Advice & insights: masterclasses from industry leaders

Starting a Career in Architecture: Insights from Aylin Round

Aylin Round

Aylin Round

Job Board Owner & Career Coach for Architects

Key Takeaways

  • Enhance Technical Skills: Focus on mastering architectural software like AutoCAD, Revit, and Adobe Creative Suite to bridge the gap between university and professional practice.
  • Build a Strong Network Early: Leverage university years to connect with industry professionals and peers through networking events and LinkedIn, laying the groundwork for future job opportunities.
  • Adapt for the UK Market: For overseas architects, understand visa requirements, professional titles, and gain UK-specific experience to enhance employability.
  • Prepare Thoroughly for Applications and Interviews: Customize your CV and portfolio to the job at hand, and use the STAR method in interviews to articulate your competency effectively.
  • Pursue Continuous Learning and Specialization: Stay updated with industry trends and technology, and consider specialization to remain competitive and versatile in the field.
  • Set Clear Career Goals: Regularly evaluate and adjust your career aspirations, communicate with mentors, and actively seek opportunities for professional growth.

Starting a Career in Architecture

Navigating the complex path of an architectural career, Aylin Round, founder of ArchJobs, sheds light on critical yet often overlooked strategies for success. From enhancing technical skills to the art of effective networking, her insights offer a guide for emerging architects. Aylin’s expert advice addresses common challenges and outlines actionable solutions, setting the stage for a resilient and rewarding journey in architecture. Whether you’re a recent graduate or an overseas professional aiming to establish yourself in the UK market, Aylin’s wisdom is your cornerstone for building a thriving career in this dynamic field.

“One of the most common mistakes I observe among Part 1 and Part 2 Architectural Assistants in the UK is a lack of emphasis on improving their technical skills and expanding their professional network while still at university.

The reason why they should put a bigger emphasis on their technical skills is that, when joining an architectural practice, this becomes a significant part of the role. Universities often prioritise the development of design skills over software abilities. I would advise getting used to widely-used software such as AutoCAD, Revit, and Adobe Creative Suite. Nobody will expect you to be proficient, but having used them and possessing a basic knowledge can be quite useful.

Growing your professional network while still at university is a big opportunity that is often overlooked. Students should connect with peers, those in higher academic years, and attend networking events where they can engage with architectural professionals, mentors, and practice owners. While it might seem daunting initially, it’s a great way to learn from others, potentially find a mentor, and discover job opportunities. Connect with them on LinkedIn and learn from their experiences and stay up to date and the latest building trends.”

“Before making the move to the UK, thorough research is essential. Familiarise yourself with the job market, visa requirements, cost of living, understand salary ranges and contact the ARB to see your eligibility to use the professional title “Architect”. It’s important to note that the title “Architect” is protected in the UK, and only professionals registered with the ARB can use this title. In case you are not registered with the ARB, I recommend using titles such as “Architectural Designer” or “Overseas Qualified Architect”.

A common challenge faced by Overseas Architects in securing permanent jobs in the UK is the perceived lack of UK experience. Many firms highly value familiarity with UK Building Regulations. To address this, consider exploring short-term contracts with smaller or medium-sized practices. This approach allows you to gradually gain UK experience, which you can then highlight in your updated CV and Sample Portfolio.

Moving on to the application process, when applying for a position, I suggest understanding what hiring managers or recruiters look for in a CV and Sample Portfolio. Here in the UK, you do not have to include personal details such as a photo, passport details, religion, marital status, etc. Instead, focus on your work history, responsibilities, software skills, and soft skills. Also, when submitting your Sample Portfolio, keep the documents ideally under 10 pages and 10MB. You are only showcasing your most recent/best work, providing the reader with a good idea of your experience and without overwhelming them. Once you have been invited for an interview, you can present them with your full Portfolio. Regarding Cover Letters, only submit one if explicitly requested. Keep it under half a page.

