Internship under a licensed architect is a mandatory requirement for receiving a professional degree in architecture from a university in India.  Consequently, like many other firms, CnT Architects, the practice that I head, is flooded with applications for internship positions.  The vast majority of them are very badly framed and worded.  Clearly the colleges in which these students are studying are not offering them proper guidance.

So, in an effort to heal this vacuum, I would like to put in my two bits worth and offer some advice to aspiring students.  If you are reading this post, and feel that some students you know would benefit from this advice, I request you to share this as widely as possible.

Finally, while this is written for internship applications, many of the points also apply to the first job application you will submit after graduation.

So here is the advice I have to offer:

1. Apply well in time:

We get many applications for an internship that needs to start in a couple of weeks.  Firstly, positions tend to get filled well in advance.  Secondly, even if there is a vacancy, we would treat an application that arrives so late in the process as one that is submitted casually, and may not give it much weight.

I would suggest that you send out your applications about six months before your internship needs to start.  This means that your research on whom to apply to, and preparation of the portfolio that will accompany your application, are processes that need to begin about one year before your internship.

2. Send customised applications:

Do not send an application to somebody you know very little about.  We often receive applications where the same email is sent to close to 500 people.  I do not know how students get hold of these email addresses, for in these mass emails many are sent to organisations that are not architectural firms: a fact that testifies to sloppy efforts.  Students often do not even have the sensitivity to hide the fact that these are mass emails sent to large numbers of people.

Clearly we will treat such applications as formulaic and uncommitted, and will not give them much consideration.  In addition, the more the addresses that a single email is sent to, the greater the likelihood that your application will never be seen by human eyes and will be despatched into oblivion by an automated spam filter.

If you want your application to be reviewed seriously, you should ensure that (a) this is clearly a single application focused on one specific firm; (b) you show prior knowledge about the firm you are applying to, and your application gives specific reasons why you are applying there; and (c) your application is phrased in your own wording – often, students from the same college send in applications with identical wording, which gives the impression that the student only knows how to parrot a predefined formula.

3. Do prior research on whom you are applying to:

If you are going to send customised applications, an obvious prerequisite is that you research whom you will apply to.  Ask for advice on worthwhile firms to apply to.  Your teachers, and any practicing architects you may know, would be one set of sources for this information.

But an even better source would be seniors and other friends who have already completed internships.  Ask them for not only their own experiences, but also the stories they have heard from other interns.  Remember, that an intern is not going to be asked to design, and most interns tend to be assigned low-level tasks.  What you should be looking for are whether the interns had a true and deep learning experience.  This would come less from the tasks assigned, and more from the inside view of design and project process you get by being in the firm, the willingness of seniors in the firms to share what they know, and the exposure to a certain rigour of exploration and discussion on architecture.

Once you have got this preliminary shortlist, look up the websites of the firms you may apply to.  Try to avoid firms that produce formulaic work, and check the firm’s projects to see whether they reflect thoughtfulness, curiosity and passion on what architecture can be.

When you look up the firm’s website, take care to check whether they have specified a procedure or format for applications, and an email address to which applications should be sent.  Make sure you conform to such requests.  If you do not apply in the right format your application may not receive the consideration you need.  And make the effort to avoid causing irritation by cluttering up a senior architect’s inbox when the firm has taken the trouble to specify that applications should be directed elsewhere.

4. Attach a thoughtful portfolio

Remember that firms receive multiple applications and have little time to review them.  Given that an experienced architect has trained and discerning visual judgment, the quickest form of review is to cast a quick glance at the portfolio.

So, first, never send in an application that does not contain a portfolio: we often receive applications that only attach a CV, and such applications are often not taken up for evaluation.  And second, and most importantly, always keep in mind that the sorting of applications into two piles, where only one pile is worthy of further consideration, will probably happen with a glance at the portfolio that is less than 60 seconds long.  A second longer appraisal will be granted only to those applications that qualify for the pile worthy of detailed consideration.

Therefore, it is essential that your portfolio has a unique visual identity.  Look at your portfolio, and if it looks visually similar to those your friends are preparing, then you need to work further on it.  Make sure that your portfolio is not visually cluttered – it is better to have more pages that are sparingly and thoughtfully composed for clarity than few pages crammed edge to edge with excessive information.  Focus on visual communication, nobody is going to read long passages of text: remember you are applying to people who will judge the quality of your work from visuals rather than text.

And one practical point: try and limit the size of the email attachment that contains your portfolio.  Many mail servers will filter out emails with attachments that are larger than 10 MB.  Remember, your application will only be viewed on a digital screen; nobody is going to print it out, so you do not need high-resolution images.

5. Define yourself

Finally, your portfolio should reflect you as a unique person.  Do not look at some predetermined standard of sophisticated design.  A committed architect will prefer an energetic and open-minded learner to someone who may be a sophisticated designer but has a closed mind.  It is acceptable to show your mistakes as long as you demonstrate what you have learned from them.  Every person is unique, at a different point in their journey, and you should not try and hide this fact in your portfolio.  Rather than attempting conformance to some predefined standard, your portfolio should reflect the stage of your journey and your commitment to always continue and extend it.