University of Virginia: School of Architecture

Career Advice FAQ

A-school alumni from a wide range of backgrounds and experience address student questions about portfolios/resumes, the job interview process and getting started.


Portfolios and Resumes

What is the #1 skill for which you are looking in a resume and/or portfolio?

[Sarah Bolivar, BUEP ’11] Though not in charge of hiring, I think resumes should convey skills and expertise in the most straightforward manner as possible.  Italicization, color, and other ways of distinguishing text should be primarily functional.  Don’t distract the eye from essential information. 

[Megan Bucknum, MUEP ‘09] I look for someone who is a self-starter, only needing limited supervision.  I also look for people that can take a creative approach to problems and situations that arise in a business or program.

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] Freehand drawing.  If a candidate can draw, they can think….and they also tend to be more skilled with drawing software.

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] Passion demonstrated through initiative (the specific passion doesn’t generally matter).

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] Communication. Proof read your resume and cover letters. Use larger images to convey ideas. Smaller images in collages are lost.

[Marilyn Moedinger, BSArch ’05, MArch ‘10] Problem solving ability, and ability to work effectively in a team. Software can be learned on the job, but I [and my bosses] don’t want to teach people how to get along or act professionally.

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11] Sharp design skills, as well as diversity/range of experience within the design profession, and an aptitude for learning quickly.

 [Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] I believe that collaboration, initiative, and ability to follow through on a “project” are the most telling. When I hire teachers, some teaching experience is helpful.

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] For a resume: Well-rounded / diversity of experience, For a portfolio: clarity of intention.

[Patrick Woods, BSArch ‘06] Passion demonstrated through initiative (the specific passion doesn’t generally matter).


What do you often see in resumes or portfolios that are not necessary or should not be included at all?

[Sarah Bolivar, BUEP ’11] Cover Letter – learn how to promote your qualifications, rather than interests.

[Megan Bucknum, MUEP ‘09] I often see too many small jobs or positions, which appear to me as “resume stacking.”  Many of these can often be combine under one heading and list the separate jobs or programs within that main heading.  For example, if you were working part-time at several organizations/businesses within the same duration of time, instead of listing each one as its own job, you can create a section that is Freelancer (date-date).  Under this title, you could then list the various projects you worked on and for whom you worked.

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] I cannot think of anything that should NOT be included but there are often things that are left out that should not be.  Any work experience should be included, even if it is flipping burgers at McDonalds.  Freehand sketches, photographs, paintings or any other artistic endeavor is good too.

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] The attempt to dress up a portfolio with abstract graphics, color, etc. (to compensate for the fact that the student is not proud of his/her actual architectural work; show your work. Period).

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] Research the firms ahead of sending resumes and portfolios. Understand the type of work the firms do. Show how you are interested in their work.

[Marilyn Moedinger, BSArch ’05, MArch ‘10] Portfolios that have nothing to do with the job students are applying for – I’m all for variety in a portfolio [i.e. adding paintings, installations, photography, whatever], but if you’re applying for an architecture position, you had better have most of your projects show the ability to think architecturally [aka buildings…]

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11] Difficult to say. You would be surprised to know what does stand out - well composed diagrams, hand-drawings, etc. are valuable, in addition to construction drawings, etc.

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] I would say that resumes should not be overly descriptive (1-2 sentences at most for the most critical projects). You want to beg a conversation with the interviewer. Definitely do not exceed one page under any circumstances (consider providing a CV as well if this is the case).

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] Students sometimes go into depth as to why they had to take time off of school for health/financial reasons – this just becomes distracting and draws unnecessary attention.

[Patrick Woods, BSArch ‘06] Very general job descriptions under work history (e.g., “Responsibilities included…”).


What is the difference between a work sample and a portfolio?  How should they be considered and compiled differently?

