Monday, August 6, 2012

Lulu's Mailbag: I'm doing everything I can to get a job but nothing works--what now?!

I got a letter from M in Boston who has a dilemma that's likely familiar to many of you:

I am writing to you today because I feel very frustrated, demotivated and anxious about how my career path lately. A quick run down of my background :

Bachelor of Architecture, 2005 - Virginia Tech
Master of Architecture , 2007 - Virginia Tech
2007-2009 Architectural Designer job in a firm
2009-2010 Visiting Lecturer Position in Architecture at an international university for a year long contract.
2010 - 2011 : Hard time finding full time positions , upon returning from my international contract, so got back in to school.
2011: Associate in Construction Management - local community college.
2012 : Move to Boston and seeking full time position again, not only as Architectural Designer, but also as entry level construction manger, project coordinator or anything that will help  pursue my recent diversification towards construction management.

I am very interested in finishing my IDP and taking my AREs as soon possible. However, I am finding it very difficult to land a position in Boston as an Architectural Designer with my experience level. I have taken Revit classes and I know AutoCAD very well. I am great with Adobe CS - Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. Sometimes, most job postings make it seem like knowing Revit is the only prerequisite of getting a job as an entry level and it feels as if my education is not worth anything, even as a starter.

I have been very frustrated lately because of the lack of response I have been receiving from the firms around here. I doubt NYC will be any better for me because of the fierce competition and relocation issues. Friends and family know of my financial situation with colege loans piling up and now high costs of Boston living and they suggest branching out to "something else that will pay your bills for now". I get scared of moving away from architecture since I am already falling behind my regular Intern path towards registration. Is it going to be harder for me obtain positions because of the gaps I will have in my resume?

Please suggest how I may change things for myself so that I can still use my degrees and pursue my passion for architecture. I use Archinect, Indeed and Boston Society of Architect's job boards for my job search and am willing to relocate to NYC, Washington DC for positions as well. I have started studying for my AREs even if my IDP hours are not done because Massachusetts allows taking the exams before finishing hours.

Good question, M. I shared your email with a few colleagues that are professors/instructors and architects to get some additional input.  The sum total of my advice to you is this:

  1. Welcome to the club--you're in good company.
  2. Be willing to move to more than just Boston, New York, or DC.
  3. Whatever you decide will be okay.
Regarding item #1: Architecture is still taking a pounding in the economic recovery.  As a field in general, we haven't recovered as much as many other fields (insert any other profession here).  There are a lot of qualified, solid graduates and young professionals that can't find work in their field.  That's especially true of architects, who are waiting for developers and owners to release the capital to start designing and building; and of teachers and professors, who are seeing their positions and benefits and salaries get cut due to a lack of local, state, and federal revenue.  But some places are indeed growing and seeing some action, which leads me to Item #2. 

Item #2 is in your favor.  The fact that you've been willing to teach outside the U.S. tells me that you're not particularly having to live at home with your parents or other family members in order to get by, which is good.  You clearly have the guts to go out, see new places, and make things happen for yourself.  But I'll tell you that the two coasts--East and West--are mighty crowded right now with people trying to find jobs in areas with high costs of living.  If you're willing to live somewhere other than the three very large, very East Coast places you listed, you might find some great opportunities in your field.  NYC has a lot of competition, but what if a firm in Des Moines, Iowa, or Houston, Texas, or Casper, Wyoming suddenly had a need for an intern with both an architecture degree and experience and an understanding of construction management?  No, those might not be super-urbane places, but there's a lot of potential in between the coasts.  These smaller, un-Coast-ish markets might be excited to have someone as well-traveled as you.  Plus, your cost of living will most likely be less than it would be in Boston/NYC/DC. 

Item #3 is about ultimate reality.  You might prefer to live in NYC and wait tables rather than be an intern and construction estimator in Omaha, Nebraska.  That is your choice.  And whatever that choice is, you'll be okay.  The truth about architecture is that your education is the cover charge that gets you into the nightclub that is our profession, and knowing Revit gets you a seat at the bar or on one of the nice cushioned benches.  Revit and rendering skills, or even Revit and construction management skills, gets you a spot in the center of the dance floor or even up in the DJ booth.  The real value of your education is that you've learned how to think like an architect, which is a skill that few people in proportion to the overall U.S. population posess.  You can look at a problem and think of five ways to solve it, whereas most people only can see one or maybe two.  Your education and experience so far has equipped you in a weird way to do well no matter what you decide, as hard as that is to see right now.  You might end up as a clerk at a department store...and with a little time and initiative you're doing the store windows for a three-state area because you have amazing ideas about space and color and design and adviertising.  You may become a vendor for a lighting company, and you eventually parlay that into something involving lighting for commercials and theater.  You may move to Cheboygan, Wisconsin to work with a 20-person firm to do cost estimating, and you turn it into your own estimation consulting firm once you get your license.
Whatever you do, your initiatives and effort won't be wasted.  Take a deep breath, consider your options, and flip off the naysayers.

All the best,


  1. I work for DiGiorgio Associates in Boston and we have been getting busier and are looking to bring on a few reliable people. M, go to http://daiarchitects com/firm/careers/open-positions/ and submit your resume.

    Hopefully something works out.

    -INTERNal Architect

  2. Great post! I meant to comment back when it first appeared, but had a series of DERP! moments. Sorry.

    M's resume kicks all kinds of butt, and s/he can do sooooo much with all that varied experience. Someone who's traveled and worked outside the country is a prize, as s/he tends to adjust well to major changes in workplace and surroundings. M's graphics skills are a boon as well. How I wish I could use Illustrator!

    M, you are going to do very well. It's just tough to see beyond your temporary situation right now. Try that smaller city or firm--I bet you'll blow everyone away with your skills and experience, and you may end up loving smaller-city life. I have friends who've settled in the most unlikely of places, found their niches, and are now so glad they didn't try for the cliched "big city job." Where they are now is so much more rewarding.

    Hope you'll update Lulu in a few months. I, for one, would love an update. :-)

  3. I feel the OP's pain, graduated in 2009, yet to have a full time job in architecture. Feels bad. IDP at 0%. :(

    Hopef you found a job OP.