Applying with printed portfolios

Hi fellow Archinecters,

I'm applying to Junior positions in NYC and after a few months trying here and there I've decided to pull out the heavy artillery- that is, mailing printed portfolios by snail mail. My question is, based on your experience, is if it's a good idea pick out a principal of the offices I'm interested in and address it to that person in particular, or if I should simply go the standard way and send it generically to HR/office manager, etc.

I'll be extremely grateful for any other tips or advice you may have about this.

May 24, 19 4:47 pm

I don't think mailing printed portfolios by snail mail is the "heavy artillery" these days.  It's more likely to mark you as out of touch with norms for applying to firms.  Sending a paper portfolio is just going to take longer to get to the right person, makes it harder for the firm to circulate to multiple people, and adds to piles of clutter on somebody's desk.  Most firms would prefer to receive a pdf.

If you are going to do this anyway, don't address it to the principals unless it's a tiny firm.  In most firms with more than 6 to 10 people the principals aren't the first line of screening applicants, especially fairly entry-level applicants, so all that does is delay it getting into the right hands (if it does at all).  If you can't find directions on their website regarding how to apply, call the firm to ask - but also ask whether they'd prefer that you send digital materials instead of mailing a paper portfolio.

May 24, 19 7:03 pm

Well, I obviously don't want to bother firms with unsolicited material, but I've noticed that some firms explicitly accept both (some firms only accept mailed applications), and it's only those that I'm targeting for snail mail apps. Thank you for pointing out that addressing it to the principal will slow the process down- I'll try to follow standard procedures.


Call ahead to ask who to address the portfolio/ mail to. Problem solved!


I can tell you: I have become absolutely numb to "flashy" marketing materials. We have a company do a lunch and learn every week, and the presenters bring tons of marketing materials, some of which seem pricy to produce. So it wouldn't matter to me if you 3D-printed your portfolio or did something else fancy with it. For those companies that come to our office to sell their products, the marketing materials are tax deductible. For you, your portfolio is not. So I would keep your portfolio simple, honest, down-to-earth, and WITHIN YOUR MEANS (i.e affordable)! The reason you'll get hired is not because of your 3D-printing skills. Most companies don't even engage in 3D printing, and those who do, usually outsource it most of the time. What will get your hired is the value you can bring to the firm. I guarantee you: being good at rendering/model making/design gets old real fast. If that's the only value you bring to a firm, don't expect long employment there. 

May 24, 19 11:11 pm

Thank you for your reply on this. I was hoping (based partially on some other forum discussions on Archinect) that, by applying by mail (to firms that are open to this option), I'd show that I'm making more of an effort to apply to them in particular, rather than simply showing something flashy. I also think that what my portfolio displays is much more than rendering and model making, I'm lost about the connection you make between me wanting to print a portfolio and bringing only renderings and models to the table. Thank you for your points and for taking the time to reply, much appreciated.


I agree with Bloopox:  most firms are going to prefer receiving a pdf by email than a snail mailed printed portfolio. 

May 25, 19 12:16 am

since i'm the partner in the office who deals with applications I can say hands down i prefer a pdf, short and concise.

not that anyone asked, the things that bug me, personally (but may not bother everyone else out there) about applications

   a link to a portfolio online - sorry i get this is easy, but they are so annoying and a pain to look at on my phone (yes I use my phone to do a quick review of portfolios)

  portfolios that include work you did while an intern at a famous office, with amazing design skills that are not in evidence anywhere else. The only thing you are confirming with these projects is why the office did not choose to keep you after the internship was over.

  mass mailers. I dont care if you dont put my name. It's not important. Most people just send a pdf addressed to my office name, and that is perfectly fine. BUT, I do not open any applications that are bcced and say dear sir or madam and then declare how much our office inspires you, in an amazingly generic way. It is funny when we are accidentally openly cc'ed along with everyone else in tokyo (from kuma to ishigami). Apart from me chuckling at how weird it is that we are in the company of an office with more than 300 people (and we are 10 people at our largest), it is just going into the garbage. We get too many emails looking for jobs and internships every day so this is my arbitrary cutoff. I dont respond, just put them into the bin.

  portfolios that dont indicate or match the kind of work you are looking for

If you send a hardcopy portfolio it becomes something we need to deal with that we are not set up for. We have a folder of applications in dropbox that we use to discuss who to respond to. The physical portfolio doesnt fit into that system. Since we are chronically overworked this is not a good way to catch our attention.

Not related to the portfolio itself, I positively hate super long cover letters that say nothing in 500 words or less. It is not necessary to say anything more than you are looking for a position or internship and where you come from professionally. The portfolio will confirm what you say in the letter and if it doesnt match up that is useful (to me at least). Don't bullshit, keep it simple.

