Leveraging Tangential Experience; or Yet Another Thread About Getting A Job

boots cats

So of course, I'm looking for a job. Who's not?

Here's my situation. Since school ended [M.Arch / M.UD, Kent State, 2010] I've been the head user experience designer for a small software company. I've done a good bit of project management too, and since I was our only designer I kind of got to implement [through extensive trial and error] my own design / project delivery / project management process.

There was a good bit of overlap between this and architecture - synthesizing and prioritizing the client's needs, occasionally illuminating exactly what those needs are, putting together a design that works and getting it across to them before it's actually built, accommodating shifts in budget and scope, deciding whether to use custom or off-the-shelf components, etc.

I've been doing freelance work during that time too. Installations, furniture, architectural competition entries, a staircase that wound up getting designed, built, and installed in a week, and one project with a local architecture firm - but that one was only as a fabricator.

Here's my portfolio:

Sounds cool and well-rounded, right? Well, it is, but the downside is I haven't touched CDs or worked in a de facto architecture firm since my last internship in grad school, which was four years ago. 

I'm leaving the software job solely because I still really want to be an architect. My question is how do I frame my previous experience in order to snag an interview? I'm confident that once I get the interview, I'll be able to get across why I'm not just a guy with an M.Arch who's been screwing around for two years. But does my portfolio make that clear? Would I be better off putting more focus on the projects I did in school and during my internship, and framing myself as entry-level plus added bonus experience? Or is it pretty evident from my portfolio that what I've been doing since school has had value, and that it'll be worth the time to get me back up to speed on CDs and construction administration?

Jan 16, 13 4:00 pm

I'd probably defer to your grad-school internship experience for leverage in getting hired. Someone who knows the business inside a firm well enough will be able to show that they can be plugged into whatever task a firm might need, even if its not exactly PM or CM work right off the bat.

It sounds like the UX job you got out of school was definitely beneficial. Turning that into evidence of your competence in a collaborative environment will help. It may also help to discuss anything you picked up in that environment (business wise) that indicates why you are going after employment at a specific firm. It's not talked about enough in interviews, and finding the right way to bring that observation about working in another creative industry into a discussion with the interviewer might help set you apart.

Honestly, your portfolio gives a great evolution from student to professional, and how you've applied a good eye for design along the way. I think categorizing your projects (student, contract, professional) into supporting a broader message about being well rounded, knowledgeable, and valued to a specific firm is a better way of looking at it, rather than thinking about giving emphasis of one part of your designs over the other.

Jan 16, 13 4:26 pm

I ended up as a business analyst for three years out of college. In no way did I want that, but it just came about and didn't have any arch offers (I ended up quiting last Oct). People well say of course it's good you were at least working but it's mainly bs. Unfortunately we are competing with people who already have experience in standard arch jobs. I was at an interview in August and the architect directly said these years of experience as an analyst are bad on my resume. 

Sure it's better then working a retail job or w/e but it's still an up hill climb .You're in better shape then me though, since you have a m.arch. Networking is your friend.Good luck. 

Jan 16, 13 9:24 pm
boots cats

Ouch. That's kinda harsh - what's the point of telling someone that a job they had for three years is "bad on their resume?" It's not like you're going to change it or leave it blank, and it's also not like it invalidates the education and experience that you do have in architecture. Their loss if they think a variety of experience is a bad thing. 

Spinning non-architectural experience into something with clear benefits to an architect is a challenge, but it should be doable. I don't know what a business analyst does, but make sure you've put some thought into figuring out what you've learned from that job that applies to architecture.

Are there any projects that you worked on that you could put in your portfolio, even if they're not architectural? Even if they don't actually result in anything graphically appealing - I've got a software project in my portfolio where the client's in-house designer actually did the graphics, but what I was highlighting was the work I did to [a] make sure the app was user-friendly regardless of what the designers did, [b] enable the programmers to start writing the code before the design was finalized, and [c] give the designers a clear specification of each and every thing that needed to be designed.

I was at a portfolio review recently where the best advice I got was to make sure that, if you're presenting something non-standard, the person reading it has some way of knowing that you solved the problem well. Clearly set out what you tried to accomplish or what problem you tried to solve, and make it clear how you did it.

Other than that...get any projects that you can. The first two projects in my portfolio are literally things where I saw a need and just barged in and said "trust me, you need this weird thing that I'm about to build for you out of old office supplies." Do competitions, write, build things. Stay sharp.

Also, have you thought about taking a sort of roundabout path from where you are to architecture? Depending on what you were doing before, you might be really well suited to some sort of product development role where you can sort of bridge the gap between how something is designed and how the company that produces it works. The smaller the company, the more opportunity there is to take on new tasks, seek out opportunities to think like a designer and take those opportunities. 

Good luck to you too, man. 

Jan 16, 13 11:19 pm

Yea I have been actively doing stuff. Have not remained stagnant.Some random side work. Added a whole new project to my portfolio. Actually redid whole portfolio. Just applied to grad school about a week ago. Going to AIA events, lectures, volunteering, etc. Still grinding man. Just wish things/life would come a bit eaiser. I seem to be one freak example of someone who never could get an arch job. Such is life tho...

Jan 17, 13 10:32 pm
boots cats

You're definitely not a freak example. This economy kicked a lot of people in the nuts and/or ovaries, and a lot of those people have just left architecture behind for good. Gotta keep grinding. 

Is your new portfolio the one you have posted up here, or is that your old one?

Jan 18, 13 4:37 pm

Networking!  The portfolio looks pretty good and seems to have an emphasis on built work; it seems like the issue is more resume-based, or maybe being in the right place at the right time.*

In the meantime, are there architect-y things you can do around town, like Habitat for Humanity, volunteer, do stuff at the AIA?  It might take a while, but I've known at least a few people whose success in finding work was directly related to their active participation in their local AIA.

* - This is a crazy variable!  One time, I was in a large city and not working, and networking to the extent I could.  Despite my efforts, I actually wound up at a job in a completely different city that I applied to almost on a whim - total crapshoot, but casting a [geographically] wide net can also help.  You never know exactly what people are looking for, and where they are looking for it.

Jan 18, 13 10:46 pm

...also, note that for the people I know who were active in the AIA and eventually found jobs, it took one of them almost a year, but he's now on his way to being an architect.  Perseverance and tenacity are probably the most important characteristics in a down economy.

Jan 18, 13 10:49 pm

Ball kicking it did. I should prolly update my profile on here. Here is the latest:

As far as AIA events. I haven't been a big fan of the Atlanta ones (enjoyed the DC ones more). Been to two networking events and everyone is acting very cliquey. They might smile and say hi but wern't really trying to conversate. -__-

I should also add I graduated in 2009. So almost 4 years now....blah blah.

Jan 19, 13 12:22 am

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