Architecture students: the marathon runners of the academic world. You have fought through the pain of sleep deprivation, crashed computers and broken models, survived brutal project reviews and arrived triumphantly at the finish line … or have you?
Here’s the harsh truth, folks: You’ve only just begun. Now, you must step out into the REAL world: An unforgiving place where critical clients and cantankerous contractors roam, the construction business can seem more than a little daunting to step into for the very first time.
Image via University of Notre Dame
So, how can you give yourself the best chance of securing a job to gain the experience that will enable you to take all of that in stride? Start with these seven tips, garnered from personal experience … After that, you’re on your own!
1. Write the right resume
It goes without saying that your curriculum vitae will play a crucial role in bagging you your first job after graduation — it will be a major influencing factor for firms deciding on who they might employ this summer. The key here is to be concise: No one will have the time or the inclination to read your life story up to this point, however fascinating it may be.
Stick with the vital facts — education, experience and references — along with a brief personal statement that summarizes your key strengths to potential employers. Your resumé should cover no more than two sides of paper, and don’t be afraid to use your graphic skills to produce a simple but eye-catching layout.
2. Perfect your portfolio
You could probably show a million drawings and talk about every minute detail of your final project for a week straight, given the proverbial blood, sweat and tears that you poured into it over the past year. However, in an interview situation, your potential employer will not appreciate such elaboration: Like your resumé, look to keep your portfolio short and sharp.
The beauty with editing your project material after graduation is that you can select the cream of the crop. While it may be tempting to save the best until last, I advise that you do the opposite: Place your ‘wow’ images at the beginning of your portfolio; your prospective employer will need little convincing once their socks have been knocked off by page one!
Image via Yale School of Architecture
3. Apply for invisible jobs
Once you have your resumé and portfolio looking as sweet as a nut, the job-hunting can begin in earnest. First, take to the internet, find every advertised position in all the biggest firms you can think of, write them all down on a piece of paper … Now, screw that piece of paper into a ball and throw it in the bin. I kid — these jobs are well worth applying for, and you have as good a chance as anyone of getting the position, even with substantial competition.
However, consider this: The last three architectural practices I have been employed by did not have a single advertised position when I wrote to them. A speculative but well-worded letter or email to your favorite firm may seem like a long shot, but you would be surprised how successful this approach can be if it lands on the right desk (or desktop) at the right time. So, apply for advertised positions, of course — but apply for invisible jobs, too.
4. Play to your strengths
When browsing the job advertisements for architectural positions, it sometimes feels like you can never quite tick all the boxes when it comes to experience, competence with specific pieces of software or simply the responsibilities specified. However, it is crucial to remember: Everyone has to start somewhere, and you DO have skills that will add great value to many firms.
So, if an advert states that proficiency in AutoCAD is essential for the role, but you only ever used ArchiCAD for your university projects … should you still apply? Absolutely. Just emphasize your ability to pick up new software quickly, and the fact that you can bring knowledge of different systems and fresh ways of working to the practice: The firm will appreciate your positivity and willingness to learn, and if you can convince them to give you an interview, you have your real chance to shine!
5. Remember: Nothing is set in stone
Applying for your first job after university can feel more daunting than you anticipated, primarily because, well, this is IT. All those years of studying have led to this … Your life outside of academia starts here. What if you make the wrong decision and end up in a position or location where you don’t feel happy? While it is important to stick at a new job for long enough to settle in, it is also healthy to keep in mind that there are always other options further down the line, should you need them.
Even if you work at a practice for just a year and then seek to move on, you’ll have a valuable 12 months of experience to strengthen your resume — and there is no longer a commitment-related stigma attached to young professionals who move between jobs to advance their development. So, jump into that first role with both feet, but don’t be afraid to change things if it doesn’t feel right.
Image via Architectural Association
6. Know the true value of your degree
So, you finally crossed the line and received that hallowed parchment, your degree certificate … but what’s it really worth to you after the dust has settled? Most of us agonize about the level of degree we achieve, together with the name of the University we can emblazon across our resume — but the real value of that piece of paper is in what it says about you as a person.
The certificate does a whole lot more than merely illustrate your academic ability. Moreover, it shows that you can commit to long-term goals, that you have persistence and determination and, most importantly, that you survived one of the most physically and emotionally challenging degree courses ever known … You are tough as nails and they’ll know it!
7. Don’t give up
The previous point leads us on to the final, most important instruction: Don’t give up. If you’ve made it this far, you have succeeded where many others have failed, and that makes you incredibly employable.
There may be reasons outside your control that make it more difficult to get that gig the first time around — I graduated in 2009, when the global economic crisis meant job opportunities were extremely thin on the ground. To get around this, I treated job-hunting like, well, a job. I would get up early, start researching potential positions at 9 a.m. and continue to write emails and compile my list of applications until 5:30 p.m.
Sticking with this structure (while giving yourself a well-deserved break in the evening, of course!) can help to maintain both your discipline and your morale, and no matter how many rejections you receive, always remember — it only takes one positive response to get you started.
Good luck, one and all … If I can do it, you most certainly can!
The Angry Architect
Top image via The National Forum