Architectural Portfolios – You’ve got 30 seconds. That’s it.

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That’s it. Your portfolio has only about 30 seconds to make a lasting impression.

On an average, every vacancy for an intern or junior architect posted online receives about 500 applications. That is the kind of demand for architectural jobs in India. Imagine an architect juggling design development, multiple clients, co-ordinating with consultants, guiding and managing the internal team and hopping from one site to another – all on the same day – also having to find the time to look at your portfolio. If we factor in the 30 second rule, looking at 500 portfolios will still require more than four hours to sort through the lot.

Do architects have so much time to spare? Certainly not.

We talked to architects about how they sifted through these applications and find themselves a deserving candidate. Sharath Nayak from Biome Environmental Solutions talked about how individuality matters, and how well your portfolio showcases your strengths.

Manish Gulati from MoFA Studios told us, “My eyes are trained. It just takes a second for me to decide what I don’t want. And then, the deserving portfolios automatically get more attention.” On selection and shortlisting, he shared, “At MoFA, we follow a different process for shortlisting candidates. The process is time consuming, but it does justice to both – students and us. After having shortlisted the portfolios, we call the candidates for an interview, and those selected have to appear for a test in our studio. The test isn’t the same for all candidates; it is tailored based on their strengths as per their portfolios. It could be on using certain software, sketching, process of design, writing…anything.”

Each firm in the country has a unique style of operation and work culture – and nothing is more important for an intern than finding the right fit. But the four things we’ve listed below – a bite sized handbook of do’s and don’ts for job applications, compiled from our conversations with architects across the country – are true for all offices and will decide whether you’ll get that coveted call-back or not.

  • Less Is More

Don’t ditch the minimalism in your history class – let it shine in your work as well. Most architects tell us that the ideal architectural portfolio does not exceed 15 pages – with an A3 landscape layout in print, and a file size smaller than 5mb over mail. With only 30 seconds for your five years’ worth of work, your portfolio must contain nothing but the absolutely essential information, and minimum distractions from the contents.
Remember – this is about making an impression, and not about telling your potential employer about your entire work experience, so whatever else they may want to know, you can tell them during your interview after you’ve been shortlisted. But your portfolio must remain uncluttered and precise.

  • Tell The Truth

We’ve all heard about it – fancy tales about how students copy designs off websites and old library catalogues and pass it off as their own without getting caught. But keep in mind – the firms you are applying to are run by architects with years and years of experience, and they know exactly how to handle the applicants trying to dupe their way in. Apul Tandon, Principal Architect at WAL+L, an upcoming Architecture and Design firm in Delhi tells us, “We are a start-up. Multi-tasking capabilities are what we look for. But of course, sketching, 3D-modelling, communications and presentation skills are the key. With my experience at Morphogenesis, I have learnt that we cannot trust portfolios completely, so interviews are a must. They help both parties in getting to know each other well.”
So remember, your portfolio should speak the truth. Even if your well-presented, but fake portfolio gets shortlisted, your interview will reveal everything about you.

  • Make It Fit

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Different firms have different approaches and philosophies, and they’re looking for someone who’ll fit in their team and work on a similar wavelength. Sending out mass applications just won’t cut it – you have to make sure your application is tailored to the tastes of your future employer. It doesn’t hurt to catalogue the design approach of the firms you’re applying to, and creating custom templates for each to make sure it catches their eye.
Yes, your portfolio is about you – but how you present your work does dictate whether certain firms will be interested in training or hiring you at all.

  • Is It Clear?

We’ve talked before about how M+P Architects from Pune shortlist portfolios.  Abhishek Bij from Design Plus tells us more about clarity in applications, “Legibility is a big issue with students’ portfolios. Students try to fit in everything that has been done in last 7 or 10 semesters – all designs, working drawings, competitions, photography and what not. If I can see even two good drawings and a clear approach to design, the portfolio will be shortlisted.” Firms want to see what you know and how well you know it – they are looking for your skills and aptitude for the job and your portfolio must convey that information at a glance.

Now that you know what employers are looking for, here’s a handy checklist for the contents of your portfolio:

  1. Important design exercises of varied scale, context and typology| Ideally, not more than three. Focus more on approach and concept rather than the finished product.
  2. Design related co-curricular activities|Art installations, competitions, research and documentation is an integral part of your portfolio, whether you handled it in a group or independently.
  3. Technical/working drawings|Most of the times, they are ignored – blame it on how these subjects are dealt with at most architecture schools. But if you think you approached these differently and these are your strengths, go ahead and put them in!
  4. Software skills| Be it CAD, Photoshop, SketchUp or any other, most applicants list them out at the very beginning. However, your skill level will show up much more realistically on each sheet of your portfolio, so focus on using these well.
  5. Interests| Don’t mention photography, sketching and travel – the staple of all portfolios – unless you pursue them seriously. One sheet is enough to display your talent. Remember – this is an architectural portfolio, not a photography portfolio, so don’t put in too many high-rez landscape shots in lieu of actual work if you want employers to seriously consider you.

Can you think of more? Tell us about it in the comments!

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