Many young architects just starting out in their career dream of working at a big name firm. These studios stand out like a beacon of opportunity of celebrity status, full of marquee projects and national or even international impact.

But there is definitely a lot to be said about working for a small firm- especially when an architecture candidate is just starting out. Over the years, I’ve found that the architecture candidates who come out of smaller firms tend to have a qualitative advantage over their big firm peers. Not only are they more passionate about the field, but they are more well-rounded. They know how to work with others, juggle responsibilities, and are also more connected to who they are and where they want to take their careers in the future.

Four Good Reasons to Work in a Small Architectural Firm

Here are four reasons why, from the perspective of an executive recruiter, young architecture and design candidates should consider working at a small architecture firm:

  1. Getting the big picture. While working for a small architecture firm offers many opportunities, the biggest is that candidates walk away with a holistic understanding of the architecture process. What I mean by this is that the smaller the firm, the more each member is expected to chip in, to be personally involved at every stage of the process not just the project design. This includes meeting and negotiating with clients, interacting with developers and construction companies, and visiting job sites. All of this is extremely valuable experience when looking for work in another firm, and it will no doubt help aspiring architects start a firm of their own one day.
  2. Learning how to think. One of the the elements of working for a small firm that many people like to highlight is the sense of independence: employees are free to come up with their own solutions to some really big and important problems. But, this sense of independence and free thinking is not really the biggest gain. Candidates from smaller firms know how to think. They are simply less afraid to ponder creative, outside-of-the-box solutions even if they end up making a significant mistake along the way.
  3. Learning how to work with others. There is no where to hide in a small firm. If you can’t learn how to get along with your co-workers, you can’t just transfer to a new department. If you aren’t able to effectively communicate and negotiate with clients then everyone will know about it. Working at a small firm demands that employees work together, and that can’t happen without mutual respect, clear communication, and realistic expectations.
  4. Personal growth. All of the above factors merge into this last one. Since there are fewer people working at small firms and more is expected of them right away, it means that new employees get a lot more personal attention and mentoring in order to bring them on board as quickly as possible.

Another important thing to note is the quality of this mentoring. The people who already work at these firms are generally passionate about their jobs and are happy to be there. This attitude will come through in their mentoring, too. They don’t see it as just another responsibility that has to get done.

With better mentoring, relationship building, and a wide scope of learning experiences, many young architecture and design professionals walk away from their small firm experience with a noticeable boost of awareness, confidence and clarity.

So, are small firms for everyone? The answer is “no,” and, later I’ll detail some of the benefits large firms have over smaller ones. My point is that there are plenty of good candidates out there who could be even better with some small firm experience in their portfolio. What small firms lack in terms of their notoriety, they more than make up in the quality of the experience that they offer to their employees.