7 Questions Answered By The World’s Top Architecture Firms On What They Look For In Job Applications

I recently reached out to several of the world’s top architecture firms and asked them a series of questions on what they look for in potential architecture job applicants.

The questions are structured to cover the various steps of the architecture job application process, from the first point of contact to the interview.

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Each firm was asked the same seven questions:

1. Can you briefly explain what the hiring process is like for your office?

2. What is the top way(s) you acquire your new hires?

3. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s resume?

4. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s portfolio?

5. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting an applicant's resume and/or portfolio?

6. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting someone after an interview?

7. Do you have any general tips for potential applicants?

I would like to thank the participating firms for their feedback:

Zaha Hadid Architects, Snøhetta, Perkins+Will, BDP and Callison.

I had a lot of fun putting this article together and I hope this is a helpful resource for any current or future architecture applicants out there. Enjoy!


1. Can you briefly explain what the hiring process is like for your office?

We currently use a number of different platforms for recruitment campaigns depending on the skills specification we are searching for.

1) ZHA website
2) Refer a friend
3) Adverts on LinkedIn and other external sites
4) Recruitment agencies (specific to the role)
5) Headhunting campaigns driven by the HR department
6) Graduate recruitment schemes

All CV’s and portfolios are sent through to the HR department for an initial screening process, all applications are logged on our CV database and the successful applications are then forwarded to the recruiting manager whilst the unsuccessful applicants are informed.

The recruiting manager will liaise with HR to set up the 1st stage interview; this will ordinarily be with the Head of HR and one of the Associates from the project team. During the interview, candidates will be asked to talk through their portfolio, challenges and how they think their previous experiences are relevant to ZHA and the role they are interviewing for.

Finally they will be given the opportunity to learn more about the role and ask any questions they may have. If they are successful at the 1st interview they are normally invited for a final interview with the Project Director. 

We have recently implemented a new requirement for certain candidates to complete a software test prior to interviewing, such as a Revit test designed by our BIM and Workflow Manager.

2. What is the top way(s) you acquire your new hires?

We have found most success with our Refer-a-Friend scheme, recruitment agencies and head hunting of passive candidates. We find that our website and adverts can often attract a high volume of under qualified candidates.

Our exceptionally talented teams live and breathe the company brand and ethos therefore they are best placed to recommend potential candidates for specific roles and projects.

3. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s resume?

We look for a number of key elements:

  1. Do they have enough relevant experience for the role they are applying for?
  2. Do they have experience working on projects similar in form to ZHA’s?
  3. Software skills are essential, we use a multitude of software platforms so it’s important that all new staff are experienced with software such as Rhino, Grasshopper, Maya, and Revit, etc.
  4. Previous employment; have they worked in similar environments or would they struggle with our office culture?
  5. Have they demonstrated growth and progression in their career trajectory?

4. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s portfolio?

As with the previous question, we look for examples of similar projects and what contribution the individual made to the project. We also look at experience gained and the number of challenges they have confronted with examples of the outcomes.

Good quality of presentation and materials presented – the details reveal a lot about an individual’s care, commitment, and attitude. The complexity of projects they have realised and the quality of the outcome.

5. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting an applicant's resume and/or portfolio?

We reject a number of candidates because they don't have the right experience working in a particular sector such as residential or hospitality, no visible progression in their experience can also be a key factor.

Finally, a lack of software skills or no match in experience in design, detailing or construction.

6. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting someone after an interview?

There are two main reasons for rejection after interview; either the portfolio doesn’t accurately represent an individual's’ experience which is only identified through the interview process, or, alternatively they are not the right culture fit for the project team or the business.

Do you have any general tips for potential applicants?

It’s important to make an impression from day one, creatively packaged CV’s and Portfolios will always catch our attention; personalise the application, don't just send out your generic documents, ensure you tweak your CV and portfolio to fit the role you are applying for, you may have fantastic relevant experience however, if you don't showcase it on your CV and portfolio, you may not be selected for interview. 

Always attend interviews looking smart and well presented, there is nothing worse than a candidate turning up smelling of cigarettes or alcohol. Being prepared for your interview is imperative and finally: be yourself, everyone is an individual and we recognise this.


