It's that time of year when a new crop of recent graduates is out looking for work, realizing that this summer marks the beginning of their new lives. Landing that first job can feel great, but getting there is only part of the story. My post today, in addition to the warm welcome, is an attempt to look at what you can do to make sure your first (or second, or third) job goes well.
As an intern architect I find that there is a lot to just managing the monotony of an average workday in order to feel fulfilled and accomplished. I'll get into that a little later (next post) but before that, you need to get a job first. This is the part where I would love to say that you should be very careful in accepting that first job, that you should continue to apply until your dream firm offers you a job, and that you should have the dignity to turn down sub-standard offers on the spot. However, I fancy myself a pragmatist and instead my advice is to do what you think will pay the bills (don't work for free) and what you think will help you get to the next point in your career.
The first bit of advice is easy. Ask potential employers what they will pay you, if it is anything that is equal to or greater than minimum wage, keep listening. If it is less than the legally-mandated minimum, walk away. No amount of "experience" or "portfolio building" opportunity is worthy compensation for the time and money you put into your education. Not to mention it will not buy your groceries that evening, nor make your student loan payment that month.
As for the second bit of my advice, and the meat of this post, this can be quite a bit more gray and a lot less black and white. First of all, you need to know where you want to be heading in your career. If you haven't already, set some goals and figure out a plan of how you'll get there. Be optimistic but realistic. I'm sure you already have an idea of where you see yourself heading career-wise, but take a minute and really contemplate if you know what it takes and what it means for you and those around you. My current job isn't my dream job. I enjoy the work and the firm, but I wish some things were different. But because of circumstances I was limited when looking for this job. I knew from the start that I'd only be here for a few years and then I'd need to move on. This has made some decisions about IDP and licensing easier to make because of this knowledge and plan. This will also ultimately affect long-term goals as well. The point is, I didn't blindly apply for, nor blindly accept this job.
Next understand that your 'plan' may not go as planned. This is where you should get creative in contemplating job offers. That firm that is offering you a job may not be the firm you wish to end up at, but it can be a stepping stone to another one. Maybe the type of work isn't your favorite, or the work environment isn't ideal. Perhaps the offer didn't include quite the salary you were expecting, but other benefits can help to overcome an otherwise low wage, less than ideal working conditions, or unfulfilling project types. My second job as an intern didn't offer me the salary I wanted, but getting paid time off, overtime at time-and-a-half, health and dental insurance, reimbursement for professional fees, examination/licensing fees and a gym membership all helped to overcome this (not to mention all of this, and the wage itself, was more than my first job was willing to ever offer). Plus the project types and working conditions were a step up. Does this mean I shouldn't have taken the first job and just waited for this better, second one? No. In fact the experience I gained working that first job was key in me getting the second one.
All of this isn't to say that you should take whatever job comes your way and then bounce from firm to firm after that until you find one that fits. On the contrary, the profession is small and a reputation can follow you around. Your employers and co-workers don't want to worry about you jumping ship and leaving them with a lot of mess to clean up. There are plenty of good times and good reasons to leave for another job. Even when you find the perfect job, you can't get too comfortable. Our career is anything but static and you may find that just as your plans can change over time, the firm itself can as well. New employees, new management, new project types, new project roles, and many other things may suddenly or slowly change until you find yourself working a job that you just don't like anymore.
While you do need to pay the bills, if you don't fit into the firm you will begin to dread going to work everyday. You won't be very productive and the firm may decide to just let you go. It seems strange, but taking a job just to have a job may end up in you losing your job and you'll be worse off than when you started. You won't have a good reference from the previous employers, you'll have more explaining to do when looking for new employment, and you can get bitter about the whole ordeal which will come through in your interviews.
I'm sure there are plenty of graduates who have found the perfect job right after graduation, but I don't think this can be a reasonable expectation for the majority of graduates. You'll have to find work that may not be ideal, but will still help you out as an intern and teach you valuable lessons about yourself and the career in general.
My next post will focus more on the day in and day out, highs and lows of architectural internships and what you can do to appreciate it all. If you've already had your first internship and have moved on to bigger and better things, leave a comment letting us know how it went and how it fit into your overall career goals. Enjoy the weekend.
An ellipsis [...] is used to signal an omission, an unfinished thought, aposiopesis, or brief awkward silence. Architectural ellipses are those aspects of the profession we (perhaps intentionally) omit, gloss over, or let dwindle in silence. Generally applied this blog should encompass many aspects of the profession. Yet, as an intern architect I'll focus primarily on the architectural ellipses that occur in the internship process.