Want a Job? Go to College, and Don’t Major in Architecture…. I wish somebody would have told me earlier, when I could have done something about it.
That was the encouraging title of an article in the New York Times this January. A recent study had shown that architecture graduates experienced the highest unemployment rates of recent graduates. As an architecture graduate, I was among the unemployed. I finished the B.Arch program at the Illinois Institute of Technology in December 2010, among the top of my class. I understood that my job prospects were bleak, but I thought that having graduated from one of the better architecture programs in the country, combined with my various skills and experience, would give me an advantage over other recent graduates. That’s not exactly what happened.
I enjoyed the holidays after my final semester, and launched into a full-time job search soon after New Year’s 2011. Over the next two months, I sent out over 50 portfolios per week. Each cover letter was written individually, and I had different versions of my CV depending on the job requirements. I tracked each application date, scheduled days to follow up by phone, and continued this search city by city until I had covered every urban area in the world that remotely interested me. After several weeks of searching, and over 400 portfolios later (mostly digital, mind you), I still found myself unemployed, without as much as an interview.
My full-time search would soon have to become a part-time gig, and I began taking odd jobs to pay the bills. I continued to send out a few portfolios per week, but my discouragement continued to grow, and soon my job search all but ended. I worked a few weeks as a bicycle mechanic, shop manager with a custom stainless steel shop, and was brought in again as a consultant with the CTBUH. I started to focus my energy into designing and building custom furniture, which became a full-time business by December.
I was happy designing and building furniture, and I enjoyed the mental challenge it provided, but I wasn’t very satisfied with where my professional life was going. I decided to join the ranks of other recent architecture graduates, and moved back home to Idaho in order to focus on my job search full-time once again. I went back to sending out portfolios by the dozen, each one personalized and written specifically for each firm. I also went as far as visiting various cities, cold-calling firms to introduce myself in person. This new burst of energy yielded a few interviews, and things were starting to look up. I followed up on the interviews, only to be told that work was still slow, and they would be in touch when things started to pick up.
My job search began to slow down once again, and fresh discouragement crept in, continuing to build. I had nearly resigned myself to working on the family farm for the summer, and applying to graduate school in the fall. I closely watched the AIA job boards for Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, and basically forgot about anywhere else.
Fast forward a couple of months, and I had been asked to interview by Skype with a small firm in Berkeley, California. They enjoyed my portfolio, and thought that my experience might be a match for their entry level position that would soon be vacant. The Skype interview went well, and I was asked to come out for a second interview two weeks later. I came, interviewed, and was offered the job the next morning.
Anne Phillips Architecture is my professional home for the near future, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. After 16 months of an off-and-on job search, I’m finally able to begin my true career. If I can offer any advice to fellow recent graduates of architecture or design programs, all I can say is this: