5 Tips For Starting Your Architecture Job Applications

As with most things in life, preparation is key. Applying for architecture jobs is no exception. Whether or not you are currently employed taking that first step to create your application materials can be overwhelming.

You want to carefully consider your goals and motivations for finding a new job. By taking some time to reflect will make sure the next step in your career is in the right direction. Here are several questions you should consider before just plowing into a resume draft.

To help you with your architecture job search, I've created a mega-pack of free resources that includes architecture resumes, cover letters, and an extensive collection of application documents. Click for a free download:

1. Do you want to stay in your current city?

As we all know, the architecture profession has a history of booms and busts. Depending on your current city and country you may be experiencing one or the other. The recession of 2008-2009 was a little different in the fact that it really was a global pullback. However, that is generally a rare occurrence. Most slowdowns in architecture are regional, so a move to another area can get your career back on track. 

Of course, there are dozens of pros and cons to relocating to another city, many beyond just your professional life. It is up to you to decide whether a long or short-term move could provide a boost to your income or resume history. 

Your job application strategy and interview technique becomes more complicated if you are applying for a job halfway across the country. I typically recommend if you want to work for an office that is outside of your area, setup a trip. Spend a week in the city doing as many interviews as possible.

On your cover letter clearly state that you will be in town during that week. "I will be in New York the week of September 26th - 30th, I would like to meet with you to discuss a possible position."

Try setup a time 2-4 weeks in advance to allow for scheduling. If you don't do this it can often put undue pressure on the office. "I don't want to waste this person's time and money by asking them to come all the way here for this interview." By taking the initiative yourself it eliminates the feeling of obligation on their part. 

2. What type of firms and/or projects are you looking to work for/on?

Do you want to work for a large office? A sole proprietor? Depending on the type of firm you want to join, it will drastically effect your application documents. You wouldn't send the same portfolio to SOM as you would for a firm specializing single family homes. This is also informed by the above question related to your location. If you want to move to rural Indiana from Chicago it is unlikely you will be able to work on high-rise projects.

Obviously you can't create that experience out of thin air but you need to dig through your work history to find the relevant projects. 

I have a list of things I ask all my clients to provide that helps me build their resume and cover letter. The first step is to collect your most relevant project history for the position you are applying.

For approximately six or so projects you spent the most time on and/or had the biggest impact, list following:

  • Project Name

  • Project Location

  • Project Description

  • Approximate area 

  • Approximate budget

If you're not sure on some of the data just make your best guess. For example you may not recall the exact areas or budgets but this isn't a test, estimates will be fine. 

3. What is your "highlight reel"?

Create a list of 20 things that you have done that helped the firm(s) or projects you have worked on throughout your career. I know this sounds like a lot (it is) but the point of the exercise to brainstorm ideas for your application materials. Don't worry if they seem minor, you can eliminate the irrelevant points once you being working on what will best help your candidacy.

Examples might include:

  • Finished package before deadline

  • Caught an error no one else noticed

  • Took the initiative on a particular task

  • Went "above and beyond" on something

This list will help you to focus on the most noteworthy and relevant portions of you work history. Ideally this would also be your more recent work but it isn't necessary. 

4. Why do you want to leave your current job?

This is a question many people think they know but often have a hard time putting into a clear argument. This is always comes up in your interviews it is something you need to have well thought out. The reason for thinking about this is not to just give a canned response to a potential interviewer but to really help yourself. 


On one side of a piece of paper make a list of every single reason you want to leave your current job. On the other side make a list of the corresponding response or situation that you are looking to find in a new job.

So for example:

Reasons to leave my current architecture job:

a. Long hours

b. Low pay

c. No opportunity for advancement

d. No continuing education

e. No mentoring program

f. Not the type of projects I want to work on

g. No benefits

h. No work from home option

What I want in a new architecture job:

a. Reasonable hours

b. Competitive pay

c. Opportunity for advancement

d. Continuing education program

e. Mentoring program

f. The type of projects I want to work on

g. Benefits program

h. Work from home program

Once you have completed the exercise above go back through your list and reorganize what you want in order of most to least important. This will help you focus on firms that align with you career and life goals. 

What I want in a new architecture job (order of preference):

1. The type of projects I want to work on

2. Competitive pay

3. Reasonable hours

4. Opportunity for advancement

5. Work from home program

6. Benefits program

7. Continuing education program

8. Mentoring program

For example, if your number one goal is to work fewer hours, applying to a "starchitects" office does not align with your goals. However, if working on world-class projects is your number one, then it would make sense to apply. There isn't a right or wrong answer here, it is simply what is best for you and your own preferences. 

5. Do you have a timeline for finding a new job?

This is another question that will come up in the early stages of the interview process.

"When can you start?" 

Think about this carefully. If you are not currently working generally the answer is a bit simpler: ASAP.

However if you have a job and are transitioning to a new position it can be a bit more complicated. I had a discussion recently with a job seeker that was worried if he took a new job he would burn the bridge with the previous office. Generally speaking this is not the case.

People leave jobs all the time and your employer is aware of this. The thing to keep in mind is to be grateful to your current employer when having the discussion. Make sure you give the appropriate notice based on your current office policy, usually two weeks. Sometimes you can work out a earlier or later departure based on project deadlines. Either way keep things civilized, you want to be able to ask for a reference in the future. Don't let a moment of frustration leave a bad impression.

There are times when it may be more difficult to leave on good terms, for example if you were just given a raise after you explained you are in it for the long haul. Even in this case if you are open about the new opportunity and courteous when discussing it, there shouldn't be an issue.  

Get started!

Once you have answered all of the above questions you are read to get started on your applications. Start here with the three main “ingredients” of your application:

1. Cover letter
2. Resume
3. Sample Portfolio

For further reading on applications, portfolios, interview preparation and questions see The Complete Package below:

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

How To Stay Motivated With The Architecture Job Search

The Top 5 Architecture Interview Questions

Where To Apply For Architecture Jobs Online

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Have a suggestion for a future blog post? Please let me know in the comments below.