5 Architecture Career Success Tips For Millennials

In this post I discuss some tips to help the architecture careers of millennials working today.

As I covered in a previous post, Architecture Careers in the Social Media Era, there are many pitfalls for the generation now entering the workforce.

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For those of you that aren’t aware lets first cover the definition of the “Millennial Generation”.

Also known as “Generation Y”, millennials are typically classified as the generation born between 1980 and 2000. 

I technically fit into this category (although just barely) so I am quite familiar with all of the stereotypes. I believe these stereotypes are unearned and in many ways we are no different than the generations before. Not to mention that labeling a group of approximately 54 million people in the U.S. alone is completely ridiculous.

In a recent article, 5 Workplace Stereotypes About Millennials That Aren’t True, the top five assumptions are:.

“Millennials are entitled and don’t want to pay their dues.”

“Millennials need special hand-holding at work and are high-maintenance.”

“All millennials are great at social media.”

“Millennials are job hoppers.”

“Because millennials grew up with the Internet and social media, they have no concept of privacy.” 

So why does all this matter to an architecture applicant?

Odds are the person hiring you is from an earlier generation. Even if none of the above apply to your situation it is good to be aware of any preconceived notions that a potential interviewer may have. This could help you spot a loaded question in a interview, phone call or email.

For example if they ask, "why did you stay at your last employer for only six months?" This isn't always an issue but you need to be prepared to tactfully answer the question.

If they are going to invest in you as an employee you will need to convince him or her that you won't be out the door in twelve months.

Addressing job duration is an obvious example, however, there are many subtle things you can do daily to get ahead. These architecture career success tips will help any millennial stand out and get noticed. 

1. Stop complaining

By far the biggest complaint I see in the architecture community is salary. The argument always begins the same.

“Architects go to school for a long time and take a bunch of tests and don’t earn much.” or “Software engineers earn a lot so we should too”.

These facts are irrelevant to your situation.

As an architect you need to focus on YOUR career, training and qualifications. "Keeping Up With The Joneses Careers" is pointless.

"Your salary is effective when you are”.

So how are you being effective? What value are you bringing to the firm?

If you feel you are stuck don’t just sit there. Figure out where you want to be in ten years and make a plan to get there. If it is not in architecture, there is no shame in that.

Norman Foster’s Advice for the Young: “Find Something You Believe In”

"There is a common belief that your passion is something you just wake up one day and there it is. Not true. Passion for your work is something that you must work at over years, tweaking and adjusting along the way.vIf a plane from LA to New York gets off course it doesn’t turn around, it corrects over the duration of the flight. Your career is the same."
—Dan Miller, Author

Do your best to stay positive, this is an essential skill in the professional environment. If you don’t believe me just look at the most successful people in any industry.

Do you hear Elon Musk complaining about his job? Using the real life Tony Stark might be an extreme example but do you think he got to where he is by whining about x, y and z? No.

2. Work at work

Many architecture offices, usually the larger companies, have implemented IT policies that block certain websites. For obvious reasons the most commonly blocked are social media sites. This seems a little silly to me for a couple reasons.

First, if you don’t trust your employees to work at work then why did you hire them? Treating them like children is a great way to make them act like children.

Second, everyone has their smartphone on their desk with access to anything anyway.

Millennials are a generation that has grown up with technology. Social media, texting, Snapchatting, instant everything, there are more distractions than at any time in history. Do you think Mozart would have accomplished as much if he was checking his Twitter feed every three minutes?

Perhaps this sounds crazy but when you are at work you need to be working.

The architecture profession is filled with people who work long hours. This is particularly true for the younger generation continuing the architecture studio culture.

Trust me, as someone who has already worked more hours than most do in a lifetime, it is not an efficient use of your time.

Don’t think you have to stay until 10pm just because others are or that it is part of the “culture”. Your goal should be to be as productive as possible. I don’t care what anyone says, you will not get as much done in a casual 14 hour-day versus a well planned, fired-up eight-hour day.

