January 25, 2019, by Katy Johnson
Getting Experience Within Architecture
By Izzy Rhodes, University of Nottingham alumna and founder of Swain Architecture
Beyond university, the world of architecture offers an open plan of opportunities for students to build the foundation of their careers. When it comes to getting professional experience under your belt, the competition can be fierce, so to get ahead of the crowd. You need to be proactive and learn how to get your portfolio in front of the people that count.
1. How and when should you apply for your part one and part two opportunities?
You should aim to begin applying for your part one before you get into the thick of your final portfolio submission; after all, this is the main activity you will be focusing on in your third and sixth years.
If you’re struggling to make a decision, take advantage of the RIBA East Midlands student mentoring scheme; which gives you access to at least two sessions of ‘industry genius’. During these sessions, you will be paired up with a mentor to pick their brains and bounce ideas off for professional advice. Remember they have been through everything you are going through right now, so listen and learn.
When applying for your placements, you should always consider what sector of the industry you want to gain experience in. This can range from local or regional practice to one that’s national or even international. It’s also critical to consider if there is an area you want to specialize in; such as heritage, commercial or residential. Obviously, the decisions you make here aren’t set in stone and, in fact, these placements are the perfect opportunity to test the water in the different areas in the industry.
When I first started my studies, I wanted to work for a large commercial practice, but after landing a placement, I knew it wasn’t right for me. This is why probation periods are so important; they aren’t just for the employer to see if the employee is any good. It’s also for the individual to test out the company to see if it’s the right fit for them, without judgment or guilt. You should never feel guilty for leaving – if it’s not for you, make the change and leave.
2. What would be your advice for an effective portfolio to send to employers?
First and foremost, this is a design industry, so there is no reason for you to send out a plain looking portfolio. It should reflect your quality of work and represent who you are and what you’re passionate about. Even the greatest work can be let down by something that is poorly laid out and has no design brilliance. Be concise and informative, and sell yourself with a CV and portfolio that have some design coherency.
A PDF is usually the best format for showcasing your work, but you shouldn’t just leave it at an email. Chase up your application with a phone call and make yourself known to the company. Your application should also be an ego boost for the practice; tell them exactly what makes you want to work for them, and what makes them a standout in the industry. Generic answers and blanket statements won’t help you here.
Interviews can be tricky for any industry, but with enough research, you should be able to tackle it with ease. When I first meet a potential employee, I know exactly what I want to hear from them. They should come loaded with searching and challenging questions, they should ask about the aims of the business, and know exactly what they want to get out of their placement or graduate role. Ultimately they should be engaged and interested. Being passionate is essential, so if you can spin out a speech about who your favourite architect is and why, while explaining how they have been an inspiration to you, it shows you have a genuine interest and excitement about the industry.
3. What is the best way to gain work experience or internship opportunities within architecture?
It’s never too early to start gaining experience wherever you can. Holidays are the best time to find part-time jobs, volunteer positions or just shadowing opportunities.
Be obsessed with the industry and show this where you can – even having an active Instagram account, showing an eye for existing architecture, can be a great start to your experience. Intriguing brickwork, innovative office designs or unique historic refurbishments, snap a picture and put them together as a virtual representation of your eye for the impressive.
Find advice on developing your skills and experience within your degree in architecture on our website. If you would like to talk us about your plans, please book an appointment by logging onto MyCareer
Images within this blog has been provided by the writer.