5 Tips On How To Get An Architecture Internship

I am often asked what is the best way to get your foot in the door of an architecture office. A great architecture internship can set the stage for the rest of your professional career.

I have fond memories of my first job in an architecture office. I began by working part time in the evenings after I finished my full time summer job.

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I learned a lot over those few months, not just about model building and drafting but also how an architecture office functions and brings in work. If you are willing to listen, most architects are more than happy to share their knowledge and experience to pass on the profession to the next generation.

Getting that first internship is somewhat of a cache-22. The office would like to hire someone with experience but you can't get experience until you get hired. So how does one go about getting their first architecture internship? The tips below will cover a few methods to land the job. 

1.  Create A Brag Sheet

The first step in beginning your job search is to know yourself. Creating a "brag sheet" is a great way to identify what you can offer a potential employer.

A brag sheet is just like it sounds, it is an exhaustive list of everything worth mentioning about yourself. This is especially important for someone with little or no relevant architecture experience.

You will need to leverage experience gained in unrelated areas (teamwork from restaurant job, building experience from construction, etc.) and/or academic work.

This brag sheet is just for you to see so don’t be afraid to put down absolutely everything you can come up with:

  • List every single job you have ever had (related to architecture or not)
  • Put down every project you have ever done (school and professional)
  • Every professional qualification you have or have ever had.
  • Every degree you have
  • Every continuing education class or seminar you have been to
  • Every professional affiliation you are a part of or have ever been a part of
  • Places you have lived / visited
  • Sketches /  drawings you have done
  • Renderings or photoshop work
  • Volunteer work
  • Design competitions
  • Challenges / problems you have solved

Once you have this document it is surprising how much experience you will have to pull from; even if you are a recent graduate. This should be kept as a personal resource that is continually updated.

Go over everything you have put down and use it to create a collection of the most relevant experience to the role(s) you are applying. These shortlisted items will give you a basket of work experience to build your resume. 

For help with your resume see my previous post on How To Write The Perfect Architecture Resume.

2. Contact Your Network

I have seen a trend when speaking with architecture hiring managers and HR directors: most of their new hires come from word of mouth. This is why the first (and best) place to start is within your existing network. If you are still in college check with your professors to see if they know of anyone that is hiring.

Most architecture professors are connected to other architects in the community and they may even have their own practice. This is actually how I got one of my first jobs.

As a side note, you should do your best to remain in good standing with any current or past professors. A surprising contact could turn out be the source of your next opportunity. 

At a minimum I recommend that everyone have a LinkedIn profile. You don’t have to fill out every single project you have ever worked on but a brief work history can be beneficial.

LinkedIn is a much better option than Facebook or Twitter for connecting with other architecture professionals. Joining the LinkedIn architecture groups can also keep you informed on the latest career news and available positions.

While you many not have many professional architecture contacts yet, feel free to connect with your university alumni, professors and architects in your community. 

For other networking tips check out: Want a Great Architecture Job? Don't Send a Resume

3. Research 

In parallel to your networking you need to be extensively researching the firms you want to work for. Be careful with this one, however, you don’t want to waste too much time researching. Before you know it you can spend three hours reading through every architecture website. For this part of the process you want to create a summary of each of the firms.

Topics include:

  • The name of the firm?
  • Firm location(s)?
  • How long has the firm been in business?
  • How many employees?
  • What type of projects do they specialize?
  • What projects are up and coming?
  • Do you know anyone that works there or has worked there?
  • What is the ownership structure?
  • Have they hired a large number of interns in the past? (Could be more or less likely to provide mentorship)

To how many firms should I apply?

Using your research above I typically recommend having a group of 30 offices that you would like work for. You can rank them in order of most to least desirable and begin applying in that order. 

I have found that the best method of keeping track of the applications is a spreadsheet. The last thing you want to do is become confused and apply to the sample place twice or leave out a great opportunity. With 30+ potential employers it is quite easy to become disorganized. Include a column for the company name, location, the date of your application, if you have received a response and any contact information.

See also: Where To Apply For Architecture Jobs Online

4. Targeted Approach

I often hear from candidates that tell me something like, "I have sent out 100 resumes to architecture firms this month and haven't heard anything back". 

The statement above tells me that the applicant is not taking the time to put together a targeted, well researched application. Focus on how you can emphasize your relevant work for each of your employment applications. Don't just send a generic application to hundreds of offices, that approach rarely works. Use your research above to target your application (resume, cover letter and portfolio samples) to each firm. Example documents can be found here.

One key to successfully landing an architecture internship is to start early. The internship schedule generally follows the university semesters. As a result most openings are filled in May-June for the summer break. Most applicants start sending their resumes in May. This is usually too late.

Start by collecting your brag sheet information and putting together your application materials. Spend January - March carefully researching, selecting and applying to offices.. 

5. Be Persistent 

The number one complaint I hear is that firms do not let a candidate know if they have been rejected. Therefore, you should always follow up the submission of your application with a phone call. You will let them know when you will be calling in your cover letter, an example can be found here. Then follow that call up with a second if you haven't heard anything in approximately a week. This may sound overly aggressive but it is essential to show your persistence. For everyone one office that is bothered, ten will be impressed. 

The job search process can be very unpredictableThere are many factors that go into landing a position.  They include the market conditions, office projects and staffing needs. Many of these variables are out of you control so it is important to focus on the things you are able to influence. This includes your ability to put together a convincing application that highlights your relevant experience and presents your unique abilities. 

Getting an architecture internship can be very challenging. However, if you are willing to put in the time and stay focused you will be rewarded. 

What has been your biggest problem or difficulty with the architecture job application process? Let me know in the comments. 

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

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.