Before moving to the UK, make sure you research different cities. While many job seekers are interested in living and working in London due to more job opportunities, finding a job might not be as simple as it seems. Yes, there are more architecture companies in and around London, but this also means increased competition for jobs, potentially leading to a longer job search than anticipated. 

Additionally, living in London is expensive, and travel times between locations can exceed 1.5 hours each way. If London isn’t your first choice, I strongly recommend exploring cities like Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow, Newcastle, and Edinburgh. These cities boast numerous architecture and multi-disciplinary firms, and the cost of living is lower compared to London.

You should also grow your network within your area by attending networking events and connecting with professionals on LinkedIn. This will also help you get a grasp of any new trends and building regulations in the field.”

“If viewed from a hiring manager’s perspective, the factors that make an Architect stand out would be their overall experience. This would include a comprehensive range of skills and qualities such as:

  • Experience across all RIBA Stages.
  • Strong design skills.
  • Excellent technical proficiency.
  • Demonstrated client interaction and relationship-building abilities.
  • Effective communication and presentation skills.
  • Collaboration skills.
  • Site experience.
  • Proactive attitude with a focus on continuous learning.
  • Potential for leadership and strong problem-solving abilities.
  • Diverse experience across various sectors and project sizes.

In today’s competitive market, Architects are increasingly expected to be versatile, possessing a broad knowledge base. Practices seek all-rounders who can contribute effectively across different RIBA Stages and project types. Therefore, continuous upskilling and gaining experience in various aspects of architecture become valuable for standing out in the field.”

“There are various ways someone could find an architectural job these days. Before starting your job search, reflect on why you’re looking and what you might be missing in your current role (if applicable). Common reasons for seeking a new role include a lack of progression, a toxic work culture, low pay, and not enough flexibility.

Everyone is different and some prefer to use job boards, tap into their network, go to more networking events, contact an architectural recruiter specialising in your location, or approach practices directly.

Tip: Many generic job boards may not effectively filter out IT-related architect jobs. Consider using job boards specialising in the Built Environment Sector for a more tailored search.

When you start your search, anticipate that it might take between 3 to 6 months to find a suitable role. The reason is that between applying and starting a new job, there are various interview stages, administrative work, handing in your notice, and so on. 

Additionally, it’s crucial to do your homework and understand the current job market. Learn what someone with your experience and skills could expect and define your non-negotiables. Having a call with an architectural recruiter can provide great insights into these questions and help you understand your value.

To speed up the process, take the time to create a strong CV and Sample Portfolio, it’s a process that often takes longer than an afternoon. Remember, first impressions count, and showcasing your accomplishments with stats and figures can make a significant impact. 

For instance:

“Led a team of 5 professionals in the design and construction of large-scale residential schemes in London, including XYZ Project, a 120-ubit development in the heart of the city.

Worked across RIBA stages 2-6, taking the lead on design development, construction, documentation, and on-site management.”

Keep a record of all your applications, you could create an Excel sheet, including the name of the practice, location, position, job description, salary range, date of application, and the type of application (via email, ATS). This way, you can set reminders to follow up on applications and track interview invitations.

If you decide to work with an architectural recruiter, consider collaborating with no more than two to avoid stress and confusion. The best way to identify a good recruiter is to have an initial call with them. During this conversation, discuss what you’re missing in your current role, what you are looking for, set any non-negotiables, and vice versa. The recruiter can offer insights into the current market, provide feedback on your application documents, discuss salary ranges, prepare you for upcoming interviews, negotiate offers, and help match you with the right practice. This underscores the importance of having an open and honest conversation with the recruiter. If you don’t feel that they have the right experience or have suitable opportunities, you can always explore working with another recruiter.”

“In order to increase your chances of landing the position, you need to do some initial interview prep. This involves researching the company, understanding their niche, knowing who will be interviewing you, and ensuring you have solid reasons why you’re a suitable fit for the role and the company.

Determine whether the interview will be conducted in person or online. Additionally, find out how many interview stages they plan to have. You can inquire with the hiring manager or recruiter about the typical content of the first and second stage interviews. This information will give you a good idea of what to expect, allowing you to prepare effectively and feel more at ease during the process.

