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What practices are looking for when an architect applies

How to stand out in a job application

06 June 2019

What is it that makes a job application stand out from the rest? While a clear and well-presented CV (with no spelling mistakes) is a good starting point in any vocation, it is hard to know whether your application and/or portfolio is sending the right message.

Helen Taylor, Director of Practice at Scott Brownrigg, states that first and foremost the practice is looking for the relevance of the applicant’s experience to the position. This should run right through an application, irrespective of how impressive an applicant’s CV and portfolio may be in themselves.

Taylor also wants to see a demonstrable interest in the practice and its work, not a cut-and-paste application that could have been submitted to anyone.

"We want evidence that an applicant has done their homework: that they’ve looked at our website, know our projects and have spoken to people who know us,"Taylor confirms.

"They also need to demonstrate that they properly understand and want to do the job we are advertising."

An architect’s portfolio is the best opportunity for showing in advance the projects and experience an applicant will be talking about. At a recent presentation to students in Edinburgh, Scott Brownrigg gave some pointers about preparing a good portfolio.

They prefer to see whole schemes pictured - rather than isolated details, with information about the scale given, explained by plans that are clear and legible. Details, studies, specifications, and an explanation of the materials used will all help.

Sonal Rathod, HR Manager at PLP, explains that a good portfolio showing thoughtfully selected projects from a person who can present their work well is a winning combination.

"Candidates that express their work clearly and who are passionate about their work do stand out," Rathod says.

She recommends that portfolios should be self-critically edited. "Portfolios can be put together in a beautifully concise way," she suggests. Any work that is not interesting and/or relevant should not be included.

What are the most common mistakes that applicants make? In Taylor’s experience, some inexperienced architects are tempted to over-inflate their experience or knowledge. At worst, they may even present work that is not their own.

This can be easily exposed at interview when the applicant is asked to talk about their contribution to a project. Maria Crawford, director and office manager at North London-based Crawford Partnership, says they have interviewed people who are clearly ignorant about work displayed in their own portfolio – something that a few questions readily reveals.

Rupesh Vara, Job Board Sales Manager at RIBA Appointments, echoes this advice. "You can’t close an interview successfully if the practice has doubts that you are being honest," he warns.

Knowledge of software and digital tools is an important consideration. Revit and BIM experience count in an applicant’s favour at Scott Brownrigg, as do other visualisation skills in CAD, modelling and hand drawing. PLP now test candidates on software such as Revit and/or Rhino.

However, gaps in these skills are not necessarily deal-breakers. PLP provide training, while Taylor finds that shortcomings in candidates are much more likely to be in soft skills such as presentation and communication, or the demonstrable ability to work in a team.

What about applying for jobs on spec? Large practices will always receive speculative CVs and practices' policies will vary. At Scott Brownrigg, only very occasionally will a speculative CV lead to an immediate job offer.

However, Scott Brownrigg's policy is to keep all speculative applications on file for six months, and review them if a vacancy arises. Much better, advises Taylor, is to keep an eye on the practice’s website and social media for specific vacancies as they arise.

At PLP, they have a specific careers email address to which candidates can apply, and will review speculative CVs received on a daily basis.

While it is sometimes overstated, it remains true that a prospective employer likes to discover something personal about a candidate. That a candidate will be a good fit into a practice’s team is clearly an important factor.

"Design skills are important, but we also like rounded individuals," confirms Taylor.

"We are happy to hear about something they love to do over and above their day job, from guerrilla gardening to cycle racing. People who have a passion for their ideas and want to make a positive impact on the world."

Thanks to Helen Taylor, Director of Practice, Scott Brownrigg; Sonal Rathod, HR Manager, PLP Architecture; Maria Crawford, Director, Crawford Partnership; Rupesh Vara, RIBA Appointments.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Business, clients and services.
As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

Posted on 6 June 2019.

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