Monday, April 25, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: Who's looking at my resume...anyone?

I got a great question recently from "S" about getting your foot in the door at a firm and the "auto-response" that some firms give:

I am a senior who will be graduating this May. I have been looking up firms in my area. They usually put "" or "" on their career page. It seems suspicious to me that they don't let us know who we're supposed to address our cover letter to.

 My question is, will our resume, cover letter and work samples get looked at? Big firms which require people to apply on their website have what is called ATS(Applicant Tracking System). My friend who majors in software engineering tell me that big firms usually have that to screen out potential employees and weed out the rest, without even bother to look at the work samples. It's one of those thing that automatically sends a reply after we finish applying no matter what time it is.

Back to the suspicious email address, I know how easy it is to make an email address on a server, since I have one. So, what do you think? Do firms which can't afford to pay for ATS, specifically make that so they don't have to look at the resume so they seem accepting, but are not? I know that they want the best bang for the buck and that Interns don't really have much to offer. So, I'm guessing it'd be nice for them if they could look at the resume and just pick the best.

A couple day later, I looked at job boards. The same firm which only gives out that suspicious email address, said that they are hiring a senior designer and they give out the name of the principal who I presume also acts as a hiring manager. I don't really know much about hiring, but it just seems weird to me that they said on their website that"they are always looking for qualified people", but don't give out the names of the hiring manager.

My professor also said that architecture is a "you-know-who" kind of job. Is that really true? I go to Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The BFA is not accredited and the MArch is still waiting for accreditation (4+2 program). Do firms acknowledge architecture education from a pre-professional school? The people in my grade who gets hired usually have some sort of connection or just a good ass kisser (I really need to learn how to do that...)

Last but not least, what do you think of cold calling firms?

Good questions, S.  Let's start with some basic info about the hiring practices of firms right now.  While the economy is recovering slowly, there are still way more applicants than there are positions.  This means that firms that advertise for one or two positions can get as many as a hundred resumes in a week for those two spots.  There is someone (or a couple of someones) that are reviewing resumes and are responsible for hiring, but chances are good that those people are also architects working on billable work.  They're already way more-than-40-hours-a-week busy, and they're having a hard time getting back to all the emails and voicemails regarding their one or more projects.  That's why everyone is instructed to send their resumes to a generic address--so they don't fill up some poor schmuck's (or schmuckette's) inbox.  An official name isn't given out because the firm also doesn't want this person's voicemail full of calls (cold or otherwise) from the influx of job applicants.  It's nothing personal, it's just that the person in charge of hiring wouldn't be able to humanly return all of these calls and emails in a timely fashion.  And because they don't give out a name, they won't be offended if your cover letter starts, "To whom it may concern."

That being said, you'll see applicant tracking software especially at really big firms or firms with multiple offices.  This is because they, being a big firm, get even more applicants than a smaller or privately held firm with fewer than 50 people.  But that being said, every firm has some process of weeding out candidates.  The first round of weeding resumes is spelling and grammar problems as well as resumes that are hard to read.  The next round is about skills and experience--some firms may be looking for someone with only a couple of years, and some may be looking for someone with several years of experience.  This round might also involve factors as random as where an applicant went to school or what project types they've done or where they've worked before or....the list is endless.

Of course, knowing someone is always a big help, and not just in architecture.  The problem is that so many candidates are equally excellent--everyone's been to college and grad school and can use various types of software and has work experience here or there, so how do you choose?  If you know someone already in the business--whatever field that may be--it helps to include that on your resume.  Personal knowledge of a candidate allows a firm to know just a little more about you, whether you're going into law, medicine, architecture, marketing,  teaching, or whatever.

Cold calling at this point in the economy is a double-edged sword.  If you know a name to ask for when you call, that's in your favor.  If you're blindly calling just to speak to "someone involved in hiring interns", your cold call may be met with a cold shoulder.  Of course, you could call in the hopes that you catch a company's temp receptionist while the usual one is on vacation, in which case you might inadvertently get somewhere.

If you have a topic you'd like to see discussed here, let me know in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  And don't forget to take the intern quiz here, and have any friends or colleagues who are licensed take the architect survey here.  Thanks!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Interns and Architects: the Mentorship Survey 2011

I'm presenting a seminar this May at the national AIA Convention in New Orleans about good/better/awesome ways to mentor interns, and I need your help.  Not just your help, but the help of all your friends and coworkers and their friends and coworkers, licensed and unlicensed.  For the next two weeks, I'm running two surveys: one survey asks about the work experience of interns, and the other survey asks licensed architects about how they work with interns.

Here's the link to the survey for interns.

Here's the link for the survey for architects.

If you put your email in the last blank/question, you'll be eligible to win a $50.00 gift certificate for  (One will be given to an intern, and one will be given to an architect.)  Please feel free to forward this post (or at least these surveys) to everyone you work with as well as all your friends at firms around the country (US and its protectorates only, apologies to my readers outside the US!).  Go!  Go now!  Take the survey!  Oh, and thanks!

Monday, April 18, 2011

More on unpaid work (and other work) from interns

I found this article on AIA's website regarding whether interns can work for free at a firm.  The article concurs with DOL rules, which is that if you work for a for-profit company, you have to be paid for that work.  Interestingly, this article appears to frown on interns gaining IDP credits if they work as independent contractors, saying that "an independent contractor typically does not work under the "direct supervision" that is a hallmark of training."  While I understand the gist of the AIA's comment here, I'm not sure I fully agree.  

