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So after approaching and applying many of the well known firms in Toronto for an Intern Architect position, I wanted to share some of the lessons I have learned. I wish I had learned some of these lessons before I started applying, however I hope this advice will help my peers who are applying concurrently. Although the worst of the recession is over in Canada, some architecture firms are still struggling to recover. At the end of the day many firms are still affected by the lack of new loans for building projects, the lack of Federal infrastructure money, and other various factors. The AIA has actually indicated that the Architecture Billing Index has fallen below 50 which likely means that the industry will slow down even more. So people looking for a job must be strategic.

With all that said, I wanted to share any advice for us job seekers.

1. Decide what you want to do with your architecture degree and write down your goals and aspirations!

What are your short term goals, 5 year plan, and 10 year plan? Do you want to get registered? Do you want to be partner or own your own firm? What type of architecture do you want to do: civic, institutional, residential, commercial, retail,  urban planning, art, or competitions? Be specific, this is your chance to tell everyone what really excites you about architecture and what your are driven to accomplish.

2. Re-focus your resume and cover letter to emphasize your goals and aspirations in a way that shows a specialization in architecture!

If you want to do competitions, what experiences, skills, and projects have you done to make you the perfect candidate? Include a professional development section that captures all the conferences, competitions, certifications, publications, reports, and other preparation for your specialization in architecture. If you have previous work experience, include a selected projects list of work completed. Write a short cover letter that includes a couple sentences in a separate paragraph that focuses on your specialization.

3. Research what type/size of firm wants your experience!

Don’t apply for just any firm, do some research and figure out what types of firms need your expertise and leverage those expertise to get a job. For example, if you have a previous interior design degree and have some experience in the field, then I would suggest that you go after firms who do not have interior designers on staff. Those particular firms likely want to add those skills to their practice however cannot afford to hire an interior designer. It really is a give and take relationship between the firm and a potential candidate and in the end, the firm gets your expertise and you get in the door to start work as an Intern Architect. One caveat with this strategy is that you are clear with your intentions that you want to become an Architect and wish not to be pigeon holed.

4. Network and build relationships before you ask for a job!

Talk to your friends in the industry that you wish to enter, make new friends, go out for drinks, go out for lunch, and build relationships with people. Creating an intimate relationship with persons of interest in the industry will lead to timely advice and help in approaching the firms you are interested in. People within the field can offer insight to who is hiring and possibly offer an introduction. Remember the Iceberg metaphor when it comes to careers, most jobs are not advertised and just under the surface. That means we must network and build relationships to find the unadvertised ones. Only after have you built a relationship of trust and mutual respect with friends, partners, and principals should you ask for a job. You want that person to feel completely comfortable with you. This could take months, however it is a rewarding educational experience. And remember your please and thank you’s after every meeting.

5. Apply for the job!

After you have identified partners of firms looking to hire your specialization and have their contact information in hand, go after that job with a strong cover letter and resume. Consider emailing a portfolio sample or link your portfolio from a website, blog, or FTP. Follow-up with a call within a week. Ask for an interview or drinks. Even if there are no job opportunities, maintain that contact for the next quarter and keep in touch. Sometimes it can take months to develop a relationship to a point where it becomes a career offer.

GOOD LUCK!!!

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This is a draft paper on Success & Innovation in Professional Practice that I hope to have published in the near future. Love to hear your feedback on the paper!

Toward Success – Online Reader

Executive Summary

The architecture profession is constantly changing as the current political and economic uncertainty necessitate adaptability. Practitioners spend considerable resources and time to stay abreast on issues facing the profession and emerging strategies for success. As with many other professionals Architects strive to be successful, however it seems that practitioners, firms, and students are hard pressed to be completely satisfied as the architecture process is a continuous design dialogue. Creating a conceptual success model for architecture appears relevant to cope with the changing environment that Architects practice within and can assist in future career planning. An appropriate model could be based on the core values of leadership, innovation, sustainability / ethical design, and the firms relevance which is otherwise known in the business world as the bottom-line. These core values encompass many soft skills and are based on relevant literature on success theory that should be considered. These values provide varying levels of fulfilment, however to become truly successful requires a balance. Consistent with many other pursuits in life, balance for the profession is integral and the model advocates for a strong educational focus that meets these core values. To attain the success sweet spot in the model, education must avoid overemphasizing one aspect and strive to make well-rounded practitioners.

