Staying positive in this profession?Smaller firm versus corporate firm?


I have been doing contract work for the past 2 years. When I think about it and explain my experience to people I compare it to being a prostitute who falls in love with her clients. In the back of my head I hope that it turns out like Pretty Woman but it never does and no one wants to marry me.

I am licensed architect with 6.5 years experience and I have only worked for large corporate firms. I was laid off two years ago from a firm that that I worked at for four years and that I started two months after graduating from school. After I left I heard from a friend that was still employed at the firm that the senior leaders, Project Architects and Project Managers at the firm had gotten together in a meeting and decided who was expendable and that I was one of the people. I am still a little bitter about it but at the time I was able to put aside some of my bitterness because I had passed 4 exams of the AREs and had 3 scheduled. I figured their lost.  I spent 2 months unemployed and using a recruitment agency was able to get a contract position at a  well known corporate firm where I worked for a year. I was able to stay there for a year and do the work but the environment was so passive- aggressive and emotional draining. I was ignored, talked down to, and at one point during a team meeting my hand was literally pushed aside when I attempted to point out a design suggestion. I became licensed during that year working for this firm. When I mentioned my license to some of the people at the firm it was dismissed as not a big deal.  I was eventually let go from that contract. I then spent 3 months unemployed, I had a number of interviews, some of them went well and then I wouldnt  hear anything from them. I then got a 2 month contract again with a different interior architecture firm. the experience again was different and there seemed to be a run around with them wanting to make me an offer but not talking directly to the recruiter. This contract ended and I ended up getting another contract with a very high profile firm. I was there for a few months, but again it was passive-aggressive, this time even though I would constantly ask for work and point out what needed to be done and would ask the job captain if he would like me to do it, he would say no and end up doing it himself. The work that I did the job captain never gave me credit for, and there was a moment where another team member asked him when he had time to do all these details, he initially mentioned my name, when the other team member asked him to repeat himself cause he didnt hear, my job captain gave the name of another person that was not related at all to the details. One more example was me reviewing the drawings and noticing a design detail that could be easily changed and work with the overall parti, I pointed this out to the job captain, he brought the designer over and after explaining it to the designer the job captain was given credit for my idea. Yes, I do realize that I should have spoken up on both occasions and taken credit for my work, but I didnt.  Again I was let go from this contract position.

After all this I just feel so frustrated and bitter about this whole entire profession. I am able to do the work and I know I can do it well. But I cant help but feel bogged down by all the passive aggressive behavior within certain firms. I have only worked in large corporate firms since graduating, I did do a an internship at a small firm in college but that was it. Is there still this passive aggressive attitude in a small firm? I think partly my hesitation with working at a larger firm and playing along with the games is partly that I do not know the rules, and also I dont see the purpose of it. I do not want to go for a leadership position. how do people deal with the politics of it all?

Jan 22, 13 10:43 pm

Small firms rule if you find a good crew and owner to deal with. Generally, the benefits are less but your thoughts will count and if you prove yourself worthy you can eventually be your own job captain and designer as I have been. Sitting in meetings and dealing directly with clients while the owner of the firm might only pop there head in once in a while is as close to being an independent person as you will get while working for others. My experience with larger firms / corporations is that the culture breeds the behavior you mentioned. No credit is given and others will claim your hard work as their own. Of course I am generalizing since I am sure that there are exceptions. Nothing quite feels like a small firm that has a lot of work to keep 6 to 8 people busy on their own individual projects. Even interns learn more than just doing stair sections all day long. 

Jan 23, 13 12:09 am

Small firms can be hectic and messy. If that's not a big deal then you'll be able to work in a place wihere you know everyone and it's a very personal environment like studio. If have an office where everyone is under 40 then you ought  to be in good shape as younger generations have a healthier outlook. If the owner is much older than everyone else then it's a wildcard, depends on their level of comfort with IT and contemporary design.

That being said a lot of corporate firms aren't that bad. Name brand ones like Gensler at least make the work place look fun. I don't know which job market you are in but larger cities tend to have good places to work as there is more competition amongst everybody and workplace friction is reduced to improve productivity.

Jan 23, 13 2:45 am

The issues you've faced are not unique to architecture. In every profession you're going to have passive-aggressive people, people that will ignore your ideas, take credit for work that you've done and bring you in for a project and terminate you just as quickly. A lot of your colleagues behavior can be directly tied to the fact that you were a contract employee. Temps never get the same treatment. Also, firms that hire temps are typically not the best working environments...they're usually the same ones that offer unpaid internships... 

