We’re sure you’ve heard of the standard questions that every interviewer will supposedly ask you. In fact, I was given a list of such questions in order to prepare for an interview. Let me tell you that the list didn’t come in use at all. Something I realised very early on was that in an interview (for Part I’s at least), is that the employer is more interested in your work rather than logistical details or cringe questions 😬.
They want to get to know you as a person and understand your journey throughout university. This includes your design decisions or interests that can show through in the type of buildings you design or the topics for your written works. We can’t speak for every single employer and it will most likely vary depending on the size of the firm, which person is interviewing you and if you even make it past the initial impression in order to get an interview.
Over the course of a year, I’ve given 10 such interviews – the last one being successful. Apart from two, they were all for a Part I Architectural Assistant role. What I learnt at the beginning was that my 💼 portfolio was the star of the show. This meant it had to be immaculate and interesting, and I had to know every little detail about it.
If you’ve had previous experience, take some time to think about what your role involved, what you enjoyed there and what you think could have been better about the experience. Similarly, what are you expecting from this firm? Is it just a year-out experience, are you hoping to understand their sector better or do you want to just get a feel for office culture.
There is no right and wrong here. Every answer will depend on you as a person, as a student and consider all your experiences and skills. Sometimes, the person interviewing you might have only looked at your CV moments before they meet you. If this is the case, take the time out to go through your CV slowly, explaining more than what is shown. Usually they will ask for you to give a brief introduction, who you are, where you’re from, what you’ve been doing recently. In this case, I usually like to say that I am a recent graduate. But this doesn’t define who I am.
I would then go on to say, I’ve been utilising my time to learn Revit and run :scale blog. These are talking points. They don’t need to be some expert level achievement, but something that will intrigue to interviewer. You could mention a hobby you started, a volunteering experience, academic achievement you’re proud of and so on.
🔴Why did you decide to make this decision in your portfolio?
When going through your portfolio, it is common for the employer to ask questions so don’t fly through the entire thing, take your time, and explain everything slowly. To give you an example, I had an interviewer who was very interested in one of my projects because they recognised the site and actually had worked near there in the past. Then, they were interested in the sustainable elements of my project which also happened to be the basis of my technology report. The question on their mind was why was I including sustainable solutions in a residential project in the middle of London?
‘It’s because the current situation of overcrowded back alleyways needed to be eradicated, especially the influx of unnecessary building systems. I proposed a series of sustainable elements (which were very creative and realistically not possible) in order to introduce natural ventilation and allow for better interior organisation.’
The employer might pick on the smallest detail that you didn’t even think about. So go through your portfolio several times. Present it to a parent or sibling acting as if you’re in the interview. It will allow you to see how much you actually know about your work and help you understand what areas are of most interest to you. Your portfolio should support whatever you are saying. If you want to highlight that you have spent the time working on your CAD skills, showcase this in your portfolio.
🔴 What would the people around you say is your best and worst quality?
I quite like this one. You don’t have to sound vain or make something up on the spot because they want to see how others feel about you. Think about the times your peers and tutors may have praised you for a skill like organisation or punctuality. Think about what you would like to be better at such as communication and presenting in front of an audience.
Switch it up and tell them what you think your worst quality is first. This might surprise them because we often tend to not talk bad about ourselves in an interview. ⭐ But being honest is the best thing you can do ⭐. Tell them that you’re working on this but be specific. For example, if you’ve been wanting to get more hands on with software, take the time to start a course or simply mention that you’ve been actively learning a specific software. It will show them that you’re all about bettering yourself, reaching for your goals and building skills.
It’s important for an employer to see that you are proactive. If you’re doing all these things for the simple purpose of learning something new, it’s obvious that you will apply the same mindset to work.
🔴 Has there ever been a time where you were faced with criticism?
This might seem like a challenging one at first if your mind goes to formal experience or other circumstances. But you’re an architecture student. Crits are full of criticism! If you think about it, we’re faced with some form of criticism every week. Your tutors will definitely support and help you, but a big part of their role is to make us question our design choices and dive deeper into why you’re designing in a specific way.
Really, the interviewer wants to know how you deal with it. I love the idea of taking something usually construed as 😕 negative and turning it into a 😁 positive. Look for the silver lining. If you’ve faced criticism regarding your designs or the wording of your essay, think about how you can take what the person has said and turn it onto something positive. The best way to do this is to write down what’s been said and coming back to it at a later date. If you had a crit yesterday and don’t want to face what’s been said just yet, leave it for tomorrow.
