Monday, April 13, 2009

News flash: You’re underpaid. In other news, the sky is blue.

            Remember how I mentioned that you’re replaceable up to about three years out of school? Okay, good.  That explains in some part why you’re underpaid.  There are so many people out there who are comparable to you in experience level, so no one’s going to shell out mad cash for the same skills they can find elsewhere, many elsewheres.  Now, please note that I never said you weren’t important.  Important is different from irreplaceable.  Think about everything under the hood of a car: most of what’s under there—serpentine belt, oil filter, fuel injectors, spark plugs, O2 sensor—is important.  But it’s all also replaceable.  You replace the oil filter every time you get an oil change.  You replace the serpentine belt and the brake pads when they wear thin or even break.  Same thing with interns.  No offence.

            Another part of being underpaid involves architects being bad businesspeople.  How many business classes were required when you were in college and grad school?  I bet the answer is none.  Maybe a little bit about meeting payroll and finding an office in the one professional practice class you took for one quarter or semester, but that’s about it, huh?  Indeed, architecture firms are run by architects, who as a profession have lots of design experience and technical experience but little to no business management experience.  All architects want to do is draw pretty buildings and get them built in a way that is safe, sound, and meets the client’s needs. 

This lack of business savvy plays into legal issues involving antitrust legislation against architects.  The Justice Department has used antitrust laws against architects in 1972 regarding price quotes on bids, and then again in 1990 against the AIA, alleging that its Chicago chapter issued a memo to its members regarding prohibiting members from engaging in competitive bidding for a job or even providing free services.  The DOJ labeled this as price fixing and in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, and the matter was settled out of court.  So, when a client wants to build a building of some sort or another, part of the presentation and interview process can involve the architects saying how much they will charge for their work (a fixed fee of X? a percentage of the construction costs?).  The DOJ’s actions state that architects cannot get together (as the AIA, that is) and say, “Okay, on new projects we’re charging 7% and on renovations we’re charging 9%, and that’s that.”  Architects have to assess their overhead costs, processes, and past experience to figure out what they’ll charge a client.  And because any run-down schmuck with an architect’s license and a few copies of CAD in his garage can make a bid, everyone has to be competitive with their proposals.  Hence, a lot of architects tend to undercharge for their services.  (Even I do it occasionally when someone asks me how long I think it will take me to do something—I tend to give them the amount of time it will take for me to do it if I’m completely left alone and get all the info I need right when I need it.  When I give a manager my number for a proposal, he or she usually doubles it.  Smart of them.)

            So, how do you make your employer peel off the cabbage roll you deserve?  I have no foolproof way to make this happen.  Each firm works a little differently from the others, but I can tell you some generalities that seem to help.  First off, there are plenty of websites out there that allow you to see what people at your level should be making.  When you see your salary ranges, be sure to convert those salaries to an hourly rate, as some firms pay their interns hourly.  When you go into a job interview and finally get a job offer, let them make an offer first and know what you’re willing to accept (versus what you might want to counteroffer with).

            Once you have a job, getting pay increases are important but are only somewhat within your area of control.  Most firms deal with raises during a performance review, usually once a year.  Some firms do their pay reviews in a separate meeting from the performance review. To-may-to, to-mah-to.  If your firm doesn’t do regular reviews at a set time each year, ask for one.  Mention that you’d like to discuss your performance and salary, and ask for the review to happen a few weeks after the date you mention it.  If you keep getting blown off for this review, it’s time to look for a new job.  A firm that doesn’t take your development seriously is not one at which you want to be for long.

1 comment:

  1. Why is it three years of experience? Is that because that's, normally, how long it takes to get licensed or finish the IDP?