Create a task list every morning and work through it methodically. Turn off your email pop-up notifications. Wear earbuds if possible.

Try to minimize all distractions. 

This means staying off your phone. You can check it before work, at lunch and at the end of the day.

“But what if there is an emergency?”

Unless you are a Medivac pilot or work in missile defense an emergency can wait a couple hours.

Besides, there are a thousand ways to get in touch with someone,. You can have an “emergency number” that is programmed to ring instead of vibrate. Side note, if you have a loud ring on your phone you don’t deserve to work in an office.

 3. Don’t take advantage of your employer

There seems to be a belief that all employers owe their employees everything and they should help make the office like Disneyland.

First of all, be grateful you have a job. Second, remember the company pays for you to support yourself and your family. So why would you speak badly of them? If you don’t like your situation then leave. Ranting on Twitter or a forum will only make things worse.

Do you need to leave early? Ask and don’t just assume you can because it was cool at your old office. This is called work and you are paid to be there. If you don’t like it then find some other way to pay for your Netflix subscription.

Dentist appointment? Cat sick? Car broken? The list goes on and on.

While legitimate emergencies come up in life try to plan around the ones you can control. How about going to the dentist during your lunch break instead of taking the morning off?

I use my lunch time almost exclusively for errands and other personal tasks. Doesn't this beat sitting in your cubicle watching cat videos on YouTube?

If you are willing to do these things you will be rewarded. Over time you will be known as dependable and responsible. This will ultimately lead to increased compensation and promotions. If not, then you need to move on to a place where your hard work and focus will not go unnoticed. 

4. Never stop learning

I read a lot of books. A lot.

On a recent first date the girl mentioned to me her love of Harry Potter books. I made a joke that since I am an adult I don't read children's books.

Well, I thought it was funny at least. The no second date said otherwise.

Anyway, reading for entertainment is one thing but I recommend at least half of your reading material should be non-fiction. I am a big fan of career books (obviously) and self-help.

There is a bit of a stigma around self-help and that it belongs in the domain of late night Tony Robbins specials. However, if you will commit to reading one non-fiction book a month I guarantee it will improve your architecture career.

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read”

-Mark Twain

Included in the category of self-improvement is software knowledge. This is particularly important in the architecture field. Software is updating at an increasing rate. Cloud-based software is now being tweaked almost daily.

No one is going to force you to adapt and learn new programs. You have to take the initiative.

I typically spend approximately 3-5% of my income on self-improvement. This includes software training, books, seminars, conferences, courses, etc. In today's environment there is always something new.

Could you be more efficient? An even better designer? Indispensable to your office? Learn a new program?

5. Manage your finances

This may seem a little out of place in this list but I believe it is one of the most important. According to this article from New York Life, more than 50% of millennials are dissatisfied with their current financial situation.

As with any profession the lowest person on the totem pole is often the lowest paid. However, this dissatisfaction is also caused by the fact many millennials are not on a budget. 

Create a unique budget for every month and stick to it.

Don’t impulse buy or think you “deserve” something. Whenever someone says “I can afford it” that usually means they cannot. Avoid debt and pay off any loans you may already have. For a more detailed discussion on loans see my previous post, Architecture School and Student Loans.

To use a cheesy architecture analogy, "you can’t build a house without a solid foundation."

Don’t overspend on rent. In a few years no one will care if you had a cool apartment at 25.

Save and invest. These are your “compounding years”. Every dollar invested now will be worth ten or more at retirement.

As mentioned above don’t forget to invest in yourself. Education doesn’t stop at graduation. Take classes, get licensed, become LEED accredited, finish your IDP, etc. Do whatever you have to do to stay at the top of the architecture talent pool.

I hope these architecture career success tips have been helpful to get your work experience off to a great start. 

I hope you found this helpful. If you enjoyed the article and would like to learn more, check out The Complete Package below. This includes a free sample Two Page Portfolio to get you started. Thanks!

See also my posts on:

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Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

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