Senior level discussion - how do you feel about your career?


Hey all, I am feeling really stuck career-wise these days, and figured maybe others are too. I am not working right now and my job search is depressing. What the job postings for senior level roles expect, and the salaries offered (I am in NY where they now have to be disclosed), seem crazy. I am noticing the salary range for senior level roles are not much different than intermediate roles, yet the expectations are much higher. 

It feels I have reached a point where doors are closing instead of opening. Having expertise in specific types of projects is more important, and it's feels impossible to break into anything new. A lot of postings I see are for project types I have no background in at all. And even though I am only 40, it feels like unspoken age-ism is creeping up. Most of my prior jobs had little to no staff over the age of 45, except for the most senior principals. I am feeling this pressure to find a job where I can stay at for many years, as opportunities will continue to be more narrow, and practical things like saving for retirement have to take a front seat over personal satisfaction with work.

I am also frustrated because it seems, even for a PM role, the expectation is that I should be a Revit expert, even though the majority of my time as a PM/PA has been spent involved in meetings, calls, consultant coordination, doing markups, contracts and site visits. I have worked in mostly cad firms, and when a prior firm was transitioning to Revit I was doing CA work and missed the boat on intensive training. I understand Revit workflows and can use it to a level I feel is appropriate for a senior architect, but was recently rejected for an interview because I had no experience with Revit plug-ins.

All that to say, I don't really want to be a senior Revit monkey anyway. I felt after 15 years I would be beyond this point, but it feels like things are going backwards. At my most recent job I was doing CD sets while managing 2-4 other CA projects with no staff on any of the projects. It's too chaotic and impossible to do work in 40 hours when you are expected to both be in constant communication (email, zoom, chats, calls, etc.) and produce as well. I've had periods where I disliked architecture, but after each promotion, the more miserable I feel about it.

I'm also coming off of 2 personally upsetting experiences at my last two jobs. My most recent job was the most toxic, cutthroat, dysfunctional, miserable environment I've ever experienced. It ended when my boss was literally treating me like a child and screaming at me and I told them off and walked out. My job before had a good culture, but the already long hours got even worse during the pandemic (regularly working until 3am). I learned that my salary was low for my role and others with lighter workloads were making much more. It felt like a slap in the face considering how dedicated and I was and the sacrifices I made for the company.

So, long story long, I am wondering if anyone else feels the same or is noticing the same trends? Any similar experiences? Am I just old and obsolete? Any tips for getting unstuck? Or just general commiserating helps too. At least then I won't feel like I am alone!

Jun 28, 23 7:56 pm

Seems like all the job posts ask people to be Revit experts, but in the real world no one in a SR position is. My firm does the same thing. Project manager job descriptions will be like "advanced Revit knowledge required"... but most PMs that work here could hardly open a Revit model...  

Honestly, sounds like you've just worked at some really shitty offices. 

Jun 28, 23 8:44 pm  · 
5  · 

At first that's what I figured about Revit, that it was just a boilerplate part of the job posting, but it's come up in every interview and I've had to take a Revit test as well. And this is for CA specific or QA/QC roles too, not even PA/PM, which I am trying to get out of .

Jun 28, 23 9:14 pm  · 

Some places have their experienced QA and CA people doing the production work of fixing the errors in CD sets. I've had CA positions where I had to personally draw a ton of SK drawings to clean up messes created by shitty incomplete CDs. It was not fun.

Jun 29, 23 12:36 pm  · 

There is definately an age ceiling in the architecture profession because of the pay scale. At least you know it now at 40  and can take advantage of the dynamic…I recognized it too years ago as I moved around in the profession….The only place that I saw senior architects in numbers is at larger corporate firms doing major work because the experience was needed. Although tha vast majority of the staff was under 45. Maybe you should try head hunters because they can help you identify firms that meet your criteria

Jun 28, 23 8:55 pm  · 

It's funny, my experience with headhunters hasn't been good. A few years ago I interviewed for a PM role through a headhunter where I met every requirement and it was said to me "You're really young, what makes you think you can be a PM?"

First I am too young and now I am too old!

Jun 28, 23 9:17 pm  · 
1  · 

Most of the over-50 set that I know are no longer working in architecture firms.  They are either employed as architects in giant engineering firms, working as owner's reps, or working for the government.  Many of them don't even have any BIM or CAD software on their computers. 

