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I'm graduating in 4 weeks. I'm certainly not the only one. Graduating students who are about to receive Bachelors and Masters degrees in architecture and related fields, what ARE you doing after you get that piece of paper? Are you joining the swelling ranks of the unemployed, or are you having any luck? Are you traveling the world? Moving home? What's going on?
Shall we start a commune? I know where we could do that :o)
They have the advantage of being cheap. But they also need a lot of training and really don't know how to do much. I tend to think that the ones who know how to use really cutting edge rendering software will be the only ones getting jobs any time in the next few years. The renderers were some of the only inexperienced architects that survived the layoffs at my last office.
can you say "would you like that super-sized, sir?" :o)
I don't mean to add to your anxiety and pain by being flippant, but you need to keep body and soul together. find whatever job you can that allows you some time during the day to work on your portfolio, scan the job boards for openings and go on interviews. this will end eventually and you want to be standing when it does.
A very good point, Lookout Kid, about renderers: as a small firm that's doing pretty well, the only time I consider hiring someone to help is when I look at the quality of renderings other firms put out and feel like my old school hand rendering partner and I need to step up.
Alternate commune location, DubK: Detroit, for the urban farming. Living off the grid in a $1,000 dollar house TWO miles from downtown.
Lookout Kid, that's not entirely true. Not ALL of us need a lot of training and "don't know how to do much." Some, but not all. For instance I have seven years of experience. I also disagree with you that the ones who know how to use the cutting edge rendering softwares are the only ones who will be getting jobs. Sure that will help, but so will knowledge of other types of analysis and simulation programs that don't just make pretty pictures. If you want further explanation of what I mean, please refer to my last school blog post...
digger, I agree. But I am interested in what the other graduates are actually doing ... as in, are there ANY jobs, at all?
liberty bell, that's an excellent idea! Houses are so cheap there...
I'm with you Em - graduating in June and no where to go. [insert self-pity here] But I like your commune idea!!
I've heard the advice "it'll be easy to get hired at the end of the summer, when interns are returning to school" but i don't really buy it - who's hiring interns instead of recent grads?
as someone who graduated last year before we were "officially in a recession" and is one of those that "needs a lot of training" I was basically screwed. Anyone graduating last winter/spring looking for a job could have told you it was going to be a rough year back then. So I made a plan B. I have a part time job on the weekends and a fulltime temp office job during the week. Trust me it sucks, but I make ends meet and am going to grad school in the fall so it's just a way to make it through until then.
It took me a couple months and draining my savings account to swallow my pride and accept that I wasnt going to get an internship and that paying my rent, bills and eating were more important right now.
bravo - firms that are in immediate need for some additional help, but are not sure when the next project is comming down the pipelines are those that are more likely to hire a summer intern over a recent grad.
I feel for all of you. good luck
From my personal experience, the majority of jobs people are managing to find have a lot to do with who you know, not what you know, at least as a jumping off point. More than one office has told me they would not consider an interview unless I had a direct referral from one of their "friends" in the industry. Why they bothered a public advertisement for a position they will fill through their private network is beyond me. For those looking for jobs, exhaust your connections- teachers, former employers, etc. No matter where you live, the architecture network is small and very communicative.
Also, I would tend to disagree with the point made about only hiring rendering people. The work that offices are getting now is largely state and government work, funded in part with stimulus money. A lot of this work has fast turn around time. The last thing some office needs is a design and render person. They need people who can get a proper CD set done in a month and take over CA work. I would venture to say that massive rendering departments will slowly dissolve as the amount of large-scale competitions and public-works projects decreases. Plus, you can ship that stuff off to some place in China and they will turn it around in half the time with 10x the results.
All in all, I would not expect anything and don't be too stubborn, even if it means moving home for a couple months. It's actually very humbling and will make you appreciate the little things in life (speaking again from personal experience).
I tend to agree. Purchasing and maintaining rendering hardware is costly. I think most firms will be outsourcing abroad and to render houses to get results. I actually don't know many firms (from talking to friends) that do big time rendering in house. My firm in Japan had a woman that did all the rendering and she wasn't an architect.
And what Morse code guy up there said, I know that the firm where I had my two month stint did exactly where (s)he said. Hired me for two months to help bang out a set. Said they would call if they got more work.
I think when firms are cutting half their staff (I've heard some scary numbers lately from friends who are all biting their nails), they aren't going to hire a render guy when they can just 'buy render time' as they need it from China.
