Young Architect Guide: 21 Essential Tips for Emerging Architecture Professionals

I have personally benefitted from these 21 pieces of advice already in my career — just two years out of college.

Samantha Raburn Markham Samantha Raburn Markham

Samantha Raburn is a newly licensed architect at Stantec Architecture in Plano, Texas. Her blog, The Aspiring Architect, recounts her journey to become qualified and acts as an insightful guide to all those following a similar path into the profession.

It is a scary thing to go from architecture school into the real world. There are so many unknowns as you graduate from architecture school and enter the workforce. You’ll begin to ask questions like “What firm should I go to?” or “Do I know enough to be working on a project that will actually be built?” Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal. We all face the stage in our lives where we finally have to make the jump from school to career.

My Professional Practice professor at Louisiana Tech University, Kevin J. Singh, noticed this large gap that students were having to cross as they graduated and entered the workforce. To help bridge this gap, Singh used our last class session to give us some insight and advice on what to expect and look for as emerging professionals. Just last year, he published his advice as an e-book called Beginning Your Career in Architecture: Candid Advice for Emerging Professionals.

To help show how valuable and relevant his advice is for emerging professionals, I have listed his 21 tips for emerging professionals and paired each one with an example of how I have personally benefitted from every single point already in my career — just two years out of college.

For each point, Kevin’s advice is shown in italics. My stories and examples follow.

Via Clickoo

1. Get started on your career path.

You can start earning Intern Development Program (IDP) hours right after high school graduation. If you haven’t already, sign up for IDP and get started on the path to licensure!

YES — do this as soon as possible! I am so thankful that I took this advice my freshman year of college and started my IDP that summer. There are a lot of ways that you can earn IDP hours even in your first two to three years of architecture school. I worked for a civil engineering firm my first three summers of school and gained about 400 hours from each summer. And thanks to starting on IDP so early, I was able to start my professional career with more than half of the required IDP hours, which enabled me to get licensed just 18 months after graduation.

2. Don’t get “caught up” in old-guard firms.

The youth are the future. Firms need to embrace the ideas, energy and enthusiasm of young people. Be observant as to what the millennials in the office are doing. Make sure emerging professionals are valued in the firms you are interviewing with for full-time employment.

Extremely true — pay attention to the firms you are interviewing with! It is a two-way street — you should like the firm just as much as they like you — which means they need to value you as a young emerging professional. I definitely looked for this as I was interviewing, and I could not be happier to be where I am with my firm. My firm helps me grow as a professional in the office and outside of the office; they enable me to design my own career, and they provide me with leadership opportunities. They truly value me as a professional as well as the other millennials in the office and want the best for us. Make sure your firm does the same!

3. Networking = the key to advancement.

Get to know everyone in the Architecture community and allied fields (all ages and experience levels). Don’t underestimate the value of AIA membership and networking opportunities.

If you knew me at all, you would know how much I agree with this. Moving to Dallas from somewhere like Shreveport had me very anxious in regard to not knowing anyone in the architecture community here. My first summer after graduation, I joined AIA Dallas and started helping with a committee. Since then, I have been given ample opportunities to get involved with the AIA and even take on leadership roles. On top of that, I can go to any AIA Dallas event now and find multiple people to talk to along with continuing to meet new people. My Dallas architecture community has now gone from a huge, scary city to a comfortable, fun, small town where I feel more than welcome.

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4. Don’t burn bridges.

The Architectural world is way too small. Your actions and decisions will be remembered.

Yep. Again, even in large cities like Dallas, the architecture community can feel very small. If you make a job change and leave on bad terms, more firms than just your old one will hear about it. If you do something crazy or make a really poor decision, word will spread. There are definitely times when a job change is necessary for your career. Just make sure you handle it in an appropriate, professional manner.

5. Look out for #1.

It is your career and yours alone. Make sure you are getting the appropriate experience (IDP), opportunities and compensation. If you aren’t, ask for it. If the firm isn’t willing to address your needs, MOVE ON!!!

I think the key thing here is to be your own advocate for your career. Definitely find a firm that wants to help you grow and develop your career, but there’s only so much the firm can do without your help. If you want certain experience, speak up! If you want to help on a certain project type, ask for it! If you want to go to some leadership or training classes, see if they’ll send you! If your firm is ready and willing to help you with these things and encourages you to grow, then awesome. If you find some resistance and no willingness to help, you may need to move on to somewhere new.