I think what the OP is looking for is totally available in an architecture group of a giant engineering firm.  The firms of that size want the senior people doing high level stuff and the production work gets done by mid-level architects and drafters.  The OP may have to relocate out of NY to get that kind of job, though.

Jun 29, 23 10:16 am  · 
3  · 

Damn, I need that gig. This Only Fans life ain't paying the bills.

Jun 29, 23 7:31 pm  · 
4  · 

Just gotta show a little more

Jun 30, 23 12:01 am  · 
5  · 

You’d think a sexy men of architecture based OnlyFans would perform well. It does not.

Jun 30, 23 9:20 am  · 
5  · 

Sexy Men of Architecture = still awaiting its first participant.

(I was going to say 'member,' but I know this crowd too well.)

Jul 9, 23 11:05 pm  · 
1  · 

'for $4.99 a month, you can watch me sit at a desk and edit door hardware specs only wearing Corbu specs.'

Jul 20, 23 9:47 am  · 
2  · 

So you’re the one undercutting me on fee

Jul 20, 23 10:04 am  · 
1  · 

Once a Revit expert, always a Revit expert, sorry thats just the way it is. Seems like you need to find a new gig as  a PM

Jun 29, 23 11:37 am  · 

I will say, OP, that your post extremely resonated with me because it summed up my last couple of years as well. I had to deal with someone that ended up very toxic - ignoring every suggestion, piling on more projects (at one point 9 different projects, three of them that should have been half or full 40 hr weeks themselves), and they were completely dismissive of my concerns and more.

My fault though, I should have been a yes man instead of challenged (long time readers know how much sarcasm is meant in that).

Anyway, I got to the point where twice in the last two years I thought I should just leave the profession, because even though I love architecture, the practice of it sucks. Well, my brain tricked me into not leaving by pulling the "hey, go out on your own and see if your ideas work and make the profession better" card. 

Also general caveat of if you give an inch, they'll take a mile and take advantage of you - especially when you're good. I hate that our profession does that but the reality is every profession does. 

Jun 29, 23 5:41 pm  · 
2  · 
value engineer


I recently accepted a City government position. Full disclosure that I am a licensed civil engineer with a landscape architect undergrad (so I still find community here). I am really energized by the opportunity to run infrastructure programs, coordinate zoning, and manage developers rather than live in the technical trenches. They were fun (decreasingly so) for 12 years and I even worked for part time many of these years. I also found the mid management position of winning work, doing work, correcting the juniors to be virtually unmanageable. The mid level engineer workhorses powered the whole firm.  Be confident in your skills and strength, you will do the best work if you are living in your practice lane. How do I like it? I start in August, happy to report back.

PS. Hope you can change your username soon.

Jun 29, 23 7:42 pm  · 
2  · 

Thanks everyone for sharing. It's grim and needs to be widely understood as such. I'm in my first five years and am seriously concerned. 

Jun 29, 23 7:58 pm  · 

A GC will hire you to do PM work for them. Better pay too. If you’re still married to design, you can do some small residential work on the side. Specialize in townhouses or some other topology where rich people live and charge accordingly. I wouldn’t be surprised if you can get $100k-$200k per project. Just make SEO content around topics that people like this would search for (e.g. how to remodel a NY townhouse?) Use Keywords-everywhere plugin and start answering FAQ on your website in the 1000-10000 search range. You want to be a big fish in a small pond. 

Jun 29, 23 10:58 pm  · 
Wood Guy

I've been self-employed for most of my 40s; the boss still sucks sometimes but at least I have control of my own life. I'm turning 50 soon and somewhat regret never learning Revit or other BIM programs, but I've found a niche where I'm in high demand--energy efficient, comfortable, safe, healthy, environmentally friendly homes and renovations. Residential work has its challenges but I'm booked until 2025, making decent money on interesting projects. I'm introverted, have a speech impediment, I'm a designer not an architect, and live in a rural area, so if I can do it, I bet you can as well. 

Jun 30, 23 10:07 am  · 
6  · 

Frankly I think you dodged a bullet by never learning Revit, and making it work for yourself. I work in a medium sized office where they are asking even old dogs (like me) to do new tricks (revit proficiency)

Jun 30, 23 11:43 am  · 
3  · 
atelier nobody

I definitely feel this.