Familiarise yourself with the job description before your interview. This will help you refresh your memory about what the practice is looking for and can find examples/reasons why you are the right candidate for the role. 

Having gone through the job description, you should have a rough idea of what sort of questions they might ask you. Depending on the position, they might ask specific questions about your design, presentation, team leadership, and/or technical skills. It’s always advisable to prepare for various interview questions

When answering competency or behavioural questions, use the STAR method. It will help you structure and provide a detailed answer. 

What does STAR stand for?

  • Situation: the situation you had to deal with.
  • Task: the task you were given to do.
  • Action: the action you took.
  • Result: what happened as a result of your action and what you learned from the experience.

As I mentioned earlier, your Sample Portfolio goes hand in hand with your CV. Now is the time 

to bring your Full Portfolio with you. Familiarise yourself with the projects, as there is a high chance they will ask you to present one or two projects and walk them through the stages, explaining your responsibilities, the reasons behind certain design decisions, and how you handled any arising issues. This part shouldn’t take longer than 15 min. 

An interview should never be one-sided. One thing I always mentioned to my candidates was “Don’t forget, it’s a two-way street. It’s not all about selling yourself to them, they need to prove to you why you should join their company”. You need to interview them as much as they interview you, and make sure you can really see yourself working there. 

Which brings me to the final part. Usually, at the end of an interview, you might be asked, “Do you have any questions for us?” and the answer should always be yes.

Possible questions you could ask at the end:

  • Can you please share some potential projects that I’d be working on?
  • What would be your expectations for my first 3 – 6 months?
  • What would you say are the three most important skills needed to excel in this position?
  • Which particular problem are you trying to solve by hiring for this position?

Personally, after a successful interview where I could envision myself working at the company, I would send a short thank-you email. This helped express my interest in the role and added a nice touch.”

Developing Skills and Adaptability

“In the ever-evolving world of architecture, it’s crucial to stay updated on the latest regulations and trends. Keep an open mind and explore and integrate new technologies into your work. Additionally, expanding your professional network to include professionals from various sectors and industries can offer valuable insights, providing a broader perspective and deepening your understanding of the changing landscape. 

Surround yourself with like-minded professionals, learn to listen, and adapt. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and always strive to upskill.”

“The best thing an Architect can do to improve their skills and experiences is to keep learning and make it clear to your director or team leader that you are keen to evolve and strengthen your skills. If your next step is to become a Project Architect, ask for opportunities to accompany a Senior Architect or Project Architect to site visits and gain more exposure that way.

It’s also useful to work on larger and more complex schemes if possible. Such projects will help you learn and provide a better understanding of potential issues and how larger schemes are handled. However, you may decide that you want to specialise in a specific sector, such as high-end residential or healthcare schemes. It can be beneficial to become the go-to person, but many architects enjoy working with variety.

In terms of technical skills and improving your software abilities, I believe it’s always a wise investment of time and should consistently be a focus point in your professional development.

Mentoring junior colleagues is also another great way to advance, as it will strengthen your communication, interpersonal, and leadership/management skills.

Also, get involved in different business aspects, like strategic decisions, understanding financial aspects, client relationships, and project management.

A good rule of thumb is, if you want to take the next step in your career, identify the skills and experiences of those already in the desired role and ask if they could mentor you. It’s a win-win situation.”

Networking and Professional Development

“Regardless of where you are in your career, dedicating time to networking is crucial. Fortunately, there are numerous networking opportunities available across the UK, including online webinars, in-person events, exhibitions, awards, seminars, workshops, and talks. The beauty of attending these events lies in the unpredictability of the connections you might gain. Investing time in building professional relationships not only keeps you updated on trends and shifts in the market but can also open up potential job opportunities.

You could also offer to give a talk and host a seminar, which will undoubtedly help raise your profile. From personal experience, I suggest having a LinkedIn profile and actively sharing and engaging with your network. This is another way to showcase your knowledge and expertise, and I’m certain it could help break the ice with directors or even recruiters.”