You have to think, the markets are all saturated with laid off architects. The prognosis is not good for any of us out of work. I really need to figure out what I'm going to do once I get back from Germany the first week of May. I think I shouldn't be counting on architecture for a while.
I've contacted all my practicing profs, they have nothing. Hospitals aren't building. The local hospital canceled a project because they are actually laying off doctors. I really think it's gonna be a lot of contract work here and there. It's not good at all out there. Been looking hard for 10 months.
Where was that stat that said that 1.7% of this year's grads will find arch jobs?
I should clarify what I said above about "hiring" someone to render - it wouldn't be employment, it would be on a contract basis, as Hasselhoff said.
Think small, that's my advice: cobbling together a stint here and another there might be a good way to get through this.
...and now I'll threadjacking and let actual grads talk, like Emily requested.
Thanks, guys, for sharing. I feel a little bit like I just started a support group, LOL.
"Hi, my name is Olivia (because you never use your real name in support groups) and I'm a soon-to-be over-educated out-of-work architect.""Hi Olivia!"
Incidentally I do have a Plan B, and it involves trying to take my AREs. The problem is that the exams and the study materials won't be cheap. I think I should probably fire up Excel and see exactly how long I'll be able to make my tiny savings account last...
LB - I can't speak for Emily, but I welcome non-grad input. Remember we're all somewhat sheltered in the university environment, so the professional-environment input is welcomed, by me at least.
I also got the recent advice to move to my city of choice without a job, that way I can network and go for these "stints" and "contract basis" work. This makes me incredibly nervous - i mean, i always planned on moving to another city, but i didn't see it working out like that. i suppose the only advice for me is to get over it, right? Is anyone planning on doing this - picking a place and uprooting based on optimism?
For me the "move home" option isolates me from the architectural world, and the "stay where I'm at" option leaves me in a city that I never saw myself living long-term (and is pretty econ depressed itself). so to answer your question about what i'm actually doing: i dunno. hmmm.
Government, even if only peripherally related to architecture. With the stimulus and everybody looking for jobs, gov't's going to be spending money on infrastructure and building for the next couple of years.
^ True, however a lot of the stimulus projects have to start construction by June or July this year. A friend is working at any office doing a stimulus funded project that they literally just got the project and they have to be finished with CD's and construction started by July. I am hoping that the rest of the stimulus funded projects are not the same and this one just happens to be unlucky, otherwise in 2-3 years there is going to be a lot of TI and reroofing projects.
take a job doing something else to pay off the bills. I did that for 6 months after moving out east - and I had 2 years under my belt. my one day off during the week was when I'd follow up with firms.
Recently announced winners of Arch League Young Architect Forum:http://www.archleague.org/index-dynamic.php?show=844
Maybe some of you will be inspired to invest in yourselves.
ovalle, what is that supposed to mean?
Well, equal opportunity laws, for one. I've known several firms that do this: advertise a job, but really only want referrals.
very coincidental timing for your question - i'm on the alumni advisory board for my undergrad alma mater and the director asked us to write some thoughts out for the soon to be grads at the school. not necessarily advice or answers, but something to help put this in perspective.
so, if you'll indulge me a bit, i'll lay out what i'm going to send back to this class:
first, recognize and fully absorb the fact that we are in freakish, 'perfect storm' type of scenario with this economy. this is really important because you're much more likely to become discouraged over the coming months, as you send out resume after resume, if you take any of the rejections you get personally. nothing about this situation is 'personal'. in fact, it's about the most impersonal thing i hope you'll ever experience. the most significant thing you'll have to overcome in the near future is raw despair.
find any kind of work you can, wherever you happen to be. you may not be doing what you aspire to, but starving and blowing through any savings isn't going to help any. you'll hopefully have a 40 year career ahead of you - it's not going to matter you got started a year later than you hope. this discipline is largely about patience.
personally, i would move to whatever city you'd like but i would take a hard long look at where you think you'd like to move. the best architects are those that tend to establish 'roots' in a place and grow outward from there. love the place you live and be prepared to contribute to it.
