March is knocking on the door so that means one thing in an architectural office: the “summer interns” and freshly minted architectural graduates are … well, knocking on the door. So I thought I would put together an architectural job “starter kit” of all the things you should be paying attention to if you’re planning on getting a job at an architectural office.
I have almost always worked in small firms – except for that one time when I didn’t, which wasn’t a bad year but it cemented in my mind that my skill set is better suited for a small architectural firm. My experience demands that I champion the advantages of working in a small firm, it’s what I know and love. I’m working on something that will hopefully give you some insight into what it’s like to work in a large firm that I think will be pretty amazing. Firm culture plays a big role in any work experience you will have so trying to get a feel for what it will be like for you while you’re working there is almost as important as what you will be doing. If you’re a summer intern let’s be honest, you probably won’t be doing anything all that exciting unless you count sorting the materials and product library as exciting.
Here are my Top 5 Reasons to work in a Small Architectural Firm:
The small firm requires that each individual wear many hats – there are no specialists. In our office of 8 people, with the exception of the partners, everybody has the exact same set of responsibilities. You’ll perform your work under the guidance and supervision of one of the licensed architects but for the most part, you are responsible for thinking through the issues. You will get to do just about everything sooner rather than later – attend client meetings, contribute to the design, prepare construction drawings, organize and process bidding and negotiating information, and go to job sites. That last one almost deserves its own category.
2. Work Schedule
I know that putting “work schedule” on this list is an interesting decision and there exists the possibility that other people have had vastly different experiences than my own. In a small firm, you are very knowledgeable about the personal lives of your co-workers. Everybody knows just about everything there is to know about what you did last night, how your relationship is going, what you’re doing for dinner later … I mean everything. For this reason, It’s difficult for us (as management) to require our employees to work at a different set of requirements than we ourselves are prepared to work. I come in at 7:15am every morning so that I can leave by 5:30 every night to spend time with my wife and daughter, I don’t want to work evenings and weekends. As a result, I don’t require that the staff put in crazy hours either. We expect everyone to work hard and put in a full day, but we then want you to go home. In a big firm, you might not see your boss for days so what do they care if you’re working 16 hour days? Maybe that’s not fair but I don’t think I’m entirely off base either.
3. Exposure to the client
Small firms are built on personal relationships with their clients and since all the employees contribute to every phase of every project, clients are not isolated from the people who are actually doing the work. This means that as a younger person, you get to share in the excitement that an owner generally has over the development and construction of their new project.
4. Design Ownership
Working in a small firm gives you access to the design process almost immediately. I don’t think I can come up with a single project in our office where the design wasn’t shaped in some significant way by every single person who worked on the project. While it might be one of the more senior architects in the office who identifies the need for a solution, frequently it’s the younger architects on staff that get to develop the actual design solution.
5. Mentored for Personal Growth
Since everyone has to wear all the same hats, you will be exposed to all facets of the business. As a result, if and when you leave the firm, you’ll be better prepared to go out on your own if that’s something that interests you (believe me … it interests ALL young architects).
Now that I’ve given you some things to consider when looking for your next architectural job, there are some other items you might need to fully prepare yourself for what’s to come. I have written 4 articles over the past few years as a response to all the emails I’ve received asking the same questions over and over so I have collected them all here for you to make things a bit easier. Each one has [what I think is] valuable information in it that will surely have an impact on your decision-making process.
I’ve had a few summer internships in my day but almost all unilaterally sucked in one way or another. Not knowing anything other than I should try to get a job in an architectural office, I got whatever job I could. Read Architectural Interns to gain some unique insight into how an architecture student can rise to the top of a pile of resumes and get that coveted architectural intern position. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, … you’ll be prepared for what to expect should you actually become a summer intern in an architectural office
What this post isn’t going to be a list of how to write a resume – according to Google, the search “resume+books” returned 218,000,000 hits so if your new to the whole “writing my resume for the first time” game, you should start there. In the article ‘Writing Your Resume‘ what I want to talk about is the “what not to do’s” and the other nuances within resumes – the information you can plant between the lines to tell the reader something extra about you.
At one point or another, every architecture student or graduate has a portfolio of their work that they have agonized over creating. I had one – maintained it for several years too – it was the tool I used to land my first AND second jobs. I was convinced for years of the importance of my portfolio – it represented me and my unquestionable “genius.” It wasn’t until years later that I realized how much it sucked.
I have had a lot of architectural jobs in my career and the project types AND firm size have run the gamut. While there were clear and obvious benefits to be found at firms both large and small, determining which size firm is right for you is not as easy – or apparent – as you might think. In the article ‘Big or Small: What’s the Right Sized Firm for You?‘ I take a look at what size firm might be right for based on your interests and – more importantly – your skill set.
Happy job hunting!