When applying for an architecture job I always recommend applicants not use an "all purpose" portfolio. Rather, you need to create a unique, targeted portfolio for each stage of the application process.
In this post I explain why you should create different architecture portfolios, what these individual portfolios are and when to use them.
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Creating a separate portfolio for each stage of the process is more work than a "jack of all trades" portfolio. However, this does not have to be a complete ground up redesign.
One method to expedite this process is to create a "Master Portfolio". This document could be upwards of several hundred pages long that features an exhaustive representation of your entire catalog of work.
Once you have this portfolio it is very easy to make a copy, remove and reorder the less relevant projects to the position you are applying and/or interviewing.
Is this really necessary?
The short answer is yes. If you want to get a great architecture job (which I assume is always the goal) you have to be willing to put in the time upfront.
There are no guarantees but here are the reasons multiple portfolios are so effective:
1. Sets you apart from the competition
Most people just upload an online portfolio that contains their entire catalog of work then email a link to hundreds of architecture firms, then wonder why they never hear back. This "shotgun" approach to applications rarely works and if it does you might end up at an office that isn't a good fit.
2. Targets your application package
Targeting is essential to being viewed as a serious candidate for employment. Focus your portfolio(s) not only to the role you are applying but also the correct stage in the application process.
Employers can only base your candidacy off what you send them. If you don't provide what they are looking for, how are they supposed to read between the lines? Answer: they don't.
3. Provides the correct amount of information
As I will explain below, the first portfolio a potential employer will see is very different from the last. You want them to want to learn more about you. This is how you successfully progress from the application to the in-person interview and ultimately the job offer stage.
4. Sells your greatest attributes
By using a series of architecture portfolios it allows you to emphasize your experience and skills into separate, easily comprehensible packages. By breaking down your greatest attributes into discrete chunks allows you to focus on your most valuable skill sets.
These experience categories could include construction documents, BIM, 3D modelling, rendering, concept design or construction administration. Whatever skills you are selling to the employer should align with the needs of the job. If not, you need to explain why your lack of experience can still apply to this new role.
5. Avoids confusion
The worst thing that can happen at any stage is for the hiring manager to not understand what you can bring to the firm. Much like paragraphs in a book, the discrete portfolios allow you to group your experience into similar categories.
What are the multiple portfolios?
Through the job application and interview process there are four separate portfolios I recommend you prepare.
For the job application:
Portfolio #1: The Two Page Architecture Portfolio
A short summary of your best work to supplement your cover letter and resume. This is usually part of a "cold" application, meaning the hiring manager knows nothing about you beforehand.
For the interview:
Once you have landed the job interview you have obviously impressed them with your experience, resume and/or sample portfolio. For the interview you do not want to just bring the same information you submitted in the application.
Bring several a hard copies of your resume and Two Page Portfolio, but also at the interview provide the following:
Portfolio #2: The Traditional Portfolio
The Traditional Portfolio is what most people have in mind when they refer to their architecture portfolio: a collection of their best and most relevant work.
There is no set length for a portfolio but there is no downside to including more projects than you think you will cover. However, a typical interview is 30-60 minutes long, so a 250 page portfolio translates to only seconds per page. Not exactly the interview experience you want to have.
One caveat to portfolio length is the projects should be in order of most to least relevant. This is the order that works best for an interview, there is little advantage to chronological order unless a project is more than ten years old.
Many times you won't even get all the way though your portfolio which further supports the order of project relevance versus a chronological sequence.
The portfolio should complement your general discussion, not be the only topic. Ultimately the interviewer is thinking, "can I work with this person?". Your "soft skills" including communication and personality are just as important (if not more so) than the projects you are discussing.
Portfolio #3: The STAR Portfolio
If you’re not already aware, STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. The STAR Portfolio is a short document containing bullet points and images on how you dealt with a specific problem on a specific project. This is usually around ten or so pages to go along with your complete portfolio that you will bring to the job interview.
Portfolio #4: Design Documents Portfolio
Depending on your experience level, this might not be a major feature of your architecture interview. However, as your body of professional work increases you will want to present a portfolio that includes the projects you have worked on that have reached design milestones.
For example if you worked on an office building all the way though construction documents you would bring this set of CD's to the interview. This is usually printed in a larger format, minimum 11" x 17" (A3), to allow for greater detail.
I recommend not bringing the entire set, which includes mechanical, electrical and structural divisions because typically you didn't produce these sections.
If you completed multiple projects at varying stages of completion, (Concept, Schematic, Design Development, etc.) create a single portfolio that combines the architectural sections of these full sets.
This allows you to quickly refer to a particular project or drawing without flipping through hundreds of irrelevant sheets.
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For further reading on applications, portfolios, interview preparation and questions see The Complete Package below. This includes a sample Two Page Portfolio to get you started. Thanks!
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Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C
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