Thursday, June 9, 2011

Using your skillz to pay the billz

I went to lunch with an intern at my office recently to find out how things were going for him, both project-wise and firm-wise.  The intern has only been at out firm for about three months, and he was put on my project about a month ago and really thrown into the fire.  Between bites of empanada, he told me that things were going well, but he was a little disappointed--he wasn't doing what he thought he'd be doing, the reason he thought we'd hired him in the first place.  When he interviewed at our firm, he explained that he was really good at working through a design into how it actually worked and got built.  He was great at Sketch-Up and used it as a design tool to then explain how to build something, then carry that design through to CDs.  However, for just about the whole three months he'd been with our firm, he was all Revit all the time.

I had to laugh a bit, mostly because I think our profession is a lot of "this is not what I thought I was going to be doing."  But I also tried to comfort him by revealing a bit of the Big Picture.  He may have wanted to do some design stuff in Sketch-Up, but the fact is that right now, when he was interviewing, we need people to draw designs that have already been partly- to mostly-thought out. But his skills aren't going to waste the way he might think.  Thing is, firms hear about plenty of interns (and architects, mind you) who want to design pretty stuff, but some of these folks will have a nervous breakdown if you  ask them to actually detail and figure out how to build it, how to make it so.  When my intern stated that he enjoys and is good at taking a design in Sketch-Up into the how-and-where, that's a great skill that transcends software platform.  That kind of thinking and problem-solving is useful and important in all areas of a design and construction project.  Further, the opportunity to use the exact skills and software he described will come.  He can remind people that he can do that (and he should remind them), but the chance to do what he enjoys will come.  It's just that we don't have the exact need right now...but we will.

When you tell potential or present employers about your strengths and skills, dn't just think about the exact situation and platform on which you're trying to do the work.  Think about the overall skills that you use when doing those tasks to which you feel particularly suited.  That intern of mine is now designing and coordinating the ceilings in a 250,000-sf medical building--he's working through design intent and ideas with one architect and the interior designers on one hand, and he's making it work with the mechanical and structural engineers on the other hand, all using Revit.  It may not be exactly what he hoped to do, but it uses the same skills.  Those are skills that firm managers can use now and in the future, which is how they make hiring decisions.

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