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Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of researching a prospective employer before beginning the interview process. Not only will this help you to build up your confidence, it is also a strategic move that you can use to refine your pitch for the position.

But while pre-interview research is an important step, it’s not the whole picture. What often happens is that job seekers are so focused on answering interview questions that they forget they are there to ask questions too. What these candidates don’t realise is that the questions they come prepared with can actually help them to stand out among the pool of other applicants.

That said, there are of course “right” questions and “wrong” questions. We’ll focus here on the right ones.

Asking the right questions at an interview is important for three reasons:

  1. It shows you have an interest in the position and the firm.
  2. It confirms your qualifications as a candidate for the position.
  3. When you ask the questions, the table gets turned, literally. You become the interviewer trying to find out if this firm is a place where you want to work.

While there are many good questions that you can ask on an interview, here are ten to get you started.

  1. What kind projects would I typically be working on? Here you are trying to get a sense of the nature of the projects you will be focused on. What is their size and scope, and what are the expected outcomes?
  2. Who would I be working with? There are several facets to this question. First, you will find out which people you will be interacting with and how often. You will also get a taste of the firm’s hierarchy and organisation. Finally, if you listen carefully, you may be able to pick up important information about the work environment, such as how competitive versus collaborative the employees are.
  3. Would my work be focused only on one area or on several areas together? Here you are trying to get an idea of how broad your responsibilities will be and which skill sets will be relied upon and developed. Typically, smaller firms offer more opportunities for employees to juggle several, often disparate responsibilities. Depending on what you are looking for, this can be either exciting or stressful.
  4. Why is this position available? What you want to know is if this is a new position. If it’s not, then why did the previous person leave? If the previous employee was fired for not performing sufficiently or quit, then it could be a red flag to keep in mind.
  5. Is there anything you can tell me about the position that isn’t in the description?(Ok, I know most firms in Architecture and Interior Design don’t have position descriptions to read, however, by now you should know what the role entails). Here you are indirectly getting a sense of the work environment and the expectations that come along with the position.
  6. What defines success at this position? This question directly deals with the on-the-job expectations. It also indirectly hints to your desire to be successful at the firm.
  7. What are the opportunities for growth and development? Does this firm offer continuing education programs, professional training, or mentoring? What are the promotional and leadership paths at the firm, and how are employees chosen to participate? Is equity participation down the track something that the firm offers for star performers?
  8. What do you like most about working here? Pay close attention to how the interviewer answers this question! It’s not just what’s being said over here, but how. Is there any hesitation? How comfortably does the interviewer respond? Either you’ll get a confirmation that the firm is a great place to work, or you’ll walk away with some red flags to consider.
  9. What is in the works for the firm going forward? The answer to the question will give you a good idea of where the employer is headed. Is the firm growing, entering new markets, or taking on any new big projects? Is there a drive to make the firm better?
  10. Where do we go from here?This is a good closing question. You are basically asking what the next step in the hiring process will be, and it also shows that you are still interested in the position.

Bottom line: the best interviews are conversations. It doesn’t matter how formal the setup is. The candidate can almost always turn it around. In the end, both the candidate and the hiring team should walk away with more clarity about whether or not there is a good fit. At the end of the day, that is the goal.

 

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Running a successful architecture practice has become more challenging over the last few years. Prior to the global recession in 2008, the biggest headache facing firms was finding qualified and experienced staff to complete projects and keep the practice running smoothly.

Flash forward ten years… Today, though hiring is still a challenge, we can add to that list the fact that securing projects has become more competitive, and the design and build process is only growing in complexity. This is aside from the fact that engineering and construction firms have been encroaching on architectural turf by offering architecture and design services of their own.

Firms are getting squeezed from all angles.

While some mostly smaller studios have been adjusting to the new climate by altering their business models (and there is a growing pressure across the industry to follow suit) the transformation overall has been slow in coming.

Predictably, much of that resistance to change is happening among the bigger, more established names in architecture. Perhaps the principals at these firms believe they can afford to hold on to a few bad habits or that the cost of change is just too high.

