Thursday, July 8, 2010

Working for a living versus working for a career

On a recent blog post, Intern 101 reader JD made an astute observation:

Obviously, in this economy, employers are in control of the market right now. As a result, you have to be more careful about appearing more concerned "getting your hours" than getting the work done in an interview. I wouldn't say being totally under the radar is good either. It's a tough time right now that creates a lot of "Should haves", "What if", Why?" "ARRRGGGHHH!!!" When it changes? Who knows, but consider it a learning exercise like no other.

Amen, JD. While the overall national unemployment rate is around 9.5%, it's more like 15%-40% for architects, depending on where you practice/live. Anyone looking for a job right now is up against a lot of competition for getting a job at all. While we're seeing a very small increase in work here in Colorado, it's still not enough to start hiring back all the people who were let go in the past 18+ months, so I know that any firm around here certainly has their pick of the litter. There are a few things to keep in mind while looking for an architectural job right now.

First off (and I think I've said this before), it's okay to be a little selective in the jobs you pursue. Don't throw your resume at anything and everything, especially if the firm is looking to fill a position for which you are even remotely unqualified. If it requires more than a year more experience than you have, or if it's asking for a licensed person, don't bother. There are plenty of people out there with those qualifications, and your resume will go straight to File 13 if you're even remotely unqualified. Focus on the positions for which you are qualified, and play up your strengths. Having said that, it's also okay to have a couple of different resumes, depending on if a firm is looking for someone to make lots of nice models versus someone to actually work on projects. Even for someone new or relatively new to the workplace, there are enough types of jobs to do that having more than one resume that plays to different skills can be a good idea.

Being selective regarding the type of work or firm you're doing is a little harder right now. If you've got student loans to pay off and you want to move out of your parents' basement (or out of your crappy apartment with your even-crappier roommate), you might just want any job. And there's something to be said for that. If you can get any job in architecture right now, you can gain experience. Even if your boss ends up being a grand mal jerk and refuses to sign you IDP record, you at least have some experience you can put on a resume with which to get a better job in the near future. (Funny enough, it seems sometimes like it's easiest to get a new job when you already have one.)

When you're interviewing for a job, you do want to find out how if you have a prayer of fulfilling any IDP hours, and the best way to do this is to make sure you frame it as a benefit for the firm. You can approach it something like this: "I'm interested to know what would be the range of project tasks I'd be experiencing at your firm--would I be doing mostly CDs or would I be involved in all phases of a project? I'd like to be able to get a wide range of experiences that involve me in every part of this career path I've chosen because it would make me useful--the more tasks I have experience in is just that many more things I can help you with on a project." If that goes well, then you may want to get a little more specific and ask about how they support IDP and what kind of people (licensed?) would be supervising you. Like commenter JD, I'm suspicious if my questions about the support of IDP begin with "Well..." It should be an unequivocal and solid "Yes, we work towards making sure our interns get their hours."

So what if you get a less-than-acceptable answer to the IDP question, but you still need a job? You can accept the position with eyes wide open, knowing that you may not get the best experiences at that firm, but you'll have a source of income and something to put on a resume. And you may find an architect at that firm who's not your immediate boss who would be willing to sign your forms for you and vouch for you--they may also see the firm's crappiness for what it is and help deflect some of it for you. Working at a bad firm can leave you questioning your abilities and even your sanity, and when the economy is rough and there's nowhere else to go, that pressure and anxiety are multiplied. You may just have to take some deep breaths, take a break, go cry or break some plates somewhere, and know that this will pass and you won't have to work here forever.

I asked earlier and I'll ask again: has anyone out there had a bad architectural job? What was the tipping point that made you realize it was time to go? Tell me in the comments or via email in the sidebar. Thanks, and keep your comments and questions coming!


  1. A project I have been since it's inception is now under construction and my boss (licensed architect) has decided to make me project manager over construction administration. He talks about training me, but never makes time to do so, and I live in fear that one day the contractor will "find out" I don't know what I'm doing and "something bad will happen". (I know this sounds more paranoid than it needs to be, but I'm majorly anxious).
    My boss makes me sign all the letters, transmittals, RFIs, Request for Change Orders, etc. The only thing I'm not signing are pay applications. I have repeatedly tried to talk to him about how I feel uncomfortable without being trained in this aspect of my job, even though I know the project, but his response is always "But you're doing well."

    Maybe it's not the worst thing to have your boss trust you so much, but it makes me extremely stressed out and sick to my stomach to think I'm doing a job I have no idea how to do anymore, especially after he was so good at training me to do every other phase of architecture.

  2. Anonymous, you're voicing a common (and very important) feeling/frustration/reality with CA. I'm going to post on this very soon, because I'm betting you're not the only one coping with this.