Whether it’s landing your dream job at a prestigious firm or securing a spot in a coveted architecture program, the interview is your opportunity to showcase not just your skills and portfolio, but also your personality, values, and vision for the future.
It’s a moment where the tangible outcomes of your education and experiences meet the intangible qualities that make you a unique candidate.
This article aims to demystify the architecture interview process, offering a roadmap to navigate its challenges with confidence.
Stand out from the competition, and create an interview ready portfolio.
Understanding the Architecture Interview Process
The architecture interview process can vary significantly from one firm or institution to another, yet it shares a common goal: to assess a candidate’s suitability for a particular role or program.
Understanding the nuances of this process is the first step in preparing for success.
This section will delve into the typical structure of architecture interviews, the importance of these interviews in the broader context of the architecture profession, and the various formats they might take.
Typical Structure of Architecture Interviews
Most architecture interviews follow a structured format, beginning with an introduction, followed by a review of the candidate’s portfolio, a series of questions and discussions, and finally, an opportunity for candidates to ask questions.
However, within this framework, there’s considerable variation. For example, some interviews might place a heavy emphasis on technical skills and past project experiences, while others might focus more on understanding a candidate’s design philosophy and thought process.
Importance in the Job Search and Admissions Process
Architecture interviews are a critical component of the job search and admissions process. They provide a platform for candidates to demonstrate their technical abilities, creative thinking, and communication skills beyond what can be conveyed through a resume or portfolio alone.
Interviews also offer firms and institutions a glimpse into a candidate’s personality and potential fit within their culture and team dynamics. For candidates, it’s an opportunity to assess whether the firm’s or program’s values and ambitions align with their own, making it a two-way evaluative process.
Different Types of Interviews
Understanding the different types of interviews you might encounter will help you prepare more effectively:
- In-Person Interviews: Traditional face-to-face meetings where you’ll likely meet with one or more interviewers. These can range from formal meetings in an office setting to more casual conversations over coffee.
- Virtual Interviews: Increasingly common, especially in initial screening rounds, these interviews are conducted over video conferencing platforms. They require the same level of professionalism as in-person interviews but with additional considerations for technology and environment.
- Panel Interviews: In these settings, a candidate is interviewed by multiple members of the firm or institution simultaneously. This format allows for a diverse range of questions and insights but can be more intimidating for candidates.
- Informal Discussions: Sometimes, particularly in smaller firms or less formal contexts, the interview might feel more like a conversation. While this can be less pressure-filled, it’s still important to remain professional and focused on demonstrating your suitability for the role.
Each type of interview presents its own set of challenges and opportunities. By understanding the structure and expectations associated with these different formats, candidates can tailor their preparation and approach to each situation, ensuring they present themselves in the best possible light. The key is to remain adaptable, thoughtful, and engaged throughout the process, regardless of the format your interview takes.
Preparing for the Interview
Success in an architecture interview often hinges on thorough preparation, which involves more than just rehearsing answers to common questions. It requires a deep dive into the firm’s or university’s ethos, a strategic curation of your portfolio, and an introspective reflection on your career and educational journey. This section outlines a comprehensive approach to prepare effectively for your architecture interview.
Understand the Firm/University: Start with a robust research phase. Delve into the firm’s or university’s history, mission, notable projects, and any recent news or awards. For universities, look into their academic philosophy, faculty accomplishments, and student works. This knowledge not only helps you tailor your responses but also demonstrates your genuine interest and initiative.
- Website and Social Media: Use these platforms to get a sense of their current focus, culture, and values.
- Network: If possible, reach out to current employees or students through professional or social networks to gain insider perspectives.
Curate with Care: Your portfolio is a visual narrative of your architectural journey. It should highlight your creativity, technical skills, and problem-solving abilities. Tailor it to the job or program you’re applying for, emphasizing projects that resonate with their work or academic focus.
- Balance: Include a variety of projects but focus on quality over quantity. A well-executed project that showcases multiple skills is more impactful than several less polished works.
- Narrative: Structure your portfolio to tell a story. Start with strong, engaging projects and include process sketches or development stages to show your thinking and evolution.
- Digital vs. Physical: Consider the format. Digital portfolios are versatile and easily shared, but a physical portfolio can be memorable if you’re interviewing in person. Be prepared to adapt based on the interview format.
Common Interview Questions and Strategies for Answering
Anticipate and Practice: Familiarize yourself with typical questions asked in architecture interviews. These can range from discussions about your design philosophy to technical challenges you’ve overcome in projects.
