Got the Job

Three firms talk about who they’ll hire next and why.

A recent uptick in hiring has new grads and emerging professionals looking ahead. We asked principals of three different firms who are hiring what they’re looking for in a candidate.

Rhodeside & Harwell (Alexandria, Virginia)

What kind of role are you hiring for? What level of experience are you seeking?

Elliot Rhodeside, FASLA: Since we have a mature office with strong leaders who will lead the firm after the founders retire, we have been focusing on hiring talented, multifaceted people who can work in our multidisciplinary environment. Within the past year we have hired five planners and landscape architects; most have one to three years of experience—one just completed graduate school and another had eight years of experience doing design development and construction documents at a large firm. We tend to be proactive about hiring where we are always on the lookout for talented young individuals. In addition, we ask our staff and professional friends for advice and help in identifying potential people to hire: friends, classmates, and acquaintances. This has been the best method for us recently.

What kind of work does your firm do?

Multidisciplinary landscape architecture, planning, and urban design with a strong baseline of community engagement in all of our projects. We have a focus in urban public realm projects with an emphasis on public sector and institutional clients. We work locally, nationally (mainly east of the Mississippi), and internationally (mainly for the Department of State).

How would you describe your office culture?

Smart and creative! We are also collaborative, youthful, energetic, serious, and driven!

If you’re looking for a skill set, what are the most important ones?

For young employees we look for talented designers who have exhibited exceptional work in either studio at school or in previous offices. We look at both their portfolios (online and in person) and work samples (full-size construction documents and/or reports). We have been doing phone interviews first and, if they do well, follow that up with an in-person interview. Sometimes we have two in-person interviews. On one occasion two years ago we hired a young planner in Portland, Oregon, sight unseen since we were desperate to hire a strong planner with exceptional skills in community engagement. She has turned out to be one of our strongest planners and has recently become an associate in our firm.

In terms of a personal fit for the office, what aspects or qualities will you value?

We look for people who tend to be gregarious, animated, inquisitive, self-confident. It is hard to fully assess how well a person will fit into the office culture, but since we have been at it for 30 years, we can get a good feeling in an interview. Most of the time we are on target; when we have misjudged character in an individual, it usually has had negative effects on the office.

What do you want to learn about a candidate in an interview that you can’t learn from résumés, portfolios, and references?

How well they communicate; how well they handle themselves with a number of people we introduce them to during the interview process; how inquisitive they are about the firm; what their personal and professional goals are and what their lifetime career path may be; their negotiating skills; and their interest in benefits and growth opportunities!


Roche + Roche Landscape Architecture (Sonoma, California)

What size is your firm now, and what are your hiring goals?

Dave Roche, ASLA: We are a two-and-a-half-person firm trying to go to a four-person firm.

How would you describe your office culture?

Nancy Roche: Small! Intimate!

Dave Roche: Familial even! We’ve been in business for 10 years, and up to this point worked out of our home with a part-time remote draftsperson. We haven’t really had a studio culture outside of the two of us. We’re negotiating for a lease on a new space, so we’re looking to create a new physical space in addition to bringing on these additional people.

You live and work in a rural context. How is that part of your office culture?

NR: It’s very small-town—I think the actual population within the city limits of Sonoma is 10,000 people—that’s tiny. But I do see that there are younger people in the wine industry, so there is a younger community.

DR: But there’s no question, even though we have work in Atherton, Woodside, and San Francisco, the majority of our work is Napa and Sonoma Counties. It’s very rural, and if that doesn’t appeal to you on some gut level, I don’t think you’d want to work with us, because a lot of our work, although we like to think that we work in a rural-contemporary vein, it’s still rural. If you don’t love being in the vineyard, or hiking around in the hills and oak woodlands, it might not be a good fit.

Are you looking for a skill set, or more of a personality fit for the office?

DR: I think it’s gotta be both. Even after this expansion we’ll still be such a small firm that they will have to wear many hats and have many skills, but also if they’re not a good personality fit or their values and their interests don’t fit with us, that’s going to be really problematic. We’re setting a relatively high standard of wanting someone who’s a good personality fit and is going to bring the skills that we don’t have.

What level of experience are you looking for?