But just like most bad habits, it will catch up with you at some point. Without making the effort to fundamentally update the way they operate and manage resources, they run the risk of being left behind. Already many of these firms are significantly limiting their ability to attract good clients, hire and retain top talent, and maximise profits.

That said, here are three of the biggest mistakes firms are still making today that when corrected can lead to a significant increase in profit margins, improve staff retention and performance, and aid in client acquisition.

1. Poor resource management. Concepts such as resource management often don’t get the attention they deserve, yet it’s impact is felt throughout the firm. Here are a few examples of firms not investing enough in the organisation and development of the resources at their disposal:

·      Out-dated systems. I’m amazed at how many firms are still using technology developed more than 20 years ago. These out-dated systems are not taking advantage of the newer technology and ultimately leave the firm at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to project design and management as well as financial responsibility.

·      Insufficient or inappropriate staffing. This happens when a team is not suitable for the project requirements, when members of the team don’t have the right skills or experience and are poorly coordinated. Often this results in a big gap between what the client is paying for and what the team is actually delivering.

·      Inadequate training. Most project managers never receive the training they need in order to do their jobs effectively. Project managers are expected to handle a wide array of details including time and resource management, budgeting, and billing, and they must be experts in the systems used to support all of these processes. Yet, rarely do they get trained in many of these areas.

2. Hiring the wrong people. Many architecture professionals are ill-suited to their assigned duties. There are a few reasons for this.

Some architecture firms right now are stuck between two opposing forces when it comes to securing work: the drive to keep fees low and project schedules tight on one hand coupled with an increasing laundry list of “standard” services on the other. To help bridge the gap, the number of typical responsibilities that need to be shouldered on the job have multiplied, and many architecture professionals have started to complain that they are really doing the job of two or three people even at big, resource-rich firms.

Technology is also taking over some traditionally manual responsibilities- especially in the area of design.

In between all of this, most firms do not have real systems in place to develop, train and groom their top talent.

The professionals who “succeed” in this work environment are those with a breadth of experience (though not necessarily depth) who can multitask and can quickly do many things relatively well. Such desired qualities are affecting recruiting efforts. Instead of looking for long-term potential top talent, there is more focus being placed on a short-term quick fix: those who have the ability to churn out work. This may help firms to get through projects quicker and for less, but there tends to be a huge cost in work quality, the customer experience, and employee retention.

3. Giving in to unreasonable client demands. The urge not to say no to any work that comes through the door is an ailment that affects many practices big and small. Unreasonable client demands, such as wanting something in an unrealistic time frame or given an insufficient budget can put a costly strain on practices with not enough of a payback.

Exceptional requests should be built into the project budget. Period. If clients want something that goes beyond the norm, then they should be paying for it. Not doing so leads to overworked staff, smaller profit margins, lower employee morale, and less focus. Though the attitude may be that no client should ever be turned away, that the firm can handle the added expense and absorb the extra costs, it shouldn’t have to, and the truth is in most cases, it really can’t.

Above all, in business (and architecture is a business after all) there are no short cuts. When the market shifts and evolves, the firms that will be the most successful are the ones that know how and where evolve along with it.

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In an earlier article, I discussed some of the benefits to young architecture candidates of working for a small studio. As an executive recruiter, I’ve found over the years that architecture candidates coming from smaller firms tend to be more passionate about the field, more well-rounded and adaptable, and more in touch with their career goals.

But, this does not mean that big architecture firms are without opportunities. To the contrary, the range of possibilities for personal development and career advancement can be staggering.

A lot, however, really depends on how you use your time. Unlike the flexible, all-hands-on-board structure of a small practice, when you enter a large firm, what you are really doing is becoming part of a large, often immutable machine with established practices and deeply ingrained culture. Within such an environment, you will have to work harder and put up with more daily annoyances in order to take advantage of all that the large firm has to offer. You also absolutely have to be more disciplined, be out-going enough to make the personal connections that count, and have clear career objectives from the start. Without these things in place, you could easily get lost in the shuffle, or worse, become despondent and turned off to the whole design process.