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Success is typically defined as one’s attainment or measure of social status, achievement, and profit compared to others. Success for an architect can be an allusive as we belong to a profession and there is an added dimension of ethics in practice. As practicing architects and businessman we are responsible to make a profit, attain business, sustain our business, and provide compelling work for our firm. As a practicing architect and registered professional we are ethically responsible for the work we do and how it affects the built environment and ecology of the site.

The purpose of this research document is to present a definition of success for an architect and establish a lexicon of descriptors for measuring success. What is troubling is that architects never seem to be completely satisfied with their own work and look to other famous architects as successful. There is also the saying that “an architect only becomes famous after he dies,” which held true during the mid-twentieth century and to some extent still today.

Architectural Success in Professional Practice

There are four definitions/types of success for an architect and architecture practice that are discernible:

  1. The measure and impact one has on the built environment. Architects like Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn defined a generation and movement of architecture. Even today we can still see what these architects have achieved in the work of others. The architect that directly affects how we perceive architecture through their own works is a successful architect.
  • Achievement
  • Game Changers
  • Icons of an Era
  • Defines Architectural Movement2. A person or practice who has won many competitions and designed many focal points of major cities. This type of success can be measured on how known architects such as Gehry and Zaha are known outside of the architecture profession. These architects have yet to define a style or movement of architecture, however they have won prestigious projects and are willing to experiment with style that other people admire. Admiration is a key measure.
  • Recognition/Status
  • Winner/Prestige
  • Quality of work attained and designed3. The size and growth rate is another metric of business success. Attaining profitable success can be measured by size of firm, stock price, and income statements of the firm. These measures are looking at the functional health of the firm to sustain itself and be able to produce work. There is a very casual causality between health of the firms financing and other definitions of success, although it does tell us that whatever the firm’s strategy is, its working to sustain it.
  • Profit
  • Size
  • Firm’s Health
    4. The ability to create a better future through ethical/accountable design that fulfils a personal need and population wants. As our world becomes more aware of the fragility of the ecologies we occupy, successful design is measured in what level of LEED has it achieved and what is its ecological footprint. Optimizing design helps reduce the monetary upkeep and leads to more ethical design. Architects that consistently have a track record of sustainable design and projects that are less likely to fail are thus more accountable to the profession.
  • Personal Achievement/Fulfilment of Self Needs
  • Ethical Design
  • Honour
  • Accountable

In all these categories we need leaders and champions of the profession to fulfil these definitions. Leaders make meaning and create a coherent culture where success is obtainable through well defined goals. Success is defined in architecture as all four of these traits either together or separate and imbued in people and firms we see as successful. We use intuition to define who is successful without really defining for ourself what makes someone successful. Architects are by nature design thinkers and rely on our ability to imagine and create frameworks to develop buildings. So it seems natural that until now we have relied on our intuition to define success.

Maslow-Architecture

Social Comparison Theory by Leon Festinger states that people tend to seek to evaluate their performance based on others so it makes sense to compare the definitions of architectural success with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in figure one. Still most important is the self-actualization found in the fulfilment of good work. The architecture profession is a place of creativity and morality that feeds right into those high level needs. From casual observation it seems though most professionals look at the health of the firm and recognition more highly. Are these because they are the lower fruit on the tree so they are readily attainable. I have read in Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman’s In Search of Excellence that we commonly place more emphasis on the easily attainable goals and less priority on those high level needs that will give us longer lasting feelings of success. This is obviously a problem to further explore.

Whichever definition of success we look to attain, there obviously needs to be a way to measure and analyze it. However I do not want to leave this analysis at only a look at the rational quantitative data, I want to take the intuitive leap, that move that makes us so creative and discuss how to strategically plan out a career or take an existing business to a more meaningful and fulfilling high level success. I have already listed some descriptors of success that we can look for when analyzing current people and practices, now its time to discuss measures.

