The Unique Cover Letter I Used to Get My Dream Architecture Job
I’ve had four jobs in architecture firms, and each of them came about in very different ways.
In the Bachelor of Architecture program, we did an Architecture Practice subject. A local architect presented one of the lectures and I was really impressed by his approach. Our assignment for the unit was to interview a practising architect and I took the opportunity to connect with him by following up immediately after the lecture and asking if I could interview him for this project. He kindly agreed and we met over a coffee. At the end, I told him I was looking for work and expressed interest in his firm. He seemed equally keen, and though he didn’t have enough work to put me on full time, he invited me to the practice once a month to do some filing and library management - a great opportunity to get a foot in the door which I eagerly grabbed.
I had been doing this for a couple of months when a fellow SONA member, who worked for a local architect, said his boss’s friend was looking for a part-time student and that I should call them immediately if I was interested. I did so and the director was interested in meeting. I didn’t have a portfolio ready and I can’t recall what I did about this - I hope that I pulled something simple together, quick smart! After an informal interview, I got the job, and I sadly parted ways with the first employer. Looking back, I now understand that my promptness, organisation and communication skills were all much more important than a portfolio, and suspect I was hired on this basis.
I’ve always been slightly horrified by students who don’t put effort into their work at University and don’t embrace the relationships presented to them in the educational forum. These relationships are how I landed my third job. I’d only been at the second firm for six months but was really keen to take a year out to work full time before entering the masters program. Regretfully, my firm didn’t have enough work to put me on full time and were very understanding of me seeking 5 days a week elsewhere. This time around, I was actually invited to an interview by one of our tutors (something I’ve since realised is very common, and have done myself from the other side!) Four students from my year were invited and three positions ended up being filled!
I stayed at this job four years. I was quite content but knew that it wasn’t my long term place or passion.
During my Masters of Architecture, another guest architect caught my attention - a young entrepreneurial, energetic and friendly architect who seemed to share a lot of my interests and frustrations. I reached out to him after the lecture to thank him for a really refreshing session, and expressed an interest in working with him if one ever came up. But... it didn’t.
A year, or more, later I crossed paths with this architect again. This time I was SONA representative for my University and was organising a ‘speed-date-an-architect’ session (note: not actual dating). I invited him along. By now he had co-founded a non-traditional interdisciplinary firm (Jigsaw Housing) which I was incredibly eager to join. I expressed my interest again, but no luck.
Six months after graduation, I was starting to realise that working in a commercial firm really wasn’t for me. I started putting feelers out. This time it wasn’t about finding the first available position - I had time to wait for the perfect opportunity. There were very few firms I was actually interested in switching to, and Jigsaw Housing was one of them. One of my colleagues, who was well-connected and senior to me, knew I was sniffing out opportunity. When he crossed paths with the young interesting architect, and heard that they were looking to hire, he let me know straight away.
This time I was well aware that this was the third time I’d be reaching out to this architect and that this was the last time I could contact him and retain any dignity! I also knew he was sort of unconventional and bold. So, with inside vague knowledge of what they were looking for, and my fairly thorough understanding of this architect and firm, I penned the following unusual cover letter.
Now, before I share this with you, please respect that this is the exact email I sent - with a few typos corrected! It’s not exactly what I would have advised myself to say now, and it’s most definitely not an approach you should use for every firm. This example is exactly why I wrote my Job Seeker Guide - to help you work out how to approach YOUR firm of choice (you can access it for free, here.) Items below in brackets are edited out for privacy reasons.
OK, here we go:
My name's Sarah Lebner, and I'm a local graduate architect. You might remember me from when I was SONA representative for UC, and organised the 'Archi-Speed-Dating' night. Once again I find myself writing to you to express an interest in working with Jigsaw Housing. The difference is that this time I'm actively seeking a big change. I'm looking for the right job - one that I can really 'sink my teeth into' as a committed team member, and grow to be a valuable asset to the company.
After a brief stint with (firm number one), for nearly four years I've been working with (firm number two). This has been a great experience, but I find myself getting increasingly frustrated with the world of commercial architecture. I've always known that residential and small public projects were where I wanted to end up. Residential architecture appeals to me because the process seems much more 'human' and personal; driving the creation of a building from the 'teasing out' of a true brief from the client, to nutting out construction details and solving problems on site, and seeing the final result. I studied architecture out of a desire to help people build more sustainable, efficient, and well designed homes, so I feel it's time to get back in to residential work, and pursue that goal.
Ever since you tutored me for Practice Management I've kept a keen eye on the development of Jigsaw Housing. Your business model of teaming up with a builder and scientist is something that has always seemed so sensible to me. It sounds like the ideal way to bring good quality sensible and sustainable design to a broader market of people.
So why do I think you should hire me?
1. I think I'm at an ideal level of experience to join a new firm; I have enough basic experience to hit the ground running, but am green enough to be trained in alignment with the companies values/processes, and to be happy completing support staff roles as well. (I'm also much cheaper than a registered project architect!)
2. I've got some great fresh marketing ideas just waiting to be applied to an adventurous firm such as yourselves. (I did electives at UC in 'Creativity in Business', as well as Entrepreneurship). I'm also very familiar with social media marketing, and actively pursue making new connections and networks within the local architecture industry.
3. My main personal driver to make this big change is a thirst to learn, but that is not limited to architecture. I would be very happy providing support for (Scientist Director) or (Builder Director).
4. I'm happy to be flexible. Although I am ideally seeking full time employment, I would consider looking at a permanent 4 days a week, possibly even 3. I also have an ABN, so could contract to Jigsaw Housing and provide my own lap-top if needed.
5. I am very competent on AutoCAD, Photoshop, InDesign, and Revit. I've been a key leader in our firms ongoing transition to Revit.
6. In the next few years I hope to undertake my Graduate Certificate in Bushfire Protection via distance at the University of Western Sydney. I feel that this may potential be a speciality market that a firm like Jigsaw Housing may be interested in pursuing.
So, Andy, if you feel there's any match between my capabilities and a possible vacancy at Jigsaw I would love to meet up for a coffee and have a casual chat about it. In the mean time, I believe you are friends with (my colleague), and would encourage you to contact him on (phone number) for a reference of my capabilities and character, although I would appreciate your discretion in discussing this with any of my other work colleagues.
I have attached my formal resume, however I would also encourage you to visit my website.
I look forward to hearing from you, Andy.
And you know what? It worked! He replied immediately, and then one of the other Directors called me that night expressing interest!
As they say, the rest is history... I absolutely loved working under that architect in a multidisciplinary workplace for a few years. In 2015, we significantly restructured and I was offered my current position of Principal Architect, working under the sole Directorship of ‘the scientist’ (the first female boss I’ve ever had!) We now trade as Light House Architecture and Science.
Time and time again I receive generic approaches from people seeking a job. It just doesn’t work. You can see that in each of the scenarios above I either had to network my way into the opportunity, demonstrate skill and be invited, or thoroughly understand the practice and its leaders before making contact. Please remember this on your own career journey.
For more information on how to find a job and approach a firm, check out our Free Jobseeker Workbook.
I’m also writing a book with 101 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My First Architecture Job which should be coming out in a matter of months. Make sure you’re on our mailing list to hear about that one (I generally only send a monthly email!)