Why and When to Consider Working in a Large Architecture Firm

While the description “large architecture firm” can mean different things to different people, I’m going to focus here on the well-known names in the industry- the famous, international studios that attract the best and brightest architecture talent. These firms have a global footprint, massive resources, and a reputation that precedes them. They offer young architects three very important benefits that smaller firms can’t offer:

  1. The scope of projects. Bigger firms work on an international scale and often take on big, high profile projects that include iconic urban buildings, busy transportation hubs, and huge office complexes. Working on an international project, gives you the opportunity to learn about new cultures and environments, and maybe even get in some traveling. You can be a part of the process from the inside, watching the various aspects of the project develop, evolve, and come together over time- not just read about it after the fact in some design magazine. Best of all, you may find the experience of contributing to something that will affect thousands or even millions of people exhilarating.
  2. The networking potential. In the world of architecture and design, success is not just about who you are and what you know, it’s about who you know. The larger and more established the firm, the more opportunities you have to meet other professionals and connect to the best talent in the industry. The networking potential is further facilitated by the open plan and “collaborative” structure that many firms are embracing these days. What this means is that you will have greater access to senior leaders than ever before.

A final point to keep in mind: depending on your position, you may also get exposure to clients, developers, and vital architecture support professionals, such as IT experts and project managers. All of this can be useful later on if you chose to start your own practice.

  1. The available resources. By this I mean both physical and human resources. As I mentioned earlier, larger firms can afford to hire the best talent and implement the most effective tools. They also tend to support comprehensive training, leadership development, and educational programs.

Aside from the fact that larger firms are a repository of highly talented and experienced architecture and design professionals, they also support a wide array of specialised departments and cutting edge technologies. While all of this is meant to assist architects throughout their project, what it means for you as an architecture professional is that it’s possible to change positions and explore a new role without leaving the firm. When you are just starting out, having the option to experiment a bit can help you to refine your career goals.

In short, large firms offer a wealth of opportunity, but only to those willing and determined to go out there, work hard, and use the system to forge their own path.

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A number of diverse, evolving factors are set to shape the way architecture projects are designed and built over the next year that will have architecture firms of all sizes scrambling to keep up. Not only will technological advancements continue to revolutionise the architecture industry, both on the inside and out, but there has been an on-going and pervasive shift in client preferences and requirements. Architecture firms throughout the world are now facing a new standard in the project research, design, and build process that will significantly impact their business model.

Here is my pick of five of the biggest and most influential architecture trends to watch out for in 2017:

  1. Functionality comes first. Form will follow function as more clients embrace “quieter,” more conservative designs that offer practical solutions to their everyday problems. On the surface it may seem like this new urge for simplification is merely a sober step down from the dizzying heights of artistic expression. Don’t be fooled. The simplicity belies a tremendous amount of complexity. It’s why I believe this will be one of the greatest architecture trends to shape 2017. There are several factors that will significantly affect architectural functionality and design:
  •     The first is the Internet of Things, which is a growing inter-connectivity between devices, buildings, and the internet. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that architects need to be technologically savvy. Here is yet another area to consider.
  •     But as clients demand connectivity, they also want spaces that allow them to detach from it- spaces that give them a sense of comfort, stability, and ease. If this sounds like a contradiction to the preceding factor, it isn’t. The technology will no doubt be there; it just will be expertly hidden.
  •     Another important factor is the concept of transformable spaces that can be quickly and efficiently altered to suit the changing needs of the users. This isn’t just about convertible furniture. Transformable elements are increasingly being worked into architectural structures in both the public and private sectors.
  •     Finally, there has been an increasing demand for the use of sustainable materials, energy and water saving designs, and the incorporation of alternative energy harvesting methods.
  1. Collaboration like we have never seen before. As the architecture design and building processes respond to new technologies, end-user needs, economic concerns, and environmental issues, we are going to see architecture firms expand their teams to include a wide range of experts from a variety of fields. Expect to see more scientists, engineers, environmental experts, and technology professionals playing active roles in building projects over the next year.
  2. The rise of private clients with high-profile, public projects. Private and public sectors will continue to merge, as an increasing number of big corporations demand buildings and amenities that serve the greater public- whether partially or completely.

