Where Will You Intern?

The million dollar question…

The original story appeared here.

It’s been really long since I updated the series owing to all the work and laziness. Now that I think of it, this really should have been part I.

Towards the end of architecture school, everyone is faced with the difficult task of choosing a firm to intern with. I remember some of my peers had decided where they would be working, months in advance! There were some who were applying to just a handful of firms and then there were others who had sent out emails to numerous firms. I must go on to say that I myself, sent emails to a large bunch of firms, which on retrospect, I shouldn’t have.

With this article, I plan on painting a clearer picture of choosing the firm you will intern with and how to go about the entire process of getting recruited.

1. Where do you stand, ten years down the line?

As we get through each semester of college, most of us start getting a clearer picture of the kind of architect we want to be. This forms the basis of figuring out the kind of firm you would want to work with. It is really important to know, that in most cases, irrespective of which firm you join, you are most likely to do work that is nothing like what you might have imagined. For instance, there are countless students who want to work with studios that advertise themselves as sustainable practices. It’s really great when sustainability is deep-rooted right from when you are in college. However, there could be a huge difference between what sustainable means to you and what it means to the firm. With the current hype around sustainability, there are good chances of finding studios that don’t live up to your definition of sustainable.
It is vital to get a clear picture of where you see yourself ten years later. It is indeed difficult to have such a clear idea but in our industry, it is important since this helps you decide where to work.

In a country where majority of architects end up starting their own practices at some point in time, how you brand your designs is key. And to eventually get that right, you need to find the right firm where you can get mentored.

Look for places that design and implement architecture in a manner best suited to your needs. In my opinion, firms can be categorized as either traditional, modern or avant-garde (more about such firms in the future). So, pick the one where you would be comfortable.

2. Talk to the experts

The Alumni. They are already out there and many would have shifted jobs from the time they got out of college, so, getting an opinion from them is the best way to find out about a firm. And the best part? They will tell you things no website, brochure or directory listing ever will. For example, I was once told about a firm that had issues with employees who couldn’t stand each other. You wouldn’t want to work there, would you?

Now that you have a handful of firms you would like to intern with, it’s time to send out those emails and make those calls.

3. Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently

Every firm, in order to evaluate an applicant, asks for a portfolio apart from the usual curriculum-vitae and a cover letter. Since the firms provide a domain based email address, you need to ensure your portfolio is smaller than 2-5MB to be on the safer side. It is a tough task in case you have a large amount of graphic content but it is something that is unavoidable. In case you are unable to compress it, you could always request the firm to provide you with FTP details or another email address that supports larger files. That being said, I have had the opportunity to interact with considerably rude offices that believe an applicant with a larger portfolio just isn’t the right candidate!

As far as sending out the emails go, I am not going to tell you what to type, because I wouldn’t know myself. It is something that you decide on the fly. Just make sure you don’t sound needy, pushy and arrogant while at the same time, check for grammatical errors. Personally, I would hate to read an email that lacks basic structure.

N also, pls avoid typin like u would 2 a friend.

4. Pick up the Phone

When I was applying to various firms, I would just send an email and wait patiently for their reply.
Big mistake! In some cases, the firms would reply in a few days while in most cases, they never did. This can be attributed both, to the shortcomings in my portfolio as well as the busy schedules firms follow. It was during a later time when I was told how important it is to call in, apart from sending an email. When you call a firm, you are, in many ways, expressing your interest to work there. This small gesture goes a long way in securing employment.
If you are applying abroad however, it is advisable not to call. Just an email would do.

5. How long is too long?

The internship period depends on the teaching program your institution follows. In some cases, internships last for a semester while in others, they pan out for two. Some colleges have rules where students have to intern with just one firm through the entire internship period while others are lenient and allow for students to choose two firms over two semesters.

The choice you make will again, depend on the firm you decide to work with. Some firms are vast and multi layered in terms of work flow and design culture, where even a whole year isn’t sufficient! In case you are working at such a firm, it’s great to stay there for the entire duration of your internship.

Another advantage to working at one firm for the entire year is that you get to experience a project right from the drawing board all the way to when it’s handed over. This can really help since you get an idea of how a project is handled and how to go about the various drawings, site visits and BoQs.

At the end of the day, make sure you aren’t getting saturated working at the same place or feel you aren’t learning anymore.

6. Don’t make promises you can’t keep

After you are done applying, there are chances of more than one firm calling you in for an interview. Assuming the interviews go well, you are going to have a handful of offer letters asking for your attention. When it comes to internships, firms are always on the edge given how interns change their decisions at the last moment, due to which, the offer letters hold good for a very short period of time. In a situation where you are called in by more than one firm, make sure you inform all the firms of your decision as early as possible. It isn’t wise to accept an internship with one firm, only until some other firm calls you in.
Once you are out of college, the architecture community is going to be monitoring every step you take. One bad move and it’s your career on the line.

While this post comes at a wrong time of the year, I wish all the interns the best of luck at work and hope everyone has nailed a firm of their liking!

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Architect, Photographer and Writer. Based out of Bangalore, India. http://devambardekar.com/ tweet @DevAmbardekar

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Dev Ambardekar

Architect, Photographer and Writer. Based out of Bangalore, India. http://devambardekar.com/ tweet @DevAmbardekar