for in a cover letter for an entry level designer?

Jul 12 '12 43 Last Comment
Maureen RahmanMaureen Rahman
Jul 12, 12 7:07 pm

I'm not sure what to write besides what I've read on other websites such as background information, salary requirements, employment history, and reasons for seeking a job at that particular firm.

But how should a recent grad approach this?  How personable should you be in the letter?  Is there an example specifically for this situation somewhere I can refer to?  

 

Thanks!

 

citizen
Jul 12, 12 7:46 pm

One way to approach the job letter is as a chance to tell a kind of brief story tying the various separate data chunks you  provide them with (listed above in your post, to which I'd add the portfolio) to the job description in a compelling way.

Gregory WalkerGregory Walker
Jul 13, 12 9:03 am

noodlespace - as one of the people who would read such a letter (and having read quite a few over the years), i'll offer a few thoughts:

 

first - and most importantly - i want to know you've taken a little time to really get some understanding of our firm. yes, this may sound narcissistic on the face but what i'm interested in knowing is why you really want to come work here. (and i also want to know you're not just shotgunning out resumes. never, ever, ever, ever do that.)

so, to get to this end, i'd suggest the following: personalize the letter. meaning, write to a specific person. get the spelling of their name correct (you'd be amazed....). tell me something about us that you find interesting - a project type, maybe a project of ours that you've visited - whatever. 

 

second, tell me about what interests you. specifically, what kind of interests do you have that you think would be a good match or help extend the reach of the studio. now, the natural reaction is: "but i don't know enough about your studio to say yet!". i'm going to say you do. we almost all have websites. we almost all talk about our work. we've had articles published. we write blogs for silly sites like archinect. my point is: there's enough out here for you to figure out how to connect in. that's part of the game - you still have to do homework. 

the most important thing it to connect your interests to our studio in some way. if you can't do that in the letter, i have to ask myself if you're really the right fit for us. could be - i'll still look at everything else. but if you can make that connection, it truly helps color (positively) the rest of your material.

 

also, don't worry too much about whether or not you have a deep work history (for someone starting out). i'm personally not as much interested in that until there's a need to hire someone to run projects. but if you have it, tell me what you did. even the mundane stuff. what i'm trying to see is less whether you were a rock star designer than whether you've seen some of the 'real' profession.  (and i personally wouldn't worry about stating salary requirements upfront - that's just my bent. we pay everyone and as well as we can, so you wouldn't be an exception)

 

finally, there's not going to be too many examples because, quite frankly, each letter should be a little unique. it's from you, about someone else. it takes practice - a lot of practice - to learn how to do well. 

 

good luck.

Rusty!
Jul 13, 12 9:46 am

Gregory, when you do get well researched applications, but just don't have any staffing vacancies, do you make the effort of sending them a quick thank you note?

I ask, since there is nothing more defeating than sending out dozens of applications that you've taken your time to assemble, and never hearing a peep back.

Noodles, this is your challenge right here, put together a single document that can quickly be modified as to fool people like Gregory into thinking they're special. :)

Jul 13, 12 9:54 am

Prolixity, yo!

RyuArch
Jul 13, 12 10:34 am

I always have hated the firms that force you to address it to a anonymous person due to their  "no phone calls", generic email for hiring to avoid filing their personal inbox, and no listing of who is in charge of hiring. 

Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Jul 13, 12 11:30 pm

"will work for free"

And correct grammar.

What does an architecture firm look for in a cover letter from an entry level designer?

RyuArch
Jul 14, 12 12:20 am

"for" could work as well, especially for those blessed with common sense.

mdler
Jul 14, 12 1:12 am

I WOULD NOT state in a cover letter your salary requirements. Wait until the firm wants to hire you before you talk $$$. With very little experience, stating your salary expectations upfront seems extremely cocky and presumtuous

RyuArch
Jul 14, 12 1:49 am

Although some ask for you to state it outright in the cover letter, which is daunting for a new graduate.

Gregory WalkerGregory Walker
Jul 14, 12 10:21 am

rusty - always. the only one's i don't reply to are super generic "to whom it may concern" spam type emails. if someone's taken the time to put something together, i'll reply (without judgment as to the quality). 