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] If by work sample, you are referring to stuff that was produced by the candidate while employed, I would say that design oriented material could/should be included in a portfolio while production oriented material (construction docs for instance) could be an exhibit outside the portfolio.  Portfolios should also include process oriented graphics (sketches, study models, etc.) and not just the final presentation drawings.

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] How should they be considered and compiled differently? The former only applies to individuals with a good bit of office experience.

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] Work samples show experience in the profession. Portfolio includes design work from school.

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11] Two ways to go about a work sample - an 8”x11” sheet that demonstrates graphic skill or a single comprehensive project layout (think of a comprehensive studio project).  Work samples are often included along with resumes when approaching a form.  A portfolio shows your body of work, including professional, and is typically used during an interview.

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] A work sample is (3) projects and no more than (5) pages. You want to show your range and get to choose your most beautiful work. You don’t have to tell the whole story but basic project info/some context is very useful. Keep it under 5mb so that you can send it via email – even through those stubborn server limits. A portfolio should capture your best work with a maximum of 2 spreads per project – you want to have a discussion about your work but also the firm itself!

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] The work sample is a brief snapshot of the portfolio, a preview of what is to come. I think the most successful work sample consists of about 3 projects (either all on one sheet, or 3 separate sheets). Each of the projects should portray a different skill or project type. I would say it’s also important to not lay out all your cards here – make sure to save some elegant projects to show in the interview itself. Finally, in terms of compilation, as an employer, I would want to be able to easily print the work samples along with the cover letter and resume. Therefore, I would format all of them the same way and perhaps even combine them into a single pdf.


Job Interviews

What are the top 3 questions that a student should ask a potential employer in an interview?

[Sarah Bolivar, BUEP ’11]

1.       What opportunities do you offer for professional development?

2.       How often will we be able to meet and discuss my performance?

3.       What does the day-to-day job entail?

Make questions as open-ended as possible.  Never ask a question you already know the answer to or a question to which there is only a “yes” or “no” response.

[Megan Bucknum, MUEP ‘09]

1.       How do you see this position evolving in the next two years?

2.       What do you think will be the biggest challenge of this position?

3.       What was your (to the interviewer) vocation track that led you to your current position?

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78]

1.       Are there opportunities for continuing education and a program consistent with IDP leading toward taking the ARE? 

2.       What kind of work should I anticipate being involved with? 

3.       Will I be paid a salary or hourly and will I get paid for overtime?  What expectations are there of me for work beyond a 40 hour week? 

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85]

1.       What sort of work are you striving to take on in the years ahead?

2.       How varied is your staff?

3.       How are responsibilities distributed so that I can get a well-rounded experience?

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85]

1.       What would my tasks be?

2.       On what projects would I be working?

3.       What are the benefits?

[Marilyn Moedinger, BSArch ’05, MArch ‘10]

1.       What is the firm’s policy/support for the IP/licensure process? This is hard enough without working at a firm that won’t support you through this process. Work somewhere where they are committed to helping you get the experience you need, and will meet with you regularly to review your progress. Also, they should pay for your exams!

2.       What is the firm’s procedure for performance reviews? When, how often, and how will they be conducted? I’ve seen too many people get stuck in an endless process of their principals putting off reviews indefinitely – this is bad – because it doesn’t give you or them a chance to talk about what’s working and what isn’t. Especially if you’re new to the working world, you really need this to learn and progress!

3.       What is the firm’s hierarchy? Who will I be working most closely with, and in what capacity? [aka will I get to work with/report to/learn from project architects and/or principals, or will I be sitting in a corner being a CAD monkey?]

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11]

1.       What will my role be at this firm?

2.       What project/task will I likely be working on?

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05]

1.       Come in understanding your professional and more explicitly your IDP goals – can the firm support your development in the areas you are still deficient?

2.       Ask about the culture of the place – do the Principals have spouses and families or is this an overbearing lifestyle?

3.       Finally, ask where the firm is going – expanding markets in Asia? Lots of projects moving into CDs? Lots of competitions? You should know the crop of work that the office holds and what will be on their/your horizon.

