Strategies for Acquiring a Job – or How 438 Job Applications Are Not Enough


The following is part 2 of a 5 part series to encapsulate every level a person may experience on their (post- bachelors) architectural journey.

Part 1: Will focus on architectural students attempting to pursue their Master’s Degree.
Part 2: Will focus on every strategy for getting a job within the architectural profession.
Part 3: Will be the resume/portfolio techniques to ensure you get that interview.
Part 4: Will be invaluable interview techniques.
Finally, Part 5: Is intended for people who have amassed countless hours of architectural expertise, and are now in the hiring position – this post will provide guidance to architectural hiring managers on how to recruit top talent and create a winning culture within their firm.

Congratulations! You have just graduated from Architecture School. You are now an “intern architect” and still do not have enough knowledge to actually construct a building. 

If you are going to pick a year to graduate, do not pick 2008. If you have a choice, 2015 appears optimistic. I have heard of a plethora of firms currently hiring within all sectors of the industry.|1|

However, as a recent architecture graduate, you will never be adequately prepared for a “real-world” job.

Mario Andretti once quipped,

“If things seem under control, you are just not going fast enough.”

-Mario Andretti

Whenever you start a new job, it should be a challenge. If you walk in Day 1 and you are totally prepared for the job, you took the wrong job. Therefore, do not be scared to apply for any job. 

I graduated in 2008 at the start of the Great Recession. I would watch other classmates land their first job, while I would bitterly toil away on my computer perusing the Interwebs for yet another firm I would literally die to work for.|2|

I would read other people’s Facebook posts exclaiming, “Ugh. Monday, back to work for another 8 hours of drudgery.” Whereas, I would literally reincarnate myself, just to die again, to work for an architectural office on any mundane Monday.

The architecture profession in the Northwest was hit especially hard during the recession, so after aimlessly sending portfolios to every architectural office I yearned to work for, I began to research Top U.S. Economies, Best Cities for Young Professionals, and Lowest Unemployment Cities.

I would create Excel spreadsheets of every architecture firm in that city and then rate them on a 1 to 5 scale. After perusing their websites – dissecting firm culture, personal fit, and design aesthetics – I would send my cover letter, resume, and portfolio to every 3 to 5 star-rated firm. I did this for Chicago, Austin, Denver, and San Francisco.

No interviews.

Then I began to lower my standards and target specific sectors and generic firms. Healthcare seemed to be the only sector that was not devastatingly impacted by the recession; therefore, I claimed to have a predilection towards healthcare architecture.

This landed me a few interviews, but still no jobs.

Peers who graduated a year before me, or even just one semester, would often apply to 9 firms; receive interviews at 5, and job offers from 3. Apparently, for me, 438 job applications are not enough to get one job; 439 applications are sometimes necessary.

If you don’t believe me, Here are all the firms I applied to from 2008-2010

Therefore, I probably am not the de-facto resource to guarantee an architecture job, but after months years toiling away, there are several important tidbits I have gleaned that will not only get your foot in the door, but also get your foot in the door the fastest. 

Obtain a Professional Email Address

Your email address is the first impression upon hiring managers.

Gmail is professional, and if you are still using the same Hotmail account you had when you entered middle school, then now is the time to upgrade to a professional email account.

Therefore, try to get an email account with your name like Unless your name is Zaha Hadid, the email will be flippantly dismissed. 

Apply Directly to the Hiring Manager

Large firms with black-hole recruiting portals are the biggest burden for applicants.|3|

Not only are you required to register, but you also need to spend two hours retyping your resume. The same resume you spent weeks constructing to be the ideal portrayal of your abilities; it is graphically creative, yet cleanly formatted to highlight your specific skills and attributes. Then you finally reach the html page to upload your portfolio and it can only receive a 3mb file. You spent days whittling down your portfolio to the best 5 projects to keep the file size under 4 mb. Now you must delete 2 projects, and reformat your table-of-contents.

