The interview, to paraphrase a sporting analogy, is a game of two halves.
The interviewer interrogates you with their set of questions to determine if you meet their needs better than the other candidates. This half of the process is where you shine and sparkle brighter than the other candidates.
It is then your turn to ask your questions and find out if the job offer and the company fulfill your dreams.
Did you think it was only you that put your game-face on for interviews?
Here’s a secret: The interviewer is not presenting you with the whole truth; they too, are spinning their company as an attractive place to work and glossing over their flaws.
Knowing what to ask in an architecture interview and interpreting the answers can help you avoid making the wrong career move.
Why Ask Questions in an Architecture Job Interview?
The questions to ask in an architecture job interview cover collecting information and getting a feel for how the employer treats its staff.
You can get a hint about your potential career prospects.
Plus, they are a further opportunity for you to shine and differentiate yourself from the competition. If you don’t ask questions in an architecture job interview, you pass up on a chance to impress.
Interview days tend to run on a tight schedule with minimal gaps between candidates – depending on the recruitment process. That may mean that by the time they get round to asking you if you have any questions, they may be running short of time.
You can win yourself some plus points and say something along the lines of:
“I do have some questions, but I appreciate that you may be short of time before the next candidate. I could send over an email with my questions or have a telephone chat later if you haven’t got the time now?”
They will probably suggest you go ahead and ask your questions now, but you have given them the option, and they may take you up on it.
How Do I Decide What to Ask in an Architecture Interview?
There is nothing wrong with producing an actual list, going through it, and taking notes. You can rely on your memory or use discrete prompt cards if you prefer.
Organize your questions to ask in your architecture job interview from most important to least important.
The most critical questions are the deal-breakers – if you get the wrong answer to these, you don’t want to work for this company.
Don’t you have any deal breakers?
Then ask some interesting questions to show you are motivated and an asset to the company.
A note of warning – save some of your deal-breaker questions until after you have got a job offer.
Some questions can wait until after a job offer as they are practical information gathering. If you have time, ask them, but if your interviewer is beginning to fidget and look at his/her watch, save those for later.
How many questions should you ask in an architecture job interview?
Aim for a minimum of ten but ask as many as you need to gain all the information and details you want. Ten is a round number that indicates you are interested in the company and came prepared to find out more.
Your questions reflect your interest in the potential role. You can also find out what the company can do for you.
If in doubt, save what the company can do for you for a later conversation after the interview is over and they express an interest in recruiting you.
Sample Questions to Ask in an Architecture Job Interview
As well as going through the job information, pay attention during the interview, and consider following up on some of the questions the interviewer asked to get more information.
1. How many projects would I be handling at a time?
The answer reflects the workload the company expects you to handle. Compare this number of projects with your current workload to get an idea of scale.
It is a reasonable question, but you are going to get a generic answer. They are not going to tell you if they will keep piling on the pressure with more and more projects until you are not in a position to walk away.
2. What type or types of projects would you assign me to should I work here?
If you are looking to get a LEED accreditation or gain your License, you need relevant work experience.
Listen carefully to the answer to this question – are you getting a range of experience, or are you given a limited diet?
You might like to specialize, or you may prefer a variety.
3. What stages are those projects at?
The subtext for this question is: are you getting all the unpleasant jobs no one wants to finish or has someone left them suddenly.
The answer may give you this information, or you might need to prod to find out where your portfolio is coming from.
If other people will pass part of their portfolio of projects to you, expect that you will get the most troublesome ones.
4. Where are these projects located? (For out-of-state projects) how often would I need to travel there?
This question with a follow-up question depends on the answer to the first.
It is a reasonable question giving you an insight into how much office and how much traveling time the job will involve.
5. Which office would I be working in? (for large firms with branch offices)
Most interviewers will answer this question as part of the introduction. You might want to ask some follow up questions like how often employees transfer between the offices and joint projects.
If you have a preferred location and are unwilling to relocate for work, the answer may be a deal-breaker for you.
