Chances are pretty good that if you are an architect, you are currently employed. Every architecture firm I know is hiring at the moment – there is a feeding-frenzy to add to your staff and to be honest, these are tough times because it is a seller’s market. If you are in a position like me where I am actively looking to hire people, you know how competitive the marketplace is right now. If you are looking on the hunt for a job or looking to make a move and improve your station, this is the time of milk and honey.
While the current workload is requiring across the board additions, most of what firms are hunting for are project architects with 5+ years of experience, and apparently, finding those people is as rare as finding a flying donkey capable of reciting Shakespeare. Recent architecture graduates shouldn’t be dismayed – we need them too, but your ability to leverage the demand for employees in the same manner as those with slightly more experience isn’t quite as extreme.
So what’s going on? I started this post with a little research to help me understand why it is so hard to find that elusive employee with 5+ years and I couldn’t find anything definitive.
If we want to look at the folks who have 5 years of experience, we have to go back to 2011 to see how many students enrolled in architecture programs and then compare it against graduation rates 5 and 6 years later to see if something happened that makes finding these folks so difficult. I went into the amazing repository of data that the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards maintains to find my answer … and it didn’t help.
We were actually at a 10-year high for enrollment back in 2011 and when I fast forward 5 years (for a professional degree) and 6 years (for a 4+2 graduate degree) the dropoff from a percentage standpoint is not appreciably different from the surrounding years. This is not going to get me the answer I am looking for so I will instead focus my efforts on how to find them rather than trying to determine why they are so hard to find.
What’s the appeal of 5+ years of experience?
There are a lot of reasons why 5+ years is a desirable target in experience for architecture firms. First and foremost is the amount of knowledge that is in place by this point. While this might seem like a slight condemnation of architecture programs, it is just stating that there is still a lot of practical knowledge that is needed from most graduates. Architectural schools will teach you to think critically, but this frequently comes at the cost of focusing on more practical matters within the classroom.
An additional bonus is that by the time potential employees reach 5+ years out of school, the expectation is that they have honed into the type of architect they want to be and the sort of practice they want to be a part of. It is fairly uncommon that a small-firm person will migrate to a large firm or vice-versa once you get 5+ under your belt but it does happen. I am a perfect example of that and we spend a fair amount of time talking about how our hiring strategies should include seeking out individuals that have spent their time in small offices.
They are pre-trained and start-up cost is reduced.
I really don’t like putting this on my list but to leave it off would be naive. Part of the magic of 5+ years is that most people have made it past that itch to see what the other side might be like. While it is recognized as almost a rite of passage, it is fairly painful to see some of your best people leave once you’ve got them right where you want them to be only because they want to see what it might be like to do [ fill in the blank ]. Part of this pain comes from the fact that the reason they tend to be your best people is that they have the curiosity that drives them to seek out more – to do more – which extends to them spreading their wings and moving on.
IDP/ARE is close to being done or they have achieved licensure. This might not be a huge motivator to some but I think it’s an indication of an individual’s character. I want you to want to be licensed if you work for me – it tells me something about who you are and how you see yourself.
They know who they are
Finally – although there is more, nobody wants to read a manifesto on my thoughts on hiring people – is that the reality of what architecture is AND isn’t has settled in and there is a professional maturity in place. At the 5+ year mark, the people I work with tend to know who they are, and possibly more importantly, who they aren’t. It took me closer to 10 years to figure this out and even then I made a fairly significant change to my career path in my early 50s, but the reality is that what I do now isn’t really any different than what I have been doing for the past 15 years. I just have 109 other people that I get to engage and talk with every day.
Where do you find them?
When our recruiting and retention group gets together to discuss needs, we spend a considerable amount of time talking about how to find the sort of people that we want to bring into the office. Out of all the tasks we assign ourselves, this one is decidedly the most challenging to deal with in the short term but I imagine that it will eventually become the easiest.
We maintain a few of these in some significant places but I don’t think that they ultimately provide a lot of value.
