When it comes to applying for a new job, in any field, often the most difficult part is standing out from the crowd at the first stage. Fortunately for architects, in our field we have a tool that can help you to do just this: the portfolio. Unfortunately, according to Brandon Hubbard, many architects are getting it wrong when it comes to application portfolios. In this article, originally published on his blog at The Architect's Guide, Hubbard outlines six tips on how to create and submit a two-page portfolio that will increase your chances of getting a callback.
When applying to any architecture job I advise applicants to use the shortest portfolio possible. I have successfully applied to the top firms in the world with only a resume and a TWO PAGE portfolio. Most people are surprised by this, since the typical portfolios I see are in the 20-40 page range. To be clear I am only talking about the initial introduction to a firm, not the in person interview. For that I recommend a full length traditional portfolio.
For the first contact architecture application I recommend a “sample portfolio”, usually two to five pages long. Just like the resume, it is only a snapshot of your greatest work and experience.
Getting into a portfolio discussion is difficult because a lot of the final product is creativity based. Yet, I will cover several general guidelines to follow below when preparing and submitting a sample portfolio.
1. You did what?
This is extremely important and it is a mistake I see all the time on job applications and portfolios. Working in an architecture office is complicated. Projects are always a team effort so it can be difficult to separate what you specifically did. However, it is vital in this sample portfolio that you clearly show what work and problems you solved on a project(s).
Did you develop a particular detail? Work with the MEP engineers on developing the facade design? You need to clearly explain this using minimal text and RELEVANT imagery. Don’t just put the $5000 professional rendering of the tower project you worked on and list off how you designed the parking layout. You can still show the rendering to give some context but your primary focus should be to actually show what YOU worked on. This may not be as glamorous but it is key to telling your story.
Making even the most mundane topics interesting is a skill all its own. Maybe you were able to redesign the parking ramp configuration to add two extra spaces using the same area. Not an exciting example but many clients I have worked with would buy you a drink for getting two free spaces.
Whatever the issue might be you need to tie it back into the required roles and responsibilities they are looking for in the job posting. I discuss in greater detail how to target your application to the specific role in How To Write The Perfect Architecture Resume.
2. Keep it short
As I said above, for the first contact with an architecture office (email or online application) you want to be as brief as possible. When I personally review applications I may only spend a minute skimming the resume and portfolio. Other hiring managers I have spoke with say a minute might even be on the high end. Architects are always busy and since about three-quarters of architecture firms have 2 to 49 employees there will not be a dedicated hiring manager. Usually it is a senior architect juggling multiple projects and deadlines so he or she does not have 15 minutes to browse through your 825MB portfolio. Which leads to my next point.
Keep the file size small. When an application comes in it is generally given a yes or no then passed on to other managers to make a choice whether to interview. This is always emailed around internally so keeping the file size down is essential. Each office has different email file limits but a general rule is to keep it under 5MB.
3. Make it easy for the hiring manager
Maybe I am just getting old, but I have a strict rule when it comes to applications . NO online portfolios. I always get a lot of resistance on this subject. Usually because the applicant has already set up their online account, loaded their profile up with every project they have ever even thought about and sent their link to 200 offices. They then wonder why they are not hearing back from anyone.
Just use a simple PDF email attachment. This way you are not depending on the reliability of your host site or the office IT system. In fact, many firms, especially the large offices will block access and downloads from hundreds of sites, potentially including your host site.
Also by using a PDF it allows complete control over the appearance and formatting of your portfolio. Many of the free online host sites are littered with ugly advertising and pop ups. Not the greatest first impression. Printing from these sites can also be difficult, or impossible. More on printing in the next step.
4. Keep it simple
No crazy looking fonts and don’t make me search for your contact info. Usually just email and phone, address isn’t really necessary. Put these somewhere on the front and in the same location on subsequent pages, a header or footer works well.
Please just format it letter paper size for US applications and A4 for international. I get a lot of push back on this when advising applicants, feel free to leave your own in the comments below. The reason is simple, all offices have a small format printer and making your portfolio as printer friendly as possible is great. I will usually print out someone’s portfolio so I can easily mark it up with comments and questions before the interview. If when I print I forget to “scale to fit” or it is formatted as a 1” x 55” rectangle I am already frustrated with this applicant.
Another international printing tip: know the small difference between letter and A4 paper sizes. This could determine if all your contact info gets cut off the bottom when your letter formatted page is printed on A4 paper.
Some offices I have worked at only have the black and white print setting enabled to avoid the cost of large batch prints of color pages (the print room is for that). So you may want to see what your sample portfolio and resume look like printed out b&w. An image that looks great in color may turn into a big black blob.
5. Use a grownup email address
I once received an application from a recent graduate. I won’t give his actual email but it was something similar to firstname.lastname@example.org. I see this all the time, particularly with young architects. I love a hilarious email title as much as the next guy but you are a professional now. Every part of your application needs to be professional.
Just keep your email address simple, something like email@example.com. Since your email is usually plastered all over your application and in the email heading, it needs to represent professionalism. Creating a new one is fast and free. Another advantage is that it begins to separate your professional and personal emails. This will hopefully avoid accidentally emailing your future employer your weekend plans.
6. Get past the SPAM filter
Since most applications will be coming in and distributed internally by email this is very important. Most firms have pretty hefty email spam filters. My junk folder is typically filled with important emails that never seem to make the cut to my inbox.
Here is a comprehensive list of email spam words to avoid.
Using certain “trigger words”, especially in your subject line will increase your chances of being tossed aside by the filter.
Now, I hope you won’t be using “Free Viagra” in your email subject line but you could be unknowingly tripped up using something like:
“Hello!! Feel free to check out my awesome portfolio!!”
Not only is this an awful email subject but it contains no less than four trigger words and exclamation points, likely giving it a front row seat to the spam folder.
Another hint: avoid putting an intro in the subject. See the two examples:
Subject: Hi, I am Julie Anderson. Please see my portfolio and resume
Subject: Julie Anderson Portfolio and Resume
Which one would you be more likely to open? Personally I would open the second one first. The subject in the second example has a stronger sense of authority and implies that the recipient is expecting the application. Clear, simple, and to the point.
Hopefully these tips will help you create an effective sample portfolio and land you the big interview. That’s when the real work begins and you need to build a fantastic full portfolio to bring to the interview. More on that in a future post, check back soon.
Main image via Shutterstock.com