The most daunting part for any university graduate is, well, graduating and looking for a job. Although this doesn’t have to be the next step, this is typically the direction in which you would head in after completing your undergraduate degree. For architecture students, the number one fear is having zero experience. Regardless of the industry, most architecture students usually don’t have any kind of work experience. Some may also feel that any part-time experience in retail or hospitality isn’t going to come to their benefit but if presented correctly, this can actually work to your advantage. Another thing to consider is the fact that we’re rarely ‘taught’ anything in architecture school. Sure, there can be workshops, lectures and certain modules that have basic introductions to software or the ins and outs of practice, but they don’t provide anything substantial enough to include on your CV.
But all this pressure stems from the competitive job descriptions that are circling the waters asking for years of experience from students who have just graduated. Of course, not all practices are like this (which is how you’ll also know which ones you should be working for) and will support and help you grow during your year out. In the UK, a Part 1 Architectural Assistant typically works for a year before returning to study their MArch so practices are either brutally aware of this and will either treat you like a CAD monkey during the entire experience or will provide you with opportunities and challenges to help you grow as a designer and maybe even continue with them later in your career.
For now, we can aim to hope that there is a shift in the mindset of such practices, hiring managers and senior architects and associates so that they start to take a chance on the younger generation and put forward realistic expectations. There are also fantastic groups in place such as the Future Architects Front who are publicly calling out practices who encourage a toxic workplace culture, unpaid overtime and those that set barriers in the profession by asking for years of experience.
Network to increase your Net Worth
The first tip I’m going to give you is something I wish I had done so much earlier. I started to really use LinkedIn about 6 months after I graduated from university, at which point, I was more so figuring out how to position myself within the industry and stand out to recruiters and practices. But I slowly learned more about the importance of a personal brand as well as your presence online. You don’t even need to create content like myself, it can actually be a good idea to just work on your image, the skills you have and what kinds of things you can offer practices. Put yourself out there. Social media is becoming increasingly important for hiring managers, practices and you never know whose attention you could grab or who you could connect with.
In fact, when it comes to the job search, social media can actually be a much more insightful tool than you can imagine. Why? Because our generation is designed for social media, which means we can pick up on certain trends or put forward ideas to increase a practice’s social media. During my year out, I was actually asked to help out with the website redevelopment, offering my insights as well as writing and planning some of the blog posts.
So, what do you even do on LinkedIn? There’s a lot more to explore than just perfecting your profile. I’d start by following practices you already know, as well as architecture magazines and journals who post news pieces about things currently happening in the industry. Responding to these posts either by commenting or re-sharing can be an easy way to build up your repertoire of posts which will show that you are active on the platform. You can do the same on Instagram or Twitter, but it really depends on what kind of vibe you want to give off.
Another thing to consider is having conversation with people who may be open to talking about career decisions they’ve made or what it’s like working at their practice – or any kind of job for that matter. Having mentors in architecture is completely underrated, and something most people don’t realise is that people are more than helpful and polite and will be willing to have a chat over LinkedIn. Like I said earlier, it may be a good idea to write articles and treat them as short, reflective posts about a new skill you’ve picked up or a habit you’re trying. The thing is, these kinds of things get noticed by people who frequent the platform and will appreciate the effort you’re making because not a lot of people make content on there. There are already a bunch of content creators in architecture and similar industries who offer a lot of advice and support online. The age of the Starchitect is long gone and collaborative efforts across different disciplines can be much more effective these days.
When putting together your CV, you’ll most likely think of the 5 same, boring words to describe yourself. Yes, we get that you’re ‘hard-working’ and ‘great at time-management’ but this doesn’t exactly make you stand out from the crowd. What’s the one way to avoid seeming like your CV is just another standard pick from the pile? Back yourself. Back up these keywords with actual examples of how exactly you are ambitious or collaborative. Additionally, it can be a great idea to put together a list of these keywords with explanations ready at hand. A top tip is to include these keywords at the end of the personal bio in your LinkedIn profile as this will help when recruiters search for people with these skills. Having a good mix of hard and soft skills is important to show that you’re more personable and not just a work-oriented individual.
