The Socratic Method

Questioning Our Assumptions About Design

  • The Architecture Student's Guide to Getting a Job

    Sean Joyner
    Jan 14, '19 8:58 PM EST

    You’ve finally made it. The end of architecture school. The all-nighters, studio drama, endless iterations, and annoying Xacto blade cuts are finally over. And now its time for the next step. Getting a job…

    Stepping into the professional world can be intimidating, especially for those of you who have never had an internship. But it doesn’t have to be intimidating, think of this as a new creative challenge you have to solve. Remember, that compared to the rest of the world, you are an expert in design and problem solving. You’ve devoted 5 years of your life to studying an extraordinarily rigorous field. Look at it like this:

    5 years = 260 weeks | You probably spent at the very least, 40 hours a week thinking about and studying architecture and design (if we disregard all-nighters and dont worry about holidays I’d say it averages out)| so thats 260 weeks x 40 hours = 10,400 hours (let’s make it 9,000 hours for arguments sake)

    I’m sure most of you have heard of the 10,000 hour rule, made famous by Malcom Gladwell in his book, Outliers. Essentially, the adage is that to become an expert in any field it takes 10,000 hours (give or take) of practice. Well, your 5 years of devoted study of design qualifies you. My point here is, that you are more than equipped to tackle getting a job.

    I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to help a number of graduates apply, interview prep, research, and find jobs at firms of their choosing. I’ve also had the privilege to observe, discuss, and learn what firm leadership looks for in applicants throughout my time as a student and as a professional.

    I had my first internship in my third year of architecture school and had 3 total before I graduated (one was a 3 person firm, the other a 12 person design focused studio, and the next was a non-profit). When I graduated I worked briefly at a high end residential firm of about 100 people for only six weeks (I quit after that time because the firm wasn’t a good fit for me). After that I transitioned to a larger firm that focused more on education and public work where I worked for about two years. After my time at the large firm I transitioned to a more medium sized firm of about 12 people and is where I now work.

    As I’ll discuss in another article, one of the most important things for you to become when you get your first job is a close observer of everything that happens in your office. I was this way (and I still am), and it allowed me to learn an extraordinary amount about the people who run the firms and the dynamic of the firm. One of these dynamics is in how entry level staff are selected and hired. So lets jump into it:

    1. Be selective

    The worst strategy you could take when applying to jobs is to send out a 100 applications and hope for a response from someone. You’ve spent 5 years of blood, sweat, and tears to get to this point and so you need to take your next step seriously. If you just want any job, it’s time to take a step back and reflect on what you want out of your life and career.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to not be sure about what direction you want to take professionally after graduation. Even if it’s just that you are passionate and enthusiastic about architecture, that’s enough. When you’re searching for firms really look at their website, ask around about the leadership and the office culture. You want to be at a place that shares your same enthusiasm and poise about architecture.

    Before you walk into a firm for an interview you should already have a fairly good idea of the kind of work that they do and what their core values are. You want to be honest with yourself before applying as to whether or not the firm shares your values about design. Good firms are looking for people who share their ideals. If you go in for an interview and the people interviewing you only want to know how good you are on Revit and are not interested in you as a person, that should be a huge red flag.

    Every firm will not be a good fit. You’re main goal is to find a place where you click with them at the interview. A place where you can envision yourself working, being challenged, and growing. You’re looking for compatibility. Think of it like a first date. When I first graduated there were two firms that offered me positions that I declined because I could not see myself working there after learning more in my interview. This is okay to do and it is encouraged. You want the right fit.

    2. Value learning over money

    Salary is a big factor for many recent graduates and I agree that it should play a big part in your job selection. When it comes to your pay out of school the biggest thing you need to understand is what kind of value you bring to the table. Take a moment and realize that while you have superior creative powers compared to the rest of the population, when you enter the professional world of architecture, compared to the people in the field who have devoted their whole lives to the profession, you know pretty much nothing.

    When I was 24 years old just after I graduated and was in my first job at the big firm I mentioned I remember meeting this architect, we’ll call him Dave. Dave has been an architect for over 40 years. That is almost two of my lifetimes. His understanding of architecture is truly unfathomable to me. For me to walk into a firm straight out of school demanding a high salary when there are people like Dave in the same building is laughable.

    And so the point is that, yes, you don’t want to be underpaid and you need to do your research to make sure that you are not. But also, you want to measure what your learning opportunities are going to be at a firm. If I could be paid $60k a year at a firm where I was pigeon holed into one thing versus getting paid $50k a year at a firm where I get full exposure to how a project is executed, I’ll choose the $50k all day without a second thought even if it means I’m doing more work.

