Employers - Making the right choice

Written by: Pamela Buxton
Published on: 5 Nov 2018

While you should have a firm idea of the sort of experience and skills you’re looking for in the successful candidate, it is advisable to consider personality and communication skills, and whether the candidate will fit well into your office.

‘We want a balance between soft and hard skills while taking into account the kind of role they will have,’ says Simon Cottingham, director of London practice MEPK Architects. ‘They should definitely be able to chat and meet your eyes – ideally, you’re looking for people who are socially adept as well as capable of doing the work. We try to pick people who we feel will fit in well to the office. Getting the right sort of character is important.’

Mark Doohan, director of London and Bedford practice Benchmark Architects, says his practice doesn’t have blanket requirements regarding skill set. ‘It depends on the role that a person is going to be doing. If we’re recruiting a technical architect where maybe they won’t be presenting to a client regularly, those sort of skills aren’t quite so important,’ he says. ‘I personally like to go for all-rounders with excellent interpersonal skills. When you’re a smaller practice, you need to have a team with a varied skill-set.’

Whether they are a good fit will depend on both the type of role and the personality of the workplace.

‘We do look for difference. Because we’re a small practice, our staff can’t be ordinary,’ says Mike Lawless, director of Brighton-based LA Architects.

Compatibility is also important at Perkins + Will according to Erika Rudinska, human resources manager and associate in the London office.

‘We’re a dynamic and vibrant office, everyone is very friendly and helpful, so we’re looking for the right fit to our culture and the role we are recruiting for,’ she says.

While intuition is important, a scoring system can be invaluable – and useful for offering feedback if required.

‘We have criteria with ranking and additional comments to ensure we are objective and able to justify our choice of candidate, rather than judging subjectively,’ says Rudinska. The practice also evaluates Revit proficiency by giving a test after the interview in addition to looking out for soft skills such as motivation and the ability to present.

‘Always have two people in any interview and take notes,’ advises Ann Lakshmanan, a partner at Shepheard Epstein Hunter.

It’s wise to avoid snap decisions.

‘Don’t offer a job on the spot even if you’re confident you want to. I think it’s good to reflect even if only for a few hours. We maybe take up references for senior levels but not so much for junior positions where their referees are often tutors,’ says Ann Lakshmanan, director of Shepheard Epstein Hunter.

Always ask availability and salary expectations at the interview so that you know if it’s in line with your salary bands and benchmarked salaries. If you’re a practice who sometimes struggles to meet salary level expectations, make sure you stress what else you can offer such as reasonable office hours, employee benefits, and opportunities to take on responsibility and advance rapidly.

‘Potentially they could be running the practice in 10-15 years,’ says Simon Cottingham of MEPK Architects, ‘while in a big practice, there are so many more layers.’

‘We say, you will get experience. You will be involved. You’ll be part of creating really good buildings. We care about you. If they don’t want that, they wouldn’t fit in,’ says Mike Lawless of LA Architects.

Once you’ve found your ideal candidate, he advises giving constructive feedback to unsuccessful applicants as to how they can improve on their CV, portfolio and interview: ‘As architects, we all have a responsibility to offer advice to others who are earlier on in the careers.’