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Five Tips For a Successful Interview
June 01, 2012

Many would argue that these last five years have not been the best time to be a fresh entrée in the design and architectural marketplace. While this is true in pure numbers, arguably, this is the best time for talented, confident, capable and motivated students to make this transition. In many cases, companies are looking to hire talent to fill out their reduced ranks, to add a fresh point of view, expand their technical and creative skill-set, and to establish the next generation of design industry leaders.

However, this is not a great time for those who lack motivation, have weak skills, or for those whose educational efforts may not have been spent at the country’s best schools. It also is poor timing for those who have not made the effort to present themselves, their skills and their ambitions in a clear, effective way with that most important first impression, their portfolio. 

These times are great because for many who went into the field at the beginning of the industry slowdown, they have now opted out or lost interest in the industry. Talent abhors a vacuum, and the best talent is now needed to fill that vacuum left by others.

Five points to consider for successful interviewing include:

Be prepared: The Boy Scouts are right, be prepared. Go into an interview with a clear understanding of a company’s portfolio, its mission and values, key players within the company, and the types of roles and positions that are typically found within. Knowing how you might fit into the company’s structure also is a requirement.

Relevant portfolio: Your portfolio should be clear, unique, well organized, and illustrate the progression of your abilities and growth during academic years across a wide variety of skills. Your rendering, technical, digital, programming and creative skills should speak for themselves, and only be enhanced by your commentary and input. In this era of team projects, an understanding of what areas of the project you influenced and/or directed, versus the output of the entire team, also is helpful. The project brief, problems addressed and solved, and the unique twist that was taken in this particular project development also are important when showing any project.

Ask questions: When being interviewed, be prepared to ask questions. This might involve asking about the prospective firm’s portfolio, the type of business it does or unique aspects of its client base (i.e., lifestyle, international work, luxury or value). Also be prepared to talk a bit about your interest regarding these categories, as well.

Be personable: While it is not a “date,” better understanding what makes you a well-rounded, interesting, motivated and disciplined person is helpful. Interests outside of work, such as athletics, music, art and social involvement, all become differentiators when companies are looking at multiple applicants. A person who is accomplished in one area very often takes that discipline and accomplishment and applies it to other areas.

Know Your Goals: It is important to understand if this position is a “starter” job that will lead to something you really want to do, or whether it represents more of a long-term career plan. While this might not always be clear by looking in from the outside, you should at least have a sense of your career path in the back of your mind (i.e., working at the wallpaper store versus a Top Ten design firm). While every job done well is a stepping-stone to the next one, companies are often leery of designers who are looking for a launch pad, planning to take the training and run. Obviously, employers prefer prospective employees who have a longer view of what it takes to progress both personally and professionally in the industry, and who are willing to make at least a midterm commitment to the journey.
In the end, there has to be a two-way fit between the design firm and the applicant. That fit is made up of a wide variety of elements. Some elements are personal—such as chemistry, workplace culture or location—and others are more professional—such as mentoring, co-worker capabilities, portfolio and work opportunities. It is in that delicate balance that any position could become a win-win for a company and its employees. While the industry may have a reputation for hiring and firing—great firms, don’t. Better understand how the firm you are considering has maintained its workload and employees during the recent downturn, and you will find a workplace that is committed to long view, employee investment and growth.

—Ken Nisch is chairman of JGA.

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