 

rand - if someone does ask, just take the high road an quote the average aia salary. how do you find it? well you can ask. or you could call your local chapter (or better yet, drive over) and ask to look at the book. they'll help you.

RyuArch
Jul 14, 12 10:48 am

I had always been using Architect Magazines survey numbers for intern 1, 2, and 3  based on region or salary websites for specific firms, but I guess I should have also been looking at the AIA Compensation Report. It is still hard to determine a salary for an entry level niche position though (e.g. Entry Level Revit Content Builder).

RyuArch
Jul 14, 12 10:56 am

and I'd still say (this is for positions I had applied to in a different region, specifically Seattle from the Southeast) no matter how well written my cover letter was, addressed to the proper person, and stated that I would cover all relocation costs, the majority of the cover letters for even posted positions never received a reply of any sort and also asked for no phone calls.I have always been curious if its based on regional issues (since I did not have any "who you know" contacts), possible alumni allegiance for entry level positions, or they were just testing the waters for their ability to get an intern in the future.

Gregory WalkerGregory Walker
Jul 14, 12 2:06 pm

rand - it's really hard to say. from what i have read on archinect over time, my own policy seems like an outlier of sorts. what i would say, though, is to understand that any posted position is going to get 50-100 responses, no matter the firm. so, responding to each and every one truly is very time consuming. i don't think that should excuse anyone (we're all our own individuals), but it's just what is right now. it's also probably why some firms don't advertise. 

 

i ran across this on twitter - it's from a jobs posting by warby parker (the eyeglass guys). i think this is the simplest it can get. tell me about the blue area:

mdler
Jul 14, 12 2:27 pm

i would still follow up with a call. I found that putting together a resume, cover letter, and portfolio together in a very nice package and fedexing it over the weekend so it arrived 1st thing Monday morning when everyone is back in the office is the best way of getting someones attention. Wait till about Wednesday and call the office to see if it was received.

Although firms say dont call, calling to follow up shows that you want the job and will do what it takes to get things done

citizen
Jul 15, 12 12:18 am

I love the diagram Gregory posted... and not just because it precisely illustrates my post above.

will gallowaywill galloway
Jul 15, 12 3:31 am

calling when i say don't call is really annoying.  seriously.

everything gregory says is really great and reflects the way we work as well.

the only thing i would add is to be careful your work matches the work of the office you are applying to.  sometimes we get amazing  letters then look into the portfolio only to realize all the great text was about some other office, not ours, cuz there was no way possible the person applying could be happy working with us.  A bit of a pity when that happens.

there is no there
Jul 15, 12 9:45 am

I always respond to job seekers, whether I've placed an ad or not. I thank the candidate for their interest in the company and that's about it. Afterall, I am interested in presenting my business in as positive a way as I can at all times. AND IT TAKES LESS TIME THAN WRITING A POST ON ARCHINECT!

Maureen Rahman
Jul 15, 12 3:55 pm

This all seems so daunting.  Of the 50 or so places I applied to not one has called for an interview.  8 have politely declined.  The areas were in Chicago and New York.  

 

For about 75% I'd say I made mistakes that first time appliers do without doing research on applying for  job.  But the rest I really did put in a good effort after I learned what to improve. 

 

I just dont understand how some of my fellow peers have gotten jobs only weeks after graduation.  Im at the point where I want to say it was just plain luck.  Has anyone come across this?

RyuArch
Jul 15, 12 4:57 pm

A large part of it, from a new graduate's pessimistic point of view, is a lot of new graduates that get hired quickly like that either:
A. have a social connection to the firm already
B. know a program that they need desperately
C. are getting underpaid

A lot of it is who you know, because that may not get you a job, but it will most likely get you an interview and expand you network. Don't be afraid to move, even to a smaller city. It's easier to get a job later in NY or Chicago if you have work experience in a smaller city as opposed to no experience. Know where your alumni work too and if you have any friends that have already graduated working there.

Orhan AyyüceOrhan Ayyüce
Jul 15, 12 7:01 pm

I used to be in charge of finding, interviewing and hiring people long time ago when I was associated with an architect's office. Those days things were done in snail mails and follow up telephone calls. I don't think criteria of hiring people changed all that much.

