How To Earn A Six Figure Architecture Salary

Architecture salary. Perhaps one of the most talked about, debated and passionate topics in the design community. It also happens to be one of the most common email subjects I receive. Salary is an ongoing issue in the architecture industry.

While earning six figures doesn't mean what it used to, it is still a very admirable (and achievable) goal. So how do you go about reaching this significant architecture salary milestone? Let's discuss.

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:

Just a quick note, I will be discussing how you can earn a large salary through an employer. I won't cover running your own office for this post. However this can be a route to a high income — potentially very high. 

1. Start now

If you are just beginning your architecture career it is unlikely you will be able to earn $100,000+ per year today. However, now is the time to focus on developing the points below. By the time you are twenty years into your career and earning half of what you should be it is often too late to make up the difference.

The architecture profession is a relatively slow accumulation of experience and qualifications. The sooner you can master the following points the better positioned you will be in the [near] future to command a higher salary than your less capable peers.

2. Develop your skills

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The same is true for your architecture career. If you are doing the same thing everyday and expecting a higher salary it is unlikely to happen.

What can you do today that will make you more valuable tomorrow? Increasing your "hard skills" is a relatively easy first step to implement.  

Hard skills examples:

  • Design skill
  • Software knowledge
  • Code knowledge
  • Industry awareness
  • Hand drawing
  • Data analysis
  • Qualifications
  • Degrees
  • Foreign languages

However it is just as important to develop your "soft skills".

Soft skills examples

  • Communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Problem-solving
  • Decision-making
  • Creativity
  • Team-working
  • Time management skills
  • Willingness to learn

These typically take longer to perfect so you need to start now. Focus on one topic per day and try to tweak one aspect of your work day or routine to improve one of these skills. The book The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy, explains this process beautifully. 

The Compound Effect
By Darren Hardy

3. Get your license

One of the best places to begin on your journey to a high architecture salary is to become licensed. Yes, it is expensive and takes a lot of time but it is very important to advance in the profession.

If you don't believe me just look at the senior members of your or other architecture offices. Are they licensed? Odds are most of them are registered architects. There are exceptions, but it is best to follow a proven path.

In the U.S. NCARB is making it easier to complete your license by reducing the number of tests and required hours of internship experience. Tear off the band-aid. Just get it over with. The longer you wait the more difficult it will be come to finish the exams.

Depending on your state you can complete the exams BEFORE you complete the Intern Experience Program, and you can record MORE than 40 hours per week.

Both of these techniques can greatly reduce the time it takes to become licensed. The longer you hold a license generally the more you are worth in the marketplace.

4. Reduce the stress of others

In a recent interview with Mark Cuban, he stated one of the keys to success is to "reduce the stress of your co-workers".

When you are at work, reduce the stress of your colleges and supervisors. If you can reduce other people’s stress, those people will gravitate towards you. You will be seen as the leader and your colleagues will eventually want to work for you.

Here is a link to Mark's excellent interview, I highly recommend watching.

5. Be the best

Without a doubt specialization is key to a high salary in architecture. In other words, "what do you do better than anyone else?" This can be as broad as expertise in a certain building typology or as specific as airport BIM Management (who, by the way, can make substantial incomes).

In a recent U.S. News article on Architect Salaries, "the best-paid 10 percent in the profession made approximately $121,910, while the bottom 10 percent made about $44,940."

The top 10% makes almost 3x the bottom 10%! It pays to be the best.

Looking at the data from the AIA Salary Calculator:

For example, an Architect III position:
Ten or more years of experience, licensed architect who plans and develops medium- to large-scope projects with many complexities, executes and coordinates projects, and may oversee a large staff of architects and technicians.

In New England (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT) the mean salary is $104,600.

Keep in mind this is the average, so while some made less, others made more. While this does require 10+ years of experience there are ways to reduce this number by working through school to compress the post-graduation years required. 

6. Create value

You can't be at the bottom of the pyramid and expect to be well compensated. You need to take the initiative and go above and beyond what is expected.

This doesn't necessarily mean working long hours but it does mean you need to be efficient and productive. I covered more on this subject in a previous article, The Two Qualities You Need For Architecture Career Success.

Obviously more responsibility will ultimately translate to more income.

7. Have regular performance reviews

This is an opportunity for you to discuss with your supervisor(s) what you have contributed to the firm and an will provide in the near future. Depending on the size of the office these may be organized by the HR department or you may need to take the initiative to set up a meeting.

Make sure you are well prepared with specific examples. How and where you have been successful? What do you want to provide moving forward?

You can think of this as re-interviewing for your own job. While that may sound scary it is meant to emphasize the importance of your review and why you are asking for a raise. Generally you should have this sit down once a year but if there has been a major change in your role or responsibilities it could be sooner.

Remember, just taking up office space and breathing air for a year does not qualify for an increase. Neither does the cost of living or your personal financial situation.

8. Switch jobs

The average salary increase an employee receives when starting a new job is between 10% and 20%. Based on an average "Unlicensed Architecture / Design Staff 1" salary of $58,200, this translates to an annual increase of $5,800 to $11,600! 

Often it can be difficult to get substantial raises from your current employer, beyond the standard 3% - 5% cost of living increases. However, making calculated, strategic moves can greatly boost your base salary. 

9. Move to an urban area

This may not be the best solution for everyone but since we are putting all the options on the table, this can be the quickest route to a six figure income. Often by following the cyclical construction booms you can take advantage of a hot market looking for talent.

The big benefit of of working for an architecture office in a city is that the salary will almost always be higher than the equivalent job in a rural environment. Of course the reason cited for this is the higher cost of living.

However, if you are willing to live below your means and skip the penthouse apartment you will be better off financially in the long run. Setting your salary high as early as possible will be a huge advantage throughout your career.

10. Develop Multiple Income Streams

This topic is perhaps outside the scope of what we have been discussing but if we are strictly talking about breaking the $100k annual figure, it is relevant.

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 skill set and what you can do on the side to generate additional income.

There are hundreds of ways to earn additional cash related to the architecture profession. Who knows, that side work may turn out to be even more profitable than your day job.

Pick up freelance architecture work? Provide model building or rendering services? This can not only provide income in the short term but also create long term connections and contacts. This in turn, may lead to additional work or even a more lucrative position.

I hope this has been helpful for your architecture salary goals. So what are you waiting for? 

If you are looking to take your architecture career to the next level, check out The Complete Package below. This includes an architecture salary negotiation guide.

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

11 Architect Salary Negotiation Tips

How To Write The Perfect Architecture Resume (CV)

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.