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After Graduating Architecture School, 6 Thoughts On What You Should Expect

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Posted By Matthew Von Dohre
What You Should Expect

As you work through your architecture schooling we recommend that you not only look at famous architects for inspiration but you also look on the local level to see what the firms in your area are working on. Join your local organizations to meet local architects face to face and build a relationship to assist you in understanding at the local level what firms are doing.

After my years of experience in many firms and even more recent discussions with architecture students preparing to graduate, I want to take a minute to discuss after graduating architecture school what should you expect. As you near the completion of your long awaited goal, the completion of architecture school, you may begin to wonder what your life or career will look like. 

Many students feel as though they are going to step into a world that should be familiar but is oddly foreign to many of them. As a profession we understand that many architecture schools are not fully teaching what the profession does and this is even true with many other career fields, not just architecture. Many students we have talked with have not taken the time to really understand what architecture offices do or understand the skills to develop prior to joining a firm. 

How do you find the right job?

Finding the right job can be a process, my experiences have taught me the vast differences between various sizes of firms and the types of projects that they do. You should begin your job search before you graduate, again by researching your local firms and meeting with professionals. Some organizations will have local firms come to your schools and even have mock interviews to help you develop confidence as well as develop the right questions to ask a firm. Understand that as you look for your job that it may take several interviews before you receive an offer which has happened to alot of us.

Things you want to keep in mind:

Keep Things in Mind

A lot of firms are looking for someone with the right skills and personality to join their firm, remembering that the smaller the firm the more of a family relationship their employees have. I myself have had interviews go really well and never received an offer, later finding out a major project got put on hold or the salary range they wanted to offer was a lot lower than my skill set. I have even had companies interview me based on my experience and were keeping me in mind for future opportunities. The crucial takeaway here is to know that most of the time it’s not that you are “bad” or “lacking the skills” in some way but more so that you just weren’t the right fit for what the firm was looking for at that time.

As mentioned above, get involved with the opportunities to meet with firms or local architects. Ask your professors if they can provide you feedback on your application package and ask the questions to understand what firms are looking for in an applicant and really understand the items they tell you. Look into the softwares and skill sets that firms are looking for and try to further develop the ones that interest you then you can add them to your resume, increasing your likelihood of landing an opportunity. 

Take time to develop your portfolio beyond the design studio, take your projects further by developing them into construction documents. If you are unclear of what “construction documents” are then you definitely will need to do more research and talk with your local architects. While design is the first part of the process, being able to translate a design into a set of documents that a contractor can build from is the key piece of what architecture firms do. Construction documents are typically where the money comes from in many firms. Even during an interview once I was asked, what parts of the construction documents did I do. They were wanting to understand my skill set and how I would help the firm make money which was a shock but very straight forward. 

Your first firm may not be your last. I personally have worked for 11 architecture firms, 2 corporate brands and taught at several schools over my career. Sometimes firms have limited growth potentials, are deeply affected by the economy, while others don’t embrace new types of skill sets that you are bringing to the firm and stay business as usual. Even though I have transitioned more times than most I have grown with each experience which has helped me to understand where I would like my career to progress. My passion for technology has led to many opportunities and the ability to explore many such as using drones in construction, VR development and 3D printing to name a few.

The grass isn’t always greener

The grass isn’t always greener

Once you land a job and really get into the weeds you may feel that the grass is greener at other firms. Well from my experience I can tell you it isn’t always greener on the other side. Every job will have hard days and difficult clients, take them as learning opportunities and dont quit. When considering looking over the fence you need to examine the culture, work-life balance, and overall professional growth when considering wanting to move on, if 90 percent of the time these are great then stick with it. Trust me, you will want to learn and develop with every opportunity and once you leave a firm, even on good terms, you may never have the opportunity to join them again.

Your typical studio is not quite like work

Your typical studio is not quite like work

In architecture school, the studio provides the architecture students with a unique experience not granted to most other majors. In the studios you focus mainly on the fundamentals of design, through time, space and forms these of which seem to cause many students to think that is all the profession does or that this is what they might be doing right out of school. When in fact we set ourselves up for disappointment and an unbalanced schedule by working only focusing on that aspect of design. Additionally the constant all-nighters reduce our understanding of time management and hinders our understanding of a work life balance.  

