• If your firm is looking to attract new graduates, don't wait until they have their diplomas in hand, says Jan Harmon, HR manager for HOK's L.A. office. Making presentations at schools is a good way to introduce yourself, and inviting the students to events at your office is a good way to get them excited about the work you do.

    Credit: Michael Darter

    If your firm is looking to attract new graduates, don't wait until they have their diplomas in hand, says Jan Harmon, HR manager for HOK's L.A. office. Making presentations at schools is a good way to introduce yourself, and inviting the students to events at your office is a good way to get them excited about the work you do.

When Jan Harmon began working for HOK (then Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum) in 1985, it was rare for architecture firms to recruit on campuses. Harmon, manager of human resources for the firm's Los Angeles office (one of 18 in North America), helped persuade several schools to begin holding career fairs; the events were small at first, she says, with only half a dozen firms participating on average. These days, she says, a similar event can attract as many as 60 or 70 firms—and HOK itself visited about 60 architecture schools this year. “We are definitely competing [with other firms] for the best and the brightest students,” she says. And while not every architecture graduate can expect to land a high-paying job—architecture, after all, will never be investment banking—things are as good, if not better, for students today, Harmon says, as they've ever been in her 22 years as a recruiter. Recent graduates with fresh ideas and knowledge of the latest technologies are “invaluable to us,” she says, and highly sought-after.

If you're hiring, don't be a stranger.

“We might go to an architecture school and give workshops on portfolio and résumé preparation or help prepare students with mock interviews,” says Harmon. “We have architects who lecture in professional practice classes and who serve as guest critics. We also develop relationships with deans and professors. If you've gotten to know them over the years, they may point out particularly good students.”

Open doors.

“We give tours of our office frequently, and if we're having a particularly interesting seminar, we invite students from nearby schools to attend. The more students you can get into your office, the better chance you have of them getting excited about what it's like to work there.”

Let students know you'll help them meet their goals.

To become a licensed architect generally requires experience in 16 separate areas, says Harmon. “At HOK, we try to make sure people get to do a variety of jobs within the firm. Otherwise, they may think they need to go elsewhere to try other kinds of work.”

No slave labor.

“We've made a decision in our office that everyone—professionals and interns alike—gets paid.” Brava.

Hoping to get hired? Keep your portfolio simple ...

“I prefer to see a portfolio arranged in chronological order, from first year through the end of your program,” Harmon says. “That helps me see progress you've made. And I always tell students, put your very best image on the last page—you can very subtly keep the portfolio open to that page during the interview. If your portfolio is on a computer, make sure that you have the technology down. I've been in interviews where it takes 15 minutes to get the presentation up and running.”

... but not too simple.

“Once, at an on-campus interview, I had a student pull out a shoebox and dump its contents on the table. That told me a lot about her organizational skills.”

Blow your own horn ...

“Don't just say where you worked. Say what you did there. List all of your relevant experience. It doesn't have to be an architecture firm. If you've done Habitat for Humanity or worked for a contractor or lighting designer, tell us.”

... but modestly.

“We're looking for the ability to work with people. If someone says, ‘This was a team project in school,' I like to hear about that. And I like to see an ability to recognize where things could be improved. Saying, ‘I got to the end and realized, if I were to do it again, I would have done x, y, z'—that tells me you are going to be able to learn.”

Follow up.

“I sometimes have people send me beautiful portfolios, but there's no follow-up letter or e-mail or phone call. If you want a job, don't be shy about asking for it.”