I’d say a good place to start would be job descriptions. Scroll through current job descriptions from practices which you would typically apply to and copy the list of ideal requirements into a word document. Then you can begin to really highlight and pick out similar qualities and strengths you see throughout. Of course, this isn’t just about hitting all of the keywords, you actually do have to have these qualities. One thing I should make clear is to never ever lie in your applications. If you struggle with being punctual, you shouldn’t even be thinking about including it on your CV. Of course, it’s something that you can continue to work on throughout – after all, we’re not all perfect. But with that being said, don’ undersell yourself. Showing a little bit of confidence in yourself is great. Letting an employer know that you pride yourself on task management and planning and that you can demonstrate this as you’ve organised events in the society or taken an initiative outside of the industry to develop new skills will immediately grab someone’s attention.
Another thing I would do is to write out a short elevator pitch for yourself. I personally always dread the ‘tell me about yourself’ question. So, think about some of the questions that you struggle with and write out a couple of sentences that you’ve really thought about and edited. Then just practice saying this to yourself. Of course, this may be easier for some than others, but for me, practicing helped a lot. It shouldn’t sound scripted, so when you’re writing, make sure that you write in the same way you speak.
Keyword research can also play a big part in writing emails. Emailing will be your first point of contact with the hiring manager or receptionist within the practice so when you write your emails, not only should it come across as professional, but also memorable. Dropping a line about a project they’ve done that you have visited, or a question about the studio itself within your email can get a small conversation going. Alongside your CV, make sure to practice the art of writing a cover letter. The tricky thing with cover letters is that they can take forever to tailor, write and from what I’ve personally experienced, they’re overlooked. But you never know who might appreciate it and for some this is also a deciding factor. I usually accompanied a speculative CV and portfolio with a well-written email which also had links to my LinkedIn and other social media.
Do things outside of University
To be completely honest, this is something I’m still working on. But after graduating from my undergrad, I realised that I tend to throw myself into my studies and not really do things outside of it. For me, this ‘side hustle’ has turned out to be such a great way to work on a number of different skills that I never would have even attempted otherwise. From public speaking to even coordination, I truly believe that working on projects outside of university can give you a fresh perspective on the industry and even your career. It will also help you grow as a person.
Of course, not everyone wants to head in this direction which is totally fine too! I’d say the people who are quite into sports or clubs and other activities also have a great balance and there are so many transferrable skills that you can highlight on your CV. Make sure that you’re celebrating your achievements throughout. I know there may be moments where it seems like there is some imposter syndrome creeping in, especially for someone who may have little or no experience at all. But with time you’ll begin to realise how your experiences have shaped you as a person. Plus, this is only the beginning of your career which is understandable. When applying for university, they usually tell you to highlight an extra-curricular activities such as volunteering or part-time roles which can be a great thing to continue throughout. If your university has an active architecture society, maybe you can propose new projects and mention these in your CV. You never know which small thing you do could turn out to be a helpful skill later on in life.
I’ve always been interested in Graphic Design, typography and have ended up creating leaflets and posters for family businesses. This skill and interest transferred really well to my architecture projects because I was already familiar with the software and was able to grasp new skills much quicker. I’d like to say that now I have a good eye for current trends and can always think of ways to improve something like a webpage or brochure. These multi-disciplinary experiences can help you more than you might think.
I know first hand how daunting it can be and hearing about other people’s experiences either finding work immediately or not for a very long time can make you feel anxious about the road ahead. But starting this journey early in your 3rd year can help you stay ahead of the game. Just know that your journey is yours alone and the right thing will come along for you at the right moment. For now, all you can do is work on yourself and ensure that you are doing all you can to showcase this. Comparing yourself to others who may have more experience, or a broader skill set won’t help – trust me I’ve been there. If you feel that practices may be dismissing your applications because of this, then perhaps it’s better that way. After all, you don’t want a practice who is going to hire you just for a tick box, you want one that will help you grow and will offer learning opportunities. Having no experience just means that now you’re ready to do something fun and challenging to enhance the skills you already have.