It’s a common phrase heard in networking: “It’s not about who you know, but who knows you.” As a student, how do you even start to put yourself out there? Everyone realizes they need to shake hands to get their foot in the door, but it seems like the biggest issue is finding the right door to start with. Moreover, the process of contacting firms, going out to meet them, and keeping in contact can be daunting. That’s why I’ve pulled together advice that I’ve learned from visiting over a dozen high profile firms, from James Corner’s Field Operations to Andropogon. Here is my take on how to visit landscape architecture firms from a student’s perspective:
How to Contact a Firm
First, how to contact a firm. It really is as easy as sending an email. Most all firms will have a website with contact information. For instance, while visiting Alaska, I googled “landscape architecture in Anchorage, AK” and found Bettisworth North. I contacted them to set up a quick visit.
Also remember that it’s OK to be told no; I was turned down by multiple places, but that’s fine. Don’t be discouraged and try to regularly send out emails to firms and see if they’re are internship opportunities, what projects their working on, or anything at all.
Secondly, take advantage of your school’s connections and opportunities. As a BLA student of the University of Georgia, I was lucky enough to take part in a school field trip where we visited firms such as Reed Hilderbrand, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Hargreaves, Starr + Whitehouse, Dirtworks, James Corner, AECOM, Edmund Hollander, OLIN, Andropogon, Sasaki, Halvorsen, & Carol R. Johnson.
Speaking of connections, contacting the generic office or PR email isn’t always the best method since your email will likely get lost in a sea of others. Do your research and see if one of your professors know someone on the staff and get their direct email address. You’ll have a much higher success rate if you email a member of the staff with a personalized email than a generic email to the catch-all office inbox.
Taken while visiting Olin in Philly. Eve Kootchick lead the tour, and we even got to meet Laurie Olin!
Why It’s Important to Make a Firm Visit
So why is it important to make firm visits? Because a firm is more likely to choose someone they know and have had a fond impression of. The principle holds true how firms in Boston will most likely take students from Harvard and a New York firm would take students from Columbia; the proximity to firms often means that those professionals and students have met before.
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Developing relationships with professionals also makes you stand out as someone with initiative. Many firms value employees who go the “extra mile,” and taking the first step of setting up and following through with a firm visit demonstrates that drive. It can be a huge advantage to go into an interview and not only say that you’ve visited and met before, but also detail the specific reasons (from office environment to specific project styles) of why you want to work for that firm.
Chicken scratch notes from a visit
What to Do in an Office Visit
So, what do you do after you’ve successfully scheduled your office visit? During my first firm visit a year ago, I went into it having no clue what to say–big mistake. It can be nerve-wracking when a principal looks you in the eye and says “…so what do you want to know?” and not know how to respond.
In addition to doing your research beforehand so that your questions are prepared and knowledgeable, I’ve always found that the basic “what’s your daily routine?” is a good question to ask. But don’t be afraid to go more broad and ask about the firm’s philosophy and how they think they differentiate themselves from other landscape architecture firms. Just like the field of landscape architecture, these firms can be very diverse and pride themselves on their niches.
Also, don’t pass up the opportunity to ask them what they value in a portfolio. Ask them what their favorite projects have been and if you can see the site plans of the work. Go visit those sites beforehand if you can. A firm visit is about the firm, not you. It’s important to show that you truly want to know more about the firm, and not treat it as an impromptu job interview (unless they bring that to the table!). And always remember to take notes!
Once you have completed the visit, make sure to always send a follow-up. A thank you card is always a nice touch and professional way to leave a lasting and positive impression.
Expand Your Horizons
Lastly, never be afraid to try and expand your horizons. A firm visit is sometimes just the tip of the iceberg. Talk to contractors you see working in the city, send mini portfolios to firms you like, add people on Linkedin, and network as much as possible.
If a firm shoots you down, then that’s okay, keep trying. The more exposure you can get, the better. That exposure makes a world of difference in our tightly knit landscape architecture community. People are also almost always willing to help. I cannot wait to keep expanding and hopefully land a dream job in due time. Anyone can do it, you just have to try. Speak to as many people as possible, and show your drive for landscape architecture. You never know who you may run into.
Small gif I made of the view from James Corner’s office.
Photographs © Kevin J. Pfeiffer