How an Architect Builds a Career

architect drawing a layout

Natalia Dudek looks at hundreds of architects’ resumes, and she sees the same thing over and over again.

Her practiced eye has gotten used to seeing sudden blank spots in architects’ work histories dating back about a decade ago. That’s a legacy of the Great Recession, a time of massive layoffs throughout the industry. New construction was at a standstill, and it was a bad time to be an architect.

“When we see gaps in resumes in 2008, we pretty much understand,” says Dudek, an Aerotek Divisional Practice Lead who’s in charge of staffing the best Architecture and Design Firms. “It’s not a red flag for us.”

And what about now? What’s the job market like now? “This,” Dudek says, “is a really good time to be an architect.”

Unemployment for architects is the lowest it’s ever been, she added.

“There is very high demand for architects at the moment and very low supply especially for niche skillsets with certain software or project types.” The best architects do have multiple options but be that as it may, there’s still competition for the best jobs. There always is.

So how can architects position themselves to get the plum jobs and the fulfilling careers that they really want?

Dudek, who manages a team of three account managers and seven recruiters who focus exclusively on working with architecture and design professionals in NYC, has a few key insights into that.

What skills are in demand? What are architectural design firms looking for?

The first thing she mentioned was Revit, which is a 3D modeling software that architects and engineers use to design buildings. It’s an alternative to AutoCAD, the design software that’s been in use since the 1980s.

Many of the design firms seeking architects these days are requiring job candidates to have actual work experience with Revit.

“It’s in high demand right now,” Dudek said. “If their own client wants something in Revit, the firm is going to be producing it in Revit.”

Her advice to architects: “If you can get your hands on a Revit project and start learning, that could definitely be useful.”

The hottest markets for architects: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. In New York City and elsewhere, expertise in designing corporate interiors is highly sought after.

If architects are in such high demand, why should they bother working with a staffing agency like Aerotek?

Good question! Dudek often hears this exact question: Why should I work with you when I can just apply on my own?

She always brings the discussion back to the long-standing relationships that her team has with many architectural design firms.

“If you apply on their website, your resume is going to go on a pile,” Dudek tells job seekers. “If you’re working with us, we can call their HR manager, Studio Director or Principal right now and say, ‘‘Hey, I have a candidate who I think would be an awesome fit for you for these reasons.”

She added: “We’ll help you prepare for interviews, we understand the needs from both sides and we are there to negotiate on your behalf. Most importantly, we understand the companies’ culture.”

It’s quite common for Aerotek to place an architect at a design firm in a contract-to-hire position, only to see them get hired as a permanent employee by the end of their contract.

“We have clients we’ve worked with for years. We are, in a way, an extension of their HR,” Dudek said. “I have a client where I’ve built out half their staff. There are multiple examples of that across Manhattan. We also give smaller companies that ability and support to go after the biggest and best projects. It’s a team effort.”

How should architects prepare for a job interview?

Bring design samples and be prepared to speak intelligently about them.

“They need to be able to tell the story of their portfolio — what exactly they worked on, their level of involvement on their projects and within their teams and what was their interaction with the client,” Dudek said.

What kind of “people skills” do architects need?

Architects need the ability to coordinate with a wide range of different consultants anywhere from general contractors, developers and all trades of engineers.

Also, they need to have a knack for presenting complex ideas to clients and representing their firm in the best possible light.

What advice would she give to young architects just starting out?

Don’t just focus on the big-name architectural design firms that you learn about in school or work on the most prestigious projects.

“Sometimes people come out of school and all they think about is big names,” Dudek said. “Have an open mind and give a shot to a firm that has ten people. You’ll get one-on-one mentorship. You’ll be able to see a full project come to life from start to finish — instead of specializing in just one aspect of it.” You will learn faster and really start understanding how an entire building comes to life.

Since architects are in such high demand, what are they requesting from potential employers?

Higher salaries, better work-life balance, more paid days off, the option to work from home.

They also don’t want to be pigeonholed and made to do the same thing over and over again.

Dudek and her team of recruiters and managers are constantly talking to architects about their whole careers, not just one job. They are positioning themselves as consultants to help and guide every architect that they speak to the career of their dreams.

“We might not build buildings,” she said, “but we build the careers of the architects who do.”

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