For example, several major corporations, like Facebook, Google, and Apple, support headquarters that are their own mini cities. Aside from private grounds that hold a complicated network of workspaces, restaurants, recreation areas, and mini transportation hubs, these complexes often integrate with a variety of public amenities, such as parks, paths, and public buildings. Another famous example is Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation museum in Paris.

  1. The increasing use of technology in project design and construction.

As I mentioned above, in our modern, hyper-connected world, architectural design will continue to incorporate an increasing number of complex factors. In order to plan for these factors in a sustainable and profitable way, architecture firms will be increasing their reliance on Building Information Modeling (BIM) and other tools, such as big data and virtual reality. When they are used in the right way, these tools will help architects reduce costs and production time and can improve project design by increasing building functionality and efficiency.

  1. Consolidation among studios. In a report released by research consulting firm Zweig Group about two years ago, more than two thirds of architecture and interiors firms stated that their strategic plans for the next five years included either a merger or an acquisition. I expect this trend to continue strong throughout 2017 as firms seek out new ways to attract clients. One strategy that’s gaining in popularity is to offer a broad range of services that tend to compliment architectural design, such as interior design, engineering, construction, and landscaping. M&A’s also allow architecture firms to enter new and emerging markets in order to capitalise on growth opportunities.

In short, the pace of change in the architecture industry is quickening. The architecture firms that will succeed in this environment are the ones that clearly recognise and decidedly respond to these rapidly evolving currents.

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A number of people in the industry have been asking me to share my views on some of the new job titles currently circulating among architecture firms. So, here’s my take…

There are a significant number of up and coming architecture professionals out there today who are feeling undervalued and unsatisfied at work. While such feelings of discontent may be connected to several factors, such as work-life balance and compensation, the truth is the title that these individuals hold within the profession can be a big, yet overlooked part of the problem.

The issue is not so much about semantics, but more about a fundamental need for a job title that accurately describes the work being performed as well as the experience and knowledge of the person holding it. Few things are more frustrating and discouraging to talented, hardworking professionals than having a title next to their name that is ambiguous, belittling, or even misleading.

Not only does this send a confusing signals as to where these employees are holding in the equity ladder, but it also complicates work with clients and business partners. Even casual networking with peers can devolve into an awkward experience as these professionals struggle to describe what it is exactly that they do.

A Tale of Leadership Tiers

Once upon a time, architecture firms had three tiers of job titles that reflected three distinct tiers of leadership:

  •      Tier 3: Associate. Those just starting on the leadership trail, the up and comers being groomed for future senior leadership positions and potential equity
  •      Tier 2: Associate Director / Senior Associate. The senior leaders with broad management responsibilities for a variety of projects or project teams, including client contact, scheduling, and budgeting.
  •      Tier 1: Director. The owners, major equity holders, and firm principals. These days, a number of firms have up to five tiers of leadership with a boutique of creative job titles. Others have chosen to simply recycle the titles they already use.

Consider the title Practice Director. Traditionally, Practice Directors were the people who ran the practice. Seems pretty straight forward, right? But some firms have now decided to use this title as a new organisational tier. When there are twenty Practice Directors in the one studio, it sends confusing messages as to who does what as well as how much each individual should be paid for his or her work. So, for that matter, does taking an old title like Associate or Director and just slapping the tag of “Senior” in front of it.

Before I go any further, let me point out that many other established industries have a clear hierarchy of roles and positions. You can easily distinguish, for example, the difference between an enrolled nurse and a registered nurse, an engineer and a certified Professional Engineer, and someone with an accountant’s degree versus another who is a CPA. But as time goes by it seems the architecture industry is beginning to lose some of its structure.

