I believe one of the biggest problems recently graduated architects are encountering is their lack of professional experience. That’s totally normal. Without knowing what to do, finding employment in architecture can be very costly, both financially and time wise.
Personally, I started my professional career with some internships where I saw how an architecture project in the street worked: the paperwork that’s involved, the invoices, the budgets, the smell of the ink from the plans in the office, how the models feel under your fingers.
Honestly, you have no idea how open other architects are to sharing their knowledge and making room for the new generations that come after. It makes sense because in a way they see themselves in the new generation, as they were a few years ago.
I started by doing a few internships, these were my first steps in the working world, but once you are inside it is much easier to progress and move in that environment. It’s like moving going from living on land to being in the water, at first you are clumsy and slow, but then you learn to swim on your own. But I'm not going to lie to you, all that glitters is not gold.
Put it this way, people looking for their first job as an architect are like "salt". Just an object for trade, a mere commodity.
You’ll notice that it usually doesn’t matter what kind of salt you prefer. All salt looks the same. You could change one brand of salt for another and no one will notice the difference. In fact, the price of salt is extremely low. So you don’t want to be "salt" you want to be "caviar", something so unique and scarce that people pay huge amounts of money to get it.
If you behave like "caviar", architecture studios wouldn’t even consider passing you up, because you have demonstrated clearly through your application that you are the solution to their problems. At least a part of them. This will make you unique.
Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes for a minute and imagine the resumes that come through the studio. For example, I’m the manager of Arturo Montilla Architecture, and two days after posting a job offer online we had 400 candidates. Most of them are average candidates, pretty similar to one another. In this case, your job is to make your application stand out.
I know because I have looked over more than 1,000 applications (yes, for about 10 seconds each). In fact, thoroughly researching and chatting with close friends who are dedicated to Human Resources, I have discovered that every person in charge of reviewing job candidates does the same thing. Obviously, there’s not enough time to thoroughly review each one. Therefore, when an applicant is "caviar", they immediately stand out from the rest.
These are the three things you can do to stand out and get your first job as an architect.
1. Be Specific
In the last selection process I had - which, coincidentally was what finally pushed me to write this article - I asked the following question: "What’s your dream job?"
Guess what 90% of the candidates answered? Something around these lines:
A job that is challenging and where my opinion is taken into account, where I can continue to grow professionally, where I can really make an impact on society, where I work with other great architects who can teach me.
That was almost everyone’s response. This is all "salt". Now, check out what the "caviar" said:
A job as an architect in the project department of an architecture studio where I can design complete single-family homes in my own style. Hopefully based in Malaga.
Notice the difference? People in human resources do!
When you’re specific you don’t waste the person in charge of reading your application’s time. You have done your homework and you’re not waiting for someone to find work for you, you have already defined what you want your job to be in advance.
Once you know what you want, it will be much easier to go to your network and ask them to help you connect with other people or architecture studios.
Personally, when somebody gives the salt response, I’m always a little hesitant. It’s so generic and vague that I’m not sure where to send it. However, if you tell me exactly what you want, I could connect you with one or two people that fit that description right now.
2. Refine Your Search and Your Interview Preparation
Have you ever had a job interview before? Let's look at the answers I saw:
Salt: "Well, I spent one hour searching for information and news about the company. Then I asked my friend about the questions they usually ask in a personal interview and such. I also looked at the typical questions on the internet."
Caviar: ”I've already met with 3 people from the studio where I'm going to be interviewed. Now I know exactly what challenges and problems they have. I’ve taken a few notes in my conversations with them and have compared it with what appears on the internet about the studio. I have prepared a bunch of questions and the perfect way to answer them. Also, I invited my friend over. He is a Human Resources manager at a company and knows a lot about interviews and the difficult questions they can ask. He came to my house and we did mock interviews for two hours. I video recorded everything so I can watch it later and analyze all my mistakes."
Sounds hard, right? Good. Most of the candidates aren’t going to do the hard work.
Basically, if you invest three times the effort on making a good impression, you could get thirty times the results. Yes, you’ll have to work and work hard, but you’ll get the job.
2. Get a Recommendation from Somebody! Anybody!
Young people love to complain about why we don’t have a good network of professional contacts. And I ask, "Really? Who did you try to contact?" The answer is usually a shrug. Let's look at examples:
Salt: "I've tried, I swear, but I just don’t know anyone. I’ve sent emails to several friends but they also have no idea. It’s really unfair that society is based on who you know. How do you expect me to meet anyone if I just finished my degree?"
Caviar: "So first I went on LinkedIn and sent several messages. In fact, I tried three different message templates, and I noticed that the third one works very well, I get a 50% response rate with it. I have three appointments for a coffee next week. Then I went to my university, to the guys that offer advice on employment stuff, I told them exactly what I was looking for. Also, I got in touch with several of my former professors. It turns out that one of them knows an architect I'd like to work for ... and I'm going to have a coffee with him on Wednesday!"
Huge difference, right? Actually, as I see it when looking for work you can stand out in several ways:
- The architecture studios you are looking at;
- The emails that you send;
- The questions you ask them;
- Your cover letter and CV; and
- Your interview; answers and body language.
Ask yourself ... "What would "salt" do in this phase of the search? What would a true "caviar" do?" And repeat it to yourself throughout the process. It is essential that you take into account this paradigm shift to proceed with a successful job application. So, please, internalize these concepts and be more like "caviar."
Guide by: Yo Soy Arquitecto.