Why would a firm require applicants for architectural assistant position to have five year work experience?


I was doing my job hunting earlier and I saw on an architect's office in UK that are currently hiring architectural assistants, so I clicked to see the position details and I found that they are looking for someone with five-year work experience in architecture, and this is not my first time seeing some firms asking for this kind of experience for an assistant position. 

I am really confused by this?  How could they expect someone with five years of experience still applying for entry-level positions? 

Excuse my English

Jun 20, 18 2:51 pm
Non Sequitur

Is assistant equivalent to intern status?  Perhaps it's more along the lines of architectural technologist.

Jun 20, 18 2:54 pm

Yes it's a part 2 assistant position so kind of equals to intern or junior designer in the States


"Intern" in the US is finally going out of favor as a term - replaced by "emerging professional", "designer" and such. But until recently "intern" in architecture meant anybody unlicensed but presumably on the path to eventually being licensed. Consequently many firms had "interns" with far more than 5 years of experience. If I were advertising for an intern/junior designer/technician/whatever with 5 years of experience, I'd be using those titles mainly to indicate that a license isn't an absolute requirement of the job - not to indicate that it's a very entry-level position.


Nobody wants to hire and then have to train a complete neophyte, because it is usually very time consuming.  Most people want the most seasoned person they can get, but still pay them as if they were inexperienced at an entry-level or near-entry level wage.  It's not very logical, but I see it all the time in job listings.

Jun 20, 18 2:57 pm

Because fresh grads know nothing and are absolutely unprepared for the workplace.

Jun 20, 18 3:04 pm

Most likely - they are actually unconcerned with the license/non-license of the individual (whether they finished Pt. III), but rather just want someone with 5 years experience. Doubtful that they actually want someone in an assistant's role; then again, in the UK arch asst's can carry a lot of responsibility if the office views them as fit to do job.

Jun 20, 18 3:23 pm

Their actual needs: someone who in fact has 5 years of experience. 

Additional needs: to pay them like they have no experience. 

What they will eventually get: someone who has been incompetent in the profession for 5 years straight. 

Love finds a way for even oddest of couples. 

Jun 20, 18 5:25 pm



Rusty, you're so cynical. A man after my own heart!

It's credential inflation.  Too many people with meaningless degrees running around, so employers try to screen applicants by upping the ante even more, which forces the worker bees to collect even more meaningless credentials, which.....well, you know.

I'll never forget the job listing (not architectural, obviously) I heard about where they wanted someone with a minimum two years of college to service vending machines.  That's right, you drive around in a little Ford Ranger pickup and take out the money and put in the candy bars.  And for that, they were looking for college credentials!


I've hired assistants before...  

5 years I could see.  This is a person who is proof-reading technical documents, needs to know formats like ASI's, RFI's, etc. and the processes, and/or create them based on your chicken scratch note done on a sticky pad.  "Assistants" are generally secretarial type positions that do a ton.  Think Secretary; "Assistant" is just the new cool term that sounds better. 

Honestly, this thread is like complaining a "building engineer" doesn't pay much when you've earned your engineering degree until you realize your new job duties involve a closet, mop, and dust pan.

Jun 20, 18 6:31 pm

OP: Please define the job duties of an "architectural assistant" - as described in the job ad you reference.

Jun 20, 18 7:15 pm

I was in the car with one of our principals for a few hours going to a prospective job to scope it out and take some pictures.  We discussed the operation procedures for our firm and she asked what gaps I saw now that I've been here for a few years and what obstacles were there for new hires to get up to speed.  I spent most of my time discussing mentorship, training options, and firm wide standards rather than relearning how each PA likes their job to look.  What she got out of the conversation was "So it's not really useful to hire interns out of college."  I countered with the idea that given the right resources/procedures, part of being a good PA should be the ability to keep 2-3 interns busy with tasks and continuing their education and career progress.  A PA should be able to juggle 3-5 jobs, and each job deserves an intern, and good interns probably can juggle 2 jobs, preferably under the same PA.  Based on this idea, I suggested we should really have twice as many interns as PAs.  I'm guessing I sounded too much like I didn't know what I was talking about, and I imagine I changed her opinion about myself more than I did about firm make-up and operations.  We hover at around 35-40 architectural staff with 4 interns.  I guess the firm likes throwing $150/hr billable employees at $90/hr tasks.  A full paragraph and I didn't even broach the loss of admin assistants and non-architectural staff that do architectural work at a $60/hr billable range.  

