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10 Pro Tips | Starting in Architectural Practice | EP6

In this episode we discuss our experience of the end of studying Architecture at both Degree & Masters level.

This culminates in what’s known as ‘the degree show’. We explain how to prepare for the degree show to give you the best chance of employment, whether or not you should take a break after studying, what to do if you struggle to gain employment, how to set yourself apart in getting that first job in architecture and our top 10 tips for transitioning into real world practice as an architectural assistant.

Podcast write-up

Table of Contents

Our experience of the degree shows 0:20


We start with Jack & Adam talking through their own experiences of the degree show at both degree and master’s level.

Jacks’ degree level show was a nightmare, but a valuable lesson was born from it. His computer broke two weeks before the submission of his final project and he lost everything! He had to redo his entire project in time for the degree show, not ideal! Luckily, he had a family friend in the forensic IT department of Merseyside police and was able to salvage some of the work, but it was still an incredibly hard and stressful task. A big lesson to come from this is to always to save MULTIPLE copies of your work, whether it be on dropbox, an external hard drive, google drive or all of the above! Despite the setback Jack went on to achieve a 2:1 at degree level.

In terms of priority, Adam believes that the design of your project is still the most important thing over the presentation of your work. He had a more structured experience during his degree and typically led with a large volume of boards showing a lot of information. He was advised by a tutor that a presentation is only as good as its weakest drawing or board, so by having too much information or too many drawings pinned up it was actually hurting the overall display. By cutting down to 3 concise boards with the best parts of his project and highest quality drawings he could score higher marks. Adam followed this advice, albeit including 6 boards eventually, but tried to be ruthless in picking the best parts of his work and it led to him achieving a 1st in his degree. Refining your work down to a concise level of information is best practice.

Kenny raises the issue of fatigue around the degree show, is it tough and tiring, did the guys just want a rest? What will students be feeling around this time? At this stage you aren’t aware that you’re tired because the adrenaline of seeing the finish line pushes you through, and it’s only afterwards that you realise you need a rest, much like a long-distance run.

Eventually you look back with fondness at that time in your life, given the freedom of design that you have at that stage of university and the camaraderie of the studio with all of your peers.

How should you prepare for the degree show? 11:51


In our experience you aren’t really thinking about the degree show until it is upon you, it is more about the internal crit leading into the end of the year. You then get around 10 days before the degree show, and it’s during this time that the focus started to switch and start to prepare. You begin to hear about which employers might be attending and you can begin to do research into those if you want to secure a position with them.

The ‘best’ students in the year group were approached by tutors before the degree show, and they would recommend those students to the best practices in the local area as a reward for achieving the best results.

Jack prepared for the degree show by creating brochures of his work and designing his own business cards to hand out to directors of practices. He advises that you should research who the directors/senior people are at the practices you want to work at, because in his experience lower-level staff attend the degree show and can waste your time pretending they could potentially get you a job, but they had no power to do so. In hindsight he wishes would have sent out personal invites to the directors of the practices he wanted to work with.

That said, you should take everyone seriously, but try not to let people monopolise your time. If you can prepare a 5 minute ‘pitch’ and memorise it, this will help to keep your line moving and get through to more potential opportunities, rather than having someone with no influence take up half an hour of your time.

What’s the difference between degree and masters show? 19:10


Jack jokes that the key difference was his work was better this time by virtue of the fact he didn’t lose everything 2 weeks before hand! In reality however, the masters is a lot more intense. The scale and level of project is a level up, meaning that you are working longer hours in the studio, which isn’t ideal but it can be necessary as you juggle studio time with lectures.

Long hours is an issue that we frequently discuss. It is something that we don’t want or like in our industry and should be avoided where possible, however, there is a huge sense of accomplishment that comes at the end of that process and that feeling is even bigger when you consider those long hours and tremendous effort that you have put in.

It is easy to fall into the trap of longer hours, because inevitably you always need or want more time! Whatever deadline you are given you will always work right up to that point and still feel like you can improve the project. Adam’s advice to minimise long hours is to stop looking for ‘perfection’ in your design as this leads to endless tinkering. Instead choose a point at which the project feels in a good place and commit to that design. He remembers the feeling of working 20 hours in one day and how that negatively affected him in the days afterward. It is better to do 10 hours after a good night’s sleep than work 20 hours, you’ll get more done when you’re well rested. Listen to your body; when you’re tired take the rest and you’ll find solutions more easily.

Adam’s main difference between degree and masters was experience, he highlights that by the time he got to the masters he had already been through it before at degree level. His advise is; instead of presenting a lot of information, choose one large floorplan or section and present that as your main piece of work. Have it central and at eye level on your board, then everything else can sit off to the side of the boards at a smaller scale. Really celebrate the floor plan/section on your board and make sure it is your best drawing, that’s how you hook people in. Don’t overload them with information, people will struggle to understand the drawings and it’ll move them on quicker.

