7 Tips To Survive The Next Architecture Recession

The stock market took a few dips over the past few months, leading many online and water cooler discussions to the topic of another recession. The "Great Recession" is somewhat still fresh in the minds of many.

Because the root of the economic crisis in 2008-2009 was the housing bubble it directly affected the architecture profession. This created a global shortage of architecture jobs, severely limiting the employment options for architects that were let go. 

If you are thinking about a new architecture job, I've created a mega-pack of free resources that includes architecture resumes, cover letters, and an extensive collection of application documents. Click for a free download:

I experienced this first hand, the office I was working at eliminated 1/3 of the staff. I was lucky and survived the cuts. However, seeing your friends and colleagues go unemployed for months, if not years, is difficult.

Now, I am not trying to be all doom and gloom, as I like to keep things generally positive around here. While the current market conditions may just be a temporary issue, it is a reminder that the architecture profession is cyclical. We are currently in a boom, but as history has shown this can quickly reverse. So what can be done if the next downturn shows up? Let's discuss. 

I am going to speak specifically to those of you that are currently employed. I will likely save the topic of searching for a job during a recession for a future post. 

1. Be Indispensable

Your goal while working should be to be as indispensable as possible regardless of the current market conditions. This is especially true in tough times. Being the go-to person in the office is likely to reduce the chances of you being eliminated if cuts have to be made.

By being a model employee you make it less likely you will be first out the door. There are certainly no guarantees when it comes to who says and who goes. Yet, by coming in on time or early and getting things done will show you value the job and the work. 

There are dozens of variables that go into making a choice on who is to be let go. Your tenure in the office, the type of work available and the value you bring to the office all play a part. Many of these variables may be out of your control but by going above and beyond your job description you can increase your visibility and value.

2. Know The Decision Makers 

Depending on the size of the architecture office it may not be obvious who makes the decisions when it comes to making cuts. Try to figure out who within the organization will make the tough choices and make it a priority to demonstrate your value to them.

Depending on your relationship with the decision maker you may want to ask for a review to discuss with them how you contribute to the company and what you want to do moving forward. This is similar to an annual salary review without the request for a raise. 

3. Double Down On Skills 

Ultimately the only real job security is your own skills, qualifications and connections. Take the time to look at these three areas and see where you sit, not only within your office but also with your professional peers. Are there software or technical skills you are lacking? Take the appropriate courses or exams to meet or exceed your counterparts. The investment of time and money at this stage will be valuable both now and moving forward in your architecture career. 

I discussed the importance of building your skills in in a previous post, How To Stay Motivated With The Architecture Job Search.

Be sure to keep your resume and portfolio(s) up to date. Don't wait until you are fired to start putting together these documents. Get your letters of reference now and start reaching out to others in your network.

4. Be Flexible

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, "If you’re not already wearing multiple hats, start imagining how you can support your company by leveraging experience your boss may know nothing about."

Are you a technical designer focusing only on construction documents and details? Do you primarily work on design competitions and conceptual design? I believe specialization is the key to success in the architecture profession. However, there is one caveat to this rule. While you can choose to specialize in a certain area, don't limit your knowledge and expertise.

For example, if the office is in position where there is currently no projects in the construction documents phase you need to be flexible enough to pick up a competition or other work to bring projects to the office. Each situation is unique but by being a jack of all trades, if only for a short time, can keep you around for the long term. 

5. Be Nice

The above HBR article went on to stress the importance of not only being valuable to the organization but also just being an old fashioned nice person.

"Research shows that being fun to be around really matters. Work by Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo, published in a June 2005 HBR article, “Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks,” shows that while everyone prefers working with a personable superstar to an incompetent jerk, when people need help getting a job done, they’ll choose a congenial colleague over one who is more capable but less lovable." 

Staying positive can be especially difficult when the walls are falling in around you, but it is essential if you want to crawl out of the rubble. 

6. Get Serious

If layoffs are on the horizon, don't just wait for the red envelope, take the initiative. Meet with your supervisor to discuss possible options. "Due to the current conditions, I understand there may be job cuts in the near future. I value this office and would like to continue to contribute to the work being done. I would consider reducing my hours to possibly a part time basis as a way of relieving the payroll."  

A word of caution, this is a last resort option when layoffs are imminent. Also, be careful not to imply that you want to leave, be sure to phrase it in a way that shows you want to help the company in any way possible. 

7. Develop Multiple Income Streams

I recommend that everyone have multiple income streams. The riskiest position to be in is where one company provides your only source of income. Think about your skillset and what you can do on the side to generate additional income. Can you sell products or services online? Pick up freelance architecture work? Provide model building or rendering services?

There are hundreds of ways to earn additional cash to offset the possible loss of your primary income. Who knows, that side work may turn out to be even more profitable than your day job. However, be sure that this does not negatively affect your main job. The last thing you want is to be caught asleep at your desk because you were up all night selling architecture T-shirts online. 

Since we are on the topic of income, it is just as important to look at your expenses during this time of uncertainty. Try to cut out unnecessary bills and get on a budget. Reduce debt and have an emergency fund of at least six months of expenses.  

Final word

If we do find ourselves in the middle of another downturn in the near or distant future I hope these tips will be useful. Bad things are bound to happen so try not to get discouraged. Often it can be a wake up call to not take what you have for granted.

The good news is that if you are willing to be flexible, dedicated and hardworking, that dream job will always be waiting for you. 

To help you with your architecture job search, I've created a mega-pack of free resources that includes architecture resumes, cover letters, and an extensive collection of application documents. Click for a free download:

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

Want a Great Architecture Job? Don't Send a Resume

Stand Out in an Architecture Job Interview with The STAR Portfolio

Good luck!

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

Have a suggestion for a future blog post? Please let me know in the comments below.