'networking' is a term you'd better learn to love (if you haven't embraced it already). dive in, become a local, meet your neighbors, meet your colleagues and expand your outlook contacts. if you hear of someone who needs work, offer to help hook them up with a firm. if you can bring work - almost any work right now - into an office (and deliver it), you've probably got the job, even if only until that one's finished. but you're never going to know about it if you sit at home all day...
bone up on how to make buildings. bim is a game changer in the industry but it's less about software than the software being less forgiving about knowing how to build. get a five dollar hard hat and walk on to jobsites. be polite, introduce yourself, observe what is being done, make notes, rinse, repeat. if you can educate yourself on the rudiments of building, you're that much more ahead of the curve.
speaking of bim... if you have to learn a program, you may as well learn revit. unless you want to carve a niche and learn generative components, solidworks, digital project or the like, revit is going to be where most firms are migrating to. forget autocad - embrace the model.
be flexible in how you're willing to work - most firms are much more interested by the prospect of contract work than they'll ever let on. we're more terrified of commitment than levi johnson - adding fulltime staff, with benefits, in this environment is going to be something only a handful of firms can contemplate. 6 weeks of work on contract won't offer the security you'd like, but...
finally, whatever you do, just keep moving. no one - and i mean no one - who does hiring for firms will ever look at this stretch of time and hold unemployment against someone, especially those who are just graduating. but, when the thaw comes, i'm going to be looking for the same qualities i always look for in a potential hire: someone who is self-starting, who has drive, inquisitiveness, and an ability to thrive under adversity. make this time count, whatever that means to you.
good luck and let us know how it eventually works out...
i got to tell you that list of "unknowns" at the Architectural League is a joke. nearly every single person on that list has a degree from an Ivy, and the the few that don't either have two offices on separate continents or is a faculty member/former co-director of Perro Rojo. hardly "unknowns."
gee hay zeus - lb, you want to be my editor for that little spiel? glad i decided to try it out in public before...oh wait...
outed, I love it! Could not have said it better.
Everyone: read every word outed wrote, and believe it. Especially the bit about not getting discouraged about this time of un/under-employment looking bad on your "permanent record". And having a bad year at the start not being that big of a deal in the overall scheme of a 40+ year career.
I will add, and I just said this to two fellow alum who graduated five years ago, the first few years transitioning out of school are hard. It's a hard, painful, terrifying adjustment to make, even under the best of circumstances. Don't think that the first year or two or six of your career define you.
The notion of forming deep roots in your community is also a good point outed touched on. And that, too, takes time and effort. I've been in Naptown four years now and am finally starting to feel like I have a strong network. But that is how the jobs come in.
I'm still waiting for that skill to pay off...
contract work is good and bad... some places really have no clue how independent contracting works - and will try to treat you like a full-time employee rather than as a consultant. so... know your rights.
Make sure you get things in writing - that you are doing work that is confined within the agreed upon contract. I think slightly straying from what is asked is ok, but if they are having you do work well outside what you agree upon, then ask to be brought on as a full-time employee or draw up a new contract for that work.
I'd try to find a lawyer and an accountant if you plan on doing this kind of work for more than a few months. Most architects are fairly honest and are good about paying, but you can easily get sucked into a situation where you do a couple months of work and get screwed over. yes - there are plenty of shit-head architects out there - and sometimes in places you might not think (they didn't get to be principals because they were nice people)... you'll learn pretty quickly how to spot the shysters and how to deal with them.
however - it all comes down to how much risk you are willing to stomach - if doing work for a particular firm gets you access to a certain project type or kind of work you really want experience with, you might accept late payments, lower rate, or a looser contract...
also - think of this as good experience for eventually starting your own firm - even though this isn't counting towards contract negotiation on IDP - you're going to get first-hand experience with how to get paid for your work - even if your clients are other architects.
.._..... said "Also, I would tend to disagree with the point made about only hiring rendering people. The work that offices are getting now is largely state and government work, funded in part with stimulus money. A lot of this work has fast turn around time. The last thing some office needs is a design and render person."
You are simply wrong about this. Perhaps "rendering" is the wrong term. I should have said "modeling". Firms without work are working their butts off to win new jobs, and the firms I've worked at have a "designer" paired with a young "modeler" to work out schemes. These people are cheap, and typically just out of school. And they are the ONLY new graduates that were kept when my firm laid people off. And I've heard the same from a few other firms.
As one poster said, there are some M.Arch grads with seven years of experience. This is far from typical, and doesn't apply to them. If you have seven years of experience, of course you have some other marketable skills.
Dear outed ..... you rock. Thank you.
toasteroven, fortunately I'm done with IDP so I don't need to worry about that anymore. You make some really valuable points though...
Anybody know what the going rate for contract work is? And after I pass my exams should I call it "going solo"? "Starting my own firm" even? I suppose I should calm down and actually worry about studying first...
