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Archinect