1. Can you briefly explain what the hiring process is like for your office? 

Unsolicited applications come into our office through our web portal, direct email, and hard copies in the mail. They are collected and archived for review. They are reviewed once hiring needs are determined and if there are suitable candidates an interview is scheduled.

We prefer in-person interviews in our office, usually with two people. If the interview is for a mid-level or senior position then a second interview is often scheduled for a more in-depth conversation.

2. What is the top way(s) you acquire your new hires?

The primary means we have for acquiring new hires is through word of mouth or personal reference. Otherwise we sometimes post ads and interview a selection of applicants. We also have an application portal on our website and receive many applications by email, so we also select candidates from these sources.

3. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s resume?

We look for experience relevant to the job description we are filling, which varies from hire to hire. We look for a variety of experience, which may be in terms of both digital and analog skill proficiency such as drawing or hands on building, leadership positions, experience with a range of typologies or scale, writing or teaching. We look for a history of steady and stable past employment and a generally well rounded range of experience.

4. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s portfolio?

We look for a portfolio that is representative of a person’s ability to communicate and tell a story without their presence in the room. We look at the applicant’s ability to edit, organize, and prioritize the information in their portfolio and make it graphically legible.

We hope to see a progression of development, especially when school work is included. We look for work that is representative of the applicant’s specific efforts and abilities, and that it is distinguishable from their past and current employers’ marketing material.

5. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting an applicant's resume and/or portfolio?

An applicant’s resume is usually rejected when we have no need to hire. This is the most common reason due to the constant and high volume of applications we receive. Other than that if we find the application lacking in the qualities described in answers 3 and 4 such an application will not be considered further if we are indeed hiring at that time.

6. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting someone after an interview?

When hiring we interview multiple candidates, therefore the majority of applicants will be rejected simply because we determined another candidate to be the best fit. Even if all the candidates we interview are well qualified we are usually only hiring one. On a more qualitative level we look for people who demonstrate the ability to think strategically and act collaboratively and who communicate well.

7. Do you have any general tips for potential applicants?

Applicants should never discuss how current or previous employers have failed to meet their expectations. In this case it’s a reasonable assumption to make that no place of employment is likely to be a good fit for such a candidate.

The volume of unsolicited applications employers receive today in the digital age of global practice is astronomically higher than it once was. It is usually not a good idea to email an application to a large number of people in a company as all of these usually get forwarded to the person in charge of hiring.

Do not be discouraged by a slow response or a lack of response to your application, it usually has nothing to do with you. And, yes, that means employers miss many good opportunities due to these constraints.

Be clear and direct and specific about your abilities and career or job goals.


1. Can you briefly explain what the hiring process is like for your office?

Our talent strategy is critical to our competitive success. The Perkins+Will HR Team is comprised of brand ambassadors and recruitment experts, responsible for sourcing top talent in partnership with hiring managers. A phone interview will typically precede an in-person interview.  

We approach interviews similarly to how we would approach a client, learning as much as we can about the candidate in advance of an in-person meeting. Our goal is to engage and evaluate the candidate with a personalized approach that includes learning about his or her work, personal and professional aspirations, and what brings him or her joy.

2.  What is the top way(s) you acquire your new hires?

Perkins+Will uses an online application system offering candidates a portal to respond to job vacancies by uploading their resume and portfolio. 

Over the last five years, over 60,000 applicants have applied through the portal.  In addition, our HR Team researches passive candidates via company websites, design publications, and LinkedIn, and the firm offers a bonus program for current employees who make referrals that result in long-term hires.

We keep an eye open for top talent even without an active job vacancy, developing relationships with candidates early on in anticipation of potential future opportunities.

3.  What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s resume?

It depends. Often, we will be seek expertise in a particular market or a specific skill.  A candidate’s specific role and accomplishments are always important.  For entry level candidates, a prior summer or school internship in a design firm is a plus. 

Resumes that link to a portfolio website and include project images and documentation examples are helpful, though not mandatory.

4. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s portfolio?

Creative thinking illustrated by strong design examples and demonstrated relevant experience.

5. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting an applicant's resume and/or portfolio?

Missing a specific project type or skill set that we desire.

6. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting someone after an interview?

Missing a specific project type or skill set that we desire, or a lack of engagement during the interview.  Showing genuine curiosity, asking questions about the role and our firm, and conveying how he or she prefers to work – these are all very important factors to consider when evaluating a candidate.

