Sometimes candidates ask me for advice on how to best apply for a particular architecture role. Regardless of how they approach me, what they all really want to know is how can they make a good impression on the interviewer or hiring team, and ultimately stand out from the pack. The response I give them, however, is often not the one they are expecting to hear.

What many candidates don’t realise is that hiring decisions are often made within the first few minutes of an interview. In fact, in a recent survey of 2000 supervisors, a third of them claimed that they know within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether or not they will hire someone. Not only that, but research suggests that interviewers are frequently swayed by “superficial” qualities, such as physical appearance, a sense of humour, and the candidate’s posture.

But, I’m not going to use this article to tell you what you should or should not wear to an interview, what your body posture should be, or how to answer those dreaded open-ended questions like, “Tell me about yourself,” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I want to dig a bit deeper than that, because what really gets candidates hired versus overlooked is an underlying sense of confidence and determination, clarity about themselves and the position they are interviewing for, and the feeling that they know what they want in work and in life. At the end of the day, hiring decisions are often based on these hard-to-measure, unspoken factors that tend to shine forth the minute a candidate walks in the room- sometimes even before he or she starts talking.

Architect and Design candidates looking into competitive positions would do well to pay attention. The architecture and interior design industry may be pretty hot right now and the demand for qualified architects and designers is going strong. But more jobs doesn’t mean that landing a good job is a given.

That said, here are five of the most critical mistakes candidates need to avoid in an architecture or interior design job interview and what they should be focused on instead:

1. They are not prepared for the interview. One of the most important things candidates need to do before they even step foot in a firm, is to conduct research. The more you know about the studio, the position you are applying for, as well as the interviewer or members of the hiring team, the more you can craft your delivery to align your skills, talents, personality, and experience to the needs of the firm.

An additional benefit to doing such research before the interview is that it allows you to learn enough about the firm to know whether or not it offers an environment that will motivate you to do your job. Sometimes the biggest interview mistake candidates make is interviewing for the wrong firms.

2. They don’t have a clear vision of where they want to go. Where do you see yourself professionally in five years? The answer to this question will typically include why you want to leave your current position as well as how the position you are interviewing for may help you achieve those goals. The most important thing to remember over here is to be realistic and honest with yourself and to consider how your ambitions match up with the needs of the interviewer and the firm as a whole.

3. They are lacking basic communication skills. Another important rule to remember is that while your answers to questions are important, there is often much more weight put on how you respond. Are you making eye contact? Are you talking clearly, logically, and with enthusiasm? Are you not just answering questions, but asking them as well? The attitude and energy that you give off can solve far more perceived problems than an impressive list of credentials and project accomplishments. One way to polish your presentation is to take the time to rehearse your answers to some of the typical questions before the interview.

Some of these typical questions include:

  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Why did you leave your last position?
  • What are your expectations and goals for this position?
  • What value can you bring to this studio/business/project?
  • What are your biggest achievements

4. They are not in touch with their strengths and weaknesses. Many candidates make the mistake of only mentioning the strengths and weaknesses they have on the job. But, if you want to really stand out from the pack of other candidates then you have to give interviewers a fuller picture of who you are and what makes you so special in the first place. What are the qualities that help you get by in life? What are the best parts of your personality? What unique skills, talents, and life experiences can you draw on? Even when you mention a weakness, you should do so in an objective way, and don’t forget to add in how you cope or plan to work on this weakness in the future.

5. They lack a balance of humility and confidence. In short, don’t forget to be human. Many candidates either over-do it on the side of self-importance and the belief that they can climb any mountain; others are too cautious and critical of themselves. No one wants to hire a know-it-all, and no one wants to hire a self-doubter, either.

Bottom line: if you want to have the best chance of landing a great position, then before you even start the interview process, you need to be in touch with yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and where you want to take your career. And, don’t forget to do your homework!