Estimated reading time: 9 min

Securing your first architecture job is only half the battle. Here’s how to make sure you cross into working life as seamlessly as possible

Transitioning from academic life to your first architecture job isn’t easy. After years spent dividing your time between lectures, studio slots and placements, you’ve now got to adjust into the working world.

“All too often, young architects are having to bend over backwards to meet demands and end up putting in long shifts at the expense of their health.”

Once again, you find yourself at the bottom of the ladder and with a whole pool of new colleagues to impress. All too often, young architects are having to bend over backwards to meet demands and end up putting in long shifts at the expense of their health. It’s for reasons like this, unfortunately, that this transition is sometimes associated with feelings of unease and anxiety.

To help you prepare for it, it’s important to know what to expect. We spoke with Marko Filipovic from RMJM Serbia, along with Enayat Ghaedi and Mena Al Samarrai from RMJM Dubai, to find out whether universities are really preparing students for life post-studies. While doing so, we unravelled a few major challenges which are sure to come as a surprise not only to recent architectural graduates, but to licensed architects who have been in the profession for years. First off, though, let’s get to the very root of the problem.

Great expectations, great disappointments

In ever-changing times, professional practices across all industries are having to adapt to keep up. Architecture firms are no different, yet it seems that so many educational institutions are lagging behind.

“Universities and colleges haven’t been able to challenge and adjust students for a fast-paced career in architecture”, Marko says. “Students are supported to explore and develop creative thinking skills, but as young architects, they sometimes come out of university unable to comprehend the complexity of contemporary design processes.”

“The classroom has instilled high expectations of what is possible in design, along with unrealistic goals which have to be adjusted.”

“This can leave them struggling to analyse and critically assess problems. I think this is down to the study program which the institution set out for them — this is where the problem lies.”

When it comes to their first architecture jobs, a lot of graduates aren’t prepared to face the constraints they come across in projects. The classroom has instilled high expectations of what is possible in design, along with unrealistic goals which have to be adjusted. It’s all well and good to set your sights high, but quite often, these unregulated ambitions don’t meet with the realities of everyday business. Students should leave architecture school with a basic understanding of this aspect of the job. On the other hand, it’s important that lecturers are careful not to encourage any impractical, overly ambitious ideas.

Expectations like these can lead to great professional frustrations. Young architects may be more used to theoretical concepts and on conducting futuristic projects, but reality is more concerned with technical know-how, like modelling or using detailing software effectively.

Architect-Sketching

Mena agrees. “When I first started, I was surprised by how much time was spent satisfying client demands and changes”, she says. “Luckily, I was surrounded by elder architects who helped me understand the working environment and demands of an architecture studio.”

Enayat believes that a lack of focus on collaborative work during university can lead to a difficult transition into an architecture job. “In a school environment, the professor’s opinion is all that matters”, he tells us.

“In a professional business, though, things are different. You’ve got clients, engineers, authorities, cost consultants and a whole range of other parties involved in decision-making processes. Facing all these for the first time can be surprising, daunting and difficult to grasp for fresh graduates.”

As an industry, we have a responsibility to help younger generations of architects prosper in their careers from the second they graduate. Taking university syllabuses and itineraries into account, here’s how to move smoothly from academia into your dream job as an architect.

How to stand out, ease up the transition and leave a good impression

1. Stand out

In countries with relatively high levels of unemployment, like Greece, recent graduates usually find themselves struggling in their job search. They’re but one of many qualified architects trying to enter the industry. The need to stand out is paramount.

Initiative, hard work and discipline all go a long way in making up for limited opportunities, so fill your CV with placements and experiences outside of the classroom. When it comes to meeting potential employers, they’ll know why they should hire you.

2. Show the uttermost professionalism

Display professionalism in every aspect of the work process. This could be in anything from a small graphic design, to a larger presentation articulating the wider idea behind a project. Make sure you come across like a professional, rather than a student, and you’ll soon find yourself adjusting to life in the workplace.

3. Be open minded

When entering a new job, open your mind to different systems and ways of working. Learn to work as part of a team and be totally frank regarding personal preferences, viewpoints and skills.