DR: We’ve actually gone through a fairly lengthy process [with a business consultant] helping us define personal and business values, what our mission is, what our skills are, what our strengths are, whether we should have been doing the various tasks we’ve been doing or not.

NR: And whether we really should grow. We thought we should grow, but to have someone else do it on paper—[the consultant] identified a five- to eight-year, midlevel person.

DR: We want someone who can pretty quickly step into a project manager position. We’d like to have strong design skills, but maybe more important is whether or not they have strong organizational, management, and communications skills, because we’ve obviously gotten by with the two of us designing up to this point. We’d like fresh design ideas to be part of the team, but even more critically, I’m feeling like I’m really at the outer limits of how many personalities, schedules, and projects I can keep in my head and keep organized.

NR: It’s a wonderful opportunity, actually.

What do you want to learn about a candidate in an interview that you can’t learn from résumés, portfolios, and references?

NR: Because we are looking for some technological skills that neither of us have, as well as graphic presentation skills, I would really like to spend some time with them—almost like in a mock-up situation—and see the way they would present and communicate within the firm. We’re going to need that, and we’re going to need them to be able to be comfortable with us being their senior but knowing less about it. It’s asking for a sensibility and a maturity, I think.

DR: References are going to be very important. Clearly in a small firm we’re going to be trusting this person with a lot of responsibility. We’ve worked very hard prior to our firm’s establishment and during our 10 years to build a clean and strong reputation and dependability and develop loyalty with contractors and clients, and we would not want to jeopardize that by putting them in the hands of somebody who wasn’t equally committed to the same sort of things.

NR: (laughing) I’m looking for emotional intelligence.


Stantec (Based in North America)

What kind of role are you hiring for? What level of experience are you seeking?

Gary Sorge, FASLA: We’re actually hiring in a number of offices, and we’re essentially looking at many levels. We have a [paid] internship program that we run every year through accredited universities that’s very competitive, so we’re always looking for interns for summer employment. We’re also looking for new grads, and we’re also looking for design leadership in our offices in the Northeast and Southeast. We’re looking for designers in the two- to five-year range of experience, and we’re also looking for project managers—people with solid design and technical backgrounds with very good business acumen and who understand the business of landscape architecture and working in a multidisciplinary firm.

For new grads, are you looking for a skill set, or more of a personality fit for the office?

Traditionally the folks who have character, have the skills, and demonstrate the motivation turn out to be the best fit. Not necessarily an extraordinary graphics or design portfolio but a balanced portfolio with great communications skills.

How would you describe your office culture?

It’s interesting because over the years we’ve evolved. We have many levels for people to progress. If you’re very good at numbers and project management, there’s a career track for that. If you’re a very good designer there’s a track in that area of our practice. If you’re a very good technical person—people who tend to work in the office and not necessarily out there with our clients but have a very strong specification detailing aspect of their work—there’s a place for you as well. There are folks who get involved with business development who are on the design side but are also great communicators.

What do you want to learn about a candidate in an interview that you can’t learn from résumés, portfolios, and references?

I want to know about their interests. With landscape architecture, and I’ve been in this for the past 30 years, this is not a nine-to-five career, this is a hobby that you make a career of. The folks who are inquisitive, the folks who understand the trends, who understand what’s happening within the whole industry, what’s happening with sustainability and resiliency, the folks who really have just a basic interest in just what’s happening in our world seem to be the best candidates, seem to be the ones who contribute the most to our studio. For those who are turning the lights on at eight o’clock in the morning and turning them off again at five, I think they’re cutting themselves short and they’re probably falling behind their peers. The folks who are really committed to landscape architecture see it’s a part of their life; it’s not just a paycheck.

What are some of the skills you think are going to be really key in the next two to three years of hiring?

Understanding the interdisciplinary approach. Even the firms that are just pure landscape architecture, all of their practice is collaboration, whether they’re working with a subconsultant, whether they’re working with a municipal agency, or whether they’re working with a very educated client—they’re all relying on multiple disciplines to achieve their project. So someone who’s going in with a knowledge of plant material but not how it all fits together, who doesn’t have an understanding of systems, whether it’s hydrology or physiology, I think they’re selling themselves short. You really need to understand how all of the professions contribute to the success of the project.

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