There is one day in particular that I remember clearly from my third year as an undergrad student studying landscape architecture. The department’s career fair saw most of the fourth-year students parading around in ill-fitting suits armed with resumes and portfolios, accessories aimed to secure a future in the profession. In the short time it… Read more »
There is one day in particular that I remember clearly from my third year as an undergrad student studying landscape architecture. The department’s career fair saw most of the fourth-year students parading around in ill-fitting suits armed with resumes and portfolios, accessories aimed to secure a future in the profession. In the short time it took me to walk up an adjacent set of stairs to my studio I felt a mixture of things. The pragmatic aspects of this transition were obvious and I recognized the formalities of the dance. But there was also something that separated this department’s fair from those taking place in other parts of the university. It was the portfolio and its role as a summary of creative abilities and exploratory processes. The students were handing their precious babies off to prospective employers, officially thrusting themselves into a purgatorial space that would ultimately be defined by acceptance and rejection.
I wondered about the strength of the content in those portfolios, and what I would need to accomplish over the course of my final year to match (and hopefully surpass) what was being circulated downstairs. Mostly, I wanted to see the parts of the fair that couldn’t be taken in from the staircase: the dialogues, and specifically whether the firm representatives were using the same terms our professors did, or some new, alien vernacular. I knew that my idealistic romp through experimental studios would soon come to an end, and I would need to find a professional home where I could start to assimilate consequence-laden realities into my design thinking. There were the standard anxieties of simply finding employment, but I worried less about that than finding a firm that still retained at least a remnant of the idealism I had adopted in school.
The work that we produce as students (and often as professionals) emanates from within, and is therefore personal. When done well, it is also evocative. The collaborative process transforms these endeavors into even fuller iterations in the context of a studio project. But it is the documentation of one’s own ideas and processes along the way that a firm needs to properly assess a potential hire. Obviously, the types and needs of hiring firms run the gamut, so tailoring one’s self-promotion is important. When I finally reconfigured my early attempts at composing a portfolio into its then final format, I attempted what I now believe was an overly comprehensive account of too much work: too many images, too much text. It was well constructed, but if someone handed it to me I probably wouldn’t have read it. So I stripped the document down to its essence, retaining some of what I had originally selected, but mostly culling from places I hadn’t considered before: digital doodling I had done when taking a break from studio assignments and cover-page imagery for writing assignments in unrelated classes, things that summed up elaborate ideas in one isolated shot on a screen (or printed page). It ended up as a booklet of singular images and minimal text, typically just titles and years. I had a strong opinion about everything I included and therefore could speak at any length and with genuine passion about my work. And that was what I placed my confidence in–minimal, evocative imagery and the ability to proficiently discuss it.
Ironically, I did not attend the Career Fair when it came around again because I had landed a job prior to graduation. I presented my portfolio when interviewed, but the dialogue was focused on graphic competency more than anything else. I took the offer, and stayed at the job for the six months immediately following graduation. In December of last year, however, I received an unexpected request to come interview with another firm. My choice to accept this second offer was facilitated by many factors, but most decidedly by the interviewing principal’s reception of my portfolio, as well as our discussion about its content.
I acknowledge that there are many more perspectives on this scholastic/professional transition. And sometimes I’m a bit hesitant when asked for advice in these circumstances because I don’t think mine is a universally applicable approach. All I know for certain is that I am now gainfully employed by a company that operates at a scale and velocity that excites me. It would appear that my instincts in editing my portfolio ultimately landed me where I belong. I am now surrounded by people who are so talented in so many ways that it confirms for me what I hoped I would find on “the other side.”