6. What are the departments or setup of the firm?
If you are short of questions to ask in your architecture job interview, then a generic question like this one rounds out your list.
It can give you some useful information about how closely different teams work together and specialist services inside the organization.
7. Would I be taking up a newly-created position or filling in a vacancy left by a previous architect?
This question is the equivalent of the interviewer asking you why you are leaving your current employer.
Why do you want to know?
You are hoping that they will reassure you that they are a great firm to work for – they’ve got so much work it is a new post or the employee went for acceptable reasons like a relocation.
To be honest, the interviewers will be expecting this question, and if they have something to hide, they will give you an agreed-on cover story.
They are not going to badmouth the previous employee, and if they do, you might want to consider that as a red flag revealing their company culture.
8. If it is a vacancy left by a previous employee, what are the things you think can be improved?
You are offering them a chance to criticize the previous employee by implying that they underperformed. If they answer the question, you will get some useful insights into their company.
As an alternative, you can use a different way of phrasing this follow up question:
“Is this role continuing as it was, or have you taken the opportunity to reshape it?”
If they tell you it has been reshaped, they are still criticizing previous performance, but in a less personal way.
9. How well do you think I would fit into this position?
Effectively, you ask if they are still considering you for this role, so make sure you have a good poker face when you get the answer.
Phrases like you lack experience in this area that are not followed by an offer to provide training are probably signs that you might not be their ideal candidate.
Or it may mean nothing at all. It may merely be an observation.
10. How long do the architects typically stay in this firm?
You are asking if they are the type of employer that people stay with for decades or jump ship at the first opportunity.
Sadly, interviewers will not tell you that they can’t keep someone in this role for more than the minimum length of time. You might want to follow up with a few prods about why architects choose to leave the firm.
Some firms provide excellent entry-level experience, and ambitious architects (like yourself) get the appropriate experience in a couple of years and then move on to a better role.
These firms are excellent training firms.
Other firms keep staff for decades, lovely to work for but minimal career progression.
Most companies have a mixture of roles for shorter-term and longer-term employees.
11. Will I be working under the direct supervision of a senior, or will I be reporting directly to the Principal Architect?
This straightforward question will tell you about your place in the chain of command.
12. What size is the team that I’d be working in?
This could also be a follow-up question to, “What projects would I be assigned to?”
A small project with you as the only architect means you get more extensive exposure to the project’s various tasks. But expect little to no assistance.
Larger and more complex projects would require more architects – you will have a narrower job scope to focus on, but you gain more experience working with trade specialists.
13. What are the growth prospects for a person in this position that you’re hiring for?
This question asks what the company is going to do for you.
You might want to ask it as part of the interview process to demonstrate ambition or want to leave it to one side as you can get an answer once you have the job.
The company may be looking for a long-term employee who is going to perform excellently in this role. This question demonstrates that somewhere along the line, you want a promotion.
It is a judgment call as to how much of a deal-breaker this answer is to you. If there is no promotion prospect, you can leave in a couple of years with more relevant experience on your resume.
You can ask the same question less directly by asking how the company develops its staff (not just you).
14. How many licensed architects are working in this firm now?
This question is only relevant to larger firms. It is a straightforward information gathering.
You can ask if they support the unlicensed architects in gaining the License by making sure they get the right quality and quantity of experience.
15. What types of software does the firm use for design?
You can expect a factual response, and you want to reply with something encouraging:
“Oh, I’ve used that before,” or
“I’ve used something similar.”
16. Does the firm use REVIT or other BIM software?
Another factual question, and again, you want to demonstrate that you have experience and practical skills to bring to the table.
The use of BIM software (source) is standard in the industry. Be prepared to discuss your experience using one to assure the employer that you won’t need much time to get up to speed working for them.
17. What are the firm’s plans for the future regarding the types of projects and growth/expansion?
It is a reasonable question, and you should get a bit of a mission statement in response.
Pay attention to the interviewer’s body language – is the firm excited and enthusiastic about their plans?
18. What do you (the interviewer) think are the strengths and weaknesses, if any, of the firm?
It is always fun to ask an interviewer type question – it might make up for the misery you feel when having to answer it yourself. It is direct and to the point.
