This time last year I was constantly thinking about ways I could improve my portfolio to increase my chances of employment. Updating my portfolio was on my mind constantly. In my third year, I always had the regret of not being able to complete my second year design work to it’s full potential. The narrative and driving elements behind the project were well thought out and I had spent a lot of time on research but didn’t give myself enough time to refine the final details.
Why do I need to work on it?
No one really tells you to update your portfolio – in fact, looking back, I didn’t get any kind of guidance regarding your portfolio for applications. This is very different to the portfolio you submit at the end of the year but if you want some tips on that, read our post The Process Behind a Successful Architecture Portfolio. Your applicant portfolio is a much more refined, concise and informative set of pages. Now, this particular blog post is not about how to put together the perfect portfolio (but let me know if that is something you’d like to see!). Today, I want to convince those of you currently seeking employment that the best use of your time is to update your portfolio.
This process is best done in combination with your CV as well because making sure both these things compliment each other gives off a very professional look to your approach. So I’ll tell you the reason for this un-called portfolio update. The time we get during university is never enough and I truly believe that each project can go much further than the way it gets submitted.
The key here is not to add to your existing project, it’s to demonstrate skills that you are currently learning and creating a meaningful output from it which you can still add to your portfolio.
After graduating, I was itching to get back to university – I still look at the new briefs that come out hoping to get inspired or just to think ‘what would I have done?’. The process of starting a project excites me to the core and I think why not continue that after graduating? Making the best use of your time is to:
a. learn a skill that is in demand,
b. show your creative application of that skill and
c. creating beneficial additions to your portfolio.
A lot of firms in the UK ask for software experience in Revit and Vectorworks (these have been the most popular in my opinion). AutoCAD is a must, but I feel it is something we’re all used to and doesn’t require too much effort as compared to the others. Usually we don’t focus on extremely detailed, technically sound drawings because our job is to design and our projects are hypothetical. Now, if you can show that you can not only use the software well and efficiently, but you understand the technical thought behind the building – you’ve just scored double points with the hiring manager.
After many months of applying for jobs (which I hope you don’t have to face!), you begin to see commonalities between job advertisements and a standard set of skills and requirements. Updating your portfolio can tick many of those boxes – plus give you something to do.
How do I begin?
Bear in mind, I’m also not suggesting you go re-design the entire project! Instead, build on certain aspect you felt were weak. For example, in my micro-community project there were essentially two parts, the housing and retail and the community centre. I spent a huge amount of my time working on the housing part of things because it was essentially the main part. But somewhere, the community centre / temple got lost in a sense which contributed to my final result.
Nevertheless, I felt that it had a lot of room to grow. Similarly, my second year project was well thought out, but the internal arrangements didn’t work as I wanted them to. I focused too much on hypothetical aspects because I hadn’t applied my research to my design. When planning for my ‘mega-drawing’ I wanted to take a look at the entire set of drawings once again. So I went back, asked myself what works and what doesn’t, and re-designed the plans up to a point I was happy with.
The purpose there wasn’t to produce amazing final plans, but it was to give me a base to curate a mega-drawing. Of course, this was a side project and so the mega-drawing is on the back burner for now – but believe me when I say it’s not gone. I’ve set aside some time to work on it and hopefully finish it, so make sure you stay with :scale long enough to see that final outcome.
I suggest for this kind of project, don’t bust out the timetable, don’t treat it as a chore or job because you won’t be able to take advantage of the creative spirit that comes with doing something you enjoy. It’s pretty difficult and stressful – even more so now, constantly applying to jobs. Sometimes it can get pretty monotonous and you might begin to question yourself. I assure you it’s not you! It happens to everyone and the employment market is pretty unstable right now so there’s no saying which firms are hiring and which aren’t. Everyone is in this middle-ground where no one is quite sure how to proceed.
Highlighting your skills
Making your portfolio and CV the best it can be is crucial in avoiding those bubbles of self-doubt. In fact, it can be very interesting to update your professional image every now and then according to the experiences you’ve had. For example, if you’ve written for a blog I would recommend adding it to your CV (for the time being) to show some kind of initiative and interest in other areas. If you’re thinking of entering a competition, use some of the images in your portfolio. These can be more than just images, they’re a series of skills applicable to the workplace.
Think about stuff like time-management; which can come with competition deadlines, managing multiple projects or something as simple as software skills. Essentially you are trying to show employers that you have a diverse range of skills. A portfolio update can also be beneficial for learning something new and that never hurt anyone!
In this Medium article, number 9 on the list of micro-habits that are life-changing is to write everything down. This is so underrated, especially in architecture. Since we are visual thinkers and designers, we tend not to use text to convey our ideas and thoughts, but I’ve always found it a great way of keeping a track of data. Using Notion has been an integral part of writing more, in fact I’m writing this on Notion itself! In second and third year, we were also encouraged to create a Tumblr account to record our progress and findings and for our tutors to be able to see our projects outside of tutorials. This could prove to be an alternative solution for online classes and allows you to keep a virtual diary of your thoughts and ideas without the commitment of articles or longer text.
Writing things down for your portfolio update can be important for when you get round to doing the work. If you’re in education right now, it could be great to write little notes about possible explorations that aren’t suited for the current moment but could be useful in the future.
So, if you have some time on your hands, take a look at your past projects. I guarantee you there will be aspects you will look back on and think ‘what happened there?!’. It’s because unknowingly, we learn so much and it’s only when we look back on things is when we realise the little mistakes.