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What goes on in an architecture job interview?

Jun 30 '13 18 Last Comment
tomatomato
Jun 30, 13 3:45 am

I'm a graduate student who's about to start preparing to find a job and am a little nervous on how to prepare for interviews.

I've looked for interview tips online, but mainly found them to be for interview etiquette tips and questions which might not be same for an architecture interview.

How long do the interviews normally go on for?

How important are showing and presenting portfolio's during the interview? What do they actually look for when you show them? I would guess perhaps looking for appealing finalized images/renders and final outcome as they are probably hiring you for your technical skills first?

 Just how detailed (how long) do you explain each project?Do they care about your thought process behind projects? Telling about the process I would think would bore them and they would want to rush to see the end product instead. The problem is, my thesis is like an urban scale project, needing to explain a lot of the site context/background and also various design stages to understand the whole project, and the 'final shots' of the project can't really show much of it. Is it wise to perhaps spend 2-3 minutes to explain my thesis project?  

and how many projects should you present to them?

 

Max Content
Jun 30, 13 8:48 am


Be sure to wear a push-up bra. 


backbay
Jun 30, 13 10:04 am

recently at my office:  "they look too high maintenance", "i dont' think their personality's a match for our firm", "they seemed more outgoing on their resume", and "their portfolio sucks but i like them the most and they have strong technical skills."

so its not just portfolios and stuff.  be able to have a conversation with them and be likable. by that i mean don't just go in and speak when spoken to, only answering questions.  ask some questions as you normally would in a conversation with a normal person.  show them exactly what your strengths are, and what you want to do.  they will lead the conversation mostly, so if they don't want to hear about your thesis they'll stop you.

backbay
Jun 30, 13 10:07 am

that being said, the portfolio ends up being the conversation generator.  make sure its good, make sure its balanced blah blah blah.  depending on what the firm does/wants they'll look at different things.  if you want to be a renderer, fill your portfolio with renderings.  i've actually heard (maybe on this site) its better to limit the amount of renderings so that you don't get pigeonholed.

quizzical
Jun 30, 13 10:12 am

In the many, many interviews I've conducted over the years, the single most destructive mistake made by many candidates is the failure to recognize that the person across the table is a trained and experienced Architect. When showing their portfolios, too many candidates seem to assume that the person conducting the interview can't read drawings and can't really grasp what is shown there. So, they launch automatically into an extensive, and overly detailed, explanation of what is shown on the page.


Every interview is different and every person conducting an interview is different. For that reason, I think it wise for each candidate to ask - not just assume - what the inteviewer wants to hear and how much explanation is desired. You need to tailor your approach to the needs and wants of the person across the table. You won't know how to do that if you don't ask first.


tammuz xtammuz x
Jun 30, 13 11:03 am

quizzical, don't you think it would be quizzical were the interviewee to ask the interviewer about the extent of explanation is required? realistically, how would you do that? what would you say?

i could have understood had you expectected the interviewee to suss out for herself/himself the extent of explanation. but explicitly ask the interviewer when to stop? the latter can very readily turn the table on the former and tell her or him just to talk about the projects as they see fit.

observant
Jun 30, 13 11:13 am

recently at my office:  "they look too high maintenance", "i dont' think their personality's a match for our firm", "they seemed more outgoing on their resume", and "their portfolio sucks but i like them the most and they have strong technical skills."

Good stuff.  Not really.  But true.  I know, in retrospect, I have gone into interviews overdressed and showed up for the first day on the job overdressed, not as in a suit, but nice jacket, slacks, shirt, tie, a leather bag, and, God forbid, conventional parted short hair.  I also sensed in some interviews that they didn't like my overall slate of experience, as they looked me up and down ... meaning a career change into the field.  (And architects are supposed to be liberal thinkers, like some on here profess to be, when they are actually quite linear and subject to group-think).  Never had a portfolio problem, given that it was mostly manual and tight, and one woman principal said "You're stuff is better than mine was."  She gave me a tour of the office and I never heard from her again.  Funny part of the interview:  we are in a staircase and the head of interior design, a woman, passes us on the stairs.  She mentions:  "That's (so and so), the head of interior design .. she's a good friend of mine," as she kept looking at her a little too long and longingly as she was passing.  I faintly heard "Constant Craving" and "I Want to Come Over" in my head.

The whole thing is about reading an event.  I saw about three outcomes:  1) I knew I was going to get an offer fairly quickly, 2) they had an exponentially sized suppository up their ass about something and I couldn't tell which ingredient or two it was, and 3) I was nowhere near bohemian as the whole vibe of the firm and it was a waste of 1/2 an hour, not to mention the gas to get over there.