Just to share my experience working as an indy-
I graduated last spring with a b.arch. and moved to a city because it looked like I had a good chance through contacts with an starchitect here. It fell through so I was in a new city and with few contacts, no money to move again and the crash in October on the horizon.
So I started doing some drafting and models for an architect I had met as an independent contractor. He eventually let me take over a few projects and stopped using his other drafting service guy who overcharged. It's not a huge town and most architects know each other so the guy I worked for referred me to others and now I have more work than I really want. I am pretty adamant about being able to keep my own schedule and staying independent which allows me to travel, work on competitions, study for LEED and GRE's etc. Other benefits are that you can write-off a lot: a portion of your rent, a new computer, travel expenses, exams, magazine subsriptions etc.
As far as rates: Depending on how many hours you do and how many deductions you can take you can count on having to pay about 15% more taxes as an indy.
If you are unemployed anyway though I would advise starting low. I started at $20/hour and in 6 months moved up to $27. Most drafting service pros charge around $40/hr but don't really charge for all the hours they work it seems and aren't willing to work at the office of the architect.
It's not ideal and kind of a hassle but working as an independent can be good but not something I want to do 4ever.
can you get ahold of ARE study material @ local AIA? or uni library?
Here is an article from the DI Blog that may have some insight on the topic at hand.http://www.di.net/blog/2009/02/opportunity-knocks-advice-to-new-graduates/
Last time I was visiting the alama matter I spoke with several arch students who had no intentions of ever entering traditional architecture. Heck, someone I graduated with went out to Seattle and after 3 years had worked up to a store manager position at Home Depot. Very healthy salary too. So, basically your options are open for any number of alternative careers. The only problem is that if you ever want to go back to architecture the pay cut will probably be too difficult to endure.
Around me I've seen a lot of young architects let go and am starting to worry if we will lose a generation in our profession. Layoffs are not over yet.
Only openings I've heard about are senior positions requiring 15-20+ years experience. Seems firms only want to add people that can either bring in new clients or have lots of experience managing production work. I don't think the zero/limited experience intern will see any wide scale hiring until workload significantly picks up.
Digger, that isn't funny at all.
Do you people really find this amusing?
I'm graduating in May.
To be honest, I battened the hatches. I assumed no one was hiring, so I applied to grad school and stopped spending money.
And honestly, it wasn't necessary. My old boss called me and I was offered a full-time job with the firm I've worked for for several years. They had a couple rough months in late 2008, but things seem to be fine now. I was also admitted to grad school in the program I really want. So...now I need to figure out by May 1 which I want to do. Probably the job, just because you need some perspective before going to grad school.
Granted, probably 75% of my class is planning to join the ranks of the unemployed - and we're the largest class in the school's history, to boot - but, I'm not the only one I know who is doing just fine, either.
I think the soon-to-be-graduates will ultimately create new fields outside and/or supplemental to the typical architectural practice. I speak specifically to companies like model builders, procurement managers, cad services, visualisation, design-build, LEED makers (hah hah I like that one), colour specialists... from the darkness comes a bright bright day. Chins up conquer the world
Architechnophilia, that's rather unfortunate...
But if they build a better business model than the neanderthals who cling to the 1950s model, I say more power to them.
I've always wanted my own business, but under duress is certainly not how I envisioned starting one! But techno, I think you are right, and I hope I can actually get some work so I can start working on reshaping the profession...
Just for the record, I have been applying to actual jobs, and I've gotten a couple of interviews but no offers of work yet. I was going to start sending unsolicited resumes soon but I am worried about the market saturation. One place where I actually interviewed said they had gotten hundreds of resumes...it made me feel good that I actually got my foot in the door but I guess I need help closing the deal. :o/
Tomorrow there is a luncheon at my school by a consultant about how to stand out in such a depressed market. I will go and report back.
competitions and tennis saw me through a stint of unemployment.
this was the second time i graduated into a recession (undergrad 02), which helped me put things into perspective.
emily - thanks for the thanks (or something like that).
maybe you don't do a more 'formal' business (meaning, a business with the intention of making it your defacto career path), but if you have the ability to pick up some residential additions, kitchens, whatever - do it. even if you get a job somewhere else, they won't have any say in what you're doing outside their firm. heck, you may even want to try and find a non-profit and do some (limited) pro bono work for them, especially if they've got good publicity machines.
you're in a different position than grads who are coming out with minimal to no experience. leverage that the best way you can. finally, you can't worry about market saturation - we were bombarded with resumes for a while in dec/jan, but they've slacked up significantly recently. this while we may (with one more sizable project) be considering hiring people again. timing goes a long way in getting your foot in the door...
