20/52: Architectural Portfolio advice from a friendly recruiter
I'm not an Architect, Interior Designer or Draftsperson, but I spend a lot of my time looking at design and documentation portfolios to assess if a candidate is potentially suitable for a role. The following advice is based on feedback from multiple hiring managers including Designers, Developers, Builders and Architects I've worked with since 2004.
Consider the Key Selection Criteria
Like all roles, start with the position description and consider how your portfolio might help demonstrate your experience in relation to the key competencies of the role. For instance, consider how your portfolio might answer some of the following key competencies:
Extensive experience in facade detailing
Experience working across a broad range of building typologies
Expert in joinery detailing
Proven experience taking a project from schematic design to working drawings
High-end residential design experience on complex, architecturally-led projects above $3M
First of all - is this your work? Where your portfolio shows work that is not 100% your own, explain your contribution to the work you're displaying and why it warrants inclusion. If it doesn't warrant inclusion (i.e. you didn't do it), take it out.
Does your portfolio accurately demonstrate the range of your experience in relation to:
Again, your portfolio should highlight your experience in relation to the key selection criteria (skills & experience) and at the same time attempt to show your breadth of experience. Many candidates present fantastic work but ultimately show me the same drawings over and over. If you've shown me six examples of the same floor plan, I'm ready to see what else you've done.
When your role is to produce CAD drawings accurately and quickly, then your portfolio should show this. At least some part of your portfolio presentation should demonstrate you interacting with your preferred CAD package. Even opening a drawing and then highlighting elements of the drawing will show some of your software skills.
Documentation elements: I love portfolios that begin each project with an overview drawing/site plan and work gradually towards the details. I encourage candidates to consider the shape of a funnel and use this technique to represent their drawings from big picture plans down to small, complex details.
This mix of elements will give you an opportunity to showcase the variety of work you've documented and avoid the trap of repeating the same details over and over.
If your career is defined by your ability to design and transform ideas into the built form, then here's your opportunity to show this. Include the full suite of design elements you use in your work from butter paper sketches (including scribbles, torn edges) to redline markups to physical models and CAD drawings. The funnel technique above can also be utilised to help you show the flow and development of your ideas across these range of elements.
Develop a narrative:
Guide your audience (the interviewer) through your work and try and include some of the following:
Context for the project you're presenting
Your specific role
Challenges and how these were overcome
A clear description of your contribution where the work of your colleagues is also shown
Some interviewers will be very forthright about wanting to hold your portfolio (if it's a printed physical folio) and they'll ask you plenty of questions about various elements. Other interviewers will sat back and expect you to present to them as if you were presenting to a client. Practice for both scenarios.
I think the style of your portfolio should be up to you and reflect the role you're applying for. I enjoy looking at the 'real' elements of drawings from title blocks and initials through to the scruffy edges of butter paper so don't sanitise or crop it too much. Tie this all together into a folio that shows a bit of you and most importantly highlights your experience relevant to the role.
The (Video Conference) Presentation
While we're all still self-isolating and working from home, this doesn't mean you can't present your folio. MS Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts and many other examples of common videoconferencing software allow you to present your screen. Practice doing online presentations with your recruiter before going to the interview and tying in the elements of the narrative you've rehearsed. If technology fails you during the interview, be prepared to share a link so they can download your .pdf version during or after the interview.
If you're reading this and we're all post-COVID-19 and lockdown scenarios, I still believe there is a place for an online presentation of your portfolio. You may be travelling or your potential new boss may be based in another city. Get not the front foot and let your recruiter know you're prepared for all scenarios and happy to the first interview online if necessary.
Face to face
Don't forget you'll be meeting face to face at some stage too, so having a version of your portfolio in printed format can be very helpful. You may choose to show only some elements of your portfolio in print and other elements via your laptop. However you choose to present your portfolio, practice before any face to face interview.