Part of the problem is that some firms are still struggling to define the paths for career advancement and leadership development that their most promising employees can follow. In this case, it’s much easier to just create slightly new positions with important sounding, yet practically meaningless titles in order to make their employees feel like their careers are advancing. It’s a quick, band-aid solution that does little to change the status quo.

It should also be mentioned that there are a few studios that choose to define their organisational structure in their own unique, out-of-the box way by design. They’re different; they know it; and it doesn’t bother either them, their staff, or their clients.

But aside from these two examples, there’s really a deeper current within the architecture industry that I think is the driving force behind the current job title craze. I’ve mentionedbefore that architecture as we know it has been fundamentally changing over the past decade in response to seismic shifts in technology and client demand. As a result, architecture firms of all shapes and sizes are now facing new standards in the project research, design, and build process that are forcing them to rethink their business model. This includes re-evaluating the scope and responsibilities of current positions, creating new positions that didn’t exist before, and getting rid of outdated or redundant ones.

Some firms have been slow to adapt to these changes in no small part because the process is likely to be both onerous and costly. Instead, these firms are merely introducing a wave of new positions with recycled or ambiguous titles. So, while the organisational structure may indeed be changing in some way, the change is superficial. The job titles and the responsibilities of their staff are not really keeping up with the realities of the industry.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Given that the architecture industry is rapidly evolving, the need for standardised titles is greater than ever. In Australia, you can’t call yourself an Architect until you are registered with the Board of Architects, which means you have taken the Architectural Practice Exam, conducted the interview, completed your log book and officially passed. In a similar vein, I believe the architecture industry would benefit if there was a certain standardised level of experience professionals need to attain before they can rightfully be called an Associate, Senior Associate, or Director.

In other countries, such as the US, efforts are being made to standardise the titles that architecture studios are using. The question is why can’t we do the same thing here in Australia or in any other country where such efforts are lacking?

What do you think? Should there be a standard set of rules that define the experience and responsibilities a professional needs before he or she can hold a particular title, or should we leave this up to the individual architecture firms themselves?

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I recently finished reading the book Disrupt Yourself, by Whitney Johnson. There are many notable ideas and advice on career transition and development in there, but one quote in particular stood out to me:

“Most of us are brimming with the confidence, even competence, to change the world. It is vital that we are also equipped with the humility to understand that changing the world and keeping innovation alive require that we [first] change ourselves.”

Johnson’s point is that only by actively choosing to embrace change, to “disrupt yourself” personally and professionally, can you avoid stagnation and live a happy, productive and purposeful life.

I’ve mentioned here before that the most successful architecture and design professionals I have worked with are the ones who take the reigns of their career development in their own hands. These people actively seek out the opportunities and experiences that will take their professional and personal lives to the next level- even if those changes are not initially comfortable or easy.  

When the Enthusiasm Wanes

In these first few years after graduation, many aspiring architects and interior designers are like sponges. There is a natural drive to soak up anything and everything that they can on the job. It’s a time of exploration, experimentation, new experiences, and mobility.

Yet, I have met many candidates along the way who landed in positions early on that didn’t match their strengths and ambitions. It’s easy to be blinded by the award winning, high profile firms that are spending a lot of time and money trying to recruit high potential talent– especially when candidates are just starting out in their career.

But once they get there, these talented candidates often don’t find the career development or learning opportunities they were hoping for. Other times, there is a kind of culture shock where new candidates have a hard time with the work environment at the firm.

These situations are often downplayed because there is the perception that younger workers have more time to decide what they want to be when they “grow up” in their career. But, I have seen it turn into a career setback, cooling off their enthusiasm for further growth and development in the profession.

Then there are the talented, older candidates who come to me after they have been with the same firm for several years. They are solid performers. Yet, opportunities for promotion and professional development rarely come their way. Some of these people even tried leaving only to be given an attractive counter offer that was never fully realised. They feel like they have hit a wall in their career and are now trying to figure out how to get around it.

