Build Your Portfolio While Still in Architecture School

Hoping to land a drafting or architecture job straight out of college? Don't wait until you've completed your art or design degree before building a portfolio. It's certainly true that employers are interested in your coursework and the strength of the program you attended. But they will want to see how well you integrate your learning with practical--as well as innovative--projects and renderings.

More than a dozen top architecture firms weighed in on a portfolio survey conducted by non-profit Archinet, and their responses on what makes a solid design portfolio revealed common threads:

  • Keep the presentation brief
  • Show a wide range of work
  • Demonstrate creativity and intelligence
  • Show you know how to use design software

Combining School Projects and Previous Work in the Portfolio

Design firms participating in the survey agreed that previous work samples--even if the project was created during a non-paying internship--can contribute to the overall strength of the portfolio. Employers typically look for examples of client presentations, broad or detailed designs, and writing skills, as well as hand and computer-generated sketches.

They also typically want strong evidence that you know how to render designs and sketches in CAD 2D and 3D formats. Some firms also may seek presentations that illustrate both overall design concept renderings as well as technical detail work. The scope of your work, as well as its consistent high quality, can be critical components in the portfolio.

Depending on the prospective employer, you may want to include work created in illustration or photo rendering software as well as physical models. Photographs on a disc may also be acceptable.

Know Your Audience

Remember, a professional design-firm audience is traditionally different from an art school crowd. While some employers may look for so-called "out-of-the-box" creativity, many firms are traditional and may not accept overt, "artsy" presentations. Do your homework before submitting anywhere.

The presentation of your portfolio can be as important as its modular contents. Find out ahead of time whether your prospective firm accepts hard copy or digital portfolios, or both. Some may even allow you to send in a PDF file via email.

Several firms agreed that presenting a venture from concept to execution is critical in showing that you know how to complete all the steps in an architectural project. Haphazard organization and poor writing (cover letters, resumes, and design-concept documentation) can ruin an otherwise good portfolio.

About the Author
Gabby Hyman has created online strategies and written content for Fortune 500 companies including eToys,, Siebel Systems, Microsoft Encarta, Avaya, and Nissan UK.
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