Measures of Success in Professional Practice

For each definition of success we will use the most rational quantitative data available to measure.

  1. For achievement, we will count name association to an architectural movement. We will ask how often do we find other architects mimic signature architectural moves.
  2. Recognition will be measured in number of awards won, major competitions won that were sponsored by professional associations and books written about the architect or firm.
  3. Health will be measured by looking at profit statements, size, and growth of firm.
  4. Self-actualization will be the hardest to measure and will require digging into media and professional recognition articles that describe their achievements, intuitively when a firm or person names appear often then we can credibly seek further input from those firms and people that have reach a level of fulfilment to be considered successful.

Using this measure and lexicon of descriptors we start to quantitatively see who is successful. From there we must make the intuitive leap to how these people are successful. Some time has been spent on leadership theory, strategic marketing, managing service firms, and innovative business intelligence. All this research leads me to believe that success can be an ingrained culture and spearheaded by a design/leadership champion. That is where my research is moving to now with and after a little bit of fumbling around articles on innovations I have realized that there are many markets, models, and strategies of innovation. I think that the future innovation discussion will revolve around a loose-tight framework for innovation in architecture. We can develop methods and approaches that allow our creative minds to populate with ideas and strategy of achieving it.

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I have begun to question the value laden term success after I watched John Wooden and Alain de Botton’s TED talks on the topic. Originally when I thought of success, I imagined heaps of money and recognition or social status and profit, the dictionary definition of the word. Success can’t just be about what you have but about what you have learned. We seem to idolize what is materialistic instead of  what is of value to our self. Both Wooden and de Botton identified ownership, values, and character as important aspects toward your own measure of success. We should be the authors of success and be the best we can be. I agree we must hold ourselves accountable, I should challenge myself and set goals that when are constantly adjusting to what is now a very turbulent and dynamic career environment.

I am writing a paper on success theory in professional practice and I wanted to develop categories of ‘success’ that Architects and Interns fall into. I feel now instead of categories I will have a lexicon of descriptors that certain practitioners will fit into. This lexicon is not value laden as it is sets a framework to understand success, innovation, and methods of career strategy which is an objective laid out with my supervisor.

My own self-discovery of my success values and goals lately has driven me towards the study of success in professional practice. Who I am and what I am looking for leads me to the second part of today’s post as it has been the support of strong mentors that makes me appreciate the practice of architecture. Leadership and developing strong mentorship networks provide support for a protege to enhance personal identity, role, and interpersonal competence. Suzanne C. de Janasz, Sherry E. Sullivan, Vicki Whiting, and Elaine Biech wrote an informative article about mentor networks and its value in career planning and success. Deemed from this article there are three competencies of knowing why, how, and whom that should be sought and developed by a strong mentor network. These competencies are pivotal in career researchers study of intelligent careers where knowledge and skills – the knowing how – are not enough and competency drive firms understand that in today’s turbulent and cyclical global marketplace employees change jobs often. It has become very important that firms find people that understand their beliefs – the knowing why – and have strong networks of mentors – knowing whom – to develop their skills from. With so much to learn a large diverse mentor network seems relevant in today’s practice to become successful and ones own identity – the knowing why again – helps to define what is success to them. It seems that we never stop learning and after I graduate from school and become an intern, my journey to success will be much more important to then the end. I will need strong mentors to develop the competencies I need to give as much as I take from a firm and my mentors.

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Success can be measured many different ways, from a cultural impact on society (Bilboa Effect) to the more conventional measures of financial wealth, size of firm, etc. There is an array of definitions of success and a spectrum of metrics for acknowledging progress. For the architecture profession, success tends to be a very contentious notion – rather ill-defined and somewhat elusive. To better grasp the notion of success in architectural practice, I have begun to critically analyze relevant prevailing literature and will review and assess several practitioners deemed to be ‘successful’ within the industry.

This post will become part of a much longer thread of ideas and concepts as I delve into success theory in professional practice and how it applies to successful Architects and Interns.

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