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09]

1.       How will I be able to grow in the firm? (i.e. salary increase, benefits increase, responsibilities, etc.)

2.       What types of projects will I be working on and what will be my role?

3.       Could you talk about one of the firm’s recent projects you are most excited about? Please explain the design process, how the project team was structured, and what you learned from this project that will shape the future of the firm.

4.       Where do you see the firm in 10 years?

[Patrick Woods, BSArch ‘06]

1.       What specifically will I be doing here, on a day-to-day basis?

2.       What is your biggest complaint about working here?

3.       Can you describe my career path and the expected timing to progress through each role?  


How do I know I am being offered a fair salary?

[Sarah Bolivar, BUEP ’11] Try to gauge what the standard of living is within the community and what income is required for housing, commuting, and miscellaneous expenses.  Then, you will be better prepared to discuss what a fair salary entails.  Try to account for at least a 10% savings. After receiving a job offer, you might ask “Can we discuss a pay rise of x percent after the x required years?”

[Megan Bucknum, MUEP ‘09] Search for the average standard of living costs for the region in which you are trying to be employed.  You can also call other firms/organizations in similar fields and ask them about salaries.

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] Look at the Design Intelligence annual salary survey for comparables.  Ask firms, even if they are not prepared to offer you a position, what they would typically pay an intern architect.

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] I would guess that the internet can identify what are fair salaries in any region – but salaries vary more according to office size and types of experience being offered; lots of times a pay cut makes sense to get certain experiences.

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] Look at the overall benefits package. Determine if the offer is for a salary or an hourly wage. Also inquire about paid leave, retirement and health insurance.

[Marilyn Moedinger, BSArch ’05, MArch ‘10]

a.       Check with your friends in the area, check, and for heaven’s sake don’t take the first offer they give you. If you’ve worked somewhere else, use that as a baseline. If you haven’t, try putting together a budget for the city you’re going to be living in – the quick way is to do a Craig’s list survey of rents in  the areas you want to live, multiply that times 12, and that should be about 1/3 of your income. [This test only works well if you don’t pick outrageous places to live, like mansions or shoeboxes. I know you’re a designer…but try to be reasonable…]

b.       Don’t forget about taxes when you’re thinking about all this – use 25% as a rule of thumb. $45k may sound like a lot, but after taxes, it’s not so great anymore…

c.       Consider location – fair in Cleveland is not fair in NYC.

d.       Remember how much time and money went into your education….

e.       Don’t forget extras – health insurance, days off, vacation policy, dental/vision, 401k…a smaller salary may be a better deal if they throw in free health insurance and profit sharing. When comparing offers, try to make them “apples to apples” – salary is only a part of the picture

f.        Watch out if you’re working as a 1099, versus on a W2. These are different tax situations, and they affect what a fair rate is. Sometimes, you’ll get an offer to work as a contract worker [1099] for three months on trial, without health insurance or benefits, and an hourly wage. You should be making more per hour in this scenario than if you are a W2, because you have to pay your own taxes [which aren’t automatically withheld when you work as a 1099], and purchase your own health insurance. And, if you’re sick, you don’t get paid time off. So factor that stuff in.

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11] Don’t be afraid to ask classmates and friends in cities with comparable costs of living what the going wage is.  Also, check resources like

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] Tough to say, and the best thing is to ask peers and folks at academic institutions that know the climate. Each city’s market is different and you should know the average salary coming into the interview by doing a bit of digging yourself.

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] Before the interview, reach out to friends with comparable work experience who are working in a similar firm type to see roughly what they are being paid.

[Patrick Woods, BSArch ‘06] Talk to friends & peers, research online.


How do I know how and when to negotiate?

[Sarah Bolivar, BUEP ’11] It is best to negotiate after you have landed the job.  Advice from an HR Director: “make them love you first.”

