This article was originally published by The Architect's Guide as "How To Earn A Six Figure Architecture Salary."
Architecture salary. Perhaps one of the most talked about and passionately debated topics in the design community. I receive more emails on this subject than almost anything else.
Previously, in 5 Factors Affecting Your Architecture Salary, I covered several variables that contribute to your income. However, for this article I want to highlight the areas that will produce the best return on your investment of time and money.
While earning six figures doesn't mean what it used to, it is still a very admirable (and achievable) goal. So how do you go about reaching this significant architecture salary milestone? Let's discuss.
Just a quick note, I will be discussing how you can earn a large salary through an employer. I won't cover running your own office for this post. However this can be a route to a high income—potentially very high.
1. Start now
If you are just beginning your architecture career it is unlikely you will be able to earn $100,000+ per year today. However, now is the time to focus on developing the points below. By the time you are twenty years into your career and earning half of what you should be it is often too late to make up the difference.
The architecture profession is a relatively slow accumulation of experience and qualifications. The sooner you can master the following points the better positioned you will be in the [near] future to command a higher salary than your less capable peers.
2. Develop your skills
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The same is true for your architecture career. If you are doing the same thing everyday and expecting a higher salary it is unlikely to happen.
What can you do today that will make you more valuable tomorrow? Increasing your "hard skills" is a relatively easy first step to implement.
Hard skills examples:
- Design skill
- Software knowledge
- Code knowledge
- Industry awareness
- Hand drawing
- Data analysis
- Foreign languages
However it is just as important to develop your "soft skills."
Soft skills examples:
- Communication skills
- Leadership skills
- Adaptability and flexibility
- Time management skills
- Willingness to learn
These typically take longer to perfect so you need to start now. Focus on one topic per day and try to tweak one aspect of your work day or routine to improve one of these skills. The book The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy explains this process beautifully.
3. Switch jobs
The average salary increase an employee receives when starting a new job is between 10% and 20%. Based on an average "Unlicensed Architecture / Design Staff 1" salary of $58,200, this translates to an annual increase of $5,800 to $11,600!
Often it can be difficult to get substantial raises from your current employer, beyond the standard 3% - 5% cost of living increases. However, making calculated, strategic moves can greatly boost your base salary. If you are looking for a new position, start by checking out the 7 Reasons Why Your Architecture Job Application Is Being Ignored.
4. Reduce the stress of others
In a recent interview with Mark Cuban, he stated one of the keys to success is to "reduce the stress of your co-workers".
When you are at work, reduce the stress of your colleges and supervisors. If you can reduce other people’s stress, those people will gravitate towards you. You will be seen as the leader and your colleagues will eventually want to work for you.
Here is a link to Mark's excellent interview, I highly recommend watching.
5. Be the best
Without a doubt specialization is key to a high salary in architecture. In other words, "what do you do better than anyone else?" This can be as broad as expertise in a certain building typology or as specific as airport BIM Management (who, by the way, can make substantial incomes).
In a recent U.S. News article on Architect Salaries, "the best-paid 10 percent in the profession made approximately $121,910, while the bottom 10 percent made about $44,940."
The top 10% makes almost 3x the bottom 10%! It pays to be the best.
Looking at the data from the AIA Salary Calculator:
For example, an Architect III position:
Ten or more years of experience, licensed architect who plans and develops medium- to large-scope projects with many complexities, executes and coordinates projects, and may oversee a large staff of architects and technicians.
In New England (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT) the mean salary is $104,600.
Keep in mind this is the average, so while some made less, others made more. While this does require 10+ years of experience there are ways to reduce this number by working through school to compress the post-graduation years required.
6. Take responsibility
As the saying goes, "don't ask permission just ask for forgiveness". Responsibility is not something that is just handed out, you need to take the initiative and go above and beyond what is expected.
You can't be at the bottom of the pyramid and expect to be well compensated. If you want to climb the pay scale you must challenge yourself by taking on more responsibility, which will ultimately translate to more income. This doesn't necessarily mean working long hours but you need to be as efficient and productive as possible.
If you are just beginning your career, start small. Take on the task of leading a small portion of a project. By proving to others that you are reliable and dependable you will be rewarded over time.
7. Have regular performance reviews
This is an opportunity for you to discuss with your supervisor(s) what you have contributed to the firm and will provide in the near future. Depending on the size of the office these may be organized by the HR department or you may need to take the initiative to set up a meeting.
Make sure you are well prepared with specific examples. How and where you have been successful? What do you want to provide moving forward?
You can think of this as re-interviewing for your own job. While that may sound scary it is meant to emphasize the importance of your review and why you are asking for a raise. Generally you should have this sit down once a year but if there has been a major change in your role or responsibilities it could be sooner.
Remember, just taking up office space and breathing air for a year does not qualify for an increase. Neither does the cost of living or your personal financial situation.
8. Get your license
One of the best places to begin on your journey to a high architecture salary is to become licensed. Yes, it is expensive and takes a lot of time but it is very important to advance in the profession.
If you don't believe me just look at the senior members of your or other architecture offices. Are they licensed? Odds are most of them are registered architects. There are exceptions, but it is best to follow a proven path.
In the U.S. NCARB is making it easier to complete your license by reducing the number of tests and required hours of internship experience. Tear off the band-aid. Just get it over with. The longer you wait the more difficult it will become to finish the exams.
Depending on your state you can complete the exams BEFORE you complete the Intern Experience Program, and you can record MORE than 40 hours per week.
Both of these techniques can greatly reduce the time it takes to become licensed. The longer you hold a license generally the more you are worth in the marketplace.
9. Move to an urban area
This may not be the best solution for everyone but since we are putting all the options on the table, this can be the quickest route to a six figure income. Often by following the cyclical construction booms you can take advantage of a hot market looking for talent.
The big benefit of working for an architecture office in a prominent city is that the salary will almost always be higher than the equivalent job in a rural environment. Of course the reason often cited for this is the higher cost of living.
However, if you are willing to live below your means and skip the penthouse apartment you will be financially better off in the long run. Setting your salary high as early as possible will be a huge advantage throughout your career.
10. Develop Multiple Income Streams
This topic is perhaps outside the scope of what we have been discussing but if we are strictly talking about breaking the $100k annual figure, it is relevant.
I recommend that everyone have multiple income streams. The riskiest position to be in is where one company provides your only source of income. Think about your skill set and what you can do on the side to generate additional income.
There are hundreds of ways to earn additional cash related to the architecture profession. Who knows, that side work may turn out to be even more profitable than your day job.
Pick up freelance architecture work? Provide model building or rendering services? This can not only provide income in the short term but also create long term connections and contacts. Ultimately, this may lead to additional work or even a more lucrative position.
One note on side jobs, depending on the type of work you are performing your employer's liability insurance can prohibit freelance work, so be sure to do your homework.
I hope this has been helpful for your architecture salary goals. So what are you waiting for?