There are costs difference at master’s level. We had preconceptions before the degree show that you had to spend a lot of money on your presentation by paying for foam board and other ‘shiny’ additions, but at masters we realised that wasn’t important, it is all about the quality of the work, and so we saved a lot of money by just pinning up good quality paper.

Adam remembers at master’s level that the work started as a group project to produce a masterplan, to then each taking a site from the masterplan for your individual work. As a result, at the master’s show you had to pin your work up alongside your other group mates. The beauty of this was that you could work together strategically. The group tactically chose who should show what, so that there was no duplication, and everyone’s boards were unique.

Both the degree show and masters show are enjoyable experiences. There are drinks available and it is an environment designed be relaxing so take advantage of that! Try to treat talking to employers/members of the public like a casual chat in the pub or coffee shop and enjoy it, after all you’ve worked so hard to get there!

Should you take a break after your studies? 28:00


The answer to this always depends on the person. Adam wanted and probably needed to take a break; however, he was worried that if he did, he would miss out on employment opportunities, so at the degree show he was already on the hunt for a Job. Adam had identified BDP as his preferred practice and he was able to get a job there after taking part in a mini competition that BDP set up and had asked 5 students to enter during the degree show. The tutors gave students a heads up on what practices had placements available and how many they had which gave you a head start when looking to apply for jobs. When Adam was offered the job at BDP he was asked when he could start, in hindsight he wishes he would have told them he needed a break and wanted to start a couple of months after interview, but at the time he jumped straight in to appear keen.

Jack organically got a break, he was offered a position at a practice, but it was taking over a role of someone who was leaving, and they still had time on their own contract, so he managed to get a break by default. He took part in the BDP competition with Adam but wasn’t given a job after the degree show, so he started calling and applying for positions at other practices he liked. He was keen to gain employment quickly as he didn’t want to fall behind, he managed to get an interview with 2 practices and was offered a job at both, he choose the practice that he felt suited his personality the most rather than the money that was on the table. We qualified in 2008 during the world economic recession, meaning there was more pressure in securing positions because there were less jobs available and that’s why our mindset was to start the job search straight away.

The economic situation now feels a little like 2008, so there may well be a benefit to trying to secure a position early. If you miss a year of employment at part I or Part II the pool of architects looking for a job only gets bigger as the next year of students come through. Take all of this into consideration when deciding to take a break or not.

What to do if you struggle to gain employment 41:39


What if you don’t get a job in architecture during that time, should you take any job? Or wait for one to become available in our industry?

Jack says he worked in retail originally as a default because he wanted to be in employment, however he was actively pursuing a job in architecture throughout the time he held his other job.

Adam wanted a job in architecture so that he wasn’t at a disadvantage skill wise when he went back to university. There are often jobs with companies that are related to architecture, but not architecture specific. One friend got a position at an architectural model making company and that taught him some design skills that were relevant to the industry. Adam remembers doing lunch time sessions with a CGI company, and that was a fantastic skill to learn alongside his role at BDP, so those companies would be great to get a position in if you can’t find work in a practice.

Studio RBA have had a student reach out who has been working in Tesco for 3 years because they couldn’t find work in practice. They said they lacked confidence and had wrote to us to ask if we would look less favourably on them as an applicant because they didn’t have experience. Our answer is; experience doesn’t necessarily matter at Part I and II, and in contrast, someone who has held a position in employment for 3 years must be a good employee. So, despite the fact your current job isn’t in architecture, you would have valuable soft skills that will help you to work in an architectural practice.

No matter what your approach, if you want a break or not, if you gain a job or not, don’t be worried. If you find yourself out of architecture for a while you can always come back further down the line, just make sure you refresh your portfolio and C.V when you start reapplying for jobs….ArchAdemia can help with this, send us your portfolios for critique and download our template documents!

How to set yourself apart 50:22


We recently put out a social post that divided opinion. The post was about hand delivering your C.V to the practices that you want to work in, some people agree that hand delivering your C.V shows a maturity and allows you to get your personality across, and helping to make you stand out from the crowd. Others believe that to be an outdated strategy, which would be snuffed out by a receptionist or even taken in distaste by a director when an email can do the same job and save their time.

Adam prefers the face-to-face handing in, as he dislikes the common approach of people sending out an email application in a scatter gun fashion with just ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ as an introduction. This approach feels insincere to practices, you’re aware your one of many the applicant has applied to, and they haven’t researched who the directors are or what projects your practice works on.

That said, we understand some companies take applications on an anonymous basis to ensure complete fairness when assessing applicants, that method is a completely viable option too and we see its merits, but in our opinion we like to get to know people before we hire them, to ensure the best fit for both the practice and the applicant. Someone who hand delivers their C.V fits the profile we’re often looking for.

