Career Tips

This page is dedicated to giving our SONA members the opportunity to read advice from peers of the Architecture Industry on how to best position themselves in an ever growing, fast paced profession.

An interview on the Built Environment conducted by:
2019 SONA President Elect
Jacques Chevrant-Breton
with
Sarah Lebner, My First Architecture Job
Luke Hallaways, Australian Architecture.

Profile – Sarah

 

 

 

 

Sarah is the Lead Architect at interdisciplinary firm, Light House Architecture and Science. She manages an architecture team of 9, focusing on smaller, smarter and more sustainable housing, developed in collaboration with scientists who simulate and optimise the design as well as testing the built product. Sarah is the chair of the ACT Gender Equity Taskforce, sits on the Design Advisory Panel for Transport Canberra, and has participated in volunteer construction projects in The Solomon Islands and Kenya. She recently launched ‘My First Architecture Job’, a new online resource to help young architects bridge university and practice and kick start the first five years of their career.
www.myfirstarchitecturejob.com
www.lighthouseteam.com.au

Profile: Luke

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luke is based in Sydney and an Architectural Graduate at the small practice THOSE Architects where he has been for the past four years and loves working for. Luke is the creator of the instagram @australian_architecture and job board website Australian Architecture Job Board. He started @australian_architecture instagram around six years ago to give Australian architecture a global platform 0 he believes that Australia is one of the front-runners in the world of architecture. Australian Architecture Job Board was created to create a clear and simple platform for people to post and find jobs in the industry. It was a reaction to the current recruitment agencies who, he believes, create anonymous Job Ads for job seekers to apply blindly for.

https://australianarchitecturejobboard.com/

JC: When is the best time to start applying for jobs in Architecture?

SL: I’d suggest the sooner the better, though your chances of employment are much more likely if you’ve picked up a common drafting program (I would recommend Revit) and you have a couple of University projects to show and discuss.
I definitely recommend trying to get a job before attempting your masters – not because you need it, but it will help you get more from these two years of study.

LH: I believe the best time is when you are studying. A part-time student position at a firm while you are still studying can be highly beneficial towards your degree and future career success. But don’t stress too much if you can’t find the right position while studying as the majority of students study full time and apply for their first position within their first few months after graduating.

JC: I don’t have any experience and can’t seem to nail down my first job. I’m considering working for free. What are some alternative ways of trying to find my first job?

SL:  There are four possible reasons that you’re struggling:

  1. There genuinely isn’t availability > Perhaps consider a job in a related industry.
  2. You’re the least skilled candidate > Improve your skill base by learning drafting software, completing more of your degree or doing (a short legal stint of) work experience, or labouring on a building site.
  3. You don’t give a strong first impression > If you’re shy, or give the impression that your communication/initiative/organisational skills etc. aren’t very strong then it’s worth treating these like any other skill with potential to be improved or worked around. Contacting an employment agency may also help you in this case
  4. Your approach isn’t suited to the firms you are contacting. My best advice for this is to check out the (free) Job Seeker Workbook on my website (myfirstarchitecturejob.com)

Work experience isn’t a bad idea as long as it’s genuinely work experience (check out the Fair Work Act 2009). Perhaps you could even suggest something like going into a firm once a month, instead of doing a traditional one week block.

LH: I’d never recommend working for free. Alternative ways to gain some experience would be to do small little projects for family and friends that you could then add into your portfolio to build it up.

JC: I can’t seem to find many architecture jobs advertised for students. Where are they all?

SL: Student jobs are rarely advertised, as they are more commonly filled by word of mouth and networks. Get involved in networks such as S.O.N.A. which hold events that expose you to local architects, and head along to general AIA events as well. Other networking opportunities could include other industry related events (National Association of Women in Construction, Building Designers Association of Australia, and local trade shows). You can also ask your professors, tutors and peers if they know someone who may be looking for a student.

LH: It is true sometimes that a large majority of the jobs advertised are focused on people with years of experience as some jobs require people to hit the ground running when they are the successful applicant due to a large quantity of work the practice has. But there are practices that would rather hire someone with little to no experience so that they can train and build that person up to someone who becomes an integral part of their team in the future.

JC: How do I know what architecture firm I should be applying to?

SL: This is another reason why searching for your job via personal networks can be beneficial – if you find the job through a mutual contact then a vote of confidence is already implied, or if you meet someone from the firm in person you can determine your interest in their workplace from this discussion.
You can often tell a lot about a firm from their website/media exposure, and this is worth studying, but I would also recommend asking someone well informed (like a tutor), who you trust, about the practice. They may be able to provide insight about the culture of the practice.

LH: I always suggest applying to practices whose work you are influenced by. If you have an interest in small scale architecture like residential then target practices who design houses that inspire you or vice versa for large scale practices. I’d suggest creating a shortlist of architecture practices that interest you and this can become your ‘hit list.’ I wouldn’t recommend working for a practice whose work has no interest to you as you won’t enjoy going to work every day.

JC: I’ve sent out quite a few job applications, and they’re all the same. Is this ok?

 

SL: Absolutely not. Firms receive many generic applications that will often go straight to the rubbish bin – if you can’t be bothered to research the firm and contact them in a way that demonstrates that you are a good match for them, then you are giving a first impression that suggests a lack of initiative, effort and communication skills (critical things to demonstrate in a student job.)

LH: No, I highly recommend not sending out a cookie cutter cover letter / CV to a large number of practices. Architecture practices will receive these every day. You need to stand out from the pack and show that you know of their work and it inspires you. You should always direct your cover letter towards the business you are applying for. It will show the business that you have taken the time to apply for this job. I also recommend doing it ‘old school’ and dropping your CV and portfolio into the practice, if possible, as it puts a face to the portfolio and shows initiative.