I have some fairly hot opinions about the process of using recruiting agencies and my opinions definitely do not reflect the thoughts of the other people in my office. I probably get contacted by 3-5 recruiters every single day (I am a bit more visible than most people so I can write that number off to a certain degree) but those people don’t really know me or my abilities. They make wild assumptions based on the information that they can pull off my LinkedIn profile (I doubt that the majority have invested the time to actually read this website) and I can tell you that I am currently endorsed on LinkedIn for 36 different skills, some of which make no sense. I have more endorsements in Revit (a software that I don’t know how to use) and Urban Design than I do for “Residential Design” … which is just silly. I also tend to think that unless you are moving from one city to another, or more likely one state to another, I don’t think I’ll ever find an architect who is amazing, as those people tend to not need a recruiter to help them understand where they have options or firms that want to hire them. I say this even as I know of a handful of amazing people at our office that came in through a recruiting agency … it’s a bias I am trying to work past.
This one is actually a big deal and we pay a lot of attention to it. If someone who currently works for us is willing to endorse someone else, that’s something that matters and tells us a lot about the health of the firm. It doesn’t hurt that we pay referrals bonuses but I tend to think that $1,000 isn’t enough to motivate someone into telling us something that they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s just our way of saying “Thank you” to the people who are currently part of our family.
These are actually great but they require a constant presence and they don’t address the experience level that we are constantly looking to fill. When I attend job fairs, what I want to see is the same people year-to-year starting around year number 3 as they progress through their education … and then I want to get the really interesting ones in the office as interns. We have had some really great experiences with our intern process and I would not be surprised to learn that statistically speaking the vast majority of our first-year hires have already spent time working in our office over a previous summer.
This currently has more to do with my internet presence than our firm presence, but that’s something else that we are working on. More and more architects maintain some sort of connection to the industry and to their architectural cohorts through social media. I know more now about what other firms are doing than before simply because everyone provides a constant update through their various social media channels. Depending on the goals of your feed, and the type of work that your firm focuses on, we can curate the demographics behind the people who choose to follow our account and engage with us. Architects who do residential work are frequently in front of potential clients, but you don’t get hired because of your Instagram feed when you design buildings that typically range around 15 stories and 350,000 square feet – that is more about showing firm culture and design work.
Stealing Employees – It’s a Real Thing
This is a topic that we discuss only to the extent that we don’t want to participate in this activity – something that I wish were true of more firms. I already mentioned that I get contacted by 10 different recruiters a week so I know firms do this. I also know that at least three of my star employees that are direct reports are constantly being contacted by local firms to come in or just grab a coffee. I know these invitations are unsolicited so it puts a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I am the one being naive here and I should start spending my time trying to steal other firms’ employees – ugh. I put this section at the end of today’s post for a reason, mostly because I don’t have solidified thoughts on the protocols that people should just respectively follow. I don’t steal your employees, so please don’t come after mine. I suppose it’s the unsolicited contact that bothers me. If a potential employee sent in their information to “Firm X” some time ago and the timing wasn’t right, I don’t think it’s crazy for “Firm X” to reach back out to the person later and ask them if their situation has changed and would they still be interested in making a change. That’s reasonable. If I was looking at this from a “glass-half-full” perspective, I suppose I should be flattered that so many firms want our employees to come work for them.
I should say that this behavior and my opinion is restricted to HR departments cold-calling people and not employee-to-employee contact. Most of the job changes I’ve made throughout my career came through talking with the employees at another office while sitting on some AIA committee or something similar. I don’t have any issues when two people are talking and one person tells the other that they are unhappy or simply looking to make a move and the other person says “I like my firm, you should come to check it out”.
Every Architecture Firm is Hiring
Over the last 12 years, when I sit down and write these posts, what determines the topics I discuss is almost always predicated on what I am actually spending time on in the office … and right now I am working through our recruiting and retention strategies. We are fortunate to have an office full of really interesting projects and I want to do my part to help find the right people to join our family and help us bring these projects to fruition. If you want to work on cool projects, have some experience under your belt, and want to be a part of a future that I think will be amazing, we should talk. I get to participate in most of these interviews and believe that I have a story you are going to like. You can get the ball rolling by sending your resume to email@example.com