Embracing Learning Experiences, Not Entitlements

Going down the road of entitlements will always lead to dependence, and this dependence can absolutely crush potential, bringing a promising career to a screeching halt. We are living in a fast-paced world where change, transformation, and renewal have become the norm. If you really want to make it, then you have to have the courage to forge your own path, to embrace new experiences, perspectives, and continuing education- both on the job and off of it.

I am seeing that the most successful architecture professionals are typically the ones who took a non-traditional career path. They may have a more diverse educational background; they may have willingly transferred to different sectors, positions, and even firms that allowed them to develop a broad range of skills; or perhaps they showed interest and respect for smaller, more local architecture firms and the knowledge they have to offer.

They are in touch with their strengths, take the right risks, and know how to get the most out of a setback. They have colourful careers and are living purposeful lives, and that’s a great place to be in.

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There is a popular perception that architects are an over-worked, under-paid, unhappy, and unappreciated bunch. While, the truth be told, many architects are quite content in their chosen profession, this perception is at the same time not entirely groundless.

Something for Nothing

I often meet with young architects who come to me in a state of disillusionment. They had secured what they thought was their dream job. Maybe it was at a well-known prestigious firm, or perhaps even a smaller studio that seemed to offer a lot of hands on experience. But the enthusiasm of these young candidates quickly fades away after spending months or even years struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance in a business culture that expects self-sacrifice and fanatical loyalty from its staff while offering practically nothing in return for all of this hard work and dedication.

The issue of unpaid overtime in particular strikes a nerve. Expectations of uncompensated work are widespread throughout the industry, and it occurs in firms of all shapes and sizes. According to the results of a survey conducted by The Architects’ Journal, almost 40 percent of architects work at least 10 hours of overtime every week, and over 80 percent of these respondents claimed that they never got any money for their extra work.

This practice is currently illegal here in Australia and many other countries throughout the world, yet there is often a lot of pressure on architects to tacitly conform to this setup. It’s safe to say that the pressure to do so starts at university, where students are encouraged to work long hours. They are not, however, also taught how to value and manage their time. Once these young candidates enter the workforce, they may face shrinking fees, project schedules that are set too tightly, and badly organised, under-staffed teams. Yet studios demand that these architects be “team players” and simply work longer and harder for less. Young architects are also made to believe that those who put in longer hours have a greater chance of promotion.

Not surprisingly, this often has dire consequences for the morale, emotional health and well-being of architecture candidates both in school and on the job.

Taking Responsibility

But who do we point fingers at? The architecture schools that venerate all-nighters?The firms trying to maximise their profit? The clients with unreasonable project demands? The global recession? The architects themselves?

Where ever we place the blame, that means someone somewhere has to shoulder the responsibility to make a change, and architects certainly owe it to themselves and those who they serve to take a good, hard look in the mirror.

Those who choose to continue to stay in an environment that forces staff to work crazy hours with little to no compensation and appreciation are themselves part of the problem. In a certain sense, it’s the easy way out. It may be more comfortable to bend to a situation that is exploitative, disrespectful, or oppressive, to point to the circles under your eyes and say that you simply can’t work any harder, than to stick yourself out, to take risks, and make the career moves that can propel your career forward on one hand, but have the potential for failure on the other. It’s easier to just shrug your shoulders and say, “that’s just how it is.”

This is especially true for those with a family, or those with any kind of life outside of client briefs, renderings, and piles of paper work. These professionals are usually not able to maintain such a work schedule and are denied the real opportunities for career advancement.

So, you can keep telling yourself that maybe things will change at the firm, after all, it has a good reputation… that you will eventually start your own practice one day… that you are doing it in the name of promotion because you see a future for yourself at the firm… and maybe, you are right. But once the reality of the situation shows the futility of this behaviour and the mindset behind it:

…when the change never happens… when the promotions don’t come… when it’s never the right time to start that practice of yours… when you are too tired and uninspired to focus on design (and how much design do you even do, anyway)… then it means a change is in order.

