We are currently in the process of hiring here at Propel Studio, and I wanted to use our experience reviewing applications to give some tips to those looking for their first job in a firm, or those looking to move to a new firm you have been longing to work for. Some of this advice should be common sense and many tips are simple edits that will reduce the effort it takes to review your application. The small details matter - especially within the design profession. The most important thing to remember with applications is that you want to make it as easy as possible for someone to review your work and invite you for an interview.
Submit your work as a PDF
Never send word files or other editable documents. You want to control what the reviewer sees and PDFs are a standard file type that anyone can open.
Keep file sizes small
There is no reason to ever send a file larger than 10mb. Find ways to downsize or edit your portfolio to get below the 10mb threshold. I'd say 5mb is an even better target.
Make the file name clear and useful
Name your files "Portfolio-Lucas-Gray.pdf" or "Lucas-Gray-Portfolio.pdf" for instance. Don't add dates, numbers, FINAL, or other text that doesn't help the firm understand what the file is and who sent it. Use your first and last name to avoid any confusion. If you are responding to a job listing, pay attention to any directions they give and follow those. If you are sending multiple files, be consistant with the file naming - if you start with your first name (lucas-gray-portfolio for instance) make sure you do that with the other files (lucas-gray-resume).
Include a link to an online portfolio
I like to have multiple ways to see people’s work - PDFs, online portfolios, etc. This is especially relevant as people rely more on phones, tablets and other portable devices to consume media. PDFs are great on a computer, and we download them for our files, but it is useful to get a quick snapshot of your work by visiting a website. I usually open online portfolios before opening attachments or downloading files. You can upload your portfolio PDF to sites like issuu to act as your digital portfolio if you don't want to create a personal website.
Link to applicable Social Media accounts/blogs
If you have a social media account or blog that is relevant to your work, how you design, or how you see the world, include a link to it. Instagram is great, LinkedIn is good as well. Facebook and Twitter can be good if they are curated to be professional (limit photos of food, pets, or controversial subjects). If you write or edit a blog include a link to that. We like to see how you are engaged in the profession or community outside your day job, and we also look at your ability to write which can be a great asset.
Personalize/customize the email
Write specifically to the firm you are applying to. Tell them how you found them, why you want to work there, what projects of theirs that you particularly liked, how your design approach would fit with their firm. If you met any of the members of the firm at an event address your email to them individually as well as email it to the email address the firm posts on their job listing.
Keep it short
Most people don't have hours to review every application. Writing something short and to the point is important. The goal of the email is get someone to download your files or click your online portfolio link. If I can't read the entire email in 10-20 seconds I'm probably not going to read the entire thing.
Put your best work first
Most people aren't going to look at an entire portfolio unless you make a shortlist of applicants. You need to impress them with the first couple projects. Order your portfolio with your best projects at the beginning.
Think about how it will look on a screen
Make sure you format the PDF to open and display the way you want it to look. If you have 2-page spreads make sure you change the settings so the file will automatically open with spreads enabled. It is annoying when you are flipping through a PDF and images are cut off between two pages. There is a setting in acrobat to have a file open to a cover page with 2-page spreads - find that tool.
What skills are you demonstrating?
When I review portfolios from applicants I am looking for two things: 1) what are you design sensibilities and do they align with our firm's work? 2) What skills do you have that would be useful within the firm. Make sure your portfolio shows your experience and skills as well as your design ideas. Pretty pictures and renderings are nice to see, but I also want to see detail drawings, construction documents, built results from your drawings, and process work (sketches, models, diagrams, etc.). I want to see how you think and arrive at a design solution. I also want to see if you have been successful at communicating design intent with your drawings to contractors and actually have build examples. Even if you were part of a larger team on a project, are there specific details or small parts of the project that you worked on? Can you show some drawings you produced and then the built results of those?
Keep it short
Same comment as above. We don't have much time to review every portfolio that comes to us. We usually spend a pretty short amount of time looking through a portfolio to see if you make a shortlist or not. Make a strong impact as quickly as possible.
I usually look at portfolios first. If the work is at least decent I will then review a Resume and read a cover letter. Usually, you would make a shortlist and be invited for an interview based on these three things. If you have good references I'd include a references document in your application. Remember, the goal is to make it as easy as possible for the firm to get whatever information they need to make the decision to hire you. Ask potential references ahead of time if you can share their contact info and if they would give a good reference for you. References are especially helpful if they come from someone we know and trust. Look through your network to see if you have anyone in common with the firm you are applying to. See if they would refer you, put in a good work, or be a reference.
Follow the firm on social media
Make sure you follow the firm's twitter account, like their facebook page, follow their instagram, like their LinkedIn page, and any other social media accounts they use. If you are applying to a firm, it is probably because you like their work or their message. One way to stay up to date on their work, and build an intimate knowledge of their office culture is to follow their social media accounts. Try connecting with staff and principals on LinkedIn and facebook if it is appropriate. I'll probably check to see of the people who we invite for interviews, who follow us on various social media platforms. I won't make the ultimate decision based on this but it does show who is truly interested in what we are doing as a firm.
There is nothing like meeting in person. Emailing out of the blue, or mailing physical applications is not nearly as effective as knowing someone on a personal level. Find out what the firm is interested in, what events they might be attending, and who at the firm makes decisions. Try to meet them in person to put a face to the name. Following their social media accounts can give you some good insight into event they may be at. Don't stalk the firm, but try to find professional ways you can build a personal relationship with people there.
Your Added Value
Your work is one thing that is easy to compare with other applicants. However, your interests, skills, and passions beyond production work can set you apart from others you are competing against for the job. Are there other ways that you would bring value to the firm? For instance, do you have any leads on potential projects, do you serve on a neighborhood association, are you on any organizational boards, do you volunteer for any organizations that might be applicable to the firm or potential leads? If you don't do any of those things yet, you might want to start. We are always looking at how people spend their time outside the office and how that can contribute to our office culture, and how our employees can positively impact the community. As a small firm we rely on every employee to help grow awareness of our firm and hopefully build our reputation around the city. We love when people are involved in the AIA, ULI, CNU, and other industry organizations. We encourage people to volunteer with non-profits, and get involved in their neighborhoods. Often these efforts can lead to potential clients.