Finding my first job

Brian Henry (M.Arch, U of Idaho, 2011)



Sep '11 - Jan '13

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    Job Search Follow-Up

    Brian Henry
    Oct 7, '12 3:28 PM EST

    It's been three months since I accepted my full-time job and while I've had time to sit down and write, I just haven't taken the time to do so (my apologies). However, I did want to go over my job search process and the things I've learned from it with the hope that It will prove to be useful information to others in similar situations.

    First off, I spent too much time on my portfolio. I think in academic settings (i.e. applications to grad school) your personal portfolio has a lot more weight than it does for an applicant looking for their first job as an intern architect. Let's be honest, most firms are looking for someone to produce drawings ... CAD drawings. Design plays a part, and having a portfolio that showcases your design sense is important, but ultimately I wasn’t hired because of my portfolio.

    So why was I hired then? While I don’t know the detailed answer to this question I was able to actually ask someone why I was hired over the other applicant that was on the short list. What it really came down to was the firm needed someone who could start working right away and be up to speed quickly. I was already proficient in AutoCAD (something demonstrated in my portfolio and in supplemental materials I brought with me to the interview) and I could start in about two weeks. The other applicant couldn’t start for another month and while they had more office experience than me, they didn’t know AutoCAD. The firm needed work done on a project right away so I got the job.

    I know that seems simplistic but it really isn’t the entire story. That was just the deciding factor. It was only because of other things that I was even able to be on the short list. Primarily it was a lot of luck. I had no idea that the firm was looking to hire (no job posting anywhere, no friend that told me to apply) really it was just dumb luck. I had a friend that was working for another firm and said they were looking for help and I should come by with a resume. I figured that while I did that I might as well apply to the firm I’d rather work for.  So in another way I had to put myself out there. I had already researched the firm and so putting together another cover letter, resume, and teaser portfolio was fairly easy, but walking in the front door unsolicited and inquiring about work was slightly outside of my comfort zone.

    My portfolio did help during the interview and it was much like I expected. It wasn’t the focus of the interview but it helped where they could ask me about experience with AutoCAD or Revit and I could turn to a project and say this was done in Revit … these were modeled and rendered in AutoCAD … these were drawn in 2D AutoCAD … etc. Important to note however, the focus wasn’t on my designs as much as it was about how I accomplished them. The interview was much more of an opportunity for them to get to know me and for me to get to know them, not show off my portfolio. I think it’s safe to say that even if you have a fantastic portfolio if you can’t sit down and communicate well in the interview you aren’t going to get offered any jobs. You really need to be able to show you can communicate both visually (portfolio) as well as verbally (in person).

    Finally, I think one other thing that helped me out was that I had spent some time beyond school doing architecture that went further than just design. Participating in design competitions or redoing projects from school in new software packages may be helpful for some. However, I know that when I was able to discuss the work I did remodeling a carriage house into a music studio the discussion spent less time on the “design” and more time on the lessons I learned in communicating with the client, getting documents ready for permitting, material and cost estimating, managing budgets, etc. These are things that a firm is going to want to see that their employees understand, or at the very least have a desire to learn and understand. Furthermore, it illustrates that you know more about the entire process of architecture, not just what you are taught in school.

    As a recap and advice to be taken with a grain of salt for any of you currently looking: Don't spend too much time on your portfolio. It is important but you'll be better off getting your name, face, resume, etc. out there than perfecting every little detail of your portfolio. Get out there even if it means getting our of your comfort zone. Do something during the down time. You'll want to do something to distinguish yourself from every other recent grad looking for a job. Competitions can come in handy but also look at ways to go beyond just design ... build something, participate, volunteer, shadow. Cross your fingers. Luck probably plays a much larger role than we all want to admit. We like being in control, but get used to the fact that sometimes we just have to hope that luck is on our side. 


    • Nki-

      Interesting... maybe I have been stressing out on the portfolio too much. It makes sense. Again, thanks for sharing you insight. Definately something to think about...! *sobs*

      Jan 24, 13 7:04 pm

      'Luck probably plays a much larger role than we all want to admit. We like being in control, but get used to the fact that sometimes we just have to hope that luck is on our side.'

      LUCK is the cross product of preparation and opportunity  - actually, Brian Henry was in control of his "luck" becuse he knew the software - he did what others failed to do

      Jan 25, 13 12:28 pm

      The "luck" of knowing the software wasn't really the luck I was referring to. The "cross product of preparation and opportunity" I was referring to was 1) buying a bike the fall before and dangerously teetering the line of S-1 instead of N+1. 2) Deciding to sell one of my bikes at a local bike swap. 3) After the bike swap visiting the farmer's market across the street and running into a former classmate / current employee of the first local firm I worked for and being told they might be hiring. 4) Deciding to not just drop off application materials to the one firm that might be hiring and to also apply at the firm I currently work at. 5) Being called in for an interview at the firm I currently work at because they were actually in need of extra help. 6) Knowing AutoCAD better than the other candidate on the short list.

      You're right in that some of those points are in my control or because of my preparation (#'s 1, 2, 4, 6), but if it weren't for the things outside of my control or opportunities presented before me (#'s 3, 5) I wouldn't be working where I am now. 

      I won't disagree that preparation goes a long way but sometimes the lucky opportunities are what can really make a difference. And sometimes realizing that some aspects of your future are outside of your control can make you more positive about those things you can control and less disappointed when things don't go your way.

      Jan 27, 13 12:51 pm

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Commentary on looking for work, portfolio and resume design, networking, social media and the job search, interviews, dealing with rejection and the joy of landing a job.

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