“Every Architect will have different career ambitions and aspirations for where they would like to be in 5 or 10 years. Perhaps they’ve always dreamed of running their own practice, working on specific schemes, or leading projects and a team. It doesn’t matter where you want to end up, communication is key. Unless you express your ambition to your director or mentor, they might not be aware and may not provide you with the right experience or assistance to help you get there. 

Ideally, you should have an end-of-year review or a 6-month review with your practice. This ensures that everyone is on the same page, helps track your performance, provides an opportunity to ask for more support if required, and keeps everyone accountable.

While some Architects are incredibly driven and aim to climb the ranks quickly, it’s important to set realistic targets. Ensure you gain the right experience and develop the necessary skills to advance to the next level. This way, it will be easier to approach the director, providing examples and stats/figures to demonstrate your readiness. 

Tip: Don’t just wait for a pay rise or promotion, be proactive and have regular catch-ups. This way, everyone stays on the same page.”

“I always prefer working backward. Think about where you’d like to be and visualise yourself in 10+ years, then break it down into manageable chunks. You could also seek out a mentor who can guide you in the right direction and help you to stay on track.

However, in the ever-evolving field of architecture, it’s worth staying open-minded and not being too closed off to changing your initial plan. You might discover a passion for a specific sector, or perhaps you find enjoyment in the more technical aspects of your job. People change, and it’s essential to remain agile.

Continue expanding your professional network and surround yourself with like-minded people who inspire you to excel and provide support during challenging times.”

Career Advancement and Overcoming Mid-Career Hurdles

“I’ve encountered this scenario quite frequently where Architects work at a practice for 4 or 5+ years but struggle to progress to the next level. They might wait for a promotion or a chance to handle bigger, more complex projects. But nothing happens. 

As mentioned earlier, communication is key. If you feel like you’ve hit a glass ceiling, initiate a conversation with the director or your team leader, expressing your interest to advance your career and working together to devise a plan to achieve that. This way, both you and the practice are on the same page.

However, there are instances where practices are transparent and may tell you that there’s no immediate opportunity for advancement due to various reasons such as capacity or budget constraints. In such cases, it might be worth keeping an eye out for new opportunities. Have a chat with a recruiter to gauge the current market, assess if your skills and experience are in demand, and understand the latest salary ranges.

Avoid stagnating in your current role; continue learning and progressing.”

When negotiating a pay increase or promotion, several factors should be considered before approaching your Director/Team Leader. One crucial step is to research your current market value, determining how much you are “worth”. This involves doing research and even talking with other Architects in your area or specialised recruiters who have a pretty good understanding of the current market.

Once you’ve identified that you are either underpaid or have the skills and experience deserving of a promotion, compile a list of your accomplishments and concrete examples illustrating why you deserve a pay increase. Reflect on your achievements, such as mentoring junior staff, securing projects through client-facing skills, managing multiple projects, and consistently delivering high-quality work. Emphasise instances where you took initiative during challenging situations, as companies often reward loyalty.

After completing market research and outlining your achievements, specify the salary you aim to achieve. Instead of a general request, provide a precise number or range based on your findings. Practise what you plan to say in advance, using bullet points to stay focused during the meeting and manage any nervousness or stress. Be prepared to present your case clearly during the meeting.

Initiate the conversation by telling them that you enjoy working for the company and the challenges of your projects. 

Usually a good start is:

”I really enjoy working here and find my projects very challenging. In the last year, I’ve been feeling that the scope of my work has expanded quite a bit. I believe my roles and responsibilities, and my contributions have risen. I’d like to discuss with you the possibilities of reviewing my compensation.”

After that, stop talking and see what they have to say and don’t break the silence. This is a useful technique and don’t feel like you need to say anything. 

Regardless of their initial reaction, particularly if immediate agreement is not reached, propose a follow-up meeting to discuss a plan on how to achieve the agreed-upon compensation. In case it’s a hard no, then you should most likely look for a new role and find a practice which will give you the position and salary you deserve.”

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