Monday, October 31, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: How do I follow my heart and my profession cross country?

I got the following question/conundrum from B.G., who I'm sure isn't the Lone Ranger with this problem:

I am an intern architect with four years of full-time experience, presently employed at locally reputable, 20 person office on the East coast. I am also a LEED AP BD+C and am starting to study for the ARE. My boyfriend moved to the West coast last year to attend a 5 year phd program. We have made it long distance for a year and I am now in the process of the looking for work out West near where my boyfriend goes to school. Previously, I went to grad school out West, but not in the same city so I have no connections. I have been applying to jobs for a month now and am worried I won't find anything (my boyfriend reapplied to schools this year, but was unable to get in anywhere else). Additionally as a young intern architect, I can't financially afford to move out there without a job. Recently, I have been peer reviewing my job application documents with a more experienced colleague which I believe has been an improvement, but overall I am worried and the situation is causing me massive anxiety. Do you have any advice for my job search?

Ah, yes, the moving-cross-country for love and work problem.  In our modern, heavily-mobile society, it's a big problem for folks of all professions and frankly of all ages.  First, let's assess the economy: you had been looking for a job for a month when you wrote me this question back in the summer (and I apologize for not getting back to you sooner).  In this abject economy (and even now), I would have been amazed if you had been able to find something in just one month.  There's a lot of competition for jobs right now, so don't be surprised if you're having a hard time finding something.  Having someone review your resume and help you punch it up a bit is a good thing.  It's always good to have a fresh set of eyes on a document that you've slaved over, and it's especially helpful if those eyes have hired people before--they know what to look for and what can catch someone's eye (or make them drop you into File 13).

Now, let's look at your job search from a couple of different angles.  First off, you lament that you have no connections in your BF's new hometown.  Bummer.  Wait, aren't you working at a firm now?  Do they know of anyone even remotely in that area?  For that matter, would anyone at a local networking event full of architects know someone on the West Coast looking for a sharp soon-to-be-licensed architect?  Here's where you work this the way the social site LinkedIn is supposed to work: you go meet people and talk to people, and they know people who are where you want to be, and they connect you with those people.  Yes, it's a bit of a stretch, but it just might work.  You'll need to get yourself in front of those people, so find the next AIA wine and cheese event being touted, put on a good suit, and get thee to it.

Next, you mention that you cannot move unless you have a job in place.  Fair enough, and it's good planning as well.  But must it be a straight-up architecture job?  I don't mean you should get hired at Starbucks and then move, but perhaps you could work for a contractor or even for an architectural product company.  I recently met a sharp young woman who graduated from school as an electrical engineer just as the economy tanked, so she started working as a product rep/consultant/designer for a lighting fixture company.  The job held her over for a couple of years, and in the course of her job she met dozens of great engineering firms, one of which was eventually able to hire her full the state to which her fiance had just moved.  What I'm saying is that your experience may allow you to branch out to work in more than just straight-up-vanilla architecture for the time being, which could give you the moolah needed to move to be with your sweetie.

(Bear in mind that no matter how you find a potential job out West, chances are good that you'll need to fly there for a face-to face interview, unless they'll settle for some hot Skype-on-Skype action.  Make sure you've budgeted for that trip, or trips if need be.)

Got a question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like to see discussed on Intern 101?  Let me know in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  Thanks!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Taking the ARE early? Woohoo!

I received an email from Intern 101 reader Joe, who passed along info on taking the ARE early.  Indeed, some states allow you to take some or all portion of the ARE before you have completed the required work hours.  You can find a list of what each state/jurisdiction allows by clicking here.

 NCARB brought itself into alignment with this movement in 2011 and spoke at length about the changes at the 2011 National Convention in New Orleans in May.  To NCARB, all you need is three things: the accredited education, the time spent in an approved work environment, and to pass all seven sections of the test.  Who cares what order you do them in?  While my inner fuddy-duddy harrumphs at this, I overall think it's a good thing. I think of interns in my office who have been hamstrung by the crappy economy and haven't been able to finish their on-site CA credits.  With this rule in effect, they can start taking tests while waiting for a project to make it all the way to construction and finish their credits then.  I also think of interns who have been laid off and unable to find a new job.  With at least some of their credits in place, they can start testing while they have some time to study.

However, I would warn against anyone coming straight out of school and immediately starting into the tests.  Why?  Two reasons.  Number one: While you do need to study for the ARE regardless of how long it's been since you were in college, some of the stuff on the tests makes more sense when you've actually seen or done it on a job.  And number two: you may decide you don't want this.  Yes, that's a weird thought to have, but plenty of gung-ho students realize a couple of years into the profession that they don't want to do this anymore.  That's already a real downer after 4-6 years of schooling, but it's even suckier when you've dropped several hundred dollars on licensing tests that you'll never use.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: Racism in architecture?