When you sit down to start your tasks, think with a positive and open mind and address the criticism. If it’s something really small, you will need to ask yourself if it’s feasible to make the changes that are being suggested at this stage, and if it is, why wouldn’t you make them? If you don’t have an answer to that, it might be something to consider.
🔴 How do you handle multi-tasking and deadlines?
Let’s be real. No one is perfect at multi-tasking every single hour of every single day. But essentially, the interviewer will want to know how you manage your time best in time-pressured situations. Everyone works to a deadline and you need to explain that you’ve been doing these skills throughout university and will definitely carry that into your professional life. In the interview, it could be hard to think of such ideas on the spot, but if you take the time to think about it and be honest, it shouldn’t be difficult.
To give you an example, I’ve answered this question by explaining that I pride myself on a different kind of workflow. I set myself deadlines slightly earlier than the actual deadline so that when the time comes around, I am ready and can utilise the time between my personal deadline and the actual deadline to do extra things. This also allows me to have a stricter timetable so that even if I don’t complete all my tasks and everything I want to do, there is still some leeway towards the end.
Balancing several projects can be tricky for some people and as an architecture student, I’ve found that after graduating it was very difficult to switch off my brain and get out of the designing mindset. This skill is important when multi-tasking because you need to constantly switch between your design project to your dissertation, to thinking about employment prospects.
The secret to this, is to be doing things that you enjoy. If you aren’t interested in the dissertation topic you’ve chosen, you will be more likely to avoid doing it at all. So while you think you are multi-tasking, you’re probably not. Another great habit to have is to schedule in days for certain tasks. For example, I liked to save Friday for all the extraneous and lower priority tasks that needed doing. I could catch up on that drawing I was supposed to annotate or write a list of drawings.
All the small things would happen on that day. Then, the other days would be dedicated to each project that was happening. This can get you into an automatic workflow where the boundaries are clear. It also doesn’t need to be set in stone and will need to change as deadlines approach where you might need to allocate more time to one project.
🔴 What is your strongest skill?
I won’t give you a script for this question. This is something you need to consider yourself. Think about what you were terrible at when you first started university and whether or not that skill has become your strongest yet.
Don’t be afraid to expand on your answers in the interview. Obviously, the interviewer isn’t looking for an essay-length response, but it might be good to explain why you feel a certain way.
🔴 What kinds of software have you learnt?
Again, being truthful in your responses is key 😇. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it will show weaknesses or put the interviewer off from going forward. If you tell them honestly that you’ve never worked with a software, it can save you a lot of trouble and embarrassment in the future. Similarly, don’t tell them you are an expert in Rhino when you’re just a beginner. Some employers might invite you back for a second interview that could include a surprise test!
The best way to go about answering this question, is to tell them you are using your free time to learn new software (in particular whichever one the firm works in). This will do many things for you; it will show them that you’re putting in the effort to learn whatever software that firm uses, making sure you are ready for the role. It also shows that you are being proactive.
It will also allow you to respond with a question. Ask them why they prefer this software, what kinds of things do they do with it primarily and how you would be using it on a day-to-day basis.
🔴 What did you enjoy about university?
I received this question a couple of times which actually threw me. I hadn’t actually thought about my experience at university as a whole and how it had shaped me as a designer. Of course, I enjoyed the course, had some realisations after graduating, so overall I felt that it was what I signed up for and more.
🔴 Do you have any questions for us?
This is the best and most important one in my mind. Before an interview, I like to go through the firms website, any articles, and publications about them and write down a list of questions. Another good way to do this is to look at the job description and highlight the bits you don’t fully understand. For me, I was often asking how does a Part I fit in within the entire firm. I usually got the answer that I’d be working in a team or be multi-tasking on multiple projects but would usually have some kind of guidance throughout the process.
Definitely make it a point to ask at least one question. If you feel like whatever you were going to ask has been answered in their description of the firm, let them know.
Another topic I haven’t mentioned yet is salary. Obviously, this will depend on the firm and their approach but in an initial interview, I’ve never discussed salary apart from a generic range. But a good thing might be to talk to your peers or those who have already completed their year out and get a feel for this area.
Hopefully, this article will help you to be a little bit more prepared and allow you to understand actual questions that are usually asked in an interview. Let us know what kind of questions you’ve been asked and think could be helpful for fresh graduates! Make sure to keep up with us on Instagram as well 😄