Sitting Duck - S0S

Sitting Duck

I'm feeling frustrated / at a loss career-wise.

I started at what I thought was a dream job this past summer and now want to quit.

During the interview, the firm principal/hiring advisor outright stated he was looking to align me with design and master planning opportunities given my experience. He communicated I would start on smaller projects to help push things through and get acclimated then larger projects. That all sounded great to me.

The confusion started within the in the 2nd month when the principal who interviewed me said I was on the project manager track from what he took away in the interview. I was confused and made a note to follow up at the 90-day review two weeks later as that meeting was not the time. The morning before my 90-day review I was onboarding on a new project when that project's manager said “Think of project manager goals you want to take away from this project” unprompted as if I was looking for those. It's a two-phase, two-year project with not a lot of learning opportunities. "A wall here, a door there".  Later that day during the 90-day review I expressed to the principal that while I am open to learning PM skills (since I didn't want to come across as not wanting to learn), I want to be a project architect or designer. He got verbally testy and fired back “Well I have plenty of project architects and I have already got great designers. What this firm needs is project managers.” I was confused given the roles explicitly discussed during the interview were Architectural Associate and then Staff Architect upon my licensure(very close). Never once did we discuss the PM tract. Note, this is a departmental firm, and PMS does not design but exclusively facilitates contracts/client relationships/budgets. Forward a few weeks later to my professional development meeting with HR and the Principal. Neutrally, I began the meeting by trying to understand where the wires were getting crossed: if he felt I had said something that would imply PM role, revisited what roles and expectations were explicitly discussed in the interview to get to the bottom of what was happening on his end. Then he back-peddled and said he had only said it as a recommendation along the lines of “I thought you would make a good PM.” I then proceeded to push further to recite the 90-day review and other incidents that went (in my mind) beyond recommendation and more into directive action. Essentially, all I got was back-peddling and equivocating from him. He played the whole thing off as a weird game of telephone gone awry. While this doesn't seem like the door he was trying to shove me through swings only one way, I still feel very very disoriented and demotivated by this ordeal. I now feel like a sitting duck at this firm and that trying for positions I thought I was being hired for is already filled. I no longer care about pushing for leadership positions. I can't help but think this all could have been avoided if the Principal had stated they were looking to hire someone for the PM track in the job ad or the interview.

For context, I've done about 2.5 years of PM at my previous job but I made a point not to mention this during the interview. The previous firm also pushed me to become a PM. While I enjoyed working with clients, I felt I missed out on larger projects that would have had a lot more scope to glean institutional knowledge, expand my technical ability, and improve/update my portfolio with local projects. I was doing very small projects (which makes sense to start with) but few to none of those projects can go into my portfolio. I also felt like I plateaued-- I wasn't getting to learn anything new architecturally because the project scopes I was managing were so small. "A wall or door here there". Since our industry relies on portfolio/work to both interview for prospective clients and architecture jobs I felt like my career trajectory took a blow due to it. Sure, I learned soft skills, contracts, etc. but I felt undersupported and that I was doing all the projects the Principals didn't want to do while they galavanted off on larger more fulfilling work. I haven't worked on a full-size building in a long time because of it and still feel I have much to learn about the entire process. I miss it. Beyond that, I've generally noticed a higher attrition rate among Project Manager positions due to being overworked, less rewarding, and unsupported. You get paid more, but you leave the craft side of the profession behind which I feel I am still too young to do career-wise. I love working with people and mentoring, but I don't have to do that in my 9-5. I'm ok with making less if I'm maintaining a connection to the craft of this industry.

TLDR: I feel like a sitting duck - I got hired at a firm that promised design, master planning, and larger projects during interviews. As soon as I started the boss started speaking on my behalf saying I was looking to become a Project Manager, when I've never said that. Now I feel stuck because this same boss said this firm has “too many project architects/designers” and they need PMs but that was not communicated during the interview. The project I am recently assigned is intended to be a PM development project for me, smaller in scope very similar to what I've already done in the past, and don't feel I can learn anything from it.

Dec 3, 23 7:07 pm

Sorry that your boss and their firm are such a shitshow.  There's not much I can see you doing that can fix it. You need to leave as soon as you can line up another job doing something more like the design work you want.