One thing that will be familiar is that as you enter into a firm you will build relationships with your co-workers just like you have in school and most of which will take you under their wing and share with you what they have learned in the profession. Camaraderie amongst you and your colleagues is also something that you can expect after you graduate through the sharing of the skills and knowledge that you have earned. 

The biggest shock that comes to many when entering the professional side is that you may no longer have the flexibility that you have in the studio. In architecture school you are your own boss and control all aspects of what you do and when you do it. This is not the case after graduation, once in a firm you understand that you have people to answer to, their deadlines to keep and the hours you work dictated by the firm. Learning to be focused and productive within a set amount of time will prove to be a powerful tool for you as you progress in your career. One thing I advise students to do while in school is start tracking your time to understand how long certain design tasks take and build that database which will teach you how to be more productive in the future.

Design the the first part of the process

Design the the first part of the process

As mentioned, architecture school places an emphasis on design and understanding of the process of form, space and function. So to further understand the process we will call architecture school the conceptual design and schematic design phase with a little design development at the end of the process depending on your professor and the time you have for your project. As you begin your professional career you will have to develop your work beyond these phases and this is where the other aspects of architecture kick in. In an architecture firm you would then take the design further through more refinement in design development, construction documents creation, into permitting and then for construction. Additional phases can include bidding and negotiations and construction administration that some firms will provide as optional services to clients. These are areas that most professionals feel architecture schools need further education on to provide graduates with a broad understanding of what will be expected of them in the industry.   

Internships make a difference

As you progress through school you should take internship opportunities while in school, to give you a taste of what work will be like once you graduate. Sometimes internship work can often be a little different since you are there for a limited time and it takes a while to train individuals on each firm’s processes. Additionally, If you’re in a NAAB accredited program chances are that your college requires you to have a certain amount of hours of work experience before you graduate. Start your internship early to gain work experience. Many students wait until graduation to start working in a firm which can shock them of what life is actually like in a firm. By interning early it gives you the flexibility to work for several places, learn the culture, learn about different project types and gain a better understanding about how life will be once you graduate.  This would also be a time to try different size firms because the size of the firm can have an impact on what you do in each firm.

Check your ego at the door

As you grow and develop through the years of architecture school you move from a first year student that may have some talent and creative ability to a second year student gaining confidence and building your foundational understandings. As you enter your third year you will start to develop your convictions and learn to express as well as debate them with others. Then in your fourth year you continue to further develop those convictions as well as see your ego growing around those convictions. Finally in the culmination of your architecture schooling in the fifth year where, as when you started, the first year students are looking at you in the grand hierarchy of where they want to be in your place of authority with the years of knowledge you possess. 

Then when you enter into your first firm you may get a hard pill to swallow, you’re no longer the top of the hierarchy from school, rather you are back at the rookie level from where you started. This begins the next steps to climb as you take those next steps, entering into a firm and getting paid for something that you have worked so hard for. In the industry you will learn that you have a lot to learn and it can take a lifetime as a professional to feel like you are back at the top of the hierarchy but enjoy the learning process and enjoy the experiences.

Final thoughts, Stay true to yourself

Stay True to Yourself

As you have developed during your educational years you may have learned a particular type of work that you want to do and you should follow that passion. You may want to design single family houses, high rise buildings or the next fast food restaurant. Whatever you do, stay true to your passion within you. The world of architecture, construction and design have many avenues that an architectural degree or architecture license can take you. You may not continue down a traditional route and follow your passion to something that will need your unique powers of creativity and problem solving.

Don’t be afraid to follow your passions and even experiment with where you want your career to go. Explore, discover and create on your journey and take time to figure out what you want to do. It may come quickly and it may take time to develop, but you have the skills and creativity to adapt to almost anything in countless areas of the industry. School has given you the foundation from which to develop and grow but your time as a practitioner will build on that and once you’re in the career field you will continue to grow everyday until the end of your career. 

Best wishes for you in your career and remember to stay true to yourself, follow your passions and seize the moments that come your way.

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