JC: How do I know what to include—and what not to include—in my portfolio?

SL: Ask yourself which projects/skills/hobbies demonstrate your strengths and experience. Bounce your ideas off a trusted peer to seek feedback. Remember that it’s not just what you show in your portfolio, but how you show it – treat it as an opportunity to demonstrate your professional communication and design skills. However, keep it concise.

LH: A portfolio is a reflection of your interests and skills. As I said before I think your CV and portfolio should be designed towards the type of practice you applying for. Once you have found out the type of work and programs they use, highlight that you may have experience with these or have interests in learning.

JC: I’ve never worked in architecture before. What can I put on my CV?

SL: Your employer is looking for evidence of valuable personal skills and potential, so consider awards, courses, past employment (even if non-architectural), skills, and personal references that demonstrate your experience and capabilities. They should also get a sense for who you are so a brief indication of your background and personal interests may be suitable. When listing work experience you can add a few dot points describing the tasks you completed or skills required for the job – for example, if you have worked in retail and were responsible for managing complaints then an employer may feel that you’ll be able to manage tricky situations with clients.

LH: I’d recommend listing your university studies and any interests you gained from your university degrees. Program knowledge that you have gained (ArchiCAD, Revit etc). Lastly if you don’t have any work experience put your ambitions and goals down so that the employer can see that you are keen to progress your career.

JC: I’m an international student on a temporary visa. Can I still work in architecture?

SL: I believe this depends on your visa type www.checkworkrights.com.au

JC: I finished studying a few years ago and haven’t worked in architecture since. How can I best go about finding a job?

SL: Graduate jobs are more likely to be advertised, but may still be word of mouth. The same answer to the earlier question about finding a job apply, except that as a graduate you can link in with your local EmAGN network (Emerging Architects and Graduates Network).

JC: I’ve just scored my first interview. What can I be doing to prepare?

SL:

  1. Do as much research on the firm as you can to familiarise yourself with their practice.
  2. Based on this research, review your own skills, personality traits and experience and consider what makes you a good match for them.
  3. Practice answering questions – there are plenty of online resources that list example questions (and there’s an Interview Workbook on my website that lists 15 questions and how to answer them.)

JC: I’ve been offered multiple job offers and not sure what to do. How do I pick which one’s best for me?


SL: Congratulations! If I were in your shoes I would ask my friends and teachers what they know about each firm and if they think I would be better suited to one or the other. It’s OK to follow up each firm with a few questions but don’t be cocky or pit them against each other as this will be frowned upon.

LH: As I’ve stated before, I’d recommend selecting the practice whose work most inspires you not just the highest paying job. Working at a job you love is much better than working at a high paying job that you dislike going to.

JC: I’m working for a great firm, but I’m experiencing sexual/verbal/physical harassment and don’t want to lose my job. What do I do?


SL: If you can, discuss it with an appropriate person at your workplace. Seek advice from authorities such as fairwork.gov.au or archiparlour.org. Reach out to a trusted mentor. Parlour have excellent guidelines on equitable practice at archiparlour.org/parlour-guides 

JC: I’m experiencing/witnessing discrimination in my workplace, what can I do to help? 

SL: As above, along with discussing it with the victim, if appropriate.

JC: Everybody says the hours are long, but should I be working over-time for free?

SL: No. I feel strongly about this. Your employer makes money from their business, don’t make them money for free. Long hours spread over years of University projects has a dangerous way of training students (and the industry) to undervalue their skills and continue bad habits. Some give and take may be appropriate – as long as it goes both ways. There is a fine line between ‘opportunity’ and ‘exploitation’, and only you can measure where you sit on that scale. 

LH: Not at all. I think the architecture industry has a major issue with this problem and it needs to be rectified. Too many practices are getting away with it. If it is occurring on a regular basis you should be reporting it the architecture board.

JC: I’ve just started my first job and nobody leaves on time. What do I do? 

SL: I know this may seem intimidating as a young, new staff member, but if I was giving this advice to my younger self, I would suggest finding a moment to chat to your employer and asking “I’ve noticed a lot of our team are staying back late, could you please clarify for me what the overtime expectations are in my position?” If the answer isn’t ethical, fair or legal, seek advice from a professional network or trusted peer/mentor.

JC: How do I know if I’m being paid for over-time?

SL: Make sure all hours you work are logged/tracked and then review your pay slips. If you don’t understand your pay slip, ask to have it explained. (You employment contract should also specify how overtime is managed.)

JC:  Do you have any words of advice?

SL: Architects are trained at problem solving, planning and big picture thinking. All of these skills can be applied to broad elements of life – including brainstorming your career.
Put your design skills to use by designing your career, and then making a plan to achieve it. Set measurable steps and goals against a timeline. Frequently review these. And remember – goals only set the direction that you want to go; systems and habits are the journey towards reaching them. 

LH: Looking for your first job can be a stressful time. Don’t stress if you have been applying for jobs and haven’t heard anything back. This gives you time to reflect on the way you have been applying and maybe find ways to change up your technique so that you can stand out from the crowd more. You will eventually find your dream job and have a long career in the architecture industry. I wish everyone the best. 

There's no time to procrastinate

Clare Cousins
National President

Troy Borg – 2018 SONA President interviews National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, Clare Cousins.
In keeping with the 2018 SONA theme of mental health and well-being, we stole 15 minutes with the award winning architect, Practice Director and mother of two.