Monday, November 29, 2010

Lulu's Mailbag: Is doing a competition like cheating on your employer?

I know, I know, more Mailbag. But why not? We've had some great questions lately, including this one from R, who hasn't been able to get a job yet in the economy...

So in the meantime I've been working with another unemployed from my graduate classes to do a couple of competitions. We haven't won/place/show/honorable mentioned in anything yet and are now starting to think we need to seek out ways for our participation to be known. It seems like competitions are a bit light on publication of entries and we might be the only ones who have seen what we've put together (aside from new pages in our portfolios). How do we get our images out there? Any thoughts?
Secondly, although we're not architects yet, we appreciate the ability, and freedom, of making our own designs. We are hoping to continue doing competitions in some manner when we do land jobs. Any thoughts on this sort of competition moonlighting? (Really, it doesn't feel like cheating-the-employer type of moonlighting yet, although that might change when we do win something!)

There are two questions here from R. One is how to we publicize our involvement in competitions, and two is how acceptable is it to do competitions while working. Let's address these in order:

First, it's a little tough to drum up interest in your competition work if you haven't won anything yet. Winning makes it easier to toot your own horn. That being said, there are other ways to broadcast your efforts. The obvious first way is to create a blog or website that allows you and your pals to showcase your work. Then, any potential employer can surf on over and have a look at your efforts. The second is through the print media. First, you can write a press release to a local architectural publication or even your local paper about how you and your pals are making the best of a down economy by gong after design competitions. This might also allow you to get featured in the paper or some other publication as a human interest story: look how these kids aren't just sitting around at their parents' houses, waiting for a phone call--they're out doing cool stuff! There are books and online articles about how to write a press release. However, I have to say that I wrote up press releases for the seminar I did at the national AIA convention this year, and no one picked it up. Here's hoping you have better luck than I did.

Second, the competitions and work: overall, it's a good thing. Firms know that you don't get much creative control in your first few years in the business for a variety of reasons, and there's nothing wrong (and many things right) with entering competitions. However, if the competition is to do an actual project that could be built, you might want to talk with your manager(s) and/or firm owner(s). If you win a competition to do a building that will actually be built, you're going to need a licensed architect on board to oversee the design. That's where your firm would come in handy--suddenly, you'd have built-in support to get a project done, plus you'd actually be bringing in work for the firm. When you talk to the firm owners, be sure your group is all in agreement on how the work would be done. Explain that you're happy to do all the work and design on the front end, and that if you win the project that you'd like to be on the project team. If the firm insists on putting someone else on the competition team with you and your buds, be willing to either work with that person or stand your ground about it just being you and your friends...and know that standing your ground might leave a bad taste in the firm owner's mouth. (Remember, just because we're all old and cranky doesn't mean we might not be interested in doing a cool competition with you--your enthusiasm gets us excited!)

Got a question for Lulu or a topic you'd like to see discussed here? Tell me in the comments or via email in the sidebar, and thanks again for all your support and comments!

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