Thursday, June 24, 2010

Internship: you get out what you put into it, Part 2 of 2

Internship is a process in which you have to be fully invested. In order for it to work, and in order to get the hours of experience you need, you'll need to call attention to the experience you have missing. But internship is a two-way street; if you've clearly asked for the experience, it behooves your boss and your firm to make sure you get it, as it gets you that much closer to being licensed and to being more useful at the firm.

You do indeed have to ask for experience you're missing. Don't make the mistake of waiting for someone to ask you if you're missing hours or if you'd like to do something--ask for it! One of the parts of architecture school that's missing from architecture work is the frequent reviews and feedback, like you would get from your professor. Instead of waiting for your once-a-year or even twice-a-year performance review, sit down with your boss more regularly to ask how you're doing and explain what you need or are having trouble with, perhaps after each milestone deadline, or even once a month or every other month. Regular feedback keeps small performance issues from becoming big problems, and it keeps you from being blindsided by criticism at that ever-important official yearly review (you know, the one where your raise, if any, is decided).

How you ask for this additional experience is important. Sure, you'd like the hours so you can finally wrap up IDP, but for some bosses and firms, this sadly isn't a good reason to help you get those hours. Sometimes, bosses and firms are shortsighted and can only see what's good for the firm short-term: how can we save money on this job, for the next two months? When this happens, try framing your request in the service of the job or firm: how can you getting experience on this help your boss/the project/the firm? It can be as simple as you seeing a faster or more professional way to produce a document or promote something, or you may appeal to your boss' humanity: "Kelly, you seem so frustrated--your phone's ringing off the hook from the client and you're trying to get this spec section finished. How about I use the spec from the Xxxx Project to edit this project's spec for you so you can calm the client's Chicken-Little nerves?" That last sentence is important, because it includes a specific action that can be done, not just an open-ended (and easily deflected) "how can I help you?"

If you can't appeal to your boss' humanity or to the service of the project or firm, try talking to another manager in the office (if yours has more than one manager). A simple "I need 24 more hours in bidding and negotiation, and Karl doesn't have anything right now to really give me in that category--do you have something coming up that would help me polish off those last few hours?" will allow you to ask others for opportunities without laying blame. (And frankly, if Karl is a jerk, chances are the other managers know it already.) If there's nowhere else to go, that's a sign that you may have grown all you can at this firm. Find out if you can gain some supplemental education hours through NCARB, and then as the economy allows, start looking.

Short-sighted managers are everywhere, but most bosses in architecture are good people who would be glad to help if you ask. Showing them that you want to finish off those hours is a good way to show initiative, and it's even better when you can explain how you getting those hours helps the firm as well as you.


  1. Hello Lulu,

    I frequently follow your post. I would like to add some comments regarding the IDP.

    First comment. Intern architects need to beware of following the advice from someone outside of the firm and state that the intern is working. Its seems like every firm has a different attitude regarding the IDP.

    I worked at a small firm that supported the IDP program and helped interns find opportunities to gain experience in most of the training areas.

    Then, I made the mistake of following advice from an NCARB document that recommends interns move around to different firms early in their career in order to gain better experience. So I followed this advice, and decided to change firms after working at the small firm for a few years. This time I went to work for a large firm about a year before the recession started. Guess who was first to be laid off. Me. This was a terrible career move. I should have stayed at the small firm.

    At the large firm, I had the unfortunate situation where I found myself working under a manager who was not an architect and never did IDP. This person was one of those short-sighted managers you are talking about.

    This large firm did not support my goals of completing the IDP requirements at all. In fact, I mentioned at a performance review that one of my goals was to complete the IDP. The vice president, the short-sighted manager I was working under, and the human resource manager of the company all told me that finishing the IDP was not a legitimate goal to have. (I had 630 training units complete at this time and 11/16 training areas complete.) When I asked for opportunities for experience in the IDP training areas that I had not completed up to that point they yelled NO!! at me. This was even after I worked about 12 weekends for that firm that year and the forth of July. The firm as a whole saw NO value in helping me find experience in the few training areas that I was lacking.

    Second comment. I think the current IDP process is very unfair. An intern in the northeast can work at a firm that doesn't support its goals and the intern will not gain good experience. An intern in the south can work at a firm that supports the goals of the IDP and will gain a career advantage over the intern in the northeast.

    Third comment. I think the AIA needs to provide firms with more incentives for helping interns finish the requirements of IDP. Right now, all of the IDP requirements are for the interns. The firms are not required to help interns complete the IDP.

    Fourth comment. Lulu, please help other interns not to experience what I experienced. Are there ways to detect a short-sighted firm in the interview process? What questions should us interns ask the company at the interview regarding their attitude towards the IDP process? I hope none of the interns that follow your advice and ask the company for experience in additional IDP training areas get the answer 'NO' yelled back at them like I did. I even volunteered my time to get the experience. The answer was still 'NO'

    I recommend that interns get help from a mentor outside of their firm for completing the difficult IDP requiremnts. Thats what I do now. I won't even mention IDP at another firm that I work at. I will complete the IDP silently.

    Some firms don't want you to become more marketable by completing the IDP, it seems like.

    Not every firm is intern friendly like yours, Lulu. I just had to vent.

  2. Anon: I just wrote a long, wonderful comment here that revealed the meaning life and architecture, and Blogger ate it. So, having reset the WiFi in my condo, I'll summarize by saying this: you've made some excellent, astute comments above, and each point you make is worth a post of its own. Thank you for giving me some fresh ideas on post topics, and I look forward to your comments on those and other upcoming posts. Your venting is well-earned and well-deserved, and I hope it helps others.