Recently, I got the following email from B, who was concerned about:

Lately I've been having a really hard time trying to find internships because of my race. I'm a minority and everywhere I go I have to face racial comments and criticisms. I'm starting to get really discouraged. Do you think that this profession is open to minorites, such as Latinos, Asians, and African Americans? And should I continue to try and find an internship or just give up?

It's a fair question, B, and one that's admittedly a little hard for me to answer.  I'm a white woman in Colorado (where the racial makeup is only about 10% African-American and about 30% Hispanic), and before that I was a white woman in the South (where black and white were about 50-50 when I left in 2000, though Hispanics had been moving into the South for the ten years before I moved out), so my race has never been an issue (and my gender only rarely has been an issue).  

But  that leads me to my first question: where are you looking for jobs?  Are you in Yazoo County, Mississippi, or in the greater Los Angeles area?  I'm only half kidding.  I don't know what is your country of origin (I've withheld your name in this post), so I can't imagine what you look like or what your accent sounds like or any other factors that might lead someone to be biased against you and not hire you.  But I can imagine that if you're looking for a job in a smaller market (say, Witchita KS versus Philadelphia PA), and you're competing for jobs with a bunch of people who look exactly like the people running the firm, and people in that smaller market aren't used to seeing people like you on a regular basis, then I imagine you're going to have a harder time getting a job.  

I'm also trying to imagine where you are that you're actively hearing racist comments and criticisms on a regular basis, even in 2011.  Even in the small town in Georgia where I was raised, people say rude and ignorant things under their breath, but they at least have the good sense not to say them out loud where everyone can hear.  I'm also going to ask a possibly sensitive/emotionally- and politically-charged question:  How's your English?  Do you have a solid grasp of not just vocabulary but also grammar and even slang phrases?  Do you speak with much of an accent?  Accents can be off-putting to some firms, especially if they're in small markets, because they're concerned that you don't know English well enough to understand what a client or consultant (or even your boss) is asking of you.  

The reason I'm asking these questions is that architecture can be very accepting of different minorities, but it can depend on where you are in the country when you're looking for a job.  Hell, it even varies from firm to firm--I know of firms full of white guys in Manhattan, and I know of a small firm in Cody, Wyoming that has people from Colombia and Trinidad working on hospitals all over the West. Even when people aren't actively being racist (i.e., thinking "Man, I would never hire him/her because s/he's black/Asian/Hispanic"), people can be subtly, almost subconsciously or unintentionally racist.  You just don't look like everyone else at the firm or in the area, and something in their head says "no."  Or, they may see and/or hear you and think, "Well, s/he looks perfect for the job, but I don't think my clients will warm to him/her."

I found a great report on interns in architecture that included a dissection of how welcome minorities felt in the profession.  (To find your own copy, Google "AIA Demographic Diversity Final Report".  For some reason, no longer has it posted easily on their website, not that I can find anyway.)  The report, compiled in 2005, indicated that of its respondents, about a third of women and minorities reported having experienced some kind of harassment or bias while working, and about a third of respondents felt that there were not equal opportunities for women and minorities.  Having spoken with people from other professions, it would seem that architecture is no better or worse for minorities than any other white collar profession (though architecture school seems to do a better job of leveling the playing field for genders and races). The AIA has initiatives regarding diversity, but your best bet might be the National Organization of Minority Architects.  Your question might be better directed to them, and they may have better resources regarding support for minority architects.

So B., the short answer is this: yes, there is a place for everyone in architecture; sometimes it's a matter of looking for the right fit (and in the right places).

Got a question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like to see discussed here?  Drop me a line in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  Thanks!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: How to handle a colleague doing personal work at work

While I was ill and working (I know, I know, and after all my preaching against presenteeism...), I got the following email from longtime Intern 101 reader Intern Timmy.  Here's his story of dealing with a colleague at his office who was clearly doing outside work at his day job:

My colleague "Laura" and I began noticing that our co-worker Seth was taking a lot of personal phone calls at work.  Our office is small and relatively quiet so it's pretty easy to overhear anything.  (It's a been a long-known fact that he does work on the side, and it's work that our company wouldn't do so it's non-competing and okay for him to be doing on the side.)  The problem we had was it seemed like every day he would be on the phone from 30 minutes up to 2 hours.  All the while he was supposed to be working on actual billable tasks ... and to our knowledge he wasn't putting in any extra time after hours to make up for whatever time he spent on his personal jobs.  Our firm does a lot of government projects, and tracking what you worked on and who you billed is a big deal since our government clients do sometimes audit this information.  If it isn't tracked correctly, our office can be in a A LOT of trouble.

