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When Your New Job is to Find Your Next Job
Some practical suggestions for opening new doors of opportunities in difficult times.
By Marjanne Pearson
March 19, 2009
Until recently, employment was a seller’s market, and any architect or designer with a decent portfolio could get a good job. But as Billy Clark (director of Jack Kelly & Partners) said in a recent Architectural Record article on strategies for unemployed architects, “It’s the market, not you.” In today’s job market, some firms are hiring, but it can take ingenuity and diligence to find them.
Unfortunately, it is not likely that someone else will find the job for you, so you must face the fact that your new job is to find your next job. If you can open new doors of opportunities, then you should be able to step right through.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Market Research: Before you can position yourself with targeted employers, conduct research to learn more about them. Who is in the best position to help you? Obviously, there’s the Internet with all of its resources, including InsideArch.org, Archinect.com, and social networking options like Twitter. (Refer to Mary Sullivan’s article, “Twitter Tips: How to Use Twitter to Job Hunt”). And then there’s your local AIA directory (or website) with its list of firms.
But some of the best sources of information are your own “C-Suite” – colleagues or classmates, city agencies, consultants, contractors, and clients – people who do business with architects and designers. If you have worked directly with any of them – and especially if you have good relationships with them – now is the time to draw on them as resources. Ask them about some of the firms that you have researched, and with the exception of the city agencies, don’t be surprised if they offer to make introductions to firms on your behalf.
Tip #1: If a client recommends you to a firm with whom they are working, you will get an interview.
2. Mapping: When working on client strategies, we recommend that our client firms do an exercise called “mapping,” in which they take a big piece of brown paper (or some other large writing surface) and begin to list the clients with whom they have worked most successfully. Then they begin to cluster those clients according to a variety of characteristics (location, decision-making process, sources of funding, etc.) rather than building type or other traditional category. In the next step, they begin to list other companies (or categories of companies) who have those characteristics and then begin to connect the dots between their clients and the newly listed companies.
Often you’ll find a new correlation: In one instance, our client discovered that their best work was done in urban public spaces, but the clients were private foundations who funded the projects. So, their next step was to identify how they could get to other private foundations – looking at things like where those foundation directors met with their professional colleagues; e.g., conferences and professional associations.
Tip #2: Use a brainstorming technique to identify new possibilities for employment. In addition to opening new avenues, it’s also a great way to give friends and family members an opportunity to help you; they may not be able to provide introductions, but they should be able to help you look at your community in new ways.
3. Market Positioning: In marketing, a company has a limited number of opportunities to shape perception in its targeted audiences. This applies to the job market, too.
If you have identified a list of potential employers, and if you have been lucky enough to have someone offer to make an introduction, you want to craft the message that is sent to the potential employer. You not only need to develop an excellent resume that clearly describes your background and experience, but also to create a cover letter that articulates your “value proposition” to the targeted employer.
As Mary Sullivan, co-founder and principal of KickStart Alliance, has said, “A value proposition is a simple statement indicating the target audience, the basket of benefits you offer, and the price for those benefits.” In this case, your “price” is employment, which is understood. But you do need to make your case to the potential employer, making it clear that you understand what they do and how you can enhance their ability to achieve success.
Tip #3: In 75 words or less, create a message that articulates why a targeted employer would benefit from hiring you. Share this with everyone you have involved in your job search, and most particularly, with those who are willing to make introductions on your behalf.
4. Professional Credentials: In the past, licenses and accreditations were not obligatory, and lots of architectural employees were just too busy getting the work done. You can’t afford to be the only one who is lagging behind. If you are not yet licensed but are eligible, now is the time to follow through and get your license. Similarly, if you are not yet LEED-accredited, take the exam. Not only will you enhance your own profile, but you will also be able to point to your ability to get things done during your period of “self-employment.”
Tip #4: Take advantage of every arrow in your quiver. Make a list of the credentials that could be important to a potential employer and find time to accomplish as many as possible.
