Strategies for Employer’s Hiring a Candidate


The following is part 5 of a 5 part series to encapsulate every level a person may experience on their (post- bachelors) architectural journey.

Companies are only as great as their employees are. If a company has great leadership and talented employees, it will thrive. However, many architectural firms expand rapidly to complete newly acquired projects. Therefore, they often do not adequately vet every candidate, and frequently hire the next person to walk through the door.

Architecture is a service industry and is not an automated system – it is not a McDonald’s franchise where every robot can fill a role. Ultimately, not all architectural candidates are equivalent automatons.

Thus, here are some tips for hiring managers to hire the ideal candidate. 

Don’t Hire For Convenience

Inferior employees are hired due to convenience. Firms that hire out of convenience are similar to unions – the smartest, sharpest, best worker is not incentivized to produce top results when the worst employees are constantly accommodated.

The smartest firms organize themselves to leverage the strengths of their employees, but this is often a failure unless employers make it a priority to recruit the best talent. It’s easy to leverage the skill-set of talented individuals, but it is much harder to attempt to balance the workload of inadequate employees.

I worked at a previous firm with many talented architects. One architect was extremely brilliant and was adept within all aspects of the industry. However, in an attempt to leverage the strengths of all employees, he was often pushed into yearlong construction administration roles instead of strengthening his budding design talent. This “leveraging to an employee’s strengths” philosophy granted the role of Designer to an inferior architect. This other architect was a talented designer but was nearly incompetent when it came to construction administration, documentation, organization, time-management, and returning phone calls. Therefore, in reality many employees are pigeonholed into capable roles due to inadequacies with other employees. If this architect ever wanted to expand his desired role as a designer, he will unfortunately have to leave his current company.

While all companies need to leverage the talents of their employees, it will propel your company further if you hire a stellar candidate in the first place. Otherwise, your firm will constantly cater to the lowest common denominator. 

Seek Out Candidates

When I was in high school I thought employers should seek me out and discover how amazing I was – I mean I was a (self-professed) child prodigy. However, corporations often do not have the time or resources to discover potential employees. Even firms with direct relationships with architectural schools often never ask to interview the top producing students. 

Furthermore, reach out to the stellar candidate that applied 6 months ago – but you didn’t have a position for at the time. He may be gainfully employed now|1| but remaining in contact with talented people will be beneficial for any future opportunities.

It takes a lot of time and effort to write an employment ad and publish to several media outlets. Therefore, architectural firms would rather hire a referral instead of seeking out the greatest candidate.

There are typically two types of referrals: The fellow employee acquaintance and the “giving my buddy’s son a job” hire.

While it is a convenient asset to hire your employee’s friends, if you do not already procure top-level talent, your middling employees will only recruit other middling employees.

The adage – “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” – describes the propensity of affluent children to have little ambition compared to their entrepreneurial parents or grandparents. A fellow businessman’s son is typically not as deserving of a position as many other candidates – they may be well educated but they will always have a safety net to fall back on. Furthermore, these relationships with other businessmen only perpetuates the Mad Men era “Good Ol’ Boy’s Club” ethos.

Employees often stay with the same firm for over a decade. While it may seem like an arduous burden to dedicate a week or two to find an ideal new hire, this timeframe pales in comparison to the 520 weeks you are stuck with an inferior worker – yet most firms are not forward thinking and will never succumb to that realization. 

Make Candidates Desire You

Your website should highlight your skills for new clients to desire your services, but it should also showcase your skills for young architects to want to work for your firm. Companies are built on the backs of 20 and 30 year-olds. If you are uninteresting to this demographic, your company will stagnate in a decade.

In this regard, Snøhetta might be the smartest architectural firm in the world.

Not only do candidates desire to work for Snøhetta, they now compete against each other just for the opportunity.

When Snøhetta assessed their needs for an ideal intern architect, they probably wanted someone who was passionate about architecture. Someone who can be a critical thinker. Someone who appreciates good architectural design. And ultimately, someone who can do amazing renderings to immediately contribute to Snøhetta’s excellent graphic prowess.

Therefore, they sponsored an architectural competition to design a Logistics Center for Santa Claus. First prize: A 10-week internship.

Now instead of scouring all job applications trying to garner the ideal qualities in an intern architect, job applicants compete against one another to self-isolate the best employee. (Plus the competition produced some unbelievable results.) 

Don’t Create Hurdles

It is difficult to find good people, so do not subject job seekers to proficiency tests and questionnaires before you have interviewed them.

My fiancée worked for an office where they would put specific instructions in employment ads to submit a handwritten paper attached to their resume.

The office’s partners didn’t care what was written, but would chuckle and disregard any candidate who submitted a typed paper for “not following the rules.” Making candidates jump through hoops to follow application rules does not allow the best talent to be hired. Quality candidates who saw the hand-written note probably assumed they would go above-and-beyond, and actually demonstrated their relevant computer proficiency skills by typing their letter. Unless you are applying to be calligrapher, a handwriting sample should never be a qualifying job factor – nor should any pre-requisite tests. Top-tier talent are not circus monkeys. They see the ridiculous hoops you want them to leap through, and take their talents to another carnival.

Furthermore, if a firm creates a rule-following application – RUN! It is more than likely they also have a rule-following corporate culture. There will be no upheaval of the status-quo and no tolerance of any attempts to improve current policies. All thoughtful recommendations will be met with the typical response, “Well, this is how we’ve always done things.” 

Create an Impassioned Environment

I hate being in an interview when they ask me, “What are your hobbies?” – And then throw in the caveat – “Other Than Architecture.”

By asking what your hobbies – besides architecture – are, you are actually weeding out any passionate employees. Having a conversation about hobbies and mutual interests is wonderful, but you should want employees who think about architecture after they punch-off the clock.

If you gush over your mutual ice-climbing escapades – then GREAT. Everyone will get along peachy.

But what if nobody’s passion is actually architecture?

My favorite hobbies include travelling to visit architecture, photographing architecture, talking about architecture, and writing this blog about what else… architecture. 

Other than that, I like playing softball. I play with three other architects. In addition, I enjoy drinking cocktails. However, if I am not at home drinking cocktails with my cat, I am more than likely drinking cocktails while talking about architecture.|2|

My fiancée is passionate about her landscaping job. Oftentimes when she gets home, she writes down a list of tasks she needs to accomplish the following day. She doesn’t clock back into work for 15 minutes, but by constantly thinking about landscaping she is a more valuable employee.

Passionate employees will become better architects and will propel your architectural firm forward. Employees who have little interest in architecture – and incessantly prattle about their other hobbies, activities, and family adventures – are oftentimes only a limp paycheck (or a worn-out punch card).



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1 Or he might be still job-hunting. So don’t just hire the next candidate to walk through the door.
2 Interview tip: If an employer asks you, “What are your hobbies?” Don’t say drinking cocktails!

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