Jun 21, 18 10:20 am

The firm is cheap, has no interest in training people and wants to take the minimum risk possible. It's very likely that they will eventually hire someone with less experience. Don't be deterred by the 5 year experience requirement. If you have 2-3 years you might still get an interview. Also, a license increases billable rate so it's likely that the firm (being cheap) is looking to employ someone with experience equivalent to a licensed architect, but pay them at a lower rate. Therefore, they advertise the position as 'assistant' to lower applicants' expectations. 

Cheap Tricks. Stay way.

Jun 21, 18 12:36 pm

There are always some sly people out there with unrealistic expectations. I recently saw an ad asking for a hand written cover letter. Who the hell does that??!

Jun 21, 18 12:46 pm

To clarify for the Americans here -

"Architectural Assistant" is a defined term as part of the licensing process in the UK, based on a combination of achieved education and practice milestones. So when they use this term in a job ad, its for a very specific series of qualifications (or lack thereof) that are agreed upon and protected by the RIBA.

Jun 21, 18 1:08 pm

Thanks Bench... ignore my earlier post.


"I recently saw an ad asking for a hand written cover letter. Who the hell does that??!"

Lol... firms that don't want a chain letter you mailed out to a dozen other firms.  They want to be personally addressed to them and know you actually read the ad.  On their end, they can just pitch all the typed cover letters and narrow the field rapidly.  Judging from your response to this nuanced approach, you are unwilling to spend any time going out of your way to do something a bit different.  So it probably isn't a good cultural fit if they want someone who adds personal touches and is willing to think outside conformity of the norms to solve the very simple problem of introducing yourself to a very specific audience.  

From your perspective it gives you some insight that maybe this firm isn't about production speed and mass producing solutions that others are willing to accept.  This is an opportunity for you to stand out from the normal "To whom it may concern" helvetica 10pt. chain letter.  You can flourish and add your own personal touches.

Jun 21, 18 1:16 pm

Reading the ad and tailoring a letter to an employer is a basic college graduate skill. Asking for a hand written letter however denotes that the owner of the firm is some old guy still stuck in the 60's, unwilling to accept that times have changed and that noone will ever waste their precious time to comply to such weird and unrealistic demands. I wouldn't be surprised if that was some guy drafting neoclassical facades on an inclined board in a basement in 2018! You 've got to have respect for yourself and others.


Actually most I interviewed with that had these sorts of things were more likely to be younger folks. They also interviewed a multiple amount of times and often had some sort of essay they wanted after the second or third interview. Old guys tend to just hire on the spot if you get the interview. We've been around long enough to know whether you are qualified to do the position based on the resume, and the interview is more about seeing if we'd want to work with you or not (cultural fit). It's the younger ones who haven't done this a hundred times that tend to be more touchy about finding that 'perfect fit'. Old guys know if you don't work out, we can replace you just as rapidly... it is better to get you in and working to see how you'll fit in the real world than remotely try to judge you in an interview process where you'll tend to tell us what you think you want us to hear.


In my opinion, it should be the quality of work and experience that makes one stand out and not whether their letter is handwritten or typed. This is a cheap trick everyone can do. If you are good at what you do (good portfolio&experience), you will never need to employ handwritten letters, fancy portfolio brochures etc etc to get a job. In fact, if you are good at what you do, industry people will already know so and you might not even need to send in an application. An employer who asks for this sort of things in the current job market is a red flag for me, I wouldn't waste my time with applying.


If your firm is good then you get hundreds of applicants each month, many of whom blast their application materials with little or no research, and don't seem to care which firm they work at or what kind of work they do, as long as it's a known name.

I'm so tired of getting "Dear Esteemed Principal, I have a great admiration for your firm's admirable urban planning work..." (or healthcare design, or resort work, or any number of other project types that we don't even do much, if any of.) All they're doing is sending the same letter to every name-brand firm. Requiring a hand-written letter is probably an attempt to weed out those who feel, as you do, that it's not worth their time to apply to that firm if they have to actually write a letter specifically to that firm. Those who really do want to work at that firm will take the time to write the letter, and the firm won't have to weed them out from 100 people who don't really know anything about the firm. Seems like a win-win.