The good news is you're licensed. Like the post above, I don't know what market you're in but screw these hiring agencies. Find firms that legitimately interest you, will invest in your development and are places actually you want to work.

However, politics and "falling in line" are a part of working in every firm, big or small. 

Jan 23, 13 8:40 am

I was there for a few months, but again it was passive-aggressive, this time even though I would constantly ask for work and point out what needed to be done and would ask the job captain if he would like me to do it, he would say no and end up doing it himself.


This appears to be an improper independent contractor relationship.  Did you draft the contract?  Did you use their equipment? If you are going to do the IC game you really have to negotiate and clearly define tasks and deliverables with your client.  It really bothers me that I keep seeing these posts on archinect where the OP entered into a IC agreement but their ignorance allowed the "client" (i.e. architecture firm) to take advantage.


either we're completely failing in educating the next generation of architects, or we have a lot of assholes running around who feel they have absolutely no responsibility toward the future of our profession.


anyway - unless you brush up on things you were supposed to learn in your pro-practice course, you're going to keep finding yourself getting screwed over.

Jan 23, 13 10:03 am

either we're completely failing in educating the next generation of architects, or we have a lot of assholes running around who feel they have absolutely no responsibility toward the future of our profession.

Not an either/or situation.  Both statements are true.

The best firm to work in is the one with YOUR name on the door.  Easier said than done in this enviroment.  As stated earlier, if you are a temp or contract worker, you're not one of the "family" and are not going to be appreciated like one.

Jan 23, 13 12:04 pm

Hey at leat you found work. I'd trade shoes in a heartbeat.

Jan 23, 13 12:45 pm

sounds awful.  i have nothing but happy things to say about the small firm i'm at.  i get design input, lots of responsibilities,  and credit for everything.  you're licensed-- you should just start up your own thing.  the market's bouncing back so it'll be easier finding clients than a year ago.  good luck either way.

Jan 23, 13 7:45 pm

your skills clearly lie in design and not politics. this is the case for all of us at one point or another. it's horribly frustrating and sometimes you wish you could blow everyone out of the water for their BS...but you cant or dont, so we move on...

anyway, start your own thing. it's hard but not that hard. i work in a lot of capacities including BD. i'd be happy to speak with you. lets make some sh*t happen captain!

Jan 24, 13 12:07 pm

The common consensus is always that a smaller firm is better for personal growth, learning, dealing with clients etc etc. And it is true. The problem with smaller firms is the growth prospects after one's been there for many years. Not all firms stay around, a lot of them vanish after a while. That is true for firms with your name on the door as well.

After working for exclusively small firms for about 12 years now, Im thinking that the grass is probably greener on the other side...

Jan 24, 13 2:38 pm

Hang in there, things will get better!  And you've got a licence that opens up all sorts of possibilities.  To your story, I've got a similar experience as you.  I was laid off from a small firm a few years back due to a reduction in workforce from lack of work.  At this small firm, I was doing everything I loved and came into this profession for...meeting and working with clients, designing, collaborating, traveling, and above all getting respect.  Fast forward, after I was laid off, preceded to move to another state and laned a contract position as a great corporate firm.  My contract ended there and ended up picking another contract at a different corporate firm.  Overall the experiences were and are great also, so I would say it's not entirely fair to put all large firms in a box.  There probably are some bad ones, and really good ones, but I would say most land in the middle.  You denfinately have to play the game a bit, and be willing to to so in order to be successful.  I have to say for me, I like working at a large corporate firm equally as much as I did a small firm, there are definately pros and cons for both and ultimately the politics are all the same..big or samll, so I guess you've got to just figure out what will work best for you.

Big Firm vs. Small firm

Big - less personal, can get lost in the mix.  potentially less opportunity to work on a number of different things.  Better pay.  Better opportunity to network.  Better opportunity to work on large meaningful projects.  More exposure.  Potentially more opportunity to advance.

Small - more personal.  More opportunity to work on a number of different things.  Less pay.  Less opportunity to work on larger world class projects.

Jan 24, 13 3:04 pm

I skipped everything y'alls just wrote just to say this:

There is no hope, abandon ship.

Jan 24, 13 5:02 pm


Jan 24, 13 5:33 pm

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