[Megan Bucknum, MUEP ‘09] If you think you are not given an offer that is reflective of your skills and experience, negotiate!  If done in a respectful manner, it should not deter the employer from keeping your offer on the table.  Regarding learning how to negotiate, ask people who have more experience that you do for their tips and tricks on negotiating.  This skill takes time to develop and there are many different styles.

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] There is usually not a lot of negotiation possible at an entry level however, if you really feel you are being offered low compensation, and you really want to work at a particular firm, there is no reason not to ask for more.

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] Intuition.

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] If you have had several interviews/offers, you can compare the offers and use one to negotiate the others.

[Marilyn Moedinger, BSArch ’05, MArch ‘10]

a.       In my experience, if the firm is interested, they will make an offer – and they will try to get you for as little as they can, reasonably. This doesn’t mean they’re being mean, or unfair, they’re trying to run a business, and payroll is the largest expense, generally. So, feel free to counteroffer, with a rate that is higher than you’d be willing to settle for. Remember, this is business – you can be calm, fair, and reasonable without sounding greedy. In your conversations about compensation and about the firm in general, ask intelligent questions [“Will I be a 1099 contract worker, or are you hiring me on salary?” “How much is your monthly health insurance contribution, as a percentage?”] – and they will see you know what you’re talking about. Be respectful and firm – I’ve seen so many friends [myself included!] be too “scared” to negotiate, and then they’re stuck with a tough situation they can’t change easily.

b.       At the same time, don’t act like God’s gift to architecture – be clear with yourself and your potential employer about your skills and experience, and don’t oversell yourself or be a bully. Remember, you haven’t proven anything to them yet! A good tactic here is to agree to a lower salary upfront, with the understanding that you will get a 3 month review and salary renegotiation. That gives both you and the firm a chance to try each other out.

c.       GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING. Can’t say this one enough. If they don’t do written contracts, write up your own “letter of understanding” [LOU] that summarized what you’ve both agreed to, and get them to sign it. Include things like when you’ll get a performance review, etc.

d.       Note: all of this advice has come from times when I didn’t do these things, and should have!

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11] Once you’ve done your research, you’ll come to the table with a better idea of what you are looking for - if an offer does not meet your expectations, clarify that.  If you are well informed, you’ll have a good basis to go on - know the value of a good benefit package and recognize the potential for future growth.

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] You should negotiate after the offer and after you have time to consider the firm visit and the other options you have in front of you. It is ideal to have an offer from several offices, so even if you think you know where you want to be, it is helpful to try to get at least two job offers to weigh the options.

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] Negotiating is of course easier if you either already have a job (or are able to explain what you make now and that you’d like a certain percentage increase in salary/benefits) or if you have more than one offer (and you’re able to speak to what the other firm(s) would offer you.) Other than that, again, find out what your friends in similar positions are making and if the salary the firm offers is not comparable, then you could certainly raise the question. 

[Patrick Woods, BSArch ‘06] Never try to negotiate on the spot à always ask for some time to reflect on the offer and then come back to them to negotiate; it’s never a bad move to ask for more money, but be careful with the ask.


If I only have one offer, but I am not sure I want to take it, what is a reasonable length of time to decide?

[Sarah Bolivar, BUEP ’11] It is best to let the firm know you will need at least a week to decide to both be fair to the firm and to allow yourself enough time to reflect on your options. Ask if the firm is willing to negotiate certain terms to make the offer more appealing, but remember to be enthusiastic and appreciative of the job offer.  Also, send thank you cards as soon as you have completed the interview. 

[Megan Bucknum, MUEP ‘09] Ask the person giving the offer what the hiring timeframe looks like and then you can better understand a good length of time to give them an answer.  As a rule of thumb, I do not make any large decisions without waiting at least 24 hours.  This is something I demand from every job offer I have ever been given.

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] No longer than a week.

