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First Jobs

Life of an Architect Podcast

First Jobs

By Bob Borson, FAIA | June 9, 2019

Pretty simple and straightforward sentence: “Your first architectural job is important.” Let me clarify that I’m not talking about summer jobs or internships. Those don’t really count because they have a known shelf-life associated with them. What I’m talking about is the first real job a person takes once they’ve graduated from college–the job that signals the beginning of their professional career and more times than not is a predictor for the path your career will follow.

My first job was with a sole-practitioner and I was the first employee he had ever hired. Since it was only the two of us, there were opportunities afforded to me out of necessity, mostly because he traveled as part of his job and I was left behind to do anything else that needed to be done.

Despite the fact that I didn’t know very much, I found myself drawing complete projects within weeks, running client meetings by myself, and having an unreasonable amount of latitude with the design work on these projects for someone with my experience. The necessary responsibilities made available to me during this first real job fundamentally shaped how I worked and how I view this profession, even to this day.

What considerations impact the type of first job someone might get? [10:45 mark]

• Economy
• Size of the firm
• Market Sector
• Skillset
• Personal interests

How to succeed in your First Job [29:00 mark]

Make the firm’s problems your problems
Everybody likes the person who helps make their life a little easier. Making the effort to say “I can take care of this” and actually being able to care of things will always get you noticed as someone who can be counted on in a crisis. Solving these problems normally requires extra effort, extra time, and extra risk … but these are the only things that will legitimately get you to more responsibility.

Seek out opportunities
One thing that I always did that it seemed few of my fellow architectural co-workers did was go and ask my employers for responsibility. I believe that the employee/employer relationship works best for both groups when communication flows in both directions. While it is up to your employer to find you meaningful work to do, they can’t read your mind. If there are responsibilities that you WANT to do, you need to go and ask for it.

Learn the business vertically
This is an easy one – if you want to be the boss one day, you need to learn how to do the boss’s job. In order to positively impact other areas of the business, you have to step outside your comfort zone and learn some new skills … you might have to read a book or take a class. It’s what I’ve done in the past and I learned skills that I’ve been able to carry with me. You can also look to schedule lunch and learns, seminars and course materials to supplement your skill set.

Best Piece of Advice [42:00 mark]
What sort of advice would you give someone just about to start their first job?

“Do what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it.”

This advice is pretty straight forward – although it’s not as easy to pull off as one might think. When I have had the opportunity to dole this little kernel out to others, I generally try and explain why I think it is so important. This has everything to do with you making someone else’s life easier. You manage to do that on a consistent basis, people come to rely on you and know that you can be counted on.

Eventually, you move beyond being the first choice and become the only choice. The caveat to this advice is if you can’t follow through, you need to let someone know the instant you realize it. Besides taking accountability for your actions (or inactions as it were), this has to do with allowing others to deal with the effects or ramifications of you not doing your part.

It has been my experience that the people I work with realize that I have their best interests at heart, that in addition to the work I am responsible for creating, I am at the mercy of others following through on their promises as well. I explain that as soon as you realize that you can’t make good on delivering your promise, let the other party know so that they have time to deal with whatever problem you have just created for them.

[48:30 mark]
For this episode, we have a new hypothetical to consider. Here is the situation:

"Would you rather live in a space station for the rest of your life, or a deep sea habitat? Would your answer change if you could bring someone with you? What if you could only bring someone to the location you didn’t choose?"

Maybe there is a trend forming because Andrew and I do not agree upon the answer to this question – what I felt was a rather easy to agree upon question turned out to be anything but easy. I am curious if anybody who listens to our responses agrees with me, or with Andrew. (I would appreciate if you could let me know either way although I am positive who you will side with …)

If you are an architect, your first job is incredibly important because this job, more than any others that will follow, will have a profound impact on how you come to view the profession. This first job will affect how you think about architecture and professional practice, it will shape the way you think about design and how you actually put it into practice, and it will forge what sort of investment you will have with this profession.

My current office is full of people who are self-motivated problem solvers and I ask them to do things every day that they don’t know how to do yet – in some cases, I don’t know how to do them either. Not knowing how to do something isn’t typically the problem, it’s when you don’t do anything about this ignorance that things turn sour. I believe that when you are forced to empower people to believe that they can do more than they think they can out of necessity, and empowerment typically has a profound effect on an individual’s development.


Many thanks to Kingspan Insulation for their support of today’s episode.

The white paper we discussed  – “The Real Value of Space in Commercial Real Estate,” examines how selecting the right insulation product leads to more internal floor area and yields a strong Return on Investment for clients, and you can get a free copy of this white paper by going to www.kingspanarchitects.com.


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