Graduating and finding your first architecture job in lockdown

2020 has become an unprecedented year. A year that has been struck with a global pandemic which has forced hundreds of millions of people into lockdown. People across the globe have been affected differently, millions leading to unemployment, thousands grieving for their loved ones and many feeling isolated. It is also important to not overlook the struggles that students are facing in the current climate in looking for a job following their graduations. 

We had the opportunity to interview Thomas Rowntree who graduated from his BA(Hons) Architecture degree in midst of lockdown in June and has successfully secured a position as a Part 1 Architectural Assistant in London. 

What was it like completing submissions and graduating in lockdown?

Transitioning into lockdown was a bit of a shock to the system for all of us. Moving into an environment that we might not have been used to work in was a challenge to adapt and create some space at home to be able to work effectively. I placed importance on trying to replicate my university environment as best as I could by working in a well-lit space with enough room to lay rolls of tracing paper out and a space for my laptop. I treated my online working day as I would at university and implemented a routine to be as productive as possible. The university worked fantastically well to maintain regular virtual meetings and tutorials meaning that when submissions approached, I felt on top of my work and in a confident position to complete the submissions.

As we have all experienced, it is difficult to maintain focus whilst working in our home environments, but I think it’s important to act on the tutor feedback promptly, give yourself mini daily and weekly goals, have regular breaks by getting fresh air and stay disciplined to work between reasonable times to maximise sleep. These are steps that I followed to try and maintain focus and remove the distractions we have at home. I understand that we all have different home environments and situations that we have to work around as students but collectively I think if we can follow a routine and be disciplined, we can all be successful students throughout this tough isolating period.

Following 3 months of working towards the final submission, I successfully submitted my project and had a series of online presentations which challenged us to adapt to presenting digitally. I completed my BA(Hons) Architecture degree at a time that felt anticlimactic with a lack of celebration with our tutors and peers that we had shared our journey with for the past 3 years. Not being able to share those final submission moments and celebrations face-to-face with the university was tough but it was something we all had to accept. A virtual graduation quickly came round where we could reflect on our achievements and begin looking forward to the next steps of our career.


What were your first steps in applying for your architectural assistant job?

The first step following my graduation was to take much needed and deserved rest. I spent a good 2/3 weeks catching up on sleeping and shutting my mind off from the world of architecture. This allowed me to hit that reset button and move forward in looking for an Architecture Assistant Job. I then put together an application package of a CV, cover letter and portfolio for each vacancy that I applied for. I spent countless hours and days revising and perfecting each application package to make sure I was presenting my personality, experience, and skills as best as possible. For me to stand myself out from the rest in the current digital and economic climate, I created a digital business card and application video for each application to further promote my personality and abilities. 

It is important to be proactive and effective in creating applications that best suit the company you are applying for and indicate how you will be able to learn, develop and discover under their practice. Do plenty of research into each company you are interested in working for and make sure you understand the ethos and processes of their practice. Make a long list of practices that interest you and follow their careers information to apply accordingly. 

What advice would you give students who are still looking and applying for a post graduate job?

I would begin by saying to never give up. Be relentless with your applications, continue to hunt for firms whether they are advertising vacancies or not and create an application package that best showcases your personality and skills. It is disheartening if practices aren’t replying to any of your applications but it’s important to remember that thousands of students around the globe are also in the same position and to be successful you must stay proactive in looking for opportunities. Keep applying even if it opens positions that might not be your preference but focus on getting your foot in the door. 

If you feel you are not spending your time productively, apply and get involved in software and adobe courses that will better your creative skills and build your CV. Use your spare time wisely by adding an extra layer to your application and build on your personal skills. Finally, I would advise students to grow your online presence and connect to people within the profession. Use LinkedIn, Instagram and other social media platforms to showcase your work.

Do you have any tips for students going into online interviews?

Absolutely be prepared, spend a lot of time researching the practice to understand the company ethos, types of projects and design processes. This will help you answer questions that the interviewer may ask and gives talking points to conversations. Create a short portfolio that you can present for a maximum of 10 minutes during the interview that showcases your most up to date and relevant work to the application. Rehearse talking through your portfolio with a family member or yourself to make sure you discuss key points and stick to time. I would treat the online interview the same as you would treat a normal interview by arriving on time, dressing appropriately, having all material ready to share on your screen and have questions ready to ask the interviewer. Asking questions is vital to both gain a greater understanding of the practice and to also indicate to the employers that you are interested in learning more about the organization. 

Most importantly, though this is easier said than done, stay calm and enjoy the opportunity to talk through your work and passion for the architecture profession. The more interviews you do, the more confident you will become and the better chance you will have in securing a job. It is not easy adapting to online meetings and interviews, but I would encourage all students to continue to practice talking in front of a camera as we cannot change the current circumstances.

How have you managed the transition from university to a full-time job?

It has been a challenge and something that I am still trying to manage. I have tried to build a routine that allows me to be as productive as possible in maintaining commitments outside of work and making sure I keep on top of my sleep. Every morning I start my day with a coffee and my favourite breakfast to put myself in a positive mindset to tackle the day and I try my best to not look at a computer screen during my lunch to give my eyes and brain a rest. I feel that these small conscious decisions help me to remain positive whilst working away from the office and helps to find a work life balance. Furthermore, I think working in my home environment during the final months of my university degree has helped me adapt to working remotely as I had already had experience with online meetings, presentations and working digitally.

After finishing my Architecture degree back in May, I made the most of my summer to shut my brain off from studying and to catch up on sleep that I had deprived myself of during my degree which I’m sure many Architecture students can relate to. I found that my previous work experience that taught me software’s such as Revit and AutoCAD have tremendously helped me to get involved in key projects early on in my Part 1 job. I would encourage all students that are moving into a full-time job to be open to learn and develop, try to get involved in as many things as possible and most importantly enjoy the experience.

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