Monday, May 17, 2010

What helps a graduate get a job out of school?

I got the following comment on a really early post here on Intern 101, and Anonymous' question below is worth answering for both those still in school and those just getting out:

I'm a current M.Arch student who will be gradating in 2012. I realize that it is difficult to take on many commitments outside of school during the academic year, but if you could find the time to do something productive outside of class, what kinds of activities/work experiences would you recommend. In your opinion, what kind of background makes a recent graduate of an m.arch or b.arch program more marketable to architectural employers. I realize this depends on type of architectural office you want to work for, but if you have any general thoughts on the matter, I would love to hear them. Thanks.

True enough, architects have little free time outside of school. However, it is important to show firms that you have a life outside of studio. The fact is, any activities are helpful. If you can find a job at an architecture firm, that's fantastic. If you can get a job working with graphic design and software or rendering software, excellent. If you can volunteer for or work at a nonprofit, well done. If you find employment at a non-architectural company, just as well. The point is, firms like to know that you're used to dealing with managers and customers/clients, of taking and/or giving direction and taking action, of showing up on time and dressed appropriately, of solving problems with others and on your own, and of just plain old working for a living. If you have no work experience other than maybe some babysitting or housecleaning for a neighbor, then that's going to be a red flag to a potential employer. Even volunteer or nonprofit efforts are a good sign to a firm, as it shows that you not only are able to work and are motivated enough to be active, but it also shows that you want to contribute to society in some way. (Ultimately, all architecture is some sort of societal contribution, positively or negatively.)

I grew up in a rural area of Georgia; the nearest architecture firm that might remotely have been able to employ me was nearly an hour away. Working in my field during the summer was hence cost-ineffective--a big chunk of my paycheck would have gone to the costs of simply getting to and from work. Instead, I enrolled with a local temp firm just out of high school, and I ended up working in the medical records department of my local hospital. I also volunteered at my church's Vacation Bible School as well as the choir. The hospital job gave me the experience of dealing with managers and coworkers, and it also allowed me to use my budding spatial skills. At one point, the manager of my department asked me to help figure out how we were going to move the microfilm department from the basement up to the main floor with the rest of the medical records department, and I happily obliged. Towards the end of undergraduate, I managed to score a summer position in the design and construction department of a nearby resort and park. Despite the fact that I never worked at an actual architectural firm, I was still able to get a job at the firm I have been with for the past ten years, I believe in great part to the fact that I had some job experience in general, I had a great cover letter and resume, and I interviewed well.

If you can find any job in this economy, then go for it. While working at a firm is preferred, it's not a dealbreaker. And as for volunteer efforts, you don't have to do something at a construction-related nonprofit such as Habitat For Humanity. Just being active outside of studio (and school) is a sign that you are willing to work and contribute, and that's important to a firm.

1 comment:

  1. I heartily agree that just being active is helpful. If you're committed to sustainability even working at a food coop, volunteering at the Botanic Gardens, Denver Urban Gardens, Tree People, etc shows your interest and puts you in the loop with like thinkers in line with a broader perspective than just the built environment.

    That said, Habitat is a great one. Become a semi-regular volunteer and see how things actually go together AND see how other people think they should go together (sometimes there is a big difference). At a recent project I was pulling insulation battes to restore their loft (and insulation value) so that that weren't just crammed in. It's a great education in what people perceive as to how a structure goes together, detailed, caulked, etc. As architects it's easy to fall for the cover shot in Architectural Record, but much of the built environment is basic. Even a Renzo Piano project has framed interior walls. Habitat provides a great perspective on how much time to spend in the office about getting that fancy trim detail "just right".