We get applications from people who email because of the name of our city - without even making sure it's that city in the country they actually want to work in. The applicant pool is full of lazy swimmers.  I'm going to adopt this hand-written letter requirement.


It's known fact that niche firms recruit exclusively through their networks. It's nearly impossible to get shortlisted through a formal job application. Therefore if I was looking to work for a firm like that, I would use my network to get a connection in the firm to get my application to the top of the pile.

The point that I raised earlier is that if you are actually good enough to deserve getting in a niche firm, your portfolio alone speaks volumes about your quality and would be the deciding factor. A cover letter is just a typicality in this case that noone (neither employer nor applicant cares about), so whether it's handwritten or not makes little difference. Most directors (or the person making the hiring call) would not even read the cover letter.


I worked at a well-known firm for many years, and was the person who screened resumes for a few of those years. We did do a great deal of hiring through word of mouth of current employees, and - in the case of entry-level employees - through professors with connections to the firm.  We also hired many people who applied to us but had no inside connections at all. I always read cover letters - as I described above, it's one of the easiest ways to tell immediately whether the applicant even knows anything about your firm's work. It sounds as though you would be someone who thinks that a firm that would set up some small hoops for screening purposes would be a firm that you're not interested in working for. That works well for both you and the firm then in saving you both some time.


You consider handwriting a screening hoop? Handwriting? Please, any 10 year old could go past this, it's nothing special. I will tell you what a proper hoop would be: Sketching construction details live at an interview. I have done this and got the job.


I think a hand-written letter is a great idea. Sketching construction details during an interview is another good idea.


Exactly. Yes, of course any 10 year old can get past it. But you said yourself above that you personally would take this requirement as a sign that the firm is not worth applying to. That's just the point:  it's easily doable, but the non-serious people won't do it.  It weeds out everybody who doesn't really care strongly about working at this particular firm, so it leaves us with a better pool of applicants.


There are better and more efficient screening hoops to waste an applicant's time if that's what you are after. I know plenty of desperate people who would write that letter. I also know plenty of competent individuals who would disregard the guidelines and still land the job. No firm is that special.


Sketching construction details at an interview is pretty standard for a lot of firms, but that's after you make it to the interview.  I like the letter thing as a way to help narrow down a big batch of applications to those few you want to interview.

Jun 21, 18 3:42 pm

Yes, Formerlyunknown (Funk. for short?), exactly.  

The lengthy agitation and copious whining in the complaints about this unusual but reasonable hiring methodology only proves its utility.

Jun 21, 18 3:50 pm

lol... agreed. Well except for 10 year old. They no longer teach penmanship in school. Maybe that's the real issue; The 1z who can't right so good and relie on checkspeller to be coherant hate this so much. :(


That is true. I was at the customer service desk recently in a retail store, where the manager was trying to help two new teen or college-age hires fill out their tax paperwork. One of them said "I don't know how to do my signature". The manager had to show her how to do it and have her copy it on scrap paper a few times before she felt like she could sign her own name on the forms!


Wurd. Totalee.


rolf... Also a warning. Don't do cursive. It's probable the reviewer may not even know how to read that and it will immediately have you facing age discrimination issues. Along the same lines, don't use a beveled edge on your lead holder to do proper architectural lettering --- also a dead giveaway you are ancient and could never fathom how to use a computer. But you could have fun with an old kroy machine or lettera; they might think they have to pay you the ransom.


Who goes through formal job applications anyway? Most good architecture jobs are never advertised.

Jun 21, 18 4:15 pm

People new to an area; people who very much want to work for a particular firm but have no direct connections yet there; people who have spent many years in one firm so may not have as varied a network of inroads to other firms as some; people who just see an advertised job in which they're interested. I'm not sure where you're from, but unemployment is very low at the moment in many areas. After trying for some months to fill several positions in my current firm through our network, some were filled that way but we have posted the others publicly. A couple of them are specialty niches, for which it is very difficult to find people with the skills and credentials required, so we must reach out beyond our connections. You're making a lot of always/never generalizations but it sounds as though your experience isn't very diverse.


Yes, many of the sweeping generalizations in this thread reveal gigantic gaps in knowledge and experience.


Some firms simply require every candidate to fill out an application as a means of organization and having a standardized process.

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