If I pay an actual employee of mine $20/hour but my contractor $30/hour, that extra money as a supplement, to make up for for the health insurance and 401(k) contributions that I'm not giving the contract employee but that I am inevitably giving the actual employee.  Either way, if I hire an intern as a contract employee and I've decided to cover that contract employee's work under my liability insurance, then why wouldn't that intern's work be eligible for IDP hours?  If the person is an intern, won't I need to meet with them periodically to make sure the work they're doing is correct and up to my and my firm's standards?  How is that different from meeting once a day or every other day with an intern in my office?  And who's to say that the contract intern wouldn't be working in my office?

Have any of you had experience working as a contractor with an architectural firm?  Can you share anything regarding your work experience?  (And as ever, if you have a question or a topic you'd like to see covered here, feel free to leave it in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  Thanks!)

Monday, April 11, 2011

I want to hug these people

A friend and colleague of mine sent me a link to a blog called Architects Who Eat Their Young, and I have to say that I want to hug the people that put this blog together, and then I want to pay them fairly. First of all, I have to love any blog that puts the words "pimping architects" in their URL. Second of all (and more importantly), I'm glad to see someone saying what I've been saying for a long time: interns should be paid for their work--there's no such thing as an unpaid internship. If you've got the skills to be an intern, then you should be compensated--and fairly so--for having and using those skills. And not only are these guys saying it, but they're actually posting ads from firms (and using those firms' names) that advertise an "unpaid internship". Yes. Yes! YES!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Update: Decent news for interns in a not-quite-as-awful economy

A reader commented recently on a post I did back in May 2009, on some good news for interns in a crappy economy. His comment is below, starting with a quote from my post:

" If my mid-sized firm's billings have been at all-time low levels for the past 18 months and I've drained what little cash cushion I had, and now I need to ramp back up and complete some projects but also rebuild that cushion, it can be worth my while to hire an intern with only a year's worth of experience out of college than an unlicensed intern with six years' experience."

So what happens to that unlicensed intern with 6 years experience?
Are they doomed because the new normal dictates that someone with too much experience=too much pay?? Seems to me that those of us that have fulfilled most of our IDP requirements and have started testing are stuck in the proverbial gray area.
And what about BIM and Revit. From the time I was ;right-sized' (about a year and a half ago) to now, Revit has suddenly become the latest big requirement, and a deal-breaker for me with at least a couple of interviews. I realize that it's been nearly 2 years since this post, but I feel as though there is a huge pool of experienced talent out there right now that is basically hosed as far as ever working for any firm ever again.

That's an astute observation, and I don't have a firm, applies-across-the-board answer. Some of those 6-year interns will be able to find work at small and medium-sized firms that need good, experienced help but can't yet afford an architect's salary. Some of them will get licensed during the lull and be able to find work because they're licensed but willing to work for a little less. (Note: I'm not saying any of this is okay or we should all be happy that some of the best and brightest of our profession's future are being underpaid--I'm just saying what it is.) Some firms will pass over a 6-year intern for a 6-year architect because for them the pay differential is minimal compared to the benefits of having a licensed and motivated employee. And some of all of these same folks won't be able to find a position at a firm, and they'll have to find something else to do for a living. And some of those people are really good. And it sucks.

The decent news is that in the past 6 or so months, the work has been picking up and firms are hiring again. Not hiring hand over fist, but hiring nonetheless. The problem right now is ultimately that there's a huge pool from which firms can hire--you have a lot of competition for not that many jobs right now, and anything can make or break your chances of getting a job. If knowing how to use a particular form of drafting or graphics software appears to be the only thing keeping you from closing the deal, then take a class or get a friend to tutor you in it. Almost across the board, a firm will have a hard time hiring you if you're unlicensed and don't know how to use the software that you'll be using every day, because so many unemployed interns do have that experience and skill. Also, some firms will see an intern with 6 years of experience and think, "well, why isn't s/he licensed yet? It's been 6 years!" Those firms will pick someone who's licensed and has 6 years' experience over someone who's unlicensed and has the same 6 years' experience. (And some firms will hire the unlicensed person if they're in the process of testing because they feel like they're getting a motivated employee, especially if that intern has been spending their unemployed time getting licensed.)

The folks I see really suffering in our profession in this economy are the folks who went 10+ years without getting licensed as well as those who came to architecture late (i.e., not before the age of about 23 or so) and weren't licensed when they were laid off. Architecture, like many professions, does have an ageist streak, and most firms find it hard to pay a 43-year-old unlicensed intern more than they do a 31-year-old licensed architect. I recently met someone who works at the Department of Labor at a party, and she said that she's noticed a bit of hiring bias at companies across the board, regardless of what field they're in: it seems as if the best way to get a job is to already have one. Some companies will only hire you if you're already working in your field, because they think you have recent experience and your skills aren't rusty. (If this is true, it's a pretty bogus standard for hiring. People who have been unemployed for a while are probably pretty hungry for a chance to prove themselves and work in their field. Go figure.)

Conversely, I've seen firms hire interns with 6 or 7 years' experience because of what their experience was in, such as a particular project type. I know of firms that actively like taking in relatively inexperienced interns because the firms feel like they can "train them right" and not have to undo other firms' poor training. It just depends on the firm, what they like, and what they need. The best you can do is look at your skills, brush up on anything you feel is weak in your resume (if you can), and keep applying and interviewing. You just might be exactly what a firm is looking for.