Sunday, May 29, 2011

Happy Memorial Day 2011!

I hope everyone's taking advantage of this three-day weekend (well, my U.S. readers are, anyway) and getting some downtime.  I once worked both days of the weekend for several months in a row, and I was tempted one year to work through Memorial Day.  It was then that my husband threw a fit, stating emphatically that I had the right to a holiday like everyone else, no matter what my workload, and that he himself would go scream at my boss (we worked at the same office at the time) if I worked that weekend.  Hence, I stayed home and was much better for it.

It's tempting to use our holidays as opportunities to get "caught up" on things, whether work-related or domestic, but we all really need a break to go for a walk, have a cookout, or just stare at the sky and do nothing.  Hope you're all enjoying the holiday weekend, to-do-list free!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Back from New Orleans, and pausing for thought

I presented my seminar on intern mentorship and training Saturday morning at this year's national AIA convention in New Orleans (Mary, Joseph, and Fumihiko Maki bless everyone who dragged out of bed and showed up for my 7am show!), and it appeared to be well-received for the second year in a row.  (Though I have yet to receive the reviews for the presentation...we'll see.)  It would seem that there are people--many firm owners and high-level managers--who are interested in and understand the importance of good intern training and mentorship.  But as I looked out on the 50 or so folks who bothered to show up for a 7am seminar and discussion on intern mentoring, I realized that my words fall on the ears of the already-partially- or fully-converted.  No one's going to get out of bed to see a presentation that they're not really into or don't really care about or agree with.

So, I've been wondering: how do I get the word out to architects and project managers that a) aren't self-selecting to come to these seminars, and/or b) to put a word in the ears of those who might not be as interested in the topic?  I mean, look at the green/environmental issue--I'm sure few people would really consider themselves really into the environmental movement and sustainability, and yet I bet a majority of people in any decent-sized city recycle and have at least one CFL in their house.  Is it a different website?  A book?  (Someone's asked me about writing one, and I've been toying with the idea.)  A Bansky-esque piece of graffiti on the wall of an AIA office somewhere?

I've returned to Denver for yet another deadline, so once I've had a chance to catch up and let the  dust settle, I'll be sharing some of the intern and architect survey results with you.

Monday, May 9, 2011

If it weren't for the last minute, I'd get nothing done.

Apologies for the lack of posts, all.  I'm getting ready to present a seminar on intern training and mentoring at the National AIA Convention in New Orleans in six days, and I'm having to tie up loose ends at work so that I don't leave my colleagues hanging while I'm gone for four days.  When I get back and have a moment to collect my thoughts, I'll post on the results of my interns and architects survey, which turned out to be quite eye-opening.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: I'm still unemployed; time to quit architecture?

I received a timely email from "K", and I bet a lot of you are wondering the same thing s/he is asking here.  

I graduated last May with my Masters degree from an accredited university, and at the top of my class. Since then I have applied for over 100 jobs in many different areas, had few interviews, and am having zero-luck in the field of architecture. It is approaching the one year mark of unemployment, and I am highly discouraged. 
I have been trying to make myself more marketable, studying to be a LEED Green Associate, brushing up to stay current on software, even teaching myself new software.  Even if I could find an unpaid position, I am simply unable to work for free with all of my loans.

When is it time to abandon all that I have worked so hard for? My student loans are just accruing interest, becoming more impossible to pay. I have been forced to move back home because I cannot afford to pay rent. How should I proceed in this job market where I cannot acquire a position in architecture or a related field? How will this affect my chances in the future when employers see such a gap in work experience?

Good questions, all of them.  I've been getting so many of these kinds of emails over the past year-plus that it's nearly demoralizing (and sometimes, frankly, I feel like I'm repeating myself).  So in a fit of brilliance (?), I forwarded K's questions to my husband, Mr. Lulu (Hubby) Brown.  Hubby has worked at more than one firm in his lifetime, unlike me.  He also had some difficulty getting a job right out of college during the 1990s, so I thought he might have something useful to say here.  I've reprinted Hubby's responses to K below, with my commentary in a contrasting color afterwards (wherever I felt like I should add something).

It is a desperate time. There is no gap really, since you have not worked. You are in transition and it's ok.  I agree--if you're just getting out of school during 2008-2011, and you have little to no architectural experience on your resume, any employer with half a brain knows that you're a victim of the economy.  No harm, no foul.
1) Are you committed to staying in architecture? If not, start looking into good paying careers outside of architecture. If yes go to 2.
2) Get a part time or full time job to pay some bills. Apply in any state and for every job you can find and get a job. Live cheap and start paying you loans. Limit your exposure to loan deferment. It will cost you later. And you want to be able to defer later if needed. No firm is too small. Also, go to the local AIA for the directory and send resumes out to every other firm you did not apply to. 100 resumes sent in a year is not even close to what a serious job hunt would require. This is not the time to pick and choose; it's time to get work.  
I concur with the get-a-job-in-general suggestion, especially in 2011 when the economy is picking up slowly across the board.  I recently met an engineering intern who got a job for the past year as a lighting fixture representative, but she's about to move to California to start working as an EIT with an electrical engineering firm.  That's another thing about getting hired right now: you need to be willing to relocate for work, which is how both Hubby and I found our jobs here in Colorado.  100 resumes in a year in a down economy is relative to where you live; if you're in the Northeast, then you're just scratching the surface with 100 resumes/year, but if you're in Wyoming, then you've probably sent one to everyone within 300 miles of you.  Either way, it's time to get a job in any field so that you can put off deferring your student loans (which Hubby has done before, with only mediocre results).
3) After a year minimum experience you can a) Then you can start looking where you really wanted to live and apply for jobs you really want. Hopefully the market will be better by then, or b) figure out that you like where you are and finish your licensing after 3+ years. 
FYI #1 - If money is your priority, jumping after one year is your best bet, even if you like where you're at. But jump too much and you gain no loyalty at a firm.  A little firm-jumping can increase your income, but a lot of firm jumping means that you don't stay anywhere long enough to have anyone really fight to keep you if things got tight at a firm and layoffs needed to happen.
FYI #2 - You should be ready for the LEED exam after two to four weeks of solid studying, so just get it done.
This is what I, Lulu's husband, did and it worked well for me. I did not start working until I was about 6 months out of school and it never hurt my career. I was able to start saving serious money after five years and am still paying the minimum on his student loans. When times were tough, I deferred for 12 months. Just depends on how nice you want to live. But that is the only debt I have.  How nice you want to live...this is a very good point.  I've had interns at my firm complain about how much they made, but then they drove off in a one-year-old Audi to a downtown Denver loft apartment.  It might be worth it to work with your parents (or whoever you've moved back in with) to get started saving for moving expenses, a down payment on an apartment, or some similar savings plan while you pay off student loans and credit card bills.  I realized that by moving one mile away from my office in 2000 (from downtown Denver to a more residential/mixed-use neighborhood), I saved $400 a month in rent and parking garage expenses.  Getting a roommate (who later became my husband, coincidentally) saved me an additional few hundred a month.  Put plainly, it really sucked that I couldn't make it on my own out of college, and I think that's the big bait-and-switch that a lot of college graduates are given, regardless of their major.  But we have to be realistic in those first few years about how well we "need" to live in order to get through this once-every-70-years recession.

If you have a topic you'd like to see discussed or a question to have answered here on Intern 101, feel free to ask in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  And don't forget to take the 2011 Intern 101 Survey for Interns and Architects!  The survey for interns is here, and the survey for architects is here.  Please take the survey and forward to your friends and colleagues, both licensed and unlicensed.  Thanks!