5. New Market Opportunities: Architects and designers see their experience in the context of building types, but design firms are experiencing seismic change, and they must reinvent their own go-to-market strategies.
What are the markets that will be successful in the coming years? The Society for Marketing Professional Services recently addressed this in “What’s Next: A Guide to the Future of the A/E/C Industry” (download available here). Market sectors that are likely to hold steady or grow include transportation, energy, sustainability, healthcare, education, and research.
If you don’t have experience in these specific markets, you may be able to look at your projects in new ways, using different terminology. For instance, renovation projects might be called “adaptive re-use,” and you could point out experience with energy-efficiency or other building cost savings. Experience with design of aquariums, convention centers, or hotels and resorts might translate to transportation facilities, which are essentially public places where people gather.
Tip #5: Deconstruct your experience and reinvent yourself. It’s time to take your resume (and portfolio) and look at it in new and better ways.
6. Presentation: In today’s market, there is virtually no excuse for lack of a website for your own portfolio. You need a good résumé, but you also need to make it easy for potential employers to see your work and how you present it.
Update your portfolio and organize it to support the value proposition that you are presenting to the potential employer. If you are a seasoned professional who has been doing project management, your client will be interested in sample proposals, contracts, budgets, and schedules, as well as photos of projects that have been built or are under construction. And if you are new to the profession and don’t have a substantial portfolio, use your creativity to show your potential – include school projects but also add work that you did as a volunteer in community service projects.
Then you need to generate some buzz. If you don't know how to create a website, ask your friends and family members for help, or check into no-cost or low-cost learning alternatives, such as online tutorials or community education programs. If you'd prefer to create a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, look at options like SlideShare.net. Once your portfolio is available on the Internet, you can publicize it via e-mail and social networking (LinkedIn, UPworld, Plaxo, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, other resources listed below).
Tip #6: Create opportunities to demonstrate and reinforce the unique and distinctive value that you can bring to a potential employer.
7. Rainmaking: There is no question that if you can bring in work, you will be more likely to find opportunities – either with potential employers or in potential alliances or partnerships. As you network with your “C-Suite,” take note of potential relationships that could lead to future projects.
Tip #7: Don’t promise more than you can deliver. But it never hurts to point out possibilities.
Finally, remember that architecture and design are the only professions that see opportunities and then deliver value in physical form, translating ideas into three-dimensional reality. While design is sometimes seen as a luxury, we can’t live without it.
Marjanne Pearson is a management consultant with two distinct practices in the design industry: Talentstar, focused on recruiting and other talent strategies, and Next Moon, focused on market and practice strategies to achieve success and sustainability. She began her career more than 25 years ago working for seminal design firms in San Francisco. She established her own consulting practice in 1987 with Frank O. Gehry as her first client. Today, her clients include signature architects, emergent practices, regional powerhouses, and corporate giants with offices around the world.
● American Institute of Architects “Navigating the Economy” (frequently updated) site offers business tactics for leaner times. Many AIA chapters have also launched initiatives to support their local professional communities.
● Architectural Record’s Special Report: Recession & Recovery, (frequently updated) includes “Strategies for Unemployed Architects” as well as “Top 10 Resume Tips.”
● Archinect offers a “Guide for Job Seekers.” Although written in 2007, it includes commentary from a series of firms.
● Archinect also has a forum for discussions on subjects that range from Academia to the Economy.
● BusinessWeek published Arch Record’s “How Can Architects Survive the Recession?” with stories and suggestions from architects and consultants.
● The Portland Daily Journal of Commerce published “Architects urge fellow designers to branch out” into other fields.
● DesignIntelligence publishes information on the AEC industry. Its blog is available on the web, but you may be able to access their books, white papers, and bimonthly publications in your local library or professional association.
● Seth Godin (the bestselling author, entrepreneur, and agent of change) recently posted a blog on “slack” time – how you can invest in yourself “to build a marketing asset that you’ll own forever.”
(click on pictures to enlarge)
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