Like Gregory said above, it is really important that you customize your typical cover letter template for the firm you are applying. By that, I don't mean you say things like "I am a fan of your design and always wanted to work for you," "God, that detail you did in that project gave me many wet dreams," "I'll fit right in," "five of my buddies already work there," or, "I heard you pay good salaries."

Write your letter after researching the firm, their projects on board, their ambitions and steady habits and listing your skills that indirectly ensures that you'd be a good investment in regards to bringing something to the table. Write like you would be an asset to the type of projects that are the firm's forte and your interest in such practice. If you want to add a direct connection to the firm you might mention that "I saw the exhibition of your work in San Francisco," or, describe your experience in one of their well known buildings possibly the one they consider their major work, "I thought your project was an inspiring example of its typology and reflected the meticulous process of your practice which I hope to be part of ....,"  or, refer to a personal connection like "after seeing my portfolio, my professor (or) your colleague Mrs. X suggested I would be a good candidate for the position you want to hire a recent graduate of architecture....." (make sure those persons are in good standing with the firm.)

These might be little personal but that is the way you will be able to separate yourself from the other people who are applying. Your cover letter should be a little informative how you look at things, your goals and your current disposition.

Never, ever sound like somebody you think they are looking for but you are not!

archinet
Jul 15, 12 7:15 pm

noodlespace

   dude I really hear you about peers getting hired right away...while you are struggling. I noticed some of my laziest classmates managed to get work really easily and I saw their works on issue. However instead of being down by it why not ask them who to send your application to? And do one of these fancy essay's that Orhan in talking about. 

Also unless otherwise stated on the website follow up with a call 

RyuArch
Jul 15, 12 7:25 pm

@Orhan Ayyüce
" I don't think criteria of hiring people changed all that much"

That reminds me of this firm that always makes me chuckle when I read this:http://www.boora.com/index.php/contact
"As a firm committed to sustainability in every aspect of our practice, we accept only electronic resumes and portfolios. Please direct general inquiries to: ...."

Using sustainability as an excuse not to get desk clutter, tsk tsk...

I have always done what you mention, the research and the personalizing (even though it does get time consuming). It just gets frustrating when when you put that effort into applying to their firm and they don't put any effort into responding at all and if you call they give you responses along the lines of "we will contact you if we find you to be a fit". 

Not as many firms are as congenial and respectful as you ladies and gentleman, especially to interns. They seem to have withdrawn from any stewardship of the profession and abandoned all responsibilities in mentoring until they can get someone who has already been developed by another firm. And the usual defense of "they may be too busy to respond" is really just a translation of "they are too lazy or forgetful to respond". They are just like citizens who take no role in city council meetings or provide input to their cities, but will gladly complain ipso facto

rationalist
Jul 16, 12 12:02 am

Rand (and others, obviously), don't take lack of response personally. Whenever I've had to evaluate resumes, I've had upwards of 30 per day, and it was all I could do to make enough time to look at each of them, never mind respond to every single one. 

will gallowaywill galloway
Jul 16, 12 1:50 am

ditto what rationalist says.  

RyuArch
Jul 16, 12 2:17 am

so in a WORST case scenario you're getting 150 cover letters a week for a single position? and by the end of the month 600 different people for the same position? (I know this would most likely never happen)

I would think it takes a lot less time to say a "sorry you are not fit for the position, we will keep your information on record for future possibilities" *send* for 15 applicants than for one person to research your firm and craft a cover letter for your firm addressed specifically to you and that they have proof read multiple times. You should be able to evaluate resumes in about 15 seconds each to at least create a no, yes, maybe organization I would think when the position you are looking to fill has specific qualifications, be it work experience, skills,education, location, salary, etc. I may very well, and probably am, wrong

Since I have no experience at all in this, how long on average do you those who sort through applicants spend per applicant?

magentasky
Jul 16, 12 3:17 am

What if you spend meticulous hours crafting a personalized application package, get called in for an interview only to hear from your interviewer "I thought you had more experience", when CLEARLY your resume states your recent graduation date?

I don't think this employer even glanced at my resume before calling me in, which was a royal waste of my time and hers.  I find it funny that applicants are subject to the utmost scrutiny, but employers don't have the common sense to fully review the application packages that we spend SO MUCH time on.  

Noodlespace, I am in the same boat as you.  After dozens of applications, I am now ignoring the "no phone calls please" since I am the kind of person who follows up.  I'd rather be proactive (and possibly annoying) than passive.    

garethcooper9
Jul 16, 12 7:39 am

It's really hard to get that first job. Life is unfair. In order to get noticed you should do some research on the company and tailor your cover letter. Of course most of the times you won't even get a regret email because they don't care. 

Quentin
Jul 16, 12 10:46 am

Noodlespace, I feel your pain. Did you see my thread "graduated in 2009, no job"?. So if you graduated this yr or even last, you're in better shape than me. I say maybe 2 out of 10 jobs I apply for I get a response saying no thanks.


Also, some job applications it's impossible to figure out who you are sending the letter to or even the firm. I've applied to many jobs on craigslist or other job sites where they do not mention the firm or you are sending it to a recruiter who works for recruiting agency. So no way to personalize it for the arch firm.
 

Gregory WalkerGregory Walker
Jul 16, 12 11:01 am

magenta - be careful though. for some employers, it could be a 'proactive', go-getter type response. for some, it could be the kiss of death. 

quentin - imo, chasing craigslist postings is not the way to go. neither is a recruiter. spend your time networking at aia functions (or whatever opportunities are in your community). be bold enough to introduce yourself to some of the principals there. face to face time can't be replaced. don't pressure them for a job on the spot, but get them talking about their firms (who can resist that?). ask for a card, write a nice follow up email. oh, and by the way, you actually have their direct email now...

 

so, i was helping my wife clean out some stuff this weekend and, coincidentally, ran across the following letter, written by me (in the same position as many of you) some 15 years ago (i've redacted some info in it). this was a follow up letter and i didn't ultimately get the job. but something must have stuck because, umpteen years later, adam vaguely remembered who i was as we reached out to potentially team with them on a project. who knows if we'll find the right one to work together on. the point is: this is a small community. you'll never know what your actions now will lead to in the future.

Quentin
Jul 16, 12 11:18 am

^I've been to only a few AIA events (I admit I need to do more) but they were no help. I've met plenty of architects, most of them say things like "I wish I could help". I mean it's alway sgood to rub shoulders with people in the industry, but it's probably more a thing of luck to run into someone who can ACTUALLY help.

Gregory WalkerGregory Walker
Jul 16, 12 11:35 am

it's hard to hear, but it just takes time. right now, almost every firm i know is in 'holding their breath' phase. only a handful are truly growing/expanding. one of the bigger firms here just laid of 36-42 people a couple weeks ago. 

 

all that to say, though, is that you just need to connect with one person at the right time. luck is most definitely involved, but persistence helps improve luck's chances of working.

Maureen Rahman
Jul 16, 12 12:07 pm

Thank you for that cover letter!  It's a little more clear now how to approach the writing.  I'm going to keep on going.  It's all I can do for now :)

rationalist
Jul 16, 12 1:50 pm

magenta, I've totally had that happen before. I've been called in for an interview that I thought was for a summer internship, and the interviewer thought was for a full-time position. My resume clearly stated that my graduation date was two years out, and when I got there they clearly stated that they only hired people with at least two years of post-grad experience. This is one of the reasons why I believe it's more valuable to spend my time looking at what people send me, rather than pandering to them by replying to every one in order to make them feel validated. 

Rand, as far as how much time, it depends on the person/package. Some I can see within one image that it won't work out, other times I'll spend 5 to 10 minutes combing a web portfolio if someone looks really promising. As I said above, I think this is a more fair use of time, to ascertain that I am bringing in the exact right candidates, instead of equitably distributing my time to replying to each and every one. The unfortunate reality is that if a firm is so busy that they need to bring in people, it leaves staff with very little time to actually give the hiring process it's due, because they're too busy.

magentasky
Jul 16, 12 4:41 pm

"magenta - be careful though. for some employers, it could be a 'proactive', go-getter type response. for some, it could be the kiss of death."