It’s not just about considering the value of your time in terms of dollars; it also means the value of your passion, your talents, experiences, and ultimately, your life and your self-respect. As one architect put it, “The fact that you accepted these terms and work for free does not help the situation or the bigger picture… Stop waiting for something external to change the situation for you.”

The change you really seek is internal.

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For all the talk of influence, artistic expression, innovation, and impact of the architecture and design industry, there is a rather inconspicuous undercurrent that rarely gets the attention it deserves.

The truth is that architecture and design is one of those areas that only reflects, like no other, the changing concerns, attitudes, and trends of the society it’s serving. This means that by nature the field of architecture and design is constantly evolving and constantly being redefined- from the outside in.

There’s No Room for Career Ostrich

Those who have chosen to make their careers in this industry should pay attention or else they may suddenly find out that their skills, experiences, and even career path have become out-dated and obsolete. The past decade, in particular, has seen unprecedented advances in design technology, the construction process, and the use of composite materials. We have also experienced great upheavals in the global economy and gone through deep sociocultural shifts. All of these factors have significantly affected the way projects are conceived, designed, and built.

In such a climate, architecture and design candidates need to take a good hard look at how they are positioning themselves in the industry. They must take the time to consider if they are really getting the experiences and developing the skills they need to ride with these major currents of change.

There are three main points that architecture and design candidates today need to consider:

  1. Recent experience is given more weight. Studios and big architecture firms alike are putting more attention on what candidates have done recently in their careers. In today’s intense and crowded job market, hiring managers are becoming more intolerant of drawn-out resumes and portfolios that take up too much of their valuable time. Older architecture professionals in particular need to realise that their experience past ten years out will not have the impact in the job market that it used to.
  2. Technology savvy isn’t an elective. The architects and designers who do not embrace at least some of the technological innovations that are currently redefining this industry will eventually send themselves into extinction. This includes: building design software, mobile workstations, as well as the growing prevalence of virtual and augmented reality and even 3D printing in the design process.
  3. Relevant expertise outside of the fields of architecture and design is gaining in importance. Today, it’s not just about the depth of a candidate’s knowledge that employers are looking at, but also it’s breadth. Those who go in to their job search with some understanding of the various roles, players, and supporting functions of the design and construction processes have a clear advantage over their peers. In other words, strong candidates just know more. In the coming months and years, architecture and design professionals as well as the firms that hire them, will be taking on multiple roles at once. We are already headed in that direction with the growing number of firms seeking to be a one-stop-shop for their clients.  

Bottom line: those who want to be successful in the ever-changing and evolving architecture and design industry will be the ones who will learn how to change and adapt.

 

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One major mistake I see architecture and design job candidates making today is underestimating the impact of their online presence. There are generally two attitudes, and neither one is very good good. Some candidates are very concerned about hiding their online footprint. They take pride in being invisible so that none of their personal updates and information can hurt their chances of being hired. On the other hand, I have met many candidates who, though not invisible, fail nevertheless to fully leverage their profiles, networks, and content creation online.

While it is certainly very smart to be careful of what you do and post online, it is not a good idea to be invisible, since you run the risk being overlooked by serious recruiters and employers.

Today, the prevailing belief is that your online presence will predict your ability and behavior at work regardless of how talented or experienced you are or how polished your performance is during the job interview. Your social proof online is used to confirm that you are who you say you are, and it can help to distinguish you from all the other candidates competing for the same position. Realize also that it is much easier for a busy recruiter or hiring manager to quickly assess your hiring potential with an online search.

This dynamic is happening in not just in just in the realm of Architecture and Design, but in countless industries across the board. In fact, according to LinkedIn:

  •       70% of employers have rejected a candidate because of information they found out about that person online.

On the other hand:

  •       85% of employers say that a positive online reputation influences their hiring decisions.

