Whether you’re dreaming of becoming the next Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas or Norman Foster, you don’t need us to tell you that getting that first graduate architecture or architectural technologist job will be a tough nut to crack; not to mention the challenge of securing a year out placement after Part 1.
So why aren’t more Part 1 or architectural technology students looking for work experience with architectural practices before their placement year or before they graduate? After all, it can be a great way of learning more about architectural practices, building up contacts and establishing relationships within the industry.
With a few weeks’ work experience under your belt, it’ll hopefully make securing that year out placement or graduate architectural technologist job that little bit easier.
Why should I get work experience?
Work experience is ideal for gaining a sense of how an architecture practice is run and understanding the production processes behind a design project. It’s a great opportunity to speak to architects and architectural technicians in the practice and ask them about their specialisms and their career path.
Work experience can also give you a taster of a variety of different practices, which will help you to start developing your own architectural interests. It will also give you an idea of the kind of practice you might want to work for in the future.
Where can I find work experience in architecture?
At this stage, the majority of your work experience applications will be speculative. That means you’ll have to do all the work. First of all, do your research. Use the RIBA directory of RIBA-chartered practices to draw up a long list of practices (if you fancy looking for work experience abroad, they also have a directory of international practices).
It might be good to find a mixture of practices, e.g. large, small and medium-sized practices, highly specialised practices and ones that focus on a wide range of different projects. Call them up and ask for a contact and email address to which you can send your speculative work experience application.
Before putting together your speculative application, research each practice thoroughly, noting their recent jobs, what area they work in, who their clients are and their practice values. Put together a tailored covering letter for each practice, which is no longer than an A4 page. Make sure it’s concise, well-written and error-free.
Your covering letter should include a few lines (using all that research) detailing what attracts you to their practice in particular. You should also include a paragraph on what you can offer them and the dates you are available for work experience. You should attach a CV and you might want to include a few key examples of your work. Get your careers service to have a look over your application before you submit it. After you send out your application, follow it up with a phone call, but don’t pester them.
But what can I offer an architecture practice?
Of course, the central problem is that there’s not all that much that a young architecture student can do in an architecture practice. This makes them reluctant to take on work experience students. So how can you convince them otherwise in your covering letter or CV?
The main thing to remember when applying for work experience with architectural practices is that it’s all about what you can offer them, not what they can offer you. But, before you descend into an existential panic about what you can offer, we’ve identified six key skills:
1. Drawing skills;
2. Computer Aided Design (CAD) skills;
3. Card Model Making Skills;
4. General admin skills;
5. 3D visualisation skills;
If you work hard to develop your CAD, model making and drawing skills, then you can be of use to architectural practices, particularly smaller ones. A particularly useful skill is the ability to create digital 3D visualisations. Practices often don’t have the time to create3D visualisations (or their client is unwilling to pay for it), so this is where you can really help them out.
The last one (“Enthusiasm”) might sound a bit obvious and vague, but many practices, particularly the smaller ones, have a relatively low turnover of staff. Often, having a fresh, enthusiastic presence around the office can really liven things up. Take it from us: if you convey some of these skills in your covering letter and CV, practices will be far more receptive to taking you on.
And finally, don’t give up!
The reality is that you might have to send off a whole bunch of applications before you manage to get yourself some work experience. Speculative applications aren’t the only way to get work experience. Try other approaches! You didn’t hear it here, but if any of your acquaintances knows someone who works in an architecture practice, try and get them to set you up with work experience. Milk those contacts dry…