7. Do you have any general tips for potential applicants?

Beyond elaborating on your work experience and design portfolio, it’s important to demonstrate curiosity, ask thoughtful questions, and convey excitement and interest in the role and the firm!



1. Can you briefly explain what the hiring process is like for your office?

Applications are sifted initially by HR and candidates who appear to fit the requirements for the role are forwarded to the hiring director who will usually want to meet shortlisted candidates at a face to face interview. 

We like to receive applications via our online recruitment system (through www.bdp.com/careers) rather than by email or by post as this allows us to retrieve the details of good applicants easily and contact them in the future if other suitable roles become available.

2. What is the top way(s) you acquire your new hires?

Primarily via our own website (www.bdp.com). We also advertise vacancies online and via Twitter (https://twitter.com/bdp_com) and LinkedIn( https://www.linkedin.com/company/bdp-building-design-partnership-ltd- ).

We prefer not to use recruitment agencies.

3. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s resume?

Enthusiasm for our collaborative, interdisciplinary design approach; experience of working in relevant sectors at an appropriate level; good written English; good software skills, particularly Revit.

4. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s portfolio?

The portfolio should be a showcase of the candidate’s own work, reflecting the range and depth of their skills and experience. We like to see the candidate’s personality coming through in the portfolio’s presentation. 

The best portfolios demonstrate the candidate’s good judgement in selecting the most appropriate material to include rather than just throwing in everything possible.

5. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting an applicant's resume and/or portfolio?

Lack of experience in the relevant sector(s) or at the level required for more senior positions. Or lack of necessary software skills (eg Revit).

6. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting someone after an interview?

Poor fit with the firm’s values; other candidates being more suitable.

7. Do you have any general tips for potential applicants?

Make sure your cv, portfolio etc are easy to read – red writing on a yellow background, for example, may stand out but is likely to give the recruiting director a headache!  

Make sure you have the right to work in the country you are applying for: immigration rules are strict and you may be wasting your time otherwise. 

Follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn and see our current vacancies on www.bdp.com. If we don’t have a vacancy of interest to you, send us your details through our website as a ‘speculative application’ so that we can contact you in the future if a suitable vacancy arises. 


1. Can you briefly explain what the hiring process is like for your office?

Applicants apply online using our applicant tracking system. Our in-house recruiter or an HR representative does an initial review of resumes and applicable portfolios. Resumes of qualified candidates are provided to the hiring manager to review.

If the hiring manager is interested in an applicant, an HR representative conducts a phone screening. Results of the phone screen are discussed with the hiring manager. Candidates of interest are asked in for a face-to-face interview with the hiring manager and other applicable interviewers. Sometimes a phone and/or video interview is conducted depending on logistics.

There may be one or several rounds of interviews. Before we extend an offer to candidates, we check their references. The hiring process can take less than a week or several months. Applicants should research the firm and come prepared to ask questions during the interview.  

2. What is the top way(s) you acquire your new hires?

The top two ways we acquire new hires are through employee referrals or industry-related websites such as www.archinect.com, www.aia.org and www.aia.com. We also find LinkedIn to be a good resource.

3. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s resume?

We are primarily looking for experience applicable to the position. Certifications, licenses and advanced degrees are a plus.

4. What are you primarily looking for in an architecture applicant’s portfolio?

We look at the caliber of design and the ability to communicate the idea or concept behind it. We are also looking for general creativity, so personal artistic expression — hand sketching, oil painting, photography, etc. — is an asset.  

5. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting an applicant's resume and/or portfolio?

The most common reasons are a lack of applicable experience or a design portfolio that does not meet expectations.

6. What is the most common reason(s) for rejecting someone after an interview?

In this case, the most common reasons are a lack of solid communication skills or a lack of experience and/or qualifications to perform the essential job functions.

7. Do you have any general tips for potential applicants?

When applying online to architecture/design positions, make sure to include a portfolio along with your resume. Also, ask someone to review your cover letter, resume and portfolio before applying. We see grammar, spelling and formatting errors that could have easily been avoided.

Want to find your dream architecture job?
Check out The Architect's Guide Resources.

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

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

Want a Great Architecture Job? Don't Send a Resume

Where To Apply For Architecture Jobs Online

25 Things To Consider When Choosing An Architecture Job Offer

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.