Some guidance on the recruitment process from the employer side will help you not to fall foul of any faux pas…
Remember the importance of first impressions. These days your first interaction with a Practice is more than likely going to be by email.
You are most likely to be asked to send in a CV and samples of work. This will often be required in a specific format. Please keep to that format!
This is not the place to focus on how to write a good CV but some key advice is to keep it short and focussed. As mentioned above, you will probably have been asked for a CV of no more than two A4 pages. I was once advised to keep a CV to one page – that really does help you keep it focussed! If you need help with your CV ask your contact at RIBA Appointments for help.
Consider what you do and don’t include. Your age should not be necessary. Nor are your social activities, but they do show you as more of a rounded person. Consider the relevance of your social activities to the role too – going clubbing and socialising with friends may be something you love doing, but perhaps your interest in photography, travel or even bog snorkelling will show you to better advantage. And… if you chose to include a photograph on your CV, may I suggest that it is not topless, whatever your gender. (Yes, I have received a topless photo in the past… the candidate was unsuccessful.)
Remember that the first person to see your CV may well be the HR representative and they will be looking for the basics: correct spelling of practice and contact details (see previous article: 5 June 2017, Interviews and Feedback); correct response to advertisement (e.g. one-page CV, two A4 pages of drawings – no more, nor less).
They will be looking for what we call ‘gates’. These are the basic requirements of the role: could be a certain type of experience, could be a qualification, could be knowledge of a particular type of software. These should have been made clear in the advertisement and, if you don’t have this requirement, they may well automatically turn down your application.
You will need to have an extremely persuasive argument and reason to apply for a job for which you are not qualified. Remember how many other applicants are out there, who do have the correct qualifications/experience/etc. I appreciate that sometimes taking a punt can be successful, but be conscious that there is a significant risk of failure.
Samples of work
Consider the images you choose to send in terms of their relevance to the job you are applying for and the skills you are trying to demonstrate. Chronology may make sense to you, but the Practice will be looking at where you are now, not ten years ago. What role did you really play on the project in question? And do you feel enthusiastic about the work on these particular projects? Will you be able to show this when you are asked in an interview?
Do you want to show design skills via an aesthetically pleasing drawing, or technical skills via a drawn detail, or software skills via a technologically complex image?
And be very conscious of the fine line between being quirky and being weird. I have to confess that I am still reeling from the time that a graduate architect included images in his portfolio of a brothel and a laser shooting gallery based in a shopping mall where men were occupied in using laser guns to shoot women shoppers from a mezzanine level. You will gather that this person did stand out from the crowd but he was certainly not hired.
- Impress by your interactions with the Practice – be polite and positive at all times. This goes for any calls and emails, as well as in person.
- Be on time for an interview – from an HR perspective, it can be difficult enough to find time in the diary of busy architects to organise interviews. If you are late, this will have a knock-on effect.
- Always be polite and friendly to the receptionist and others who you meet on your way to and from your interview. I would never hire anyone who was rude to a member of the administrative staff and would always ask for their impressions on a candidate when making hiring decisions.
- Do your research beforehand and demonstrate that you know something of the practice and their work. This should be a given. As should be your enthusiasm for architecture.
- Resist the temptation to be rude about current or past employers and colleagues. This is unprofessional and reflects badly on you. If you’ve had a bad experience, simply say that you need to move on to further your career or similar. You should be demonstrating your ability to get on well with people since this interaction is a key element in the architecture profession!
- A sense of humour might generally be considered a good thing, but be careful of not appearing to be sarcastic rather than ironic, or smutty rather than risqué, or silly rather than retro. It’s perhaps best to take your lead from your interviewers.
Do bear in mind that if there is an HR or other admin person involved in the recruitment process, they will have the challenge of dealing with many applicants and also trying to pin down the partners or senior architects to carry out interviews who would generally rather be meeting clients or designing. Recruitment is not a core activity of an architecture practice – obviously – so time involved in it, is time away from design and gaining paid work.
Candidates who are on time, professional, responsive and a pleasure to deal with are always remembered and valued by those who focus on recruitment. Architecture is a people driven profession and those who ‘play well with others’ or demonstrate excellent inter-personal skills will get a head start.
Above all, act as you’d like to be treated yourself and you won’t go far wrong!
by Kate Marks, Founder and Director of EvolutionHR, HR consultancy to the built environment and author of HR for Creative Companies.