Emerging Professional Career Memoirs


Volume Two: Rejoicing Relocation
By Ashley Fruits, Allied Member ASID

Welcome back! I wanted to share with my experiences with getting hired on at Case Design. Many peers ask me how I got my foot in the door with this firm. Well, with a little bit of luck and determination that led to a referral—I was looking to relocate to the Washington, D.C., metro area (from Indiana), so when I logged on to ASID Connex for their launch party, I simply introduced myself to a designer from the DC metro area and said that I was recent graduate, job searching in her area and asked if she had any tips or advice that could help me land a good job.  

Fortunately, I was talking to someone who understood my dilemma of being out of state and a recent grad, and she was determined to help me out. We immediately exchanged email addresses, so I could forward her my resume and sample portfolio and next thing I knew I was heading to DC for an interview!

Before interviewing with Case, I knew I had to do some prep work. The designer at the firm that I had been communicating with was very helpful. During our conversation on Connex, she had explained Case and its divisions. From there, she led me to their Web site (www.casedesign.com) and was very helpful in answering any other questions that I had.

My first interview was a one-on-one interview and it lasted for about 1 1/2 hrs. (that included a tour of Case). When I came back for my second interview, it only lasted for about half an hour, but I got to meet the executive vice president of Case.

After being made an offer, I had some thinking to do. There wasn’t just one deciding factor in accepting the position; I was looking for a firm that had a combination of things:
First, I wanted to make sure that wherever I started my career, I would be pushed (more than just me pushing myself). I have a lot of personal and professional goals, some of which I want to accomplish in the next few years and I wanted to make sure I was working for someone that valued those.

Secondly, I knew that I would have a lot to learn and I wanted to work for someone that was willing to take the time to answer my questions and to teach me new things.


Bonus Volume: Selecting a New Hire: From the Employer’s Perspective
By Rick Matus

I work for a large full-scale home remodeling company that focuses primarily on residential additions and whole house renovations for affluent clients in the Washington, D.C., area. As the director of the design/build division at Case Design/Remodeling, one of my responsibilities is to interview, select, and hire all of my in-office staff. My group, which currently numbers 18 people, consists of architects/designers, junior-level designers and production managers.

I’ve been involved in the hiring process at Case for about eight years now, and have interviewed dozens and dozens of people in my quest to find talented individuals that would better my team. When looking for junior-level designers (we call them assistant project designers), the candidates are recent college graduates with zero to three years experience, typically with an architecture or interior design degree. Although we post ads on the Web and in newspapers, we have found that the best source of potential employees, by far, is a referral from another team member. One of our assistant project designers happens to be a member of ASID, and gave me a resume sent by another member living in Indiana who wanted to relocate to the DC area and was looking for a job. I valued the resume because it came with a recommendation from the employee, so I went through the interview process with this candidate and eventually hired her. She has worked out very well as a new employee, and I feel that I’ve improved my department by adding her to my team. 

The first step in the hiring process is obviously to review resumes. For me, the biggest impact is finding someone that has related work experience. I will have much more of an interest in speaking to someone whose resume lists an unpaid internship in a residential architecture firm over someone who held a paid position at an engineering firm. It is important to build a resume by working while in school and by seeking internships with businesses in your desired field, whether it be architecture or interior design.

Once I have a resume that interests me, I call and speak to the candidate on the phone (no e-mails) to describe the position and feel them out. This is the first opportunity that the candidate has to create a good impression, because what I want to hear on the phone is enthusiasm and excitement. The initial phone call leads to a face-to-face interview, which consists of the candidate meeting with me for 45 minutes to an hour and then meeting with our human resources coordinator to fill out applications and background check consent forms. During my interview, I first take time explaining in some detail what the position entails, and then I ask the candidate if what I just described is something that would interest them. Everyone says “of course”, but then I ask them to explain why they think they would make a good employee. The series of questions that I ask start as big picture questions that relate to general skills and aptitude, work ethic, and experiences.  They then move to specific questions about something in their resume, whether it be a previous job or their schooling. The last series of questions tend to be more difficult for the candidate because they don’t have a right or wrong answer but tell me a lot about some of the intangible traits I’m looking for. For example, I may ask “how would you deal with a colleague who tends to do sloppy work on a project you are working on?”, or “how many hours a week do you think you should be expected to work?” What I’m hoping to hear is some conviction related to work ethic, organizational skills, teamwork and initiative. 

As I listen to the candidate speak and answer questions, I’m looking for that future superstar that can improve my team. I’m not as concerned with what the person already has learned in their previous experiences as I am about whether this person is teachable.  I want to be able to mold them into a productive team member that can get along with the rest of the group, so it’s important that I see enthusiasm, excitement, and drive during our one hour meeting. What I’m hoping to see, specifically, is someone that is comfortable and not shy, someone who will look at me and speak with confidence, who will elaborate on their answers and who will talk about what they are exceptionally good at. For example, the last person I hired won me over by explaining that she had a summer internship with a small home builder, and she was hired to do hand drawings for him. She took the initiative to suggest that she use CADD to produce the drawings, and elevated the quality and efficiency of her employer’s work to the point that CADD became the standard in his practice. During the interview, this candidate emphasized how she had improved this person’s business by suggesting these changes. I walked away from the meeting saying “ I could use her on my team.”

When I interview individuals, a portfolio of work is always presented. It’s important for me to see artistic ability, an understanding of scale, balance and proportion, and to see clean, neat work. However, I don’t care to look at strictly CADD drawings to assess quality of work, since a computer can make everyone’s drawings look good. I get the most from seeing hand-drawn work and other art media (model making, painting, sculpture, etc). I can teach anyone how to use a computer-based rendering program, so the true test is whether they can render freehand. Something as simple as a candidate’s handwriting (penmanship) tells me a lot. 

After I decide to hire someone (usually after a second or third interview with other members of the company), we establish a 90-day “probationary” period for the new employee. We use the first three months of employment for the new hire to learn the ropes, to get to know our systems and processes, and to see if they like their position. It gives me a chance to assess them while they work on real projects and to determine if they fit in the culture and environment of Case. Because this is set up at the time of the hire, the new employee fully understands that they are being monitored, and looks forward to their 90 day review.  

• Don’t arrive late to the interview—no matter what.
• Be dressed professionally and neatly.
• Always elaborate on your answers to question.
• Always have questions to ask the interviewer.
• Don’t hand the interviewer a disk with your portfolio on it to look at it on a computer. If you choose to present in that fashion, bring a laptop with you.
• Don’t go through your portfolio until asked to do so. There is a time to look at it, and it’s not at the beginning of the interview.
• Just because you are asked back for a 2nd interview, it doesn’t mean that you got the job.