These phone calls had been going on for a while, and we were becoming increasingly upset by it because all of us were busy working on a lot of projects and project-related tasks.  Seth was supposed to be busy too...but he apparently wasn't if he had so much time to do this stuff.  Also frustrating is that now and then between these calls, Seth had helped us out on some projects, and usually any part he worked on required one of us to go back and fix his work (keep in mind, Seth is licensed), so it was frustrating seeing him take these personal calls in between screwing up our projects and causing us extra work.  The more junior staff was pretty ticked off by it, but none of us had said anything.  Finally, Laura and I decided we can keep bitching about this internally or we can do something about it.  We considered going to our manager--but there's a side story there I'll tell you about in a moment--so instead we decided to just go to HR because of the time sheet problems that his "work" were causing.

We met with the HR person and told her our concerns; she agreed with us that it's a problem and suggested we talk to our manager and let him know and that HR needs to be part of this conversation.  So we set up a time to meet and put it out on the table.  HR was very helpful and wanted to see something done, which is good.  Our manager agreed to talk to him and let him know that it cannot occur in that capacity at work without him making up the time.  Before the manager could even talk to Seth, another employee complained to HR as well.  This forced the issue, and finally our manager spoke with Seth.  It took him a week from the initial complaint to when it was handled, which is too long IMHO.

The side story about the manager: our manager is in my opinion someone who probably shouldn't be manager.  It's not that he's not a good guy or bad at architecture (he's good at designing and great at detailing a building).  But he avoids conflict and the fact that HR said something needs to be done and 2 of his staff voiced serious concerns about the issue... you'd think that would make him jump at the problem and solve it quickly.  The fact that a week later nothing had been done and it took another person completely unrelated to the first complaint to force the issue is unacceptable.

Since the complaint/conversation, the phone calls at Seth's desk have declined; I won't say they've ended because we see him leave his desk with his phone and then come back 30 minutes later.  But, at least they've subsided.  He still isn't a very "trusted" member of our group because of all the mistakes he's made and the lackluster way he does complete tasks.  

Intern Timmy, it sounds like you and your colleague did the best thing you could do given the circumstances.  And actually, a week is an unsurprising amount of time between the manager hearing a complaint and finally doing something about it.  He may have been waiting for a good time to talk with Seth.  Since it's a small office, he might have been waiting for Seth to be alone or almost alone before he pulled him into a conference room so that he could speak with him without embarrassing him.  However, I do wonder if it took only a week because of the extra complaint.  It very likely could have taken longer.  The fact is that most managers and bosses hate confrontation and will avoid it at nearly all costs.  Just as we often complain that architects are lacking in business acumen, I find that they often also lack in managerial and communication skills as well.

And that's part of the sad truth about not just architecture but most professions--people advance into managerial positions with incomplete skill sets.  Your manager, like a lot of architects that advance up the ladder in a firm, is a great architect and a so-so manager.  One of the best, most useful skills you can develop as an intern is good communication skills, which include being able to confront people in a respectful way.  It's a skill that most people, regardless of their major, don't have (or don't have much of), so if you can develop this in even a small way, you'll be ahead of the pack.    The fact that you and Laura were able to triage the situation, consider the best plan of attack (i.e., talking to HR before the manager, and to frame the problem as a timesheet/auditing issue), and express your concerns in what was hopefully a respectful manner--those are good skills to have.  Again, it sounds like you did the best you could.  You'll probably not be able to stop the behavior totally, but at least more than one person in the management food chain knows that you know that this person is acting inappropriately, making it harder for management to ignore the behavior in the future if it escalates or morphs into some other unethical activity.

Got a question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like to see discussed here?  Drop me a line in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  Thanks!

Monday, October 3, 2011

A cold and a deadline? Why, you shouldn't have!

Folks, it’s been one of those weeks…well, one of those months, really.  Not only do I have a 100% CD deadline a week from today, I have a cold/flu/bubonic death funk to beat the band.  And here I was, all excited to get some Redlined Resumes done and posted.  No such luck.

I beg your pardon while I get through this deadline and illness simultaneously.  Meanwhile, I was sent a great website that provides basic references for architects.  ArchToolbox has all kinds of wonderful little bits on it—basic info on spacing sprinkler heads, this difference between all the cuts of lumber (plain, quarter, etc.), different types of locksets, and so on.  (Man, where was this website 11 years ago when I first started working? :-) )  While it’s not complete with every single thing you ever wanted to know about architecture, it can give you a good start on understanding many of the building blocks of design and construction (or in my case, a good refresher course!).