May 25, 19 9:10 pm

thank you for all those tips. Every time I apply somewhere I'm wondering if something I do is pissing the recruiter off or not. In your case I think my cover letter might be a little long, although I think it's densely packed and I'm not wasting words on empty sentences. Going backto the printed vs. digital portfolio, I'm guessing that sending both is a terrible option? i think I should have specified in my original post that I only intend to do this with firms who are explicitly open to receiving mailed applications, since the last thing I want to do is make the lives of recruiters harder. Thank you so much for all the tips you mention (I'll tweak my materials a little bit)


"a link to a portfolio online - sorry i get this is easy, but they are so annoying and a pain to look at on my phone (yes I use my phone to do a quick review of portfolios)" Response.


I think hard copies are only suitable for firms that specifically request printed portfolios e.g. bKL in Chicago. I've heard that some European practices are open to receiving print portfolios so that candidates could showcase their craft.

May 26, 19 7:36 pm
Some offices probably prefer hard copies.

We don’t because we are small and maybe it’s a generational thing.

Again, not that anyone asked, my own experience landing a job via a portfolio goes back to the days when the internet was just taking over the world and everything was printed. First job came from a fortuitous introduction and the boss didn’t care about my portfolio as a student. Barely looked at it. 25 people office. They hired me because I could render and use auto cad.

When I decide dto move to Europe I first spent lots of time and money making printed portfolios and sent them all over the world. It was not common yet to apply by internet. But it didn’t matter. I was ignored completely. Until I was advised to simply move there. I had 5 interviews a week after arriving and sending a 1 page portfolio and cover letter with a London phone number. My experience was valued. My portfolio was mostly built work and drawing sets. The only thing that actually mattered at that time was being there and ready to start the next day.

I don’t really have a portfolio anymore. My job is in any case as much about meetings and going to the ward office to get permits or rifling through building code and cost estimates as it is about drafting.

The only reason I bring up all of the stuff above is that offices will have all kinds of reasons for hiring people and it often is only tangentially related to portfolio.

Hence my advice to keep it simple and clear and to the point. With minimum bullshit.
May 27, 19 2:41 am

thank you so much for these great tips. In my case at the moment, all firms I have applied to ask applicants to have a portfolio with work samples, displaying a wide range of skills. I haven't yet seen an office whose description of portfolio requirements would allow me to create one any shorter than what I now have, let alone one page. Looking at your advice, I definitely see that I need to reduce my long cover letters and make them straight to the point.


Will's advice is really good and would be worth making a separate post as kind of an info for applicants since so many questions come up about this.

Out of 4 jobs so far, only one involved more than a cursory look at my portfolio. And even then it was much more talking about the nature of the projects I've worked on and my approach to the process, not at all about the specific images in it. Just done as a PDF review on a laptop.

I'd actually be a little suspicious of any firm that required a print portfolio - unless it's really a craft focused boutique it just seems far outside normal workflows now to sit down with printed materials.

May 27, 19 5:19 am

But how did you get the chance to talk about the nature of the projects? I think if I get the chance to talk about why my work is the way it is, my professional values and my potential contributions become clear, but isn't a good set of presentation materials a good way to make that happen?


Well it's largely a matter of how you and the interviewers approach the meeting. If your applying as a fresh graduate you won't have much experience to draw on, but you can and should lead by introducing what led you to study architecture, what you feel you got out of your studies, and how you want to use your skills in the firm's work. My point above was that a good portfolio starts the conversation by showing some interesting ideas and doesn't need to be in any way a perfect artifact. Printing has no advantages unless you already have a connection at the firm who you know will take a look at what you send. Finding connections to firms your skills and interests make sense at will g
o a lot further than having an exceptional portfolio.

Printed portfolios are challenging. There many factors, but to answer your specific question:

I'd send it to a specific principal and not HR.

ideal scenario: the principal actually views it, likes your work and contacts you
alt. scenario 1: the principal views it. it goes into the generic portfolio pile. This is still good because you've made contact with the principal.
alt scenario 2: it gets sent directly to the portfolio pile. Basically same as if you sent it to HR.

Since you've got nothing to lose, i'd send to the principal.

Generally, you want to try and AVOID putting your address in the portfolio if you are not already in NYC. It's a turn off for some offices. They just don't want the hassle of dealing with a person who hasn't moved yet (NYC is packed with talented people already there). since your mailing it... maybe use a friends nyc address?

Always FOLLOW UP. This is key. More important than who you address the package to. Follow up! Most young designers are too timid. The biggest challenge you face is making sure your portfolio actually gets viewed. Offices get a ton of applications and portfolios.

There's much more to consider and we just did a recording on how to create a portoflio for hiring purposes. Much of our experience was in nyc, so i'd say our info is directly in line with your situation. Good luck! the City is an amazing place!