I'd say about 4 things:  1) know about their firm so you don't waste TOO much of their time and seem interested, 2) be pleasant but be yourself, 3) concentrate on your portfolio and any technical/software/practical work you've done, and 4) assess if it's a fit for you as it is for them, because sometimes only 1 of the 2 parties makes a mistake and a situation that should have never been indeed becomes a situation.

quizzical
Jun 30, 13 11:37 am

tammuz: it need be neither difficult nor awkward. Say something like "How much detail and explanation would you like me to provide as I walk you through my portfolio? I don't want to burden you with information you don't need."  How hard is that?


Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Jun 30, 13 12:56 pm

#1 Forget all that starchitect presentation bullshit you "learned" in school. Nobody in a real architectural firm talks like that, and if they do, run.

#2 Interviews are a two-way street. Having that attitude can only help you. Be prepared with a few questions about the firm or their work.

#3 Don't explain anything in detail until asked, and be prepared to answer questions succinctly.The portfolio speaks for you, whether you're any good or not.

#4 Don't imagine they're looking at you as a shit-hot designer because ever firm is already filled to the rim with them.

#5 Mediate for at least 20 minutes before every interview. Calm and relaxed is as important as your portfolio.

gruen
Jul 1, 13 6:36 pm

+1 to miles. Be relaxed, confident and interview THEM to see if they are a good fit for what you want (and I don't mean vacation time...)

observant
Jul 1, 13 6:50 pm

Be prepared for some weird shit, too.

Also keep in mind that the interviewer knows very early on if they will extend an offer, and you will know the same if you can read the situation.  They say that the decision process begins upon walking into the conference room and shaking your hand.  But you have to put yourself out there!  Dress, groom, and present yourself in a manner that really is YOU.  If they don't like it (too conservative or too artsy), then both parties will have screened each other, in a way.

Here's a good one!  In the "other" part of the resume, I mentioned interests, and included foreign languages.  The principal, who seemed kind of stiff from the get go, inquired about this.  One of the languages is different depending on whether it's the European or colonial version, and I mentioned that I spoke only one of them.  This was a language he knew.  He kind of pursed his lips and furrowed his brow, and I don't know what the f**k for, but I think that he was a religious guy who might have been involved in missionary work.  I could sort of see that, and that would not have worked.  And I never heard from him again.

Stephanie BraconnierStephanie Braconnier
Jul 1, 13 11:10 pm

All of my interviews have been about 1 hour long. They sometimes ask questions about my resume, because it seems like architects don't have time to read resumes these days. That, or they're testing me to make sure I know my own background.

Next is usually a launch into the projects of my portfolio. The majority of my interviews we've gone through the entire portfolio project by project and I talk about my motivations and design methods. (I don't explain visuals or drawings - they do the talking for themselves, otherwise why are they there?) I try to talk about the method and theory of the project that isn't described explicitly in the images.

I don't agree that all firms know if they will extend you an offer. I've had an "informational interview" where they initially told me they were just curious to meet me but weren't hiring, where I later received an offer. My partner got his current job that way as well. I view every meeting as a real potential for future work.

Definitely prepare for the interview by knowing their 3-5 most current projects and reading up on the partners background and education if you can find any information. You'll get a good feel if the office is a good fit for your own personal outlook that way. 

I think that good firms look for people who are self-aware and have solid design sensibility behind their projects. They are also looking for people with a diversity of experiences and skills, so travel and branching into other kinds of design is a good thing.  

Best of luck!

Atom
Jul 2, 13 1:43 am

I've interviewed with the worlds best architects and I've interviewed with the dumbest fuck heads with a stamp. The interview process can make you pause and realize things you hadn't thought of or see things in a different way. It can range from being an honor to  looking at the door and requesting to be excused. Literally - asking if you should leave, now.    

In a normal or good employment market an interview is a pleasant talk with you and another architect. It isn't like you are talking to lawyers in a deposition. They are architects, just like you except older, so you can be comfortable talking with them. One day they might be your friends. Most of the time they rushed through your resume weeks before and don't remember. When you get there the interviewer looks down and reads aloud your resume and asks or comments something along the lines of, "so you worked at Three Old White Men & Associates?" To this I'm not sure how anyone is expected to answer. This goes on usually for 3/4 of the resume page.

The interviewer tells you about the firm. They tender a pitch then there is a portfolio review. They might stop and ask you a question. Most of the time you get 1 to 5 seconds of them looking at a page. Months of effort is shuffled through in under 2 or 3 minutes.  

The rest of the other comments cover everything quite well. You never need to be nervous. They might throw you an odd question once in a while. When they do pause and listen to your reply in your mind so you can be comfortable with what you have to say. Nobody is going to get upset with you or hurt you and chances are, what you have to say has little to do with why they hire you. They use you to bill a client and scrape profit off the top. Your words have little to do with anything.       