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] You must decide very quickly as a junior – to hesitate says ‘I don’t much care…’ and that gets you a negative label. No principal wants to hire anyone who considers that office a second choice.

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] Try to respond within 5-7 days.

[Marilyn Moedinger, BSArch ’05, MArch ‘10] Depends. When you get the offer, whether it’s in person or over email, immediately thank the person making the offer, DO NOT accept it on the spot, and ask them what their timeframe is for wanting an answer. Typically when a firm makes an offer to you, they won’t give that spot to someone else while you’re making your decision. I would say a few days to a week is fair, especially if they’re asking you to relocate.

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11] 1-2 weeks, your first job doesn’t have to be your “dream job” but, should help you gather the skills and experience required to get your closer to it.

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] I would say that you need to send an update and response within 10 days to 2 weeks. The offer may not be on the table long, as firms hire in “runs” and your position might not be guaranteed after that time. If you still are unsure about the offer, let them know you’re thinking about it and a month is tops for making a decision/ensuring the offer stands.

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] I would say a week is a reasonable amount of time.

[Patrick Woods, BSArch ‘06] Depends on when the offer is made (during school: 2-3 months; post-graduation: 2 weeks)


How to get started?

What recommendations do you have for a student who has never worked in a firm previously that would help him or her land a summer internship?

[Sarah Bolivar, BUEP ’11] I would recommend highlighting volunteer service and forging connections with teachers as soon as possible.  Your employer will need to know not only that you are competent, but that you will excel in the role.  Having reliable academic sources that vouch for your work is a good start.  Also, take the summer to do an unpaid internship. 

[Megan Bucknum, MUEP ‘09] Get to know the firm as much as possible and then highlight the skills that you have which you believe to be a good match to their current projects.  You can also use your in-experience as your advantage. 

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] Beg! ….and try some firms that are a bit off the radar or are smaller.  They may be more willing to “take a chance” on you.  Also, use the U.Va. network.  U.Va. grads are more open to hire someone without experience.

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] Be very persistent BUT polite. Even if the answer is negative always send a HAND WRITTEN NOTE – when there is an opening the next time you will be remembered.

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] Speak with alums to network potential leads. Ask for informational interviews.

[Marilyn Moedinger, BSArch ’05, MArch ‘10]

a.       Be willing to do anything. Work reception, be an assistant, clean out the sample library. Coming in high and mighty is not a good idea. My first job I hauled gravel in buckets, and then gradually worked my way up to project managing construction projects. I was learning all along the way, and observing, and earned respect for being willing to pitch in to do anything.

b.       Ask to shadow your superiors at meetings with clients. Offer to take meeting minutes, and make the best damn meeting minutes anyone has ever seen. You will learn so much about how to work with/interact with clients, subs, consultants, and other designers. 

c.       Broaden your search to include construction, other design professions, non-profits, etc. If you can bring experience to another design firm that architects typically don’t have, you’ll be highly desired by future employers. The single best thing [by far] I’ve ever done for my career and my resume was work in construction.

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11] Extern, speak to faculty and classmates about your interests, set up an informational interview.  Always prepare a resume and stellar portfolio.

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] Be very enthusiastic and as aggressive as you feel comfortable. Firms all understand that everyone needs to start somewhere. Get to know someone who works there so that they can recommend you based on these interactions. Coffee and a firm tour are the best places to start.

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] Network as much as possible. Reach out to the AYAC (Architecture Young Alumni Council) and other U.Va. alums for help. Start early!

[Patrick Woods, BSArch ‘06] Networking is the most important key to successfully securing a job. Network as much as possible and be proactive about it. In this economy, the responsibility is on you to go out and find something.


What opportunities might I expect in my first year on the job?

[Megan Bucknum, MUEP ‘09] Networking with colleagues in your firm and other organizations/businesses is one great opportunity.  Other opportunities include learning more about how your field of study is applicable in a professional setting and developing your own professional communication style.