The Four Essential Elements of Good Online Visibility

For candidates working in architecture and design there are four areas to focus on:

  1. Optimized online profiles. I’m starting here because this is often the first thing that recruiters and hiring managers see. Whenever you open an online account for social media or any online community, you have to create a user profile. Take full advantage of it. Make it easy for people to find out who you are, what strengths and experiences you have, and how you can be contacted. Where possible connect your profiles to a portfolio of your design work or any other notable contributions you have made to the community.
  2. A portfolio of your work. A digital portfolio is fast becoming an industry standard. You want to create a carefully selected collection of featured projects and other work samples that are well developed and documented and are easily accessible to employers. You can also link it to an online version of your CV. Doing this can be of great value since it gives hiring firms a first impression of your abilities, style, and interests.
  3. Communities. If you want recruiters to notice you and hiring firms to take you seriously, then you should make an effort to actively participate in the online communities and groups where you will be most visible to them and their contacts. This can include professional LinkedIn groups, or any good blogs and online magazines dedicated to architecture and design.
  4. Content creation. Any content that you create online, like the digital version of your portfolio mentioned above, gives recruiters and hiring managers a taste of your personality, abilities, and experiences. Content creation can take many forms including: posts on a personal website, videos, comments made in forums or on articles, and contributions to online publications and websites focused on the architecture and design industry.

Bottom line: when it comes to your online presence you have to strike a balance between covering your tracks and showing hiring firms that you seriously have what it takes to get the job done.

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There has been as of late a collective grumbling among architecture firms that today’s architecture students are not properly prepared for the daily challenges they are likely to face on the job. Indeed, over the past decade or so architecture has transformed into a multi-faceted process involving complex teams and clients demanding sophisticated solutions while staying on budget. The industry is also being transformed by evolving technologies that are changing the way buildings are designed, built, and used.

On the educational front, however, the pace of change has been slow. Many architecture degree programs throughout the world still place theoretical knowledge and creativity above practical, hands-on training and education.

Bridging the Gaps

As the architecture industry and the world it serves become more complex, the skills architecture students need to learn in order to effectively work in practice has without a doubt greatly expanded. Architecture students of today need even more business and management skills than ever. They also are expected to show up with a basic understanding of several complimentary disciplines, such as design, construction, and engineering, as well as tech savvy and the ability to communicate effectively in a variety of situations across various mediums.

Now, this is not to say that creativity and talent are no longer important. But these qualities need to be tempered with practical thinking, sensible problem solving, as well as comfort using emerging technologies while simultaneously appreciating its limits.

So, young architects need to bridge the knowledge gap, the technology gap, the team member gap, as well as the gap in their personal attitudes and perceptions versus that of their clients.

Seems like a lot? It is. Yet, many new recruits will find that they will need to bridge many of these gaps themselves.

Architecture Schools Have Been Slow to Adapt

In a perfect educational setting, traditional design courses would be supplemented with hands-on, cross-disciplinary projects that would combine knowledge from other related industries as well as preparation to consider the legal elements that affect the design process, such as zoning laws. There would also be an emphasis in gaining skills in project management, which includes time management, financial management, and collaborating with a team. While a few select schools are now offering projects that allow students to develop hands-on technical knowledge and engage with end users, clients and other professionals, these are still the exceptions.

Educational institutions seem to be taking their time adjusting their curricular so that all the focus on creativity is balanced with more practical, less sexy topics like budgets and construction management.

Given this, how can current students enhance an imperfect education? The answer is to first be aware of the situation and then to start thinking outside of the box. This may mean finding a good internship at a small firm, or deliberately taking courses that fall outside of the traditional architecture curriculum, or even spending some time working in other, related industries, such as graphic or product design.

The truth is those who go in to the profession with a more well-rounded approach to architecture are the ones less likely to get the dreaded pigeon-holed assignments. They are also the candidates more able to land the positions that enrich and advance their careers- the jobs that make them want to actually show up for work in the morning.

In short, architecture is not a passive profession. Those who approach it that way, expecting that their degree alone will give them everything they need to succeed as an architect, will likely find themselves woefully unprepared later on.

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