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IT'S SO OFF-PUTTING WHEN A LETTER SHOWS THE APPLICANT KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT THE FIRM

CAREERS GUIDE - RESEARCH

It may be a seller's market but you still have to make the crucial link which translates you from a recent graduate into an architectural assistant with a job. The highfliers with firsts and fantastic design portfolios may well have been headhunted by degree-show scouts. But few, even of these people, are offered jobs without going through the process of laying out their life story to the practice and being interviewed.

So, two big events an architectural job seeker has to deal with are the interview, which will always involve a discussion about the portfolio you bring along, and the CV which, with its accompanying letter, has persuaded the practice to call you in.

But first you have some really important research to do.

PREPARING YOURSELF The first thing you need to do is to ask yourself some questions:

What sort of practice do you want to work with? Would you be happy working for practices that specialise in just one area of architecture - say, masterplanning or historic buildings or private houses or big retail developments? Do you want to work in a big practice or medium or small? And does size matter?

The fact is that architects tend to work on a project basis, so the immediate work group in an office of whatever size will tend to be similar. And, the big office will argue, they have such a diverse range of projects that moving around within the practice is much the same as moving from practice to practice - except there isn't the pain of doing CVs and interviews every year or so.

You also have to ask whether you want to work in or near your home town. And if home is an expensive city such as London, can you afford to? Is your plan to set up on your own after gaining experience in various practices? And should that inuence the way you approach a practice?

Only you can provide the answers to these kinds of questions, but it is worth trying to answer them because it focuses, and probably minimises, the essential research that you will have to do.

Maybe it is too early to start thinking about it at this stage, but bear in mind that although you tell yourself that you will move regularly from office to office following new kinds of experience, the reality is that you tend to stay with the practice you first thought of. The trouble with architecture is that it really is more interesting more of the time than most other occupations.

If you are enjoying your work and enjoying the people around you, there are no obvious incentives to change.

Victoria Batters provides anecdotal confirmation of this:

'Most of my friends went to work with the firms they had worked at in their year out, ' she says. Atypically, she did year-out stints with several practices and was offered jobs in France following a semester there as part of her course. But even she eventually returned to Glasgow and now works with ZM Architecture.

A lot of young architects sign up with local practices simply because they have developed a good relationship with them and so have positive reasons for returning.

And any practice, providing you aren't hopeless, will want to keep you. But there is another world out there and if you have to produce a CV and portfolio anyway, maybe it is worth doing these for a wider range of practices.

RESEARCH What do you need to find out? Firstly, research as much as you can about the target practices. Fletcher Priest's Tim Fyles says:

'It's so off-putting when the letter accompanying a CV shows the applicant hasn't bothered to find out about the practice.'

In cities with local architecture schools, like Victoria Batters' Glasgow, there is always a local network. She says: 'It's such a small architectural community here that you know the workplaces, the projects and who is getting interesting stuff. Also you know what jobs are being offered - and the salaries.'

Other time-honoured research routes for the inside skinny on your targets include your old architecture school and pubs where architects drink. The information you are after is to do with the practice's outlook, whether the boss goes into pompous mode when interviewing and how to deal with it, what are its foibles, does it pay well or badly, and does it encourage you to take on responsibilities.

But you also need to do an Internet trawl. Most practices have a web site. They are sometimes a bit embarrassing, but they can give you some idea of the scope and leanings and quality of a practice. The very least you should do is to check out the site.

And because it is in the public domain, you will probably be expected to have a good idea of its contents. And to like most of it. If you didn't, why would you bother writing in? Then do a thorough Google search on the practice's name. This may elicit information the practice forgot to include.

If you get as far as an interview, you should ask to look around the office. Sometimes practices, such as London's Jestico+Whiles - and a number of others - run open days or invite young pre-CV prospects to take a personal look around. Jump at this kind of opportunity.

AND FINALLY When you prepare your CV material remember that architectural practices are made up of quite proud and touchy people whose antennae are especially attuned to slights. Especially by students.

So you need to at least appear to be enthusiastic about working with the practice to which you are sending a letter. Better by far is that your enthusiasm is genuine.

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