The key point here is to make yourself stand out in your application and be as creative as possible! Make individual applications to each company you want to work for, take the time to reference their projects in your own portfolio and pick out similarities in your own work, address it to the directors personally, use the company’s branding and logos on your C.V, go the extra mile and you’ll be rewarded (whether you hand deliver it or not)!

Top 10 tips 58:30

Tip 1 – Be humble.

Whether you’ve just received a 1st in your degree or won the presidents medal, you most likely have no knowledge related to practice life. Don’t assume you can go in and be a star player year 1, it WILL bite you in the bum, be humble.

Tip 2 – Immerse yourself in the office culture.

Don’t just find a quiet corner and hide, keep your eyes open and take part in conversations wherever possible and you’ll learn bucket loads. Take part in extra curricular events too, Jack ended up running a half marathon, doing an abseil and other things as part of a charity drive in his first office role and it helped him break down barriers with his work mates. This enabled him to gain advice more easily when back to work. Listen to the phone calls that take place in the practice, there are often golden nuggets in each and every call – you’re better off without your headphones!

Tip 3 – Show Independence.

Try and find a solution for yourself first! During your day-to-day tasks you will always come up against problems. Try to find the answers to these problems yourself first either through google, tutorials, phoning consultants or experts, and if you can’t overcome the issue, then go to your mentors and coworkers for a solution. Don’t just go running for help every time you’re presented with something, people will quickly get tired of bailing you out! Showing initiative and a good work ethic first will always help grease the wheels when asking for help.

Tip 4 – Speak up when you don’t understand.

When you don’t understand something, whether it’s a project brief, or a terminology in a design team meeting, don’t nod and then spend time guessing later, put your hand up and make sure someone explains it to you fully. Remember, early in your career there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

Tip 5 – Never make excuses.

This isn’t easy, as you can sometimes feel hard done to, but it’s crucial to your development. If you’ve made a mistake or missed a deadline, if your late for work or misunderstood a brief, don’t make excuses. It’s all too easy to point to external factors, maybe a coworker has advised you to do something a certain way, maybe you didn’t have adequate time to hit your deadline, maybe your car broke down, maybe there were conflicting notes in your brief….whatever!

What’s crucial at that time isn’t the cause and therefore no excuse is needed, what is required is a way forward! So, take whatever is coming on the chin, accept the consequences and find your way forward. That way the whole thing is forgotten about quickly and you’ll be respected and supported for doing so. Excuses only draw out the issue and process, they help no one especially you!

Tip 6 – Always remember, Quality over speed!

Never sacrifice quality over speed, therefore never rush to meet a deadline and produce something that potentially contains mistakes. Early in your career directors and staff know that you’re on a steep learning curve and will give you the grace of extra time whenever they can! So as soon as you know time is getting tight, talk to your superiors and let them know that if you’re to complete the task correctly, you need either more time or a helping hand! Directors would much rather have a good drawing delivered late than a bad drawing on time. Most people rush to impress, don’t fall into the trap!

Tip 7 – Expect things to take twice as long.

However long you think your first few tasks are going to take, double it! You’re in a brand-new environment, potentially having to learn new software, most likely learning new processes and ways of working. All of this will contribute to a slower working pace. The tasks will get more intricate as you progress too, meaning you’ll be learning while you work and that will certainly lower your output as you try to understand what you’re drawing or the new building regulations etc. It is easy to become frustrated or get downhearted when you feel a lack of progress on a project, but if you get into the right mindset and realise that progress at this stage is supposed to be slow you can avoid that frustration.

Tip 8 – Why, should be your new favourite word.

Not in annoying way, but it is crucial for your development to understand the reasoning behind the tasks you are set. If you are tasked with updating a design and access statement for a planning application, you may well be able to do that easily, but why are you making those amendments? Is it client changes? Consultant feedback? Planning feedback? You may be asked to draw up a copy of an architectural detail in CAD and again you may be able to do this easily but you need to understand each and every line you draw and what it refers too, is it structural, is it a vapor layer, what type of construction is it? You need to understand this to work in our industry. Don’t just blindly follow orders without finding out why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Tip 9 – Everything you do IS important

Sometimes it can be boring, you can find yourself drawing bathroom layouts, or ceilings for months. Every architect goes through these spells but remember, every line drawn on a project is important! Without it the rest of the building wouldn’t work! Remember that when the days are long and take pride in everything you draw. There’s no such thing as a bad task, just a bad attitude.

Tip 10 – Don’t give up!

Theres no hiding from the fact that life as an architect is hard! Not every practice that you work in will be great, not every project is fun to work on, not every client is fun to work for! So much can be difficult in our profession, but it’s worth it in the end because each new day brings the potential of your perfect job, perfect client and perfect working day!

You’ve trained hard to be in the position you’re in so keep going and the rewarding days will come. Don’t give up!

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