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] You should expect to do lots of drawings, model making and renderings.  The more proficient you are at those skills the better.  The days of intern architects running blueprints are way over!!!  Our grads are doing real work and getting very involved with projects….you should also ask for as much client contact as possible, even if it is just going to meetings to observe.

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] I would always try to get work in a very small office so out of necessity, you get exposed to everything.

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] Be flexible and willing to work to support the firm/partnership. Chances are you might be building models, preparing illustrations/renderings or picking up mark ups.

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11] This varies - in your first year you should try to build a solid foundation of experience, you may be working on interior elevations, redlines, building sections, etc.   Before you begin working at a firm set up goals of the type of information and skills you would like to learn over a -year period, 2 year, 5 year, etc. - keep revising the list as you work and stay on track.

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] You are likely to be assigned to a seasoned principal to help them with a project that is under control and can support a bit of inefficient training time. You may also be assigned to a team based on one of your more evident skills that might be valuable to the office. Regardless of where you start, make yourself known at the firm – be engaging, curious, and if you are asked to take on more work – say “Yea, I can handle that!”

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] It completely depends on the firm. If it’s a larger firm, you’ll most likely start out with less project management, but if it’s a smaller firm you might even begin as project manager – it really varies from firm to firm. Aside from management, other opportunities will most likely include experience on the job site and seeing designs actually get built, learning programs like REVIT, AutoCAD, and other 3D modeling programs (if you don’t know them already), working with clients, construction managers and engineers, coordinating drawing sets, collaborating with other members of your design team, and lot more!


What are ways to be involved in design outside of my job?

[Sarah Bolivar, BUEP ’11] The Architecture Young Alumni Council is a wonderful way to stay involved in the design world, particularly in terms of knowing what the U.Va. School of Architecture alumni group is up to.  Granted, the group is based in certain cities (e.g. New York City, Boston, Charlottesville, and Washington DC/Baltimore), but the group tries to help all alumni members if possible.  Also, it’s a good idea to find out if there are local design-minded groups in the area.  Lastly, you might want to form your own “Meetup” group and invite others to check out design lectures, exhibitions, etc.

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] Get involved with AIA Committees or other arts organizations. 

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] Every municipality has civilian action groups regarding every sort of zoning, building, design issue – they all need volunteers especially ones with a design background.

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] Volunteer for local architectural foundation or community design services. Seek out the local AIA chapter to determine if there are volunteer opportunities.

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11] There are opportunities to go pro-bono work through groups like Architecture through Humanity.  Network. Seek out design competitions, and colleagues you would enjoy working on them with.

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] Teach, get invited to reviews, and attend local lectures if possible. This will keep you engaged in academia and will introduce you to other designers in the area. Check in with the AYAC Alumni Council chapter in your region and get involved. Join a group or community organization that focuses on design, and keep an eye out for that small design project on the side! One of the most valuable things I did was study to get my construction supervisors license.

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] Attend lectures, apply for competitions and grants, teach, read, write, volunteer with Architecture for Humanity or similar organizations, and make up your own design projects. I’ve come to learn that anything and everything can be ‘designed’ not just our physical environment, but also papers, presentations, processes…it all needs our design expertise.


What are some ways I can find resources to start my own projects?

[Sarah Bolivar, BUEP ’11] There are funding resources and capital resources to look into.  A few steps include meeting people that are entrepreneurship-minded, following up with the people you meet, and getting in touch with people at your alma mater! 

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] If you are going to do architectural projects, you need to be licensed first.  This requires that you get through IDP and pass the ARE.  Practicing without a license is against the law and you can be seriously penalized.  Also, most firms do not look kindly on “moonlighting”.

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] Perfect your conversational skills and join clubs, gyms, and anything that has folks who are NOT architects. Hanging around with architect gets you zero personal work.

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] Chances are the projects will start out small, additions to homes of family and friends. Be thoughtful about how your employers will feel about you taking on work outside of the office. Some firms are flexible while others do not allow it.

