Are you trying to find your first architecture job? Are you stuck writing the perfect cover letter to entice your future employers?
A misconception that most students have when they are seeking their first jobs in the design and construction field is that employers actually care about their individual creative abilities. As if you are really going to wow the people that are looking through the applications with how amazing your artwork is. Or better yet, that they will believe that you alone have a greater work ethic than everyone else that has applied.
The reality is that finding your first job is often times a numbers game. Unless you are being referred to a job by a teacher or another architect, it is very hard to stand out from the crowd. The reason behind this is that very few students have learned any skills that are marketable to a real working firm. Sure we can draw pretty pictures and use modeling software, but the far majority of students have no idea how to create working drawings and have a very basic understanding of CAD standards.
Students just do not have much to offer to a firm and there is very little they can say in a cover letter to convince an employer otherwise. In fact, reading countless cover letters from interns has to be one of the most boring tasks alive.
In October, I received an e-mail from a Young Architect reader, who is a student in Canada. Here is his question to me:
I am a second year architecture student getting ready to embark on my first work term in January. I was wondering what kinds of information that I should be including in my cover letter? I’ve written cover letters for other non architecture jobs in the past but what should I be high-lighting in my cover letter for potential employers?
Often I receive e-mails like this from readers. Each time, I try to lend them advice in the most honest and realistic manner possible so that they can achieve their goals without kidding themselves. Here is my response:
I have thought about your question for a few days now hoping to find some divine inspiration to give you a really insightful answer. Unfortunately, the best answer is the easiest. You are in the same boat as thousands of other students and, because of your limited architectural experience, you have very little to write about. Including all kinds of personal tidbits and recollections of how great a work ethic you have will most likely fall on deaf ears. This is not a problem though as every potential employer knows exactly what you are looking for at this stage of your career; they have all been there.
My best advice is to keep it short and sweet. Introduce yourself, let them know you are a student and tell them you are seeking an internship. Tell them what you are looking for and how you can help them. All of this should not take more than a few sentences. Set it up like a form letter with the employer’s name/info in red (so that you remember to change it).
If you have any relevant working experience, like construction work or graphic design, let them know. Otherwise keep it succinct and let your resume do the talking.
In my experience, internships are a numbers game and you just need to spam all of the firms in your target area. Don’t wait for them to post a job-wanted add, just forward them all your info. In my experience, about 1 in 10 will get back to you, however in today’s market, it might be much worse.
hope this helps…
Generally, once I send off an e-mail like the one above, I never hear back from the reader. I have no idea if my advice has helped or hurt their career advancement. That is why I was pleasantly surprised to hear from him last week:
I wanted to thank you for your help and guidance in creating a cover letter. Three months and about 300 applications later I have now been offered an international internship position.
As you can see, the student was persistent in his search for an internship and continued to send out applications for months. He told me later that he heard responses from at least 70 of the 300+ people he applied to. That is a really high percentage in this economy!
The only bit of information that I may have added to my original advice is that if there is any work experience that you have that could prove valuable, then you should mention it as well. For instance, I worked pouring basement foundations one summer. This came up in an interview, though I had not included it in my cover letter or resume. Can you see how knowledge of construction standards in foundations might have helped separate me from the rest of the pile?
While my advice may not have provided the reader with a cut and paste script to use in his cover letter, it did instill in him that finding a job, particularly in the current job market, is more of a numbers game and persistence will eventually pay.