Jul 5, 23 4:36 pm  · 
1  · 

I after 15 years in revit production I began preparing  to move into design - 1. I created my own projects  by first learning Rhino and grasshopper to the level of UC Berkeley graduating students(they are very very sharp) 

It’s all about preparation and demonstrating skills to convince others to utilize you - otherwise you will be permanently pigeon holed

Jul 5, 23 7:07 pm  · 
1  · 

Seems to me that you are starting from scratch over again? Why don’t you leverage your previous experience and see what your employer can accommodate your move into a more front end…

Jul 6, 23 11:59 pm  · 

I know my firms still wants lots of revit ability for all levels of architects, both in job postings and in job descriptions.  I'm considered a "senior project architect" and don't really use revit much at all.  Similar to your actual experience.  No knowledge of how the interview conversations go at this level around the firm here.

Maybe look for "PM postings" instead of "senior architect"

Jul 6, 23 11:20 am  · 
1  · 

i am a 42yo architect and could vouch for public capital project manager position or working in a predominantly engineering office: 

i worked almost three years with a forensic/technical consulting group early in my career before resigning to think i was headed overseas for humanitarian development work, but met my spouse and stayed put instead, picking up menial architecture jobs during the recession. with no health/retirement benefits and our second kid on the way, i landed a municipal PM job in capital projects, and generally enjoyed it... although my lacking PM experience at the time also made it stressful. i vowed i would never go back to private practice unless it was with that engineering office i mentioned, and three years into the public job they reached out to me on a cold call to offer a position after one of their architects went out on their own. i have been back for more than 6 years and have a good gig going... hours, pay, and perks are the best i have ever had.

Jul 17, 23 4:10 pm  · 
3  · 

I'm probably the opposite of you in terms of qualifications but similar in terms of struggle? I am incredibly revit proficient but I think my life has been hard. I'm only writing a small portion of my struggle because to write everything would be too much.

If you are still interested in architecture, why don't you take some revit training courses? Then in the interview ask them to ask you a technical revit question to counter the fact you haven't used it professionally. The truth is every office has a different workflow and plugins. So you can be proficient but still need to talk to the project team/office first about how they ideally like things to be done before implementing your own ideas. You should have your own solve in your back pocket but what I said previously is the reality.

For the past 8 years I have worked at a different office almost every year because they all have a hire and fire mentality. I have literally been laid off with waves of people every time except once. The only thing I learned from that experience is that no matter how irrational your managers are, you have to accept that with a smile instead of asking questions and caring for the project. Just shut up and do what you're told. God forbid you ask them for free things that require no effort but would allow you to grow tremendously as a professional such as listening in on teams to all meetings while you work. Bottom line, my experience generally has been if you don't get the principals or managers to like you politically you can be technically capable all day and it means nothing. Feels like this profession is "it was cute when you were a worker bee paid almost nothing, but we don't want, have money, or space for you as a leader and we will exploit your labor to gain profits but not even offer you stable employment in return."

The first time you are laid off it's no big deal. The second time, you think this sucks but I can get through this. But with each time it didn't get easier. This fifth time I literally for 2 weeks thought of different ways to kill myself. I'm better now but I've sent out 70+ applications and am potentially going to maybe get two opportunities at offices which on Glassdoor are known to be abusive. Meaning I'm only getting these opportunities because no one wants to work in these places. Most places not wanting to hire me because of all the offices I worked at and thinking I'm a huge problem. So I've found myself in this predicament and feeling pushed out of the industry I worked so hard to be technically proficient in. Reading the Glassdoor reviews on most offices is depressing. I am so grateful for Glassdoor because for the first time there is transparency and offices can no longer get away with all the bullshit. But then you see something like 75% of offices having toxic culture in some form or another. So we are begging to be paid like shit, treated like shit, and forced to do things that don't even seem to matter?

I don't know if I want to still be in architecture but have spent so much time here I'm not sure where to go from here.

Jul 21, 23 1:34 am  · 

What city are you working in? Feel free to PM me. I only started experiencing something similar when I moved to a particular midwestern submarket.

Jul 22, 23 12:08 am  · 

Definitely recommend trying a switch to the owner's side if the opportunity arises.  Developers, Universities, Municipal Government all need PMs with architecture background, and the hours and working conditions are generally much more humane.  

Jul 21, 23 10:40 pm  · 
1  · 

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