6. Voice your opinions.

The best ideas are never incorporated into projects unless they are heard, presented and defended. Many processes in firms and details on projects can be improved if you simply point out a better solution to decision-makers. An improvement is always appreciated by principals and clients.

Find a firm that is willing to listen to you. I was shocked when I was first asked to make a design decision and share my thoughts just a few months into working. I always assumed that the designer would create his elaborate design and then I’d just be told what to do. What I’ve gotten is so much better! I actually get to be directly involved in designing; they even ask for my opinion and for precedents that I’ve found! A lot of firms have gotten better about including young professionals in the design process, but not all of them. Make sure you ask in an interview about their design process and how you can be included. And most of all, don’t be afraid to speak up!

7. You must design your career and position.

All of us are unique. Continually reflect on your experiences to determine what you really want to do. Make career decisions to attain this position.

Each of us has different talents, skills, interests and passions. You will enjoy your career and be better at your job if you are passionate about it. This means figuring out what you want to do. I’ve been investigating the three different career paths: project architect, design architect and project manager. My firm has enabled me to do that as well as allowing me to pursue my other interests. One of those interests is helping grow and develop our summer intern program. You have to take responsibility for your own career, but it’s nice when you can find a firm that helps foster it, as well.

Via TIME / Getty Images

8. Differentiate yourself.

Develop your unique skills and abilities. Demonstrate how they make you a better employee and contributor. Potentially utilize these skills to go out on your own.

My firm loves to see young talent come in with new skills and software capabilities. They also love it when they can come to you for anything: working on construction documents in Revit, working on design in SketchUp, producing a few renderings, making some Photoshop fixes or changes, etc. They love the fact that they can put me on any phase on any project and I can immediately plug in, and the same goes for the other young professionals in our office.

9. Don’t confuse an internship with full-time employment.

An internship introduces you to how a firm and projects work. Full-time employment mandates responsibility for your work and productivity (deadlines). Full-time employment = STRESS!!!

True, true, true. Internships are awesome because they give you insight into how a firm works and how projects are produced. And hopefully, it can lead you to full-time employment. BUT, when full-time employment comes, that’s when responsibility and stress really hits. People are relying on you to get things done, to ask questions when you need to and produce great work. Full-time employment is about real projects, real clients and real constraints. While it is much more stressful, it is also much more rewarding!

10. Technology will lead the way.

You must stay at the forefront of technology. Volunteer to learn new software and lead firm implementation. Learn BIM (Revit/ArchiCAD/MicroStation/Vectorworks) and become proficient while in school.

Yes and yes. Learn Revit while in school! The majority of firms now use Revit, and if you can graduate having a decent knowledge of how to use it, your transition will be much easier. Unfortunately, I did not know Revit and had to spend the first few months of work trying to catch up and learn it. Always continue to investigate new software and bring that knowledge to your firm. We love it when summer interns and emerging professionals bring in fresh ideas on software and programs that we could use — especially when it comes to graphics and renderings.

11. You need to be a champion of sustainably built buildings and environments.

If you endeavor to learn a lot about sustainability while in school, you will be able to share your knowledge with current practitioners and become peers. Take the sustainability lead within your firm. Become a LEED Green Associate while in school. You must educate EVERYONE about sustainability. Future clients will be the result.

Our firm takes sustainability seriously. Even though the majority of our projects are not LEED-certified, we always try to design sustainably and efficiently. Knowing information about LEED and sustainable design will put you one more step ahead of your competition.

Via e-architect

12. Build community.

Only two percent can afford the services of an Architect. What are you doing to help the other 98 percent? Get involved in your community.

There are so many ways you CAN and SHOULD get involved to help your community. I have had the chance to help our Dallas community through Canstruction (which donates canned food to the North Texas Food Bank), through the AIA Dallas Emerging Leaders class (where we are designing a playground and raising awareness for an area that needs much attention) and through the ACE Mentor Program (where we introduce high school students to the architecture, engineering and construction industries).

13. Save the profession.

Architects aren’t compensated fairly because the general public doesn’t value (or know) what we do. Teach-Share-Show-Demonstrate to others how we improve the world.

Our profession is very undervalued. You’ll discover this as you continue your career. Get involved in your community and do what you can to help people understand our profession. Also, get licensed! That is your personal way of showing that you value the profession and the title “Architect” — by actually becoming one!