EKE
Jul 2, 13 11:10 am

It's certainly possible that what Atom says in the last paragraph is true for some firms, I'd beware the suggestion that what you say doesn't matter to the interviewer.  It certainly matters to me when I consider a candidate.

We're looking for talented people with good portfolios, but we're also looking for intelligent people with good verbal and social skills, since if they stay with us and progress (and we certainly do hope that they do), they will eventually be in front of clients, contractors, consultants and other stake holders - representing the firm to the outside world. And cultural fit is important.

Be yourself, be engaging, ask good questions, and show some passion for what you do.

Atom
Jul 2, 13 2:14 pm

Yes EKE one would hope so, and I'm very glad to hear that you value people in this manner. I'd like that to be the case more often. A cultural fit is the vaguest of all items to convey to anyone.  In particular, the comment made by Observant is a good one and I think it has a lot to do with culture. 

(And architects are supposed to be liberal thinkers, like some on here profess to be, when they are actually quite linear and subject to group-think).

That statement is spot on. Think about how cool and interesting creative people are in other disciplines like musicians, thespians, sculptors, writers, dancers, etc. The public largely accepts architects as having a passion for what they do and being part of or allied with the creative fields. Then imagine how square and reserved the vast number of architects are in an office when you go in for an interview. We are all to tame to compare, in most cases. It should never be that way but it is almost always that way. We point towards creativity and moonwalk towards conservative professionalism. When you interview you get a feeling for how square these people are and try to act like you are part of whatever culture they are.      

tomatomato
Jul 2, 13 2:42 pm

Thanks for all the helpful tips and comments guys.

However, I already understand that the most important aspect in [any type of] interview is your character and social ability and how much they 'like' you; as after all, you will be working together and need someone who can fit in to their office culture/vibe. A likeable/crap folio is better than a unlikeable/excellent folio person. Be relaxed, ask questions and try to make the interview like a friendly conversation; this part I understand clearly.

I would love to not present my works and just chit chat about other things and architecture in general; as looking back to some of my projects is embarrassing and I am tired of it. 

What I am unsure of just how to properly present your portfolio projects work. You obviously won't present a project such as your grad thesis the same way in university in a full 30 minutes; but just how long and detailed would you present it in an interview? And how many other projects would you want to also go through with them?

And would you perhaps change the focus on the projects and talk about what programs and how you created certain visuals as to sell your 'technical skills'?

What kind of questions would they ask about your projects?

Stephanie mentioned she presented an hour long and went through all her projects which I am quite surprised that it would happen like that. If thats the case, I guess I should properly look over each of my projects and try to remember much of it even though I hate the projects now.

quizzical
Jul 2, 13 9:24 pm

"I would love to not present my works and just chit chat about other things and architecture in general; as looking back to some of my projects is embarrassing and I am tired of it."

As a general rule, architecture is about a tangible reality - few offices that actually produce buildings just 'talk' about architecture. Firms will want to see examples of what you've done - how else will they formulate a realistic and complete idea about what you can do for the firm?

I 'get' the idea of cringing about some of your past work - we've all been there. Seems to me you have two choices - a) eliminate from your portfolio the projects that bother you the most; or b) develop a positive attitude about those projects and be prepared to convey what you learned and how you would address the problem differently next time.

Whatever you do, never - EVER - denigrate you own work during an interview - keep those thoughts to yourself.

As an interviewer, I've always appreciated a chance to see a candidate's work from all years of school - it helps me understand the candidates capacity to learn and grow.

tint
Jul 2, 13 10:11 pm

An interview might last an hour, but only if it goes well enough. If the conversation lulls then it is not a good interview and it will get cut short. The interviewer will likely flip through your portfolio, to which you can say the project name/type and where it is at and MAYBE one interesting thing about some of them. You might say something that could relate to the interviewer, like what if one of your sites was across the street from one of their buildings and yada yada and lead them in. The interviewer will ask questions from that and there you go. It is a conversation, a dialogue; not a lecture. Keep your language simple and straightforward, speak succinctly and confidently. Remember to smile.

med.
Jul 8, 13 3:04 pm

I agree with quizzical about that mistake but at the same time, I know many of the interviewees are young and fresh out of school.  Therfore, I tend no to hold it against them too much unless it is blatantly insulting to a profesional's inteligence.   In which case, I have seen that before.

From my experiences interviewing is that extensively researching the firm, friendliness and affability, and professionalism can be your best friend.  I've found great success in researching the work of of the firm I'm interviewing at and asking questions about the work and then complimenting how great it is.  This tells the interviewer that you are engaged and want to be a part of future efforts like that with the team.  It's important to smile and be friendly about everything so that it feels more like a conversation more so than an interview.  Dress professional too.  For men, If you are not a fan of neck-ties, that's okay.  Just wear a suit without a tie - always very sharp.

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