What it Feels Like to Finally Get an Offer!
I’m very excited to finally get to write this post. After five years, around 600 job applications (I actually went through and counted my sent mail during this time frame, though I’m positive this number is higher due to places I submitted to online through forms or that I delivered hard copies of the application to) and 25 or so interviews, I’ve been offered a job with an architectural firm as an Intern! Elation is hardly a word to describe my feelings right now. What makes it even more exciting is that I believe I’ll be working on education projects, which has been an ambition of mine since college and I hope to be able to be on projects that incorporate LEED and CHiPS criteria along with other sustainable design standards.
I still plan on maintaining my blog and writing about sustainability and resiliency. I am very excited to start this next step of my life. I cried when I got the news. I could barely even get myself dressed. I’ll probably cry a few more times before I start. I have worked so hard to develop my knowledge and skills and it finally all feels worth it. While looking, I went back to school through the BAC and spent many days at work followed by working on school work until midnight or even 2am (and during my thesis much later). It has been an emotionally trying time. This post is reflecting back on the past five years.
I am hoping that finally acquiring a position also signals the end of the recession and downturn in the architecture, design, and construction field. I know the last few years haven’t been an easy path for many and reporting’s and earnings for firms keep going up by .25% each quarter (which I suppose is better than down). During the recession, jobs in the Architecture Industry peaked at 224,500 in July of 2009 and had dropped to 184,600 by that November. That’s almost 40,000 jobs lost within a 4-5 months span in one industry alone! A lot of young designers have had to think outside the box and be creative when it came to doing what they love while unemployed.
In 2012, Architecture Grads were the highest unemployed major in the United States at 13.9% (and I’m going to assume that is just unemployment and not underemployment and indications now are that jobs are increasing). For the last 3.5 years I was underemployed, a position which I felt made it that much harder to find a different job. To architects and design interviewers, I wasn’t gaining experience in the field. To others, one look at my resume said I wasn’t going to or didn’t want to stick around long, so why switch jobs. I liked that my current job showed the longevity at a position that my resume had previously lacked and I had added a management position. I finished school in 2009 knowing it would be a huge task to find employment within architecture and (along with studying for the LEED exam and applying with firms) set about trying to find a retail position where I could get in a lot of hours, earn some money to pay down my bills a little and hopefully not face too much financial hardship. That was not the case. Interviewers at retail stores saw someone that would leave at the first opportunity and no one wanted to waste their time training me, regardless of how hard of a worker I might be while I was there.
I spent a couple of semesters teaching architectural history, something I never saw myself doing, but it helped refresh that freshman year course and challenged me to think about assignments and getting my students to engage in current buildings and how they relate to history. At the same time, I started coaching track and field, something I had participated in through high school and college. Through that, I was offered a job in 2010 at a restaurant the coach I worked with owned at the time. It certainly wasn’t my dream job, and I’d only ever worked in offices before, but the pay and the hours were decent (much better than what I was making on unemployment) and he understood it was temporary and that I’d still be actively job hunting. I had figured it’d be 6 months or so to get me back on my feet. I never imagined I’d keep that job for 3.5 years, let alone work all the way up to being the daytime manager.
It has been tough. It’s been emotionally trying. In the summer of 2011 I gave up looking and set my mind on going back to school. I considered for a (surprisingly) long time, what else was important to me? If I never worked in the design field or architecture at all for the rest of my life, what was the one other thing I could do and be happy with? What else could I care about? I’d been coaching track and field for two years at that point and had competed in high school and college; perhaps I could look at something in athletics? I wasn’t even sure what that would be, but I pretty certain it would involve starting all over again in college, and that wasn’t what I wanted. Finally, it came to me; the Environment.
I was the kid in school that carried things in canvas bags rather than plastic and reused stuff. I’d been the family recycling enforcer since I was a kid. I’d even written to Al Gore about my concern for the hole in the O-Zone layer. Following grad school at LSU, I completed my LEED accreditation exam after taking a sustainability course and becoming a bit more aware on how the built environment was impacting the natural environment. It seemed an environmental studies program would be the best route to take.But remember, I wanted to distance myself from architecture, not push myself closer towards it. Architecture had broken me to a point that I can only describe as a lot of self-pity and depression. It had seemed the harder I looked, the more I learned and the more work I put into marketing myself, I only got pushed away more. It seemed like I just didn’t quite have that “it” factor or spark in my applications to draw attention and my work experience wasn’t just going to appear overnight by magic. I was convinced it would never work and determined to walk away.
Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management. That sounded promising. The New School program in New York City sounded like just the step away I needed. I had looked at several other programs in Boston and had been working on those applications when my mind drew me back to Boston Architectural College. I had remembered seeing that they had a sustainability certificate a while back and thought I’d check that out. It had to be cheaper than moving to New York. I discovered their online low residency Master of Design Studies in Sustainable Design program. I filled out the application and passed it along. It wasn’t a design studio, and would focus on concepts not just architectural design but to be honest, it wasn’t that new direction that I was looking for. But at the end of October when both the BAC and the New School had accepted me, I didn’t think I needed to look any further. I evaluated the benefits of the programs and ultimately decided being able to work full time while going to school was the right thing to do. That January in 2012, I started my classes through the BAC.
It was not the separation from design that I had been looking for though. In fact, it only reignited my interests but at a whole new level. My classmates were so diverse, from around the world and with so many different backgrounds. With the low residency status, we only saw each other one week at a time and only three times throughout the program during an intensive session, and boy did that name fit. Everyone was so passionate it was hard not to be engaged, and even harder not to sit back, take some notes, get the different degree and move on. I would have cheated myself getting by as easily as I could in that program.
With a newfound spark of excitement my job hunt started again following that semester. I had a renewed motivation.
Last year in 2013 I pushed myself as hard as I could both for school and job hunting. Within the last year I have had 10 interviews with 6 of them coming since early December. In school I completed my master’s thesis, Disaster Preparation, Response and Recovery through Resilient Thinking, which I am still working on in bits and pieces today. I can honestly say I spent every possible moment writing and designing and put everything into it that I could. I wanted to walk away knowing I hadn’t left anything out. I finished my degree with a 3.95 GPA and received all A’s in my classes, something I hadn’t done since elementary school. The day after my thesis presentation, I went on two job interviews. And a month later two more, and then two more within the month after that.
I’ve heard everything the last few years. I didn’t have enough work experience, or the right work experience. One place thought I had more experience despite my insistence in emails leading up to the interview that I didn’t. I didn’t live close enough and the other person was a better geographic fit. I lived too far and they couldn’t guarantee a long term employment opportunity if I moved. I was under qualified. I was overqualified. They decided the position wouldn’t be entry level at some point after I had interviewed. I didn’t have any friends in the area. They weren’t sure the pay would be fair given my background. Whether or not these were ever the “real” reasons, who knows. At first given the state of the economy I was happy just to get interviews. On more than one occasion I was told I was one of a handful of applicants selected to interview out of 100 with numbers as high as 200 on several occasions. So for a while, yes it was a consolation to even know I’d made a cut. But that consolation wasn’t paying my bills or getting me on my feet. But I know those 200+ applicants are having just as hard a time as I am, I’m sure many of them were the same people on many occasions.
For those in the same boat as me, that have been on countless interviews after countless applications, hang in there. I know it’s very hard, but work on your portfolio, work on your resume, start a blog or a website, do some freelancing, and get creative with how to remain active in the field. I created my portfolio in InDesign and used Blurb to bind and publish it. Many interviewers were impressed with the appearance before even opening up to my projects. It costs more than a spiral binding at Kinko’s but it will look so much better. When I designed my business cards, I picked 5 or 6 of my best images and would have them all available in my wallet at any point in time. When I would give my car to someone, they would all come out and if gave me an opportunity to show portfolio samples on the go.
Apply, apply, apply, even if you don’t think you’re qualified, let them figure that out. And you never know what jobs you might come across that peak your interest. Never turn down an interview, they’re all good practice and you never know what other opportunities you might find. I interviewed with a solar installation company last summer. I knew the entire time I wouldn’t get the job but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. In my interview I learned some information that I would research and use in my thesis paper.
Network. Join the local USGBC chapter, check your local AIA calendar for events, go to conference and trade shows. I attended NESEA last year armed with a handful of business cards and gave them to anyone willing to engage in conversation with me.
Have a professor/friend/mentor/colleague review your resume. Make sure you have key words in there that will help get you by the initial reviews by Human Resources. Most, if not all of the places I interviewed with did not have a human resources department, rather resumes were reviewed by the principal or someone just below them on the totem pole.
Get certified in something. Anything. Last year I took the Revit Certification exam and didn’t even need to take a training course for it. Certification is available a wide array of Autodesk programs, sketch-up, Microsoft Office, etc. Find something to pad your resume with. Start your ARE’s. It varies by location but many places offer the opportunity to start your licensing exams once you finish school.
Find your niche. What is important to you? What do you want to design, and why? I mentioned Simon Sinek in an earlier post. If you find yourself in a crisis of faith and why you are even in this field to begin with, go back and figure out your why. Why do you do this and what makes it important to you? Sinek‘s mantra is, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Be able to tell an interviewer why you want this job.
It’s a challenging road ahead, but it seems to be getting smoother day by day. You will find what you’re looking for. It is so much easier to give up, but it feels so much more rewarding to succeed.
And as Journey wonderfully reminded me near the end of my shift yesterday, Don’t Stop Believing. Believe in yourself and market yourself the best you can and the pieces will fall into place.