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.

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