Yes, it's a double-edged sword.  But I think I'd rather take the risk than sit there and wonder.  There have been instances that I called and they politely informed me that they are "not taking any follow-up calls" - in that case I respect their request.  It just seems too easy for employers to add "no phone calls" to their job postings, so I give it a try at least once and if I can't get a hold of anyone, then I let it go.  

Andrew ChaveasAndrew Chaveas
Jul 18, 12 9:25 pm

So as a recent grad in a similar position, I'm curious on everyone's thoughts regarding the following:

For the past year since graduating, I've had the opportunity (very great one, I think) to work as an Assistant Project Manager for a mid-sized contract glazing company doing some pretty decent work with some very high profile firms. After a year of learning and digesting the reality of getting projects done, I'm yearning to get back into the industry and to start making the things that make things.

This is an experience I hope anyone would want to play up. In this case, if I were to apply to firm X, would I be couth in mentioning that I took part in building a project with firm X, and after seeing their process, explaining how I believe I can contribute and/or improve the manner in which they communicate through project documents and progress through CA?

Is this cover letter worthy? Personal or offensive? Is it interview fodder?

Gregory WalkerGregory Walker
Jul 19, 12 9:22 am

andrew - i'd absolutely play it up. look, if a firm wants to hire a cad monkey, that's all they're going to look for. you probably don't want that slot anyways. so, i don't think you have anything to lose by pointing out the diversity of experiences you do have. it may take some research to find the right firms that would connect with, but they are out there. 

 

finally, anything you can do that truly helps communicate design intent in the document phase would be worth mentioning. i think your overall approach sounds good. just connect it to the firms you think would equally appreciate it. 

cmgilman
Jul 19, 12 9:46 am

In regards to calling when the firm specifically says, "no calls please" what would you say about this scenario?

I recently emailed an application over to a firm, and a day later received a notice from Gmail explaining that my email has been "delayed." I would like to call the firm to inquiry why this may be, and ask if there is an alternate email address. Though, I obviously don't want to make the call if it's going to be the 'kiss of death.'

Any advice?

Gregory WalkerGregory Walker
Jul 19, 12 10:00 am

cmg - totally different scenario. i can't imagine any reasonable firm making an issue of that.

cmgilman
Jul 19, 12 10:10 am

Thank you Gregory, I will call today.

p.s. *inquire, not inquiry

whistler
Jul 19, 12 7:08 pm

Show me that you've read the ad for the job .... unlike the 100 or so applications I have just received from people out of country who haven't read the criteria and seem to only be looking for someone to sponsor their immigration.  Brutal!

wabi.sabi
Jul 20, 12 2:57 pm

noodlespace, I agree with Gregory in everything he said and with the risk of repeating what has already been mentioned, showing genuine interest in a firm will most of the time get you ahead of the other applicants. I'm repeating this because I am one of those people who "recently graduated and got job offers within a month's time" and I wouldn't dismiss it to "plain luck".

I got involved in a lot of events during school, during guest lectures, outside of school events, etc. You'll be surprised to learn how easily someone can remember you, even after months and months, if you've really shown them your interest and appreciation.

Finding a job today is challenging, but this is something I've actively worked at even before graduating. Also, gathering work experience during summer and winter breaks can add up to as much as 1 year's experience, so when you graduate, one doesn't have 0 experience by default.

Genuine appreciation along with a portfolio that is consistent with what you mention in your cover letter and that shows you worked passionately during school, can get you very far. Without any connections, I applied to ~20 places, received 2 positive responses, 2 negative responses and 1 maybe (still waiting for further feedback on that one).

RyuArch
Jul 20, 12 3:07 pm

Some firms do not count academic internships towards your years of experience.

Maureen RahmanMaureen Rahman
Feb 8, 14 6:19 pm

So just an update on my situation.

About a year after this post (and nearly giving up on architecture all together when I started working as a receptionist) I got my first design job. And just recently I accepted a full time position at Bjarke Ingels Group in NYC.

Friends, it's hard out there. But all I have to say is that you just cant give up. Never. You'll get there. 

 

Best of luck to my peers,

Maureen

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