- Reflect on Your Experiences: Prepare stories that illustrate your problem-solving skills, teamwork, and adaptability. Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your responses concisely and effectively.
- Be Genuine: Authenticity is key. While it’s important to show how you’re a good fit for them, it’s equally vital to express your own goals and how the position or program aligns with your aspirations.
During the Interview
Dress and Demeanor: First impressions matter. Dress appropriately for the culture of the firm or university. Be punctual, and treat everyone you meet with respect. Your interaction with staff could be part of the evaluation.
Confidence and Body Language: Carry yourself with confidence. Firm handshakes, eye contact, and positive body language can set a welcoming tone for the interview.
Discussing Your Portfolio
Engagement and Explanation: Be enthusiastic when presenting your work. Explain your design process, the challenges faced, and how you overcame them. Be ready to answer questions or delve deeper into specific projects.
Feedback and Flexibility: Show that you’re open to feedback and learning. If discussing a project that didn’t go as planned, focus on what you learned from the experience.
Behavioral and Situational Questions
Prepare for the Unexpected: In addition to discussing your work, be ready for questions that assess your behavior in certain scenarios or your approach to hypothetical design challenges.
- Examples and Experiences: Draw on real-life examples where possible. If asked about how you handle conflict or work under pressure, share specific instances and outcomes.
Preparing for an architecture interview is a multi-faceted process that goes beyond simple Q&A rehearsals. It’s about understanding the essence of the place you’re applying to, presenting a curated glimpse into your architectural journey, and engaging in a meaningful dialogue about your work and aspirations.
During the Interview
Navigating the interview process requires not just preparation but also the ability to engage effectively and confidently in the moment. This section delves into strategies for making a strong impression during the architecture interview, covering first impressions, portfolio presentation, and handling behavioral and situational questions.
The moment you step into the interview room or log into a virtual interview platform, your interview begins. First impressions are crucial, as they set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Here are key aspects to consider:
- Punctuality: Arriving on time, or logging in a few minutes early for virtual interviews, shows respect for the interviewer’s time and demonstrates your organizational skills.
- Appearance: Dress appropriately for the interview. While architecture firms may vary in their dress codes, erring on the side of professionalism is always a safe bet. In virtual interviews, ensure your background is tidy and free from distractions.
- Body Language: Convey confidence through your posture, eye contact, and handshake (if in person). These non-verbal cues can communicate your enthusiasm and confidence in your abilities.
- Initial Interactions: How you greet your interviewers and respond to their initial questions can set a positive tone. Be courteous, and express your appreciation for the opportunity to interview.
Discussing Your Portfolio
Your portfolio is a visual narrative of your architectural journey. Discussing it effectively is key to demonstrating your capabilities:
- Storytelling: Instead of merely describing each project, tell a story that highlights your problem-solving process, creativity, and the impact of your work. Connect your projects with the values and interests of the firm or university.
- Engagement: Invite the interviewer to ask questions about your work. This not only makes the interview more interactive but also shows that you’re open to dialogue and feedback.
- Passion and Understanding: Demonstrate your passion for your projects and a deep understanding of architectural principles. Explain the rationale behind your design decisions and how they align with broader architectural trends or theories.
Behavioral and Situational Questions
Behavioral and situational questions are designed to understand how you’ve handled past situations or how you might tackle future challenges. Here’s how to approach them:
- STAR Method: Structure your responses using the Situation, Task, Action, Result framework. This method helps you deliver concise and structured answers, highlighting your problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
- Reflect on Experiences: Prepare by reflecting on a variety of experiences—both successful projects and challenges. This preparation will enable you to draw on a rich set of examples that demonstrate your adaptability, teamwork, and leadership skills.
- Think Aloud: For situational questions about hypothetical scenarios, walk the interviewer through your thought process. This shows how you approach problems, weigh options, and make decisions.
Making the Most of the Interview
The interview is not just about answering questions; it’s an opportunity to learn more about the firm or university and to determine if it’s the right fit for you. Engage with your interviewers, ask thoughtful questions, and express your genuine interest in their work and the role you’re applying for.
By focusing on these key aspects during your interview, you can build a strong rapport with your interviewers, showcase your skills and passion for architecture, and make a memorable impression that stands out in the competitive architecture field.
The architecture interview process doesn’t end the moment you leave the room or disconnect from the video call. What you do after the interview can significantly influence your chances of success.