May 28, 19 4:46 pm

​Thank you David. Indeed, I have listed a NY address in all my application materials, since my partner lives here in NY. I'll take a look at your recording (I listened to a previous podcast you made about the application process that had some great points).

Cool. Glad to hear the application episode was helpful and that my years hustling is being put to some use haha. cheers

Somehow half of my response got cut out: I was also going to say that I assumed following up would be a no-no, since a lot of firms explicitly say that they don't want any follow up calls. They don't mention emails, but i'm just assuming. I can imagine that following up gives you a bit of extra attention but is that the desirable kind?

it's a case by case kind of thing. But, generally... the vast majority of the time, i would ignore what they say online about not visiting the office, and not calling. again one of the biggest challenges is making sure your stuff actually gets seen (i skimmed the post below, which highlights this issue). i would call, visit and etc etc.

the other biggest challenge is timing. basically, people often get hired based on whether or not they happen to be applying right when the office is hiring. which is why following up and re-send your application is a must. Also, regarding calling when they say on their website they don't want calls: this is where being a good conversationalist is super important. chat it up! make a friend and get them to push it through to the right person. that 'extra attention' can be key. and you do have the ability to influence if its good or bad attention. also, always send digital work samples also. never only the physical.

(when is say 'resend your application' i mean your digital one. not duplicates of the physical)


Here's how this works in my firm (55 people, big US city):  there is one person who does all the initial screening - this is not a principal, and we don't even have an HR department. It doesn't matter to whom you address your snail mail - all mail is opened and directed by the receptionist.  If you send application materials then she will direct it to the Screener Guy. If you make it past that initial screening then your application is forwarded to a larger group - 5 to 8 people depending on the role/level for which you're applying. Unless you're applying for a senior manager or director role none of these people will be a principal, and frankly the principals would be annoyed with our receptionist if they did somehow get your mail. 

Now your paper portfolio has to make the rounds of all the reviewer's physical in-boxes, one at a time in alphabetical order, per the check-off list that the receptionist stapled to your cover, and it's virtually guaranteed to get hung up in one or more of them for days, if not weeks or months.  Those in-boxes are where unsolicited product samples and brochures go, and the super dull magazines to which nobody purposely subscribes.  Catching up on snail mail is the absolute lowest priority task ever, so while your portfolio is muldering under "Intumescent Paint Monthly" on Dave B's desk, meanwhile Joan D. is desperate to staff Huge Project #2019-0581, and some other good-enough applicant's EMAILED portfolio made it to her inbox that day. Guess who gets hired?  Sometime around the end of October Dave spills ranch dressing, your portfolio makes a good squeegee because of the relative inabsorbency of its glossy paper, and off you go with the trash.

Unless a firm says they'll ONLY accept a snail-mailed portfolio, don't do it. 

May 29, 19 5:21 pm

I mentally read the second paragraph of your post in George Carlin's voice from the second line. I take two main lessons from it: First, don't send a printed portfolio unless the firm only accepts those, and second, choose a very absorbent paper so the portfolio self destroys in case someone tries to use a selection of the past seven years of my life as a squeegee. In my part, lesson learnt. I'll keep my printed portfolios for the firms that only accept them that way (I've seen five I'm interested in). Wish me luck.



Per others, much is dependent on the firm. Most would appreciate the courtesy of the question if it is not already posted online.  If it is posted, it is recommended to follow their guidelines as many firms will toss anything that is not as requested as it could be construed as a sign of someone who ignores guidelines and staff is expected to follow them.

Always check to make sure the work of the firm and the portfolio aligns, the cover letter addresses specifics about your fit to the firm (the rule of thumb I was taught was structure is as "this is why you're great, this is why I'm great, and this is how I would be a good fit for your team"), and there are no typos, etc.  For firms with a special strength in an area, the portfolio might be customized in craft as well as content (spiral bound is great for laying out on a spread, but a hand bound one might appeal better to a firm that showcases craft or their own monograph that is crafted).

Be concise, it shows the care to appreciate their time and an ability to communicate effectively and efficiently.

And with any other communication, the more you know about them, the better you can reach out and connect.  Industry functions (AIA/showrooms/conferences/etc) are great ways to connect with decision makers.

Good luck

May 30, 19 1:22 pm

Thank you so much for your tips. I think I need to put a little more emphasis on the concise part. I do try to write cover letters specifically for each firm, I haven't yet sent any generic one to any firm. I do keep the same structure but I alter the content. My portfolio is generally the same one for everybody so maybe I should try to cater it specifically, but in any case I always follow the guidelines of the firm in my submissions. I guess the key part is persistence ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

You don’t fax your portfolio?
Jun 2, 19 4:46 pm

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