14. Education doesn’t end in school.

You must continually learn to stay at the forefront of materials, systems, codes and technology. Don’t let the world pass you by.

You never stop learning … Two years out of school and I learn something new every single day. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, you should be proactive about learning as much as you can during your career. Ask questions in your firm, speak up if you don’t understand something! Attend design lectures, go to learning seminars and don’t miss out on lunch and learns!

15. Mentor.

Help teach the next generation. A two-way street (look up, look back). You will learn something in the process and be reminded why you joined this profession.

Find a mentor when you start your first full-time job. It may take a few months to figure out who you may want it to be, but definitely find one. I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of people that act as my mentors. They are great because they give you someone to ask advice of, get feedback on how you’re doing, ask what the next steps should be and advocate for you. Good mentors are crucial as you grow in your career. On the flip side, mentor someone yourself. You may feel like you have nothing to offer someone, but you do! I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring high school students and college students this last year, and it has been a great learning experience for both them and me.

Via Opt-Out Revolutionary

16. Never get grumpy.

Continually be inspired by the next generation and harness their optimism and energy. Be a positive and optimistic employee.

One of the best things you can do is to be someone that everyone likes to work with; that means being an optimistic, pleasant, hard worker. If no one wants to work with you, you will quickly find yourself facing a big problem. Being that new, positive “young blood” in the office can be inspiring to everyone. Keep that excitement and energy you have when you leave school alive in your work and your firm.

17. Don’t get upset with clients who think they know everything about architecture.

Be patient. Educate and show multiple options (divergent thought processes) to open up thinking. Be a professional. Remember that you were educated as an ARCHITECT (not him/her).

Yes, please remember this. Don’t be offended by a client and definitely don’t offend a client. Some people just have the personality that they think they know a lot. Be patient and professional with these people. If you aren’t sure how to act or handle situations with clients like this, shadow someone more experienced that does. Some of the most valuable learning experiences can be sitting in client meetings to see how an experienced Project Architect handles and speaks to consultants and clients.

18. Fix something.

The world is full of problems. Choose one or two things and fix them.

Find your passion within the field — and do something with it. Is something broken in your firm? Volunteer to fix it and then teach the office what to do. Does your community need a park for the local kids? Get a group together and do something about it.

19. Complete the task.

You set out to become an architect … so take the ARE and become one. Keep your eyes on the prize!!!

You worked your tail off to get your architecture degree; don’t do yourself a disservice by not following through and getting licensed. Getting licensed was my number-one priority out of school, and my office helped me accomplish that goal in just 18 months after graduation. Trust me, I worked and studied with people of all experience levels and ages. The faster you get this over with, the easier it will be. The longer you wait, the more life and work will get in the way.

Via Pexels

20. Keep appreciating the impact of design.

The easiest building to design is a box, but architects don’t design dumb boxes. Architecture is about serving others through the design of the built environment. Make sure your work is the best it can be through its service to others and contribution to a more sustainably built world.

I love working with our experienced designers. Every time I do, they remind me just how much of an impact our designs can have on teachers, students, kids, adults, doctors, librarians, athletes — whoever we may be designing for. We can enhance people’s lives through good design. Don’t ever forget that.

21. Define your own success.

You determine your success in the profession.

Finding the right firm for you and also great mentors can help you tremendously as you start your career as an emerging professional. With the help of my firm and mentors, I can say that just two years out of school, I am a licensed architect that sits on the AIA Dallas Board of Directors, chairs the AIA Dallas Architecture Matters Committee, is a student in the 2016 Emerging Leaders Program, helps direct the ACE North Dallas Mentor Program, is part of the team revamping our firm’s summer internship program, has started my own blog and has led and drawn my own project.

I’m proud of my career thus far as an emerging professional, but I didn’t get here by sitting around or without any help. I’ve only accomplished these things thus far because I’m shaping my career and success with help from my firm, mentors and advice from professors like Kevin Singh. It’s your career; make the most of it.

This article first appeared on The Aspiring Architect. Top image via Inc / Getty Images. Enjoy this article? Check out more of our Young Architect Guides:

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Architectural Redlines

5 Lies Told About the Profession You Must Ignore

How to Convince Your Audience With a Powerful Project Narrative

How to Write About Architecture

5 Specifying Tips for First-Time Architects

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