Sending a Thank-You Note
- Timeliness: Aim to send a thank-you note within 24 hours after your interview. This quick follow-up demonstrates your enthusiasm and professionalism.
- Personalization: Customize your message for each interviewer, if possible. Refer to specific moments or discussions from the interview to show attentiveness and genuine interest.
- Gratitude and Interest: Express your appreciation for the interviewers’ time and reiterate your excitement about the opportunity. This is also a chance to briefly remind them of why you are a great fit for the role or program.
Reflecting on the Interview
- Self-Evaluation: Take some time to reflect on how the interview went. Consider what questions you answered well and where you might have stumbled. This self-assessment is crucial for your professional development and for preparing more effectively for future interviews.
- Feedback Request: If appropriate, and particularly after a rejection, consider asking for feedback. Some firms or universities are open to providing constructive feedback to candidates, which can be invaluable for your growth and improvement.
- Timing: If you haven’t heard back by the time they indicated they would make a decision, it’s acceptable to send a polite follow-up email. Wait at least a week beyond the expected decision date to inquire about the status of your application.
- Content: Keep your follow-up message concise and polite. Express your continued interest in the position and inquire about the timeline for a decision. This demonstrates your enthusiasm and respect for the process.
Leveraging the Experience
- Networking: Even if you don’t get the job or admission, the connections you’ve made through the interview process can be valuable. Consider keeping in touch with your interviewers or other contacts you’ve made at the firm or university. Networking can open doors to future opportunities.
- Learning and Growth: Every interview is a learning opportunity. Use the experience to refine your portfolio, improve your interview skills, and deepen your understanding of what different firms or programs are looking for. This preparation will make you a stronger candidate for the next opportunity.
Preparing for the Next Steps
- Multiple Opportunities: If you’re interviewing with several firms or programs, continue preparing for other interviews even as you await a decision. Stay engaged and proactive in your job or university search.
- Resilience: Remember that rejection is not a reflection of your worth as an architect or designer. The architecture field is highly competitive, and many factors influence hiring and admission decisions. Stay resilient, keep applying, and use each experience to build a stronger foundation for your career.
The period following an interview is an opportunity to reinforce your interest, reflect on your performance, and prepare for future opportunities, setting the stage for a successful career in architecture.
What to take to an architectural interview
Interviewing for any new job is for most people a very daunting prospect and one of the most anxious processes’ to go through.
There are worries about leaving on time, finding the location, arriving on time, what to wear, first impressions, what to say, what questions you’ll be asked, what questions to ask yourself, what to take …it goes on
…but it is the question of “what to take” that is arguably one of the most significant and therefore what we will focus on here.
What to take with you into an interview is a very important subject, and particularly when being interviewed for an architectural position, as what you choose to bring with you can make or break the interview, and be the difference between getting the job and not.
Physical architectural portfolio
Unless told otherwise by the practice or person interviewing you, always prepare and bring with you a physical portfolio of your work.
This should show a selection of your best and most relevant work in chronological order, with the predominant focus being on your recently completed and current projects and experience.
Much like your C.V and sample portfolio (used for the application process), be restrained with how much work you aim to show. You will only have a short time to run through what could be a quite a number of years’ worth of work, so again be selective.
The size of portfolio is also important and should ideally be an A4 or A3 size, which is both easy to carry and handle when showing and talking about your work. If struggling for inspiration, portfolio templates can provide an excellent stating point.
A portfolio case is a fundamental item of interview equipment, and you should never take your portfolio anywhere without one.
It’s obvious use is to firstly protect your portfolio and keep it clean and in good condition, but additionally it also forms part of your general interview appearance, and influences the vital first impression we reference to here.
Ideally the case should be an A3 size, relatively rigid and be a muted color, black is best.
We recommend this portfolio case available on Amazon.
Memory stick/hard drive
Always upload your C.V, sample portfolio and full portfolio to a memory stick and/or hard drive, and take it with you in your bag.
Some interviewers may ask for this, more than likely because they will want to view your portfolio via a digital screen or projector, however if they haven’t it provides the option and show you are prepared.
It also enables you to leave them a copy, and provides a backup should something happen to your physical portfolio.
There are many options to choose from but we have always used and can recommend the WD hard-drives available here on Amazon
For a simpler reason to the above, uploading a third version of your presentation material to a cloud-based storage facility such as dropbox provides that extra level of backup and peace of mind.