Furthermore, after researching specific projects in specific regions to optimize your cover letter to the specific firm location, you still do not know if an actual person received your submittal. A robot probably scanned your resume for keywords, and then someone in HR, without any architectural expertise, selected the candidates to hire – not the best candidates, but the ones who followed the rules.

So instead of applying this way, send your resume/portfolio directly to the architect doing the hiring.

This is what you need to do to apply to any firm, regardless of size.

You may never receive a response email, but there is a high likelihood – if it landed in their inbox – they viewed your portfolio.

Everyone within the architectural community is connected. I was in an interview when they said, “Oh, I was talking to John at AwesomeFirm, and he said to let him know how this interview went. He said your printed portfolio was sitting on his desk.”

I still have never received an email response from John at AwesomeFirm, so don’t be discouraged if you never hear back from most firms, but this technique will ensure you will get your portfolio noticed.

How do you know which architect to send your portfolio to?

In a small firm, you will probably send your portfolio directly to the owner. Even if their website says to send all inquiries to, you should still send it directly to the owner’s email. You do not know how often, or even who, views this other email account – but you do know that the owner will check her own email daily.

In a medium or large architectural office, there is usually one Principal who predominantly oversees the hiring process. You can usually garner from the firm’s respective Leadership profiles who is in charge of HR. If nobody’s profile directly states they are in charge of recruiting, I always send my portfolio to the Principal with the profile emphatically talking about their children. Oftentimes these people have a more nurturing attitude; thereby, wanting to have an active participation in the hiring of additional members within their work “family.”

If their email address isn’t listed how do I figure out what it is?

Most architecture firms have a similar format for all of their employee’s email addresses. If you want to send your portfolio to John Smith at AwesomeFirm – his email is probably If you can glean an email address of another coworker, you can usually copy the same formatting, and simply replace the name. If your email bounces back. Then just try another option: 

Make Yourself Available

If you’ve just been skimming this post, and not actually reading all of my amazing content, then this is the single-most important tip I can proffer.

Most firms will NOT propose an interview if you live in a separate city. Gone are the days when a firm will fly a candidate cross-country solely for an interview. If you live in Montana, but would have no hesitation moving to San Diego for a job, then make the firm aware of your plans.

Tell them these 2 things:

  1. I plan to move to San Diego in the near future.
  2. I will be in the San Diego area from the 8th through the 10th (your dates will vary) and would welcome the opportunity to schedule an interview to further discuss the work I have been doing, and to find out what new and exciting projects are happening in your office.

Target multiple firms and commit to spending a couple days in San Diego for several interviews. Firms typically need 2 or 3 weeks advanced notice, but many will be happy to meet with you if you’ve traveled the distance.

It is an unfortunate occurrence, but usually the last candidate to walk through the door becomes the firm’s next hire. Therefore, you need to be the person with whom they spoke last. Moreover, if nobody in San Diego responds. Then try the same tactic in the next city on your list. You could be the greatest candidate in the world, but most firms will never consider anyone that needs to travel for an interview.

Thus, you have now shown your commitment, alleviated their insecurities, and most likely ascended to the top of their candidate list; however, do not be afraid of being bothersome! You might not immediately land your dream job, but you will doubtlessly not toil away on your computer spell-checking 439 job applications.



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1 It appears to be 2007 all over again!
2 Yes, I realize the Catch-22 of this situation: If I actually died to work for a firm, I no longer would have the cognitive brain functions to perform the work.
3 I’m looking at you Gensler!


  1. Mkem

    Brother! I feel you… After landing a summer internship with a practice in London between my second and third year, I thought it would be easier to land a year when I complete my year 3…11 months have now elapsed and I am still looking for something short term prior to beginning my 4th year. It’s super stressing

    • brady ernst

      That sucks!
      I don’t know the employment climate in London, but if you are persistent, bothersome, and knocking down doors – it appears that opportunities are picking up in America.
      Keep optimistic and attempt to stay busy – I know how depressing it can become…

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