You know I think it's amusing that the baby-boomer generation preached for years and years about how all they want to do is keep America safe and prosperous for their children and grand children. I guess I'm just not seeing it.
dot - absolutely no offense, but '02 wasn't a 'real' recession (yeah, i know, on paper it was). it was a hiccup. go back to 81-82 or even 90-91 for something resembling a recession like the one we're in now. it took my wife 18 months (in 91) to find a job and she was the top of her class, had merrill elam personally trying to help her find work, and none of it worked until the economy picked up. that's a recession...
emily - rates depend on your level of experience - you should shoot for slightly more than you think you should be getting as a salary (i.e. - hourly rate for 50k a year is approx $25/hr + a little extra for self-employment taxes) - but lately the rates have dropped somewhat because everyone is scrambling for work. You've completed IDP and are able to sit for the exam? you should be able to get something reasonable. anyone with a professional degree and a few years of experience isn't going to have as hard of a time as someone who is just graduating - but it's still tough out there.
If someone wants to hire you for more than 6 months of work, try to become a full-employee. It's a bit dubious for someone who has more than a half a year of steady work to bring you on as a contractor. I'd also be wary of firms that have mostly independent contractors on staff... It's normal for a small office to bring in several people during a push to get a set out - but if an independent contractor is answering phones and making copies - then that firm is simply trying to get around paying taxes.
med. - seriously. give it a rest. be a contributor or just refrain from posting...
Outed, are you the moderator of the board?
Oh and I guess what you're saying is that it's okay for people to go around telling interns eager to enter the profession to work fast food and forget about architecture all together?
Outed: "dot - absolutely no offense, but '02 wasn't a 'real' recession (yeah, i know, on paper it was). it was a hiccup. go back to 81-82 or even 90-91 for something resembling a recession like the one we're in now. it took my wife 18 months (in 91) to find a job and she was the top of her class, had merrill elam personally trying to help her find work, and none of it worked until the economy picked up. that's a recession..."
Try telling that to the hundreds of thousands of people who were laid off in the architecture, IT, software engineering, and countless other professions. It was a particularly rough time for architects. I knew a lot of people who were laid off in the post-9/11 recession and it took some of them up to a year to find another job. I was just entering grad school at that time I met a lot of people who were in grad school as result of them being out of work. Recession is a recession. People lose jobs from them.
none taken outed. i mention it because it relates to the original post. i was fresh out of undergrad and had no real skills or extensive experience, so that recession felt VERY REAL at the time. it also translated to 3 months of architecture job rejections and a part-time gig at a video store. having that life experience though made this time around not so rough.
but since you mention it, i remember watching what my parents went though in the 80s recession, and seeing my dad's business fail during the 91 recession. this puts a lot of things into perspective for me. each generation can't avoid hardship, we can only respond to it.
And the sad thing is that no one seems to have learned a single thing about any of the recessions. Case in point: Look where we are now.
so...also graduating in 4 weeks and no job... many years of experience, but in construction, and was planning on taking ARE's-but in my state I have to have 6 months of work AFTER graduation before I can take them-which is a stinker since I can't get work but will have plenty of time to study! And I have a year of IDP complete, but the rule states that you have to have 6 months of work experience after graduation-not sure if I can write a compelling letter to try to get this waived? Has anyone ever tried?
Have had many interviews but no bites yet-still waiting on a few firms to decide...have had many "we would love to hire you but... we are not going to hire right now". Just a hard time.
So what to do when graduation comes and no job?? I haven't not worked or been in school since I was 14-almost 20 years-so no idea what to do with free time. But will probably up the search once I am done with classes and do volunteer work-at least that will be something I love. Will probably also go to the local AIA chapter and see if there are volunteer opportunities there which will help with the networking thing.
Good luck to all the graduates-I feel your pain!
dot - complaints to the contrary, i'm simply trying to establish some context for this particular event. every dip has it's share of pain, but some are definitely worse than others.
tiny - never tried (and my personal success communicating with ncarb is sketch at best) but what would it hurt? i'd try contacting your state idp coordinator first - they're likely to be more accessible and could answer your question as well as anyone in d.c.
med - all i'm going to ask you is this: what positive, constructive comments have you offered on this post so far?
