Interviewing for an architecture job

Last week I took part in some mock interviews with third year students at Portsmouth University. Having studied at Portsmouth it was really nice to get involved with their work again having not had much contact for a while. We conducted a mock interview via Teams instead of meeting in person and was a good way of giving some feedback and preparing for the real thing hopefully. I thought I’d write this down to collate some of the tips I have for students and how I’d normally approach an interview both as interviewer and interviewee. I’m hoping to get some feedback via Twitter about what people do and how they approach them – I’ll update the post with anything useful.

Updated: I posted this Tweet and the replies are interesting and have updated the post with the feedback.

Firstly we started with a bit of a general chat about the world and how they were coping with lock down. The idea was to settle them in a bit and not make it too formal. This would normally take place in an office and then shown into the conference room obviously. Often the best place to start is to ask a bit more about them and explain their background and interest in Architecture.

Alex had a good way to start an interview…

I start telling them about us, so they can listen & compose themselves. Then ask them to tell me about their journey so far; where they’re from, a bit of backstory. Then we’ll do portfolio…

After that I asked them to talk me through their portfolio. They were allowed 20 mins but some went over as there was a lot to talk about.

Presentation is key here and both in terms of the layouts, graphics and work presented but also in terms of how you approach speaking about your work. Top tips include using cover pages to allow a suitable pause between work, especially if you are a fast talker – even more important if the presentation is screen based. Remembering that the person you’re presenting to may not know anything about your site or project is also really important – context please! It’s always really interesting to see how you respond if we ask a question about your work. This can vary from which software or workflow you used to make that beautiful section to have you seen this other thing that’s related or just teasing out a bit more info about the project generally.

One common comment I always have on work presented is that there should be a mix of work. It can be a bit boring to see endless Revit drawings (even if they’re really well presented). I always love to see models, sketches, collages, even a CGI. It also shows far more creativity and broader range of skills.

I have two stock questions that I ask and they’re both massive cliches, the first being… “so what do you do when you’re not architecting?” and it’s always interesting to see what the response is. By far the most frustrating response is to say how much they enjoy sketching / travelling / photography / making pots / carpentry and so on and to not have any evidence of it in the portfolio. I think every portfolio should have what I would call a ‘below the line’ section. A bit that’s after the architectural bit and if it’s gone well you can keep going with some broader chat.

The second one is so cliched it hurts. “Who’s your favourite architect?” … “and has that changed over time”. Whilst it’s cliched it’s always revealing about what people say and again another chance to start a discussion with people and see how they engage.

And then CVs… There seems to be a trend in CVs at present to show a series of icons of software packages used and also sometimes a 1 – 5 grade of where they sit with the skills – very tech industry. They also seem to look the same and suspect some form of template has been given (I think the RIBA do one). The point I tried to make to a few people was that if their work was good it would be really obvious that their skills were excellent and that these big icons of Revit and so on could have been used as thumbnails of their work. Ultimately training will be given on software but would prefer to see the skill described in the work and way in which it was presented. I’m probably in the minority but couldn’t care less about software skills. We can buy CGIs if we need them.

Am I way off with this? Would be interested in other peoples thoughts.

Owen also had some good feedback:

Interesting. I’m a bit removed form this now, but I would definitely lean towards attitude/interest/enthusiasm over technical ability too. Some stuff is less easy to teach, and bottom line, you’ve got to share a room with them.

And in a similar way Toby also suggested these pertinent thoughts:

+1 regarding stuff ‘below the line.’ As a candidate you should feel valued as a human being. All parties are going to share time, space, and ideas. How you think and what you value is so important.