You can also indirectly approach the subject:
“What are the significant challenges facing this firm in the next five years?”
Or, “Where do you see this firm expanding in the near future?”
If there is an answer, it will provide some background on how the firm views itself in the marketplace.
19. What do you think are the plus points of the working environment here?
It is an inoffensive question that allows the interviewer to talk about office culture, social events, and the general working environment.
20. How involved is the firm in green and sustainable architecture? What is the future plan in this regard?
It is an interesting and relevant topic but be prepared to make this a two-way conversation demonstrating your interest and knowledge.
21. Does the firm have anchor clients? If yes, who are they?
If you are concerned about the vulnerability of your role in losing a significant client, you may want to ask what percentage of the firm’s income derives from its anchor clients.
The bonus of having a high earning prestigious anchor client balances with the exposure to loss of that client.
22. In the future, if I have potential clients looking for architectural services, does the firm allow arrangements for me to bring the client in?
This question hints that you may be an asset to the firm in bringing in more clients. It is likely to produce a question asking how many clients you brought into your previous firm.
If you can demonstrate this ability, it is an excellent question to ask.
Otherwise, you can explore this option when you have the job.
23. Does the firm allow me to include the firm’s projects in my portfolio, at least the ones I’m directly involved in?
It is a reasonable question, but the downside is you are giving the impression that you have not even arrived in the company, and you are already planning your exit.
But, if this is a deal-breaker, ask it and find out the information now.
24. What are the next steps in the hiring process? Would there be another round of interviews?
The interviewer may have already covered this in the introduction to the interview.
If not, you can ask it as a wrap-up question, along with when can I expect to hear from you?
25. Assuming I’m hired, how soon would I need to start?
You can ask this question, but again you expect it to be covered in the main part of the interview when they ask you when you can start.
In practice, if they offer you the role, you can negotiate around this point in most cases.
One month is pretty standard, but if you need the firm to wait longer for you to start, be prepared to explain your situation and convince them that you are serious about the job.
What Not to Ask in an Architecture Interview
Interview etiquette includes some questions that are either self-sabotaging or entirely unnecessary.
Remember, the questions you ask completes the interviewer’s impression of you as a candidate.
What questions should you avoid?
1. What types of projects does the firm do?
The internet means you check out the company before you turn up for the interview.
If you can’t find any information on their projects, you can mention that you did your research but did not find any information. Or you can reference the projects featured and ask for more details.
2. How quickly can I get a promotion?
As a candidate for a job role, it is not about you and what you want. The interview is about what you can do for them and not what the firm can do for you.
The discreet way to get the answer to this question is to ask about the firm’s career paths but emphasize that you are interested in gaining experience and responsibility.
3. How often does the firm give salary raises?
Everyone is interested in money, but don’t ask this question at the interview.
At the interview, you express your passion and enthusiasm for the role.
If you need an answer to this question before taking on the job, ask this and many other terms and conditions related questions when you have a job offer.
4. Does the firm award bonuses at the end of the year?
Again, you don’t want to give the impression you are only in it for the money. If the firm has an excellent bonus system, they will tell you about it when trying to sell the job.
Be patient and let them tell you what you need to know and avoid giving the interviewer the wrong impression.
5. How many paid vacation days and sick leave would I get?
Terms and conditions are an essential part of your work-life balance.
But at this stage, focus on getting the job offer because without the job, all the knowledge of how much holiday, working hours, lunch break, and all the other employment components are irrelevant.
This information is part of the post-offer negotiation phase.
Interviews are a complicated dance in which both parties reveal some of the cards they are holding while trying to get a peek at the other side’s secrets.
When you get the job offer, you can ask for all the details of salary, promotion prospects, and working conditions because everyone understands you need that information. Most companies will give you an offer pack highlighting all the plusses of working for them and all the essentials.
Asking the right questions in an architect job interview – plus, considering these common mistakes in job offer acceptance – will help you decide if this is the role you want.