Hello, I'm a newbie poster here. I am graduating from my M.Arch program in 2 weeks and sometimes I feel near tears at what I perceive to be a total lack of experience for joining the architectural workforce. I have only a summers worth of experience working at a firm, and this sounds horrible but I feel like school has barely prepared me for what needs to be done at an office.
My AutoCAD skills are decent, though I am not very fast, but I am no expert with 3d programs or Revit. My computer skills are not as great as my friends who went to technical colleges to learn the same, and they work much faster then I do. I have done well in school, but it was all very academic, research and speculative, and I feel not very practical. I can make drawings using CAD, Photoshop and Illustrator but I barely know how a building really goes together.
I am wondering how much an office/firm expects a new graduate to know straight out of school? Especially in this economy, I figure that most firms if they are hiring new graduates at all will want ones that have a lot of experience, work very fast with computer software, or have another useful degree like engineering under their belt.
Is there anything I can do to improve my skills right out of grad school? Sometimes I think of going to college to get some real technical experience. Should I have to do this with a graduate degree? I feel so uncertain about how to proceed right now.
Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
What architecture firms (typically) want, like any highly dysfunctional business, is a fresh employee that requires 0 training. In the firms i've worked for most of what I've learned is self-taught and you can expect no formal on the job training.
That's not to say that firms are completely clueless to how young architects are taught in school, they know you know nothing but the burden will still be on you. What's very important to know applying to a typical firm is basic draftsmanship. If you don't know AutoCAD learn it and learn it well. Revit isn't popular enough yet for any soon-to-be grad to worry about. You can also do research in code and Graphic Standards to try and familiarize yourself more with the basics of buildings (like just knowing a kitchen counter is 36" a.f.f.) but ultimately what i think will get a grad employed now is the same thing that always gets you employed and that has more to do with who you are and who you know than what you know. The networking thing, as posted above is easily the most important thing in getting a job. You can have a stellar resume but that wont make a difference if the guy competing with you has a referral. The next best thing to do if you don't have a network (besides making one) is to literally take your resume to the firm(s) in question and put it in the hiring partner/hr director's hand and then to continue to follow up, at least by phone, on a constant basis. I don't know how well it works for others, but emailing resumes and work samples never worked for me and I would suggest avoiding it at all costs. You are so easy to ignore when you're just another message in the inbox, especially if you're competing with hundreds of people.
great lake: in my experience, every firm has slightly different expectations toward recent graduates. like most firms, our firm is interested in design talent, as evidenced by a strong portfolio. but, in truth, we have low expectations about the technical knowledge a recent grad can bring to the table.
what we do look for is intelligence and drive. while our profession involves a certain complexity, it's not rocket science. everything we do can be learned. your challenge is to demonstrate that a) you want to learn what's needed to make a contribution, and b) you will take a certain initiative to actually do that.
most design practices are pretty busy places. while most of us don't necessarily offer formal training programs, such as you might find at a money-center bank or a Fortune 500 company, most firms will understand the importance of on-the-job training and mentoring. ask about such things during the interview process so you will know what to expect.
I just did this whole thing:
I graduated in 08 w/ no job experience, moved to a new city w/ no job, got hired as an intern and then got laid off 3 months later (Early November). I got hired immediately after that by a consulting firm (who offered great pay) ONLY because I know Revit. I agree with everything that Apurimac posted above except the part about AutoCAD and Revit- Trust me: Firms who are making the switch to BIM (Building Information Modeling) run the risk of losing A LOT of cash through unsuccessful modeling- they need people who know what's up. As a student, you can download a copy of the software for free. You absolutely have to be a proactive person and not give up- learn EVERYTHING about that program- all of it's ins and outs- know what and how for every single aspect of that product (read the online forums) and I guarantee you will have a job. Many governmental agencies require a BIM deliverable and with the stimulus package the impact that's going to have on our industry cannot be overlooked. Teaching yourself AutoCAD is giving you knowledge that many unemployed people already have. Make yourself a commodity/desirable learn something that people with a lot more experience don't know and you will have a job.
Also- I got a side job as a photographer and graphic artists with a firm I interviewed with (they didn't really have a place for me as an intern) because I included some of my graphic design work + renderings in my work samples. It was their idea and it turned out to be very lucrative
Lastly, keep a positive can do it attitude moving forward, confidence is priceless! Push yourself into believing that you have the ability to learn anything thrown at you quickly and thoroughly and you will succeed.