Transitioning from academia to industry can be a difficult endeavour for many people. You're put to the test in an unfamiliar area, and you have no idea what's waiting for you on the other side of the door. You start to wonder, Am I ready? Are they going to like me? You obsess over your flaws - the things you know you don't know - until you realise there's a mountain of things you didn't even realise you didn't know. It's an exhilarating and nerve-wracking time. Your first job will be with you forever.
However, for many, breaking into industry is not always a straightforward process. There are times when you feel hopeful, and then there are times when you feel deflated. My journey was long and arduous, with many highs and lows. After finishing my first year of architecture school, I decided it was time to start looking for work. I proceeded to cast a wide net and develop a spreadsheet. Alas, to no avail.
I spent the following two years scouring the internet for job opportunities, cold calling, cold emailing and had nothing to show for it. If I had a penny for every generic response I received over the following two years, I wouldn’t need a job in the first place. How many times could one face rejection and keep going? For me, the answer was close to 300. It was at this point that I recollected an age-old adage; if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you'll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. I knew I had to refine my approach.
As the final year of my bachelor's approached, I was feeling burnt out and deflated, and I was in good company. Many of my peers had expressed the same sentiment as a result of similar experiences. Architecture school is challenging in its own right, it's survival of the most passionate. I sat down and audited my approach up until this point to try to find the common denominator. It was then that I discovered the flaw in my approach. You see, behind every remarkable company, story and achievement is a person. A human, who eats, sleeps, feels happy and sad just like the rest of us. It is these people who hold the fate of our applications in their hands. In my approach, I wasn’t putting in the time and effort to build personal connections with these people. I was just another application. I knew I had to put myself out there, meet the people behind the industry and build real connections if there was any chance of me landing that job. But where do I begin? Who would want to connect with a student? What's in it for them? The one thing architects lack is time, I wasn’t about to take that away from them, not without a good cause at least.
This shift in mindset was accompanied by a realisation that there is an obvious information deficit. Every architect working in the field had to get there somehow. All of them had to land their first job. I wondered then, why were my peers and I having trouble breaking into this industry and what remained to be done? What did they know then and more importantly, what do they know now that we don't? Right then I made it my mission to uncover this knowledge and share it with those in my position. I found an opportunity in the fact that in doing so, I will also be able to build those personal connections with industry professionals. It seemed like the perfect plan.
With this new wave of motivation, I mustered up the courage to reach out to several leading architects with a simple question. Would you be happy to sit down for 30 minutes and answer some questions I had formulated around breaking into the architecture industry? The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I proceeded to interview 5 of them in what later became my first interview series.
Some key themes emerged and are elaborated upon on my LinkedIn page. For the sake of brevity, I will summarise the salient ones here.
You are applying for a design role, so demonstrate your design aptitude in your application. Don’t be afraid to reference the companies’ fonts, colour or general aesthetic. They are more likely to notice applications that align with their own aesthetic.
Customise your application
It is vital to tailor your application to the company to which you are applying. If you send a generic application, expect a generic rejection. A great way to stand out is by quoting one of the founders, something on their site or simply mentioning a project you liked and what aspects of it resonated with you.
Get on the phone
Before sending any application, get on the phone and have a conversation with the receptionist. Being the first point of contact, in a way, they are the guardian of the practice. You don’t have to say much, just be courteous and ask to whom is the best person to address the application. This approach will ensure they will be on the lookout for your application. A phone turns a piece of paper into a person and a person into a possibility.
It's not always about what you know, but rather who you know. This is especially true while looking for your first architecture job. In the field of architecture, networking is crucial. LinkedIn is one medium which has made it easier than ever to connect with others in the field.
Passive job search
One of my most vital pieces of advice is what I call the passive job search strategy. That’s what ultimately led to my first job. Use every conversation as an opportunity to express your desire to find work; Not only does it reinforce your subconscious mind regularly, but I have found that people genuinely enjoy helping in any way they can, whether it's by reaching out to industry contacts or providing their helpful ideas. By doing so, you are leveraging your network to passively broaden your job search, as you now have their eyes and ears working for you in your effort to break into the industry.
I am a big believer that you create your own luck. You must create an internal and external environment that attracts opportunities. Unfortunately, you can’t just order opportunities on Uber Eats and have them delivered to your door. I feel that the mindset shift I underwent, backed by some amazing conversations and connections, put me into the frame of mind to be able to create and capitalise on the opportunity that led to my first job.
Do not lose hope and your drive for architecture. Remember why you fell in love with it in the first place. Rejection is simply redirection. Rejection is often due to timing and the status of the industry – factors beyond your control. Even the brightest graduates and world leaders faced rejection. You will find a firm that appreciates you for you.
Keep your head up, be kind, and hone your personal brand. Great things will come.