You story is not the first time I have seen design work used as a bait to get people to accept jobs.  Once the bait is taken and someone joins the office, there's a switcheroo to CD production, CA, project management etc.   Other places strike a pose of "everyone does design" which is usually a delusion, if not an outright lie.

As you interview for your next job, you need to lean hard into figuring out if potential firms are really interested in hiring you to work primarily as a designer and the firm is set up in way that that can happen.

Dec 3, 23 7:36 pm  · 
5  · 
Sitting Duck

I asked a lot of questions to that point, but I may try ask to speak with a collegue within the firm / at the same level but outside of the interviewing team.

Dec 3, 23 9:25 pm  · 
1  · 

You should. Talking to employees is the most effective way I can think of to truly find out how a firm assigns their design tasks. Also consider networking with people who are in "director of design" roles and see if you can land a job working under them as their deputy (I'm assuming you are not yet at the point you could be a director of design yourself).

Dec 3, 23 11:01 pm  · 
1  · 

My read is no wires got crossed. You were told what they thought you wanted to hear so that you would take the job offer and after you got settled in they pivoted to what they were actually hiring you for - a PM.

Sorry you got conned. Next interview get more specific about the role - the team, recent projects, process, work flow, responsibilities, etc. and pay attention to body language, tone of voice, level of detail. 

My 2¢

Dec 3, 23 8:00 pm  · 
2  · 
Sitting Duck

Appreciate that advice. I did ask a TON of questions during the interviews. I can only think, either I am explicit that I am not looking to be a PM and/or can I get role expectation promises discussed in interviews such as role expectations explicitly written into my next contract? Seems like overkill, but here I am.

Dec 3, 23 9:12 pm  · 

I would be right up front. Tell them specifically what role you are looking for and what role you are not looking for.

Dec 3, 23 10:24 pm  · 

*read their reaction*

Dec 3, 23 10:25 pm  · 

In the old days, firms had one room where people designed, and another room where people drafted. There are some places where versions of that model persist, and the role of a design hire in a firm of that type would be very clearly defined (i.e. nothing but design).

Dec 3, 23 11:10 pm  · 

Play nice through the end of year, get your $500 "first year employee" holiday bonus, and start the new year with a new job. 

Dec 4, 23 7:16 am  · 
3  · 

Agree with Anon, also there are just so many firms that believe the only way to leadership is as a PM - ignoring those that want to lead in PA/Designer roles. Not everyone wants to, or is, cut out to be a PM but give me a really strong PA on my team any day of the week to help lead. 

Dec 4, 23 10:01 am  · 
4  · 

This post feels eerie to read because I got booted from a firm for being the sitting duck and getting so wound up and miserable about it. I was hired as staff, expecting a designer role but [forced] into a PM/PA role taking over projects of very seasoned architect with 30 years of experience (whom they did not want to pay anymore, yes actual words). My mental health deteriorated quite rapidly because they didn’t train me in any PM capabilities, and did not have a 90 day review, which I completely missed an opportunity to bring up due to the stress mountain of expectations to hand off these projects with the departure of the senior architect. I had a little PM experience, just like you with very small projects, but obviously this was clearly a higher level of coordination /markup and internal review. The principal urged me not to quit after many informal, but unsuccessful attempts (including the worst self performance review I’ve ever written about myself), always summoning help at the last minute before deadlines, but never being involved enough because I was billing as a PM, and they, a principal. I was absolutely screwed, became extremely unhappy and uncommunicative to the point to which they used to put me out of my misery. 

The last thing that principal said back to me when I proclaimed I was never hired as a PM, was “well we don’t hire people here so they can be status quo” as if my success at this firm was dependent on acting 100% outside my role to which I had no way of gauging because its a different role entirely. They still don’t have a PM job listing on their website.  Huge relief I am gone, but I am extremely weary of architecture firms at this point.

At least you have your license which gives you more options for consulting. I thought I was nearly there, close to 7 years of experience but now I’m taking a break, reconciling my talents and exploring other options in hands-on workshop / design build or surveying. I would leave if you can. 

Jan 5, 24 12:47 am  · 

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