Architecture Job Interview: The good, the bad, and ugly - Architecture Career Guide
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Architecture Job Interview: The good, the bad, and ugly

Flikr: The Ridge Resorts

Flikr: The Ridge Resorts

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to have gone through a few interviews, and some of them have been good, many others have been bad. Now that I am in the position where I am sitting on the other side of the table and doing the hiring, I look back and remember how nerve-wracking and downright terrifying they all were. I try to keep that in mind when I evaluate candidates and give them a bit of leeway on their nerves, because I have been there. Below is some musings on a few memorable interviews I have been in.

The Good

I was currently working part-time at an architecture firm due to the recession, so I was looking to find full-time employment. Times were tough for everyone, and there were few firms hiring and many more people applying. I sent out resumes to every firm I could think of, whether they were hiring or not. I sent to big firms, small firms, even to non-architecture firms (interior design, construction). I finally got asked in to interview at a small firm based on my resume and work samples. I wasn’t having any luck at any other firms and I felt like this was my only chance. They did small commercial architecture and interior design, so I knew I had a good shot at this one, but I was extremely nervous, not wanting to blow my only shot.

The day before the interview I drove around the area where the firm was, timing how long it would take, and getting the lay of the land. I knew exactly when to leave to get there early, where I would park and how to get in. I researched the firm and knew who I would be interviewing with, what school they went to and what projects they were currently working on. I had a list of questions (about 15) that I could pick and choose from as the interview progressed. In short, I was as prepared as I could be.

The day of the interview, I showed up 10 minutes early, waited in the parking lot for another 5, then walked in. I was greeted and shown to the conference room where I walked the room looking at the projects on the wall waiting for the interviewers to get in. As they came in I greeted them warmly with a firm handshake and a smile. As we began talking I showed my excitement for architecture and walked them through my best project in my portfolio, sprinkling the technical information with anecdotal stories that show I really did work on it.

As we began wrapping up the interview, things were going great and one of the interviewers (there were 3) got up and said he would be right back. When he came back he had brought two of their project managers in and told them to look at my portfolio. He wanted them to see how I put it together, and the work that I did. He wanted to show off my work! I knew things had gone well, and within a couple of days I was asked back in to meet the “big boss”, and shortly after that was given an offer letter.

The Bad

Things didn’t always go that well. I have had some bad interviews that I just knew was going south from the beginning. This isn’t even counting the interviews that I showed up for, but the architect forgot about, was too busy for, or just canceled on me (who does that?). One interview in particular I almost didn’t even finish because it just wasn’t a good fit.

It was early in my career and I was still in school, but looking for a full-time job in architecture. I had a few years of experience behind me and thought I would be a perfect fit for the large firm that was looking for some help. I quickly applied and was offered an interview the next day. I was young and cocky and thought I had this thing in the bag. I showed up for the interview early and had some time to kill before my scheduled time. The firm was in a large office tower, so I decided to head up to their floor and find out where they were before I went in. I thought I would get a drink of water from the drinking fountain and use the restroom while I waited as I had about 30 minutes to kill.

As I got up to the floor and the elevator doors opened I was immediately greeted by the receptionist in front of me. I had failed to realize that this firm didn’t have a suite on the third floor, they had the whole third floor! My options at that moment were to pretend that I accidentally went to the wrong floor, but then show up again later, or just tell her I was here really early. I decided to just fess up and say I was here for the interview. She dialed up the architect, and I could hear his frustration over the phone, and she repeated a few times, “yes, 30 minutes”. I sat in the lobby for about 15 minutes and was soon greeted by a clearly frustrated architect.

In the interview, he brought in the resume and work samples I sent through the email and began questioning me about the projects. I soon realized that I had sent him an old portfolio and tried to get him to look at the new portfolio I brought with me. He wasn’t having any of it and just moved onto my resume. Problem was, it was an old resume too. I started talking about my recent work experience and he looked like he was having trouble following along. I pointed out the mistake and his frustration seemed to grow. I will give him credit because he still powered through the interview, but I already knew I wasn’t going to be getting a call back.

The Ugly

Even with all of my “bad” interviews, there is one in particular that still stands out. I was looking to change firms and go to a firm that would offer me more opportunity for advancement. I had a really close friend that worked at a small firm and let me know they might be looking for a new project manager. I wasn’t at project manager level, but I did do a lot of project manager tasks up to that point, so I thought why not. My friend setup an interview and I got ready for this big career move.

As I showed up for the interview, I pulled up to the building and began looking for the suite. I walked up to the second floor and started looking for suite 212. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find it, walking past every single office, which suddenly ended at 210. I walked around again and counted the suites, there was clearly no 212. I quickly called my friend and after some short discussion, I realized I was at the wrong building.

I went to the building across the lot and eventually found 212. When I walked in the door there was nobody there. No sound of people talking, no click-clack of the keyboard, no printers printing. I peeked around a few corners and couldn’t find anybody. I went back out to the hall and called my friend to see if I was at the right place this time. She eventually just came out to the door and greeted me, apparently a lot of the firm had gone to lunch. I was shown to the conference room 10 minutes late from when I was supposed to start. I waited for over 30 minutes for the architect to come in. I could not have looked at another project on the wall without dying of boredom.

As the interview started, you could tell he was not into it. He never asked about my resume or my projects and just basically read what was on the resume. “Ok, so you used to work at X firm. Hmm. Ok.” Not much dialog there. Then the interview turned south, he just asked me what makes me think I could handle being a project manager, and started rolling his eyes as I talked about my previous experience. He asked me if I would be committed to staying in the area for a long time or if I would just take my family and move to another state. Ok, random question. Then the final question, what makes me think I can be successful as an architect and what makes me so special to think I could do it. As I answered, he cut me off and just said, “I think you are very naive and I don’t think you will make it. You are no more special than anybody else around here.”

Needless to say I didn’t get an offer, and I was never happier to not get a job. I came to find out that he had just had two previous project managers quit on him and move to another state, so that explains the weird question, but I still don’t know why he was so negative. My friend shortly left the firm as well and moved on from that architect. I still remember that interview to this day because it gave me more motivation to prove him wrong and that I could make it, so in the end, it was worthwhile.

So there you have it, everybody has bad interviews and not getting one job offer isn’t the end of the world, and in some cases can be a blessing. What about you? What interview stories do you have? Have you ever bombed an interview and made a fool of yourself like I did? Let me know in the comments.