    You want to think long term. Your friend who gets paid more than you now may not be in a position to make what you will make 5 years from now. The more you learn the more valuable you will be down the road. And the less you learn now the less valuable you will be in the long run. In the beginning, don’t be stickler about money, but also, don’t be underpaid. It’s a balancing act.

    Exceed the expectations of your employer in your first year and you will have some leverage to ask for more money, but even then, money is secondary to learning. Think of it as a graduate program in professional practice, but instead of you paying the school, the school is paying you. And when you start to feel entitled just remember that people like Dave exist.

    3. Understand your role

    When it comes to recent graduates most firms are looking for people who are driven, fast learners, and enthusiastic about architecture. It is understood that you do not know much about professional practice and that there will be a learning curve as you begin your career. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Be honest with your prospective employer on your ability and be okay with not having an answer for everything. It’s okay to say that you don’t know something or that you are learning. I do this almost everyday, if something doesn’t make sense to me I’ll speak up. If I don’t understand something and I don’t say anything I’m doing more harm then good.

    Do your best to have the foundations down in the softwares that the firm uses (Revit is the big one right now) but be transparent about your proficiency. It’s an expectation that you will know how to use Adobe Suite, CAD, and BIM softwares, or at the very least have the ability to learn them quickly. In the end, the real selling point will be your character, personality, and drive.

    4. Know someone at the firm

    Knowing someone at a firm you’re interested in that can vouch for you is probably one of the most powerful ways to get your foot in the door. Also, this person can answer your questions about the office culture and nature of the work. This is one of the biggest reasons you want to be friendly with your peers and instructors in school. Chances are you will run into them again later in your career. If they remember you as a slacker or lazy it will be tough to convince them you’ve changed.

    When you interview at an office that has people from your class working there one of the first things the leadership will do after you leave the interview is ask them about you. You want to be known as a thoughtful, hardworking, and driven person.

    Before I got hired at the firm I currently work at I reached out to one of the team members that I knew from school. Her and I never talked in school but one day I happened to help her with a problem on her computer. She remembered this and was happy to share many details about the firm and answer a ton of questions I had. If I had not had time for her that day or dismissed her when she needed help at school who knows how things would have worked out for me with this job.

    The point I’m making here is twofold: first is to value your reputation, it might not seem to matter while you’re in school but architecture is a small world and trust me, it matters. And second, do your best to be on good terms with your professors and your peers. If you do this well, you will find yourself in a position of having to choose between a large number of job offers, ones that you don’t even apply to. People will think of you when opportunities become available. Treat people well and do good work and you’ll be on your way.

    And so as you embark on this journey remember to be honest with yourself about what you want for your future. Embrace being a lifelong student and get ready to learn about a whole new world. You’ve closed one chapter and now it’s the start of something new. Remember what you’ve accomplished in finishing school and know that you have what it takes to take on life as a professional.

    Happy job hunting!

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  • The Rookie Architect: Navigating Your First Job

    Sean Joyner
    Jan 10, '19 2:49 PM EST

    When you step into a firm for the first time it can be quite nerve racking. Things are foreign to you yet also oddly familiar. It’ll take a couple of months to really take it all in. In the beginning , you’ll feel anxious, insecure, inadequate, but you’ll also feel excited, blissful, and... View full entry

  • Love Knows No Boundaries... But Don't Humans Love Boundaries?

    Laura Kazmierczak
    Nov 30, '17 8:19 PM EST

    Picture this:  you’re walking along a paved path on the perfectly manicured grounds of a hotel when you happen upon a tree encircled by a thin rope.  What is your reaction?  It is likely that you do not automatically desire to climb over this rope; rather, your natural reaction is quite the... View full entry

  • What is it About Music and Architecture?

    Sean Joyner
    Aug 26, '17 7:21 PM EST

    What is it about music and architecture that leaves us all so fascinated? Is there really a legitimate relationship? How might we begin to think about the two ideas in a cohesive way? It’s one of those dichotomies that always comes up and sometimes the relationship seems a bit contrived. No... View full entry

  • Is Architecture Humane Enough?

    Sean Joyner
    Aug 21, '16 6:45 PM EST

    It’s mid June of a hot summer in 2014 and as I sit at the intersection of Wilmington Ave and Grape St in Watts, Los Angeles I observe closely. I do my best to consume everything around me and while our assignment is to record the conditions of the site I find myself unbearingly preoccupied with... View full entry

  • Are We Asking The Right Questions?

    Sean Joyner
    Jul 17, '16 12:51 AM EST

     With this being the first of many articles I plan to write on this column I thought I would kind of give an overview of what I plan to explore here. The title of this column (technically its a blog but I like column better) is The Socratic Method, which is inspired by exactly what its named... View full entry

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This blog explores ideas about design and how it relates to our lives through research and critical thinking. As the title suggests this will be a platform to present thought provoking ideas intended for further discussion.

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