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] This really depends on what services you’re interested in providing! You’ll need access to a shop and many DIY/shop space rental places are cropping up in cities across the US. Look on craigslist for homeowners or artists who need design services, and get engaged with a school of architecture in the area.

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] Again, a great place to start is with UVA Alums, networking, and grants (depending upon your interests).


What are ways to start thinking about starting my own firm? 

[Paul Kariouk, BSArch ‘85] See previous question. But also be your own first client and get that project published.

[Mary Kay Lanzillotta, BSArch ‘85] Visit your local AIA chapter as they will have seminars about starting your own firm. Find a good accountant, lawyer and insurance broker.

[Kyle Sturgeon, BSArch ‘05] You may want to consult a business professional and tell them what you’d like to establish in the short term and the long term. There are insurance issues, business management issues, and tax issues to be aware of.

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] Start by developing a network of people, creating a business plan, and begin working on your own projects independent of ‘work’. Talk with other U.Va. alums that have started their own businesses to find out what worked and what didn’t.


Additional advice for graduating students on finding their first job

[Sarah Bolivar, BUEP ’11] Keep applying even if the prospects are not very optimistic!  Stay occupied and relevant by volunteering or getting other practical work experience.  After graduation, the main learning experience is not so much technical skills-related, but personal and interpersonal growth.  Allow yourself to learn from others; accept your mistakes and criticism with humility; and remember to ask for help if needed!  This is a transitional stage and you should embrace it as such.  Forget what society expects you to do or where you are supposed to be.  You alone forge your path, so reflect on what drives you and how you can harness that passion into a meaningful career. 

[Megan Bucknum, MUEP ‘09] Find out what types of positions you feel would make you happy to work on and go for those!  Your job is where you spend a lot of your time and although compensation and prestige are important, job satisfaction can make or break your overall mood and attitude.

[Guy Geier, BSArch ’76, MArch ‘78] Be patient and persistent.  The market is getting better and you will find a job.

[Marilyn Moedinger, BSArch ’05, MArch ‘10] The two biggest pieces of advice I give to students about to graduate are: 1. Don’t go straight through to grad school, and 2. Take some time off [the summer!] before heading into working in a design firm. I’ve seen in my students, my peers, and myself that those who take a few years to work or travel between undergrad and grad get a lot more out of grad school – they know more about what they want, what they are interested in, what the market is doing, and how they work best. Having a few more years to grow in maturity, experience, and focus makes a huge difference. I also tell my students to take some time between graduating and starting full time design work. There is a sense of urgency [usually coming from students themselves, and parents] that makes students feel that their whole lives depend on getting a job 2 weeks after they graduate. This is not true – once you start working, you won’t be able to take time off, you’ll be working 60+ hours, and you’ll be less able to apply for traveling fellowships. Also, having just graduated, students have strong ties to the school and professors, who may be able to employ students for the summer, or connect them with other unique opportunities. Take the time now; you won’t have it again, really – trust me! Oh – and for undergrads - your parents are great, but you’re on your own now, and you can decide where you’d like to live and what kind of job you’d like to have. I promise.

[Renee Pean, MArch ’10, MUEP, 11] Though you might not get your ideal job right away, make sure you are acquiring the skills to get you closer to what you ultimately want to do.  Remember what you love about architecture/landscape architecture/etc. and do it!  Know your rights - interns that are paid hourly (including full-time IDP candidates) should receive time and a half pay for hours over 40 per week, size of the firm does not matter.

[Emily Williamson, MArch ‘09] Just before graduating, I remember one professor telling me that my first job out of school was extremely important because it would dictate my future. Having that ‘first job’ under my belt, I would argue that this ‘first job’ does not have to define you as a person and that if it isn’t exactly what you want to be doing, that you need to continue your own projects and ideas outside of work to keep them alive.

Updated: February 11, 2013