Questions to Bring to Your Architecture Interview – Part 2
Project management, how are projects run?
This article is a continuation of the first post on architect interview questions (CLICK HERE to read the first article). Personal development, studio culture, and project management are explored. These first questions focus on how projects are managed in an office. Some of these project management questions may be specific to the job you are applying for, but if they are not modify them appropriately.
- How are teams structured?
- This is a multi-tier question because firms vary their team structures quite a bit. For example, some offices have separate studios or teams for different market sectors. While others have general groups with team members bouncing between different project types. Consequently, it is important to have an idea of what type of structure is best for you.
- Is the office organized in studios?
- A good follow-up question to team structure since studios represent a formal way of organizing teams. Therefore, if the office is broken up into studios you can get a good idea of what markets the firm is strongly positioned in. Also, if you are looking to specialize in a market this tells you which opportunities are available
- What are the different management positions responsible for?
- There is often a different management structure with each firm and understanding the leadership dynamic allows you to gauge how teams function. In turn, the leadership also is a major factor in office culture. A firm may have an architecture lead who monitors everyone’s schedule and helps determine who works on which project. Or there may not be a designated leader managing everyone’s schedule. Sometimes the project managers are responsible for the studio members’ schedules.
Budgets, tasks and IT. They matter…
- What percentage of projects are completed on budget?
- It is highly unlikely the person interviewing you will know the exact percentage of projects on budget. But this question can reveal how project teams deal with project costs. If every project in the office goes over budget there is probably a painful VE (value-engineering) phase of each project. Understanding the process can offer insight into how much time you will be spending on this type of task.
- How are different tasks triaged in the office?
- Projects at architecture firms evolve and change all the time. It can be challenging to know what to work on or what to do daily. If tasks and projects are managed effectively in an office, then things tend to run more smoothly. Ideally, there is a point person who triages responsibilities.
- How does the IT infrastructure function in the office?
- Having a solid IT backbone is critical, architecture jobs rely heavily on technology to deliver building designs. Get into the details when you ask this question. What software do you use? What type of computers do employees use? Desktops or laptops? Even trivial questions about IT are important given most of our time is spent using computers.
Studio culture, life inside the architecture firm
The culture of an office establishes the baseline for almost everything you will experience at work. Keep in mind, office culture varies significantly between firms. Do the research to make sure you know what you are getting into. Cultures range all over the spectrum from fun and supportive, well-oiled machines, to sweet shops. Most of us tend to want a fun and supportive atmosphere, but ultimately the choice is yours.
- Are there extra activities the office participates in?
- Supportive offices participate in activities outside the office to foster stronger teams and help with business development. If the firm you are talking to doesn’t do extra activities ask if you could start some when you start working there. They may be appreciative to have someone take the initiative and get something started.
- How is the office involved in the community?
- There are a couple of dynamics to this question. It identifies if the firm is doing work directly in communities. In addition, it also shows if people in the firm are engaged in community activities besides project work. If you care about improving humanity with your projects this is good information to identify.
- Are there mentors in the office?
- To grow as a professional, it is vital to have a mentor who can help you navigate your career and projects. If there isn’t a good mentor for you it will be a harder path to discover and learn about the profession.
Getting out of the office, industry events
- Are there opportunities to attend industry events?
- Getting out of the office to attend industry events helps add value for yourself and the firm you are working for. Networking helps win projects, recruit new employees and builds a social life. Keep in mind, if the firm does not help employees go to events it may be hard to advance key personal characteristics and business development opportunities.
- What percentage of the staff are new employees?
- It is common for people to switch jobs frequently and unfortunately this makes life difficult for project teams. Therefore, if the firm has low turnover it will make life significantly easier to deliver projects. Who wants to work somewhere when team members are dropping like flies?
Personal development, career growth and, advancement
Your personal growth is incredibly important, and these architect interview questions focus on career development. You probably will not have enough time to ask all the questions in this article. Choose some of these personal development questions to include as they probably will have the most impact on your day to day wellbeing.
- How am I reviewed and evaluated?
- Personal reviews at companies are usually the formal process to determine pay raises and bonuses. Also, they let you know how you are performing and working on teams. Some firms have transitioned to “coaching” in lieu of the traditional methods. Coaching is more focused on personal growth with more check-ins to avoid surprises. Asking who participates in the reviews can be helpful insight. Also, the person reviewing you may not work with you directly. If this is the case, make sure you understand who will be giving them the information about your performance.
- Are there opportunities for advancement, what is the process?
- If your goal is to progress your career and move into new responsibilities and positions over time, then make sure to understand advancement requirements. Some companies require certain thresholds to be met to advance to the next stage of your career. Examples include getting licensed, corporate titles and years of experience. Knowing what the thresholds are can help in negotiating your offer and getting into a firm at the appropriate title etc. The worst thing that could happen is if you accept an offer only to realize after you start you have 3 years to go before the next advancement because you didn’t negotiate your position and responsibilities correctly.
Understand the benefits offered at architecture firms
- What benefits are offered?
- Sometimes firm payroll benefits are more important than your bottom-line salary. So, make sure to ask about them. Consider specific questions about paid-time-off, summer hours, health insurance, etc.
- How is overtime handled?
- Most firms do not pay for overtime if you are a salaried employee. This question really gets into how long hours are treated. There is a good chance you will be working long hours at architecture firms. Keep in mind if you are working 60 hours a week throughout the year you are essentially taking a pay cut because your hourly rate is being significantly reduced. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but if you are not getting overtime pay or some type of trade then you are going to be paying with your personal time.
- Is continuing education available?
- If a firm invests in its employees to increase their skills it is a good sign they want to advance and grow as a firm. If there are no continuing education possibilities then it may be hard to better yourself except through project experience.
If you have an interview coming up GOOD LUCK and we hope these architect interview questions help you find your future architecture firm.