4. Communicate effectively

Communication is key. Express your ideas and listen to your colleagues — this will help you to absorb knowledge and accustom yourself to life within architectural offices.

5. Respect your elders, and they’ll respect you

Experienced architects have years upon years of experience which you can learn from. Prove your worth and gain their respect, then use them as an invaluable source of help while you adapt to the studio environment, logistics and office politics.

6. Always go the extra mile

As always, it pays to put in that little bit of extra effort. Go above and beyond the client’s needs, if necessary, and pull out all the stops to make the end product as good as possible.

What universities can do to prepare students for the transition

We’ve identified what young architects can do, now it’s time to look at the issue from the perspective of the institutions. Marko, Enayat and Mena picked out these three issues as being pivotal to helping students to transit easily into their first architecture jobs.

1. Expose architecture students to other disciplines

At the end of the day, part of an architect’s role is to successfully transform contemporary urban challenges into opportunities. Graduates entering the workplace might find this easier if they had had access to complimentary insights from other disciplines, such as sociology, business management, law and politics.

“Establishments should teach a holistic understanding of what really constitutes being an architect.”

Ultimately, this could work to give them a broader understanding of any issues they come across, helping them to deal with challenges in an efficient and professional manner. At RMJM, we take into account a wide variety of factors when approaching tenders and competitions — this works to build a mutual feeling of trust and respect between client and architect.

Establishments should teach a holistic understanding of what really constitutes being an architect. It’s essential that students are able to address real problems — architecture goes way beyond the drawing board, after all.

2. Embrace all aspects of the design process

Even though students are generally prompted to be creative, they often graduate unable to grasp the complexity of the design process. Degrees can be guilty of neglecting practical exercises that focus on all aspects of the design process, such as using technical programs, instead, choosing to bolster curriculums with theory-heavy syllabuses.

Architects-planning-project

Thanks to this, a lot of students aren’t flexible enough to understand client needs and the required design standards. We think that a bigger emphasis should be put on teamwork projects which involve different typologies and dimensions. That way, student architects can gain real-world work experience which they’ll take forward into the workplace.

3. Undertake High Impact Practices (HIP)

“Institutions should aspire for all students to participate in at least two HIPs during the course of their undergraduate degree.”

Universities should integrate High Impact Practices (HIP) whenever feasible. This could involve something like working with a faculty member on a research project. Or, alternatively, doing internships, co-ops, field experiences, student teaching and studying abroad whenever feasible. Institutions should also take into account time duration for projects. It’s common knowledge that architectural projects can take months to progress, so any HIPs should take this into consideration.

“If students are able to engage with experiences like these and test their skills prior to graduation, transitioning into a real studio will be much easier.”

Experiences like these demand considerable time and effort, yet help to facilitate learning outside of the classroom. This encourages collaborations between faculty members and student, eventually leading to frequent and fruitful feedback. If students are able to engage with experiences like these and test their skills prior to graduation, transitioning into a real studio will be much easier.

Participating in exercises like these is essential for architects in need of professional personal experience, helping them to get a foot in the door. This is a must for any student architect, but it’s all the more important in highly competitive markets. George Kuh, the founding director of the North American National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), recommends that institutions should aspire for all students to participate in at least two HIPs during the course of their undergraduate degree.

It all comes down to a university’s connections with the working world. If faculties are prepared to help students understand the design cycle — from the early concepts to the final stages — they’ll be ready to hit the ground running when they graduate.

With all that in mind — now is the time for action

At the end of the day, it’s always going to be hard to truly explore such a huge issue in the space of one small blog post. In actual fact, we’ve only superficially evaluated and explained some of its key concerns. It’s easy for anyone working within the industry to relate to the problems we’ve discussed here. Now, though, we need to start to think about solutions.

What can universities be doing better to appropriately train new architects? And if they fail to do so, what are the consequences of this? Above all, though, what direct measures can be taken to ease the transition between leaving university and entering the workplace?

What do you think can be done to help young architects entering the profession? Let us know in the comments. If you’re a graduate about to interview for your first architecture role, look at our handy guide on interview tips and preparation.

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