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How to get a graduate job in architectural technology

There are relatively few advertised vacancies in architectural technology – graduates often get hired through speculative applications. Read on for tips on how to secure an architectural technologist job by applying ‘on spec’.
Draw on your research to match up your skills with the company's values and portfolio of work.

There are some graduate jobs available with large organisations, generally housing developers and construction consultancies, as well as with the occasional local authority or property firm. However, most roles can be found with individual architectural practices. Some of these do advertise roles that are suitable for graduates on an ad hoc basis – TARGETjobs, RIBA Appointments and the Chartered Institute of Building’s websites are good places to find vacancies – but the way you’re most likely to get a job is by sending speculative applications to targeted practices.

Making speculative applications for architectural technology jobs

Firstly, draw up a shortlist of practices you’re interested in by researching those listed in the RIBA Directory of Chartered Practices. You can search the online directory by location and area of expertise to find the ones that are suitable for you, so think about what you’re looking for. Is there a project sector you’re more interested in, or a type of building you want to learn more about?

Warning: the directory has the details of more than 3,000 practices, so it’s tempting to send one blanket application to dozens of potential employers thinking that the more applications you send, the greater the likelihood of a positive response. Don’t do this. In reality, your chances of drumming up interest are far greater if you spend the time on a few applications (start with between five and ten) that are tailored to specific employers, showing exactly why you chose that organisation.

Another source of potential employers is similar – but different – job listings. For example, an advert for a senior architect role with a minimum of ten years’ experience is unsuitable for graduates, but the advert tells you that the practice is currently hiring and it should also include information on what the recruiter is looking for in terms of personal attributes and values.

Writing a covering letter for architectural technology jobs

Make sure you know who to address the letter to (never use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To whom it may concern’!). If you can’t find the right contact name on the website, call up the practice and you should be able to find out.

Importantly, you need to explain what it is that makes you want to work for this particular practice. Research the organisation, its specialist areas of expertise and any recent projects, and be clear about what it is that attracts you to working there. If you can copy and paste the material from one application to another and it still makes sense, it’s not targeted enough – re-write it and make the employer really feel wanted.

You should also draw on your research to match up your skills with the organisation’s key values or any information you find on past job listings. Back up the claims you make about your skills with evidence from your experiences, stressing achievements, measurable results and your personal contribution where possible. If you’re going to convince someone to hire you, even when they’re not currently recruiting, you’re going to have to sell your skills and knowledge – what do you have to offer that would realistically benefit the practice? Why you?

Finally, deal with the specifics. Be clear about what you’re looking for, whether it’s work experience or a paid role, and when you will be available to start. Mention that you’ll follow up the application by calling or visiting the office in X days’ time (between three days and one week is best). Then sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’.

Putting together a CV

On your CV, highlight the experiences you’ve had that are most relevant to the practice you’re applying to. Focus on the skills you developed as well as the tasks you did.

The style of CV you choose is up to you, but think about what’s the best way to present your experiences. A chronological format suits someone who has had several relevant experiences recently, while a skills-based CV lets applicants with more varied experiences draw attention to the skills they’ve developed. This format is also helpful if you want to emphasise how your skills will match up well with the practice. For example, if teamworking is important in the practice according to the website, a section on ‘Teamworking experience’ is a good way to demonstrate you will fit in well.

Preparing a portfolio of work

It’s also a good idea to include a sample of your work with your application. This doesn’t mean sending over a back catalogue of everything you’ve ever done – a PDF of a few pages should be enough.

Decide whether it’s better to compile several different pieces, showing the variety of work you can do, or use one particular project that’s similar to the practice’s work, showing your knowledge of the work you will do on the job. Alternatively, if you don’t already have something you want to send, why not do a new mini-project based on the practice’s current developments? It’s worth asking your university tutors or lecturers who are industry practitioners what they recommend.

Following up a speculative application

Following up is a key part of the success of speculative applications: it reinforces your enthusiasm to work for the employer. Make sure you follow up within the timeframe you specified on the covering letter. If you do go into the office, dress appropriately. You should ask if they’ve had chance to review your application and whether they have any suitable roles available. If they turn you down, don’t keep pushing – move onto another practice. If they say there might be vacancies in a few months’ time, arrange with them how you can get back in contact later, if you’re still looking for opportunities by then.