…if you lose everything, you still have an option!
Address & contact information
Take note of the address and location of the practice and building your interview is scheduled to be in, and write this down on both your phone and a physical piece of paper.
Secondly, write down the interviewer’s name or person who contacted you, so you have reference and someone to ask for when you arrive. This should be accompanied by a contact number, in case you get lost or are running late.
Notepad and pen
Put a notepad and pen into your portfolio case (not your bag where it might be hard to find under pressure) and use it to take notes. Even if you don’t write anything down, this shows that you are prepared.
It can also be used as a handy reminder for any questions that haven’t be answered at the end of the interview.
…you will always be asked if “you have any questions”
A smart bag
A good “architects bag” should be able to carry anything from your USB drive, to your lunch, and will just tidy up your appearance and aid in portraying yourself as a professional.
Bottle of water
…and in the above bag you should have a bottle of water.
You are likely to be a little nervous and/or be talking for a large amount of time, and having an itchy or dry throat will only distract you.
It’s important to make sure that you don’t have bad breath, and so take some chewing gum or at least brush your teeth before leaving.
But please make sure that you remove the chewing gum before you enter the location of the interview, do not start your interview with it in your mouth.
As mentioned above, having multiple copies of the important portfolio items in various formats could be a life saver, and whilst having a few copies of your C.V won’t make or break your interview, if they are required, it shows organization and forward thinking.
It’s likely that if you have more than one interviewer, the second person may not have seen your C.V, and so this also provides them with a copy.
These are all plus’s and good qualities to demonstrate.
Sample portfolio copies
Same can be said for your sample portfolio, take two hard copies, or one for each interviewer just in case.
List of questions
Finally, and prior to attending your interview, make a list of questions to ask at the end, even if you don’t really want to know the answers or already know everything you require, make some up.
This shows that you’ve done a little research into the architecture practice and the position being advertised, which again demonstrates good personal qualities to your interviewers.
What not to take into an architecture interview!
Next we’ll take a quick look at what to not take to an interview:
A bad bag
A bad choice of bag believe it or not can have a real negative impact on how you are perceived as you walk into your interview.
Under no circumstances should you use a bag that is worn and/or tatty looking, has graffiti, a key ring attached, is plastic, or sport related, and really you should also stay away from any form of ruck sack.
We have a good list architects bags here
Turn your phone off
We all know this one but it’s very easy to forget …turn it off or at the very least put it on silent. There is really no excuse for it interrupting your interview.
Every architect likes a physical model …but not in an interview situation.
They are firstly incredibly hard to travel with and so you’ll be lucky if it makes it in one piece, and secondly they are often very cumbersome and will take up too much space on the interviewers table.
To get around this, photograph your models and create a dedicated sheet to them in your portfolio.
We recommend an A3 portfolio and case above for this very reason …do not take large prints with you into your interview; they are too cumbersome and are very likely to not fit on the interview room table!
Friends and family
We have seen this before, particularly with younger applicants, do not attend your interview with anyone else but yourself.
You must appear capable and professional.
Similarly, the same goes for pets. Find someone to look after them if you have too, but do not bring them to or into the interview space.
To Sum Up…
The architecture interview is a unique opportunity to not only present your work and experiences but also to connect on a personal level with potential employers or admissions committees.
It’s a moment to articulate not just what you’ve done, but who you are and what you aspire to achieve in the realm of architecture.
The strategies and insights discussed in this article—from thorough preparation and effective portfolio presentation to engaging communication and thoughtful post-interview follow-ups—are designed to equip you with the tools necessary to navigate the interview process with confidence.
Remember, each interview is a learning experience, offering invaluable insights into the architectural profession and your place within it.
As you move forward, carry with you the understanding that success in interviews doesn’t solely rely on showcasing technical skills and creative projects.
It’s equally about demonstrating your passion, resilience, adaptability, and, importantly, your ability to reflect and grow from each experience.
The architecture field thrives on innovation, collaboration, and continuous learning, qualities that you should aim to reflect in every interaction.
Approach each interview as an opportunity to share your story, learn from others, and contribute to a conversation that extends far beyond the immediate goal of securing a job or admission.
With preparation, mindfulness, and a spirit of openness, you’re not just navigating an interview process; you’re laying the foundation for a rich, fulfilling career in architecture.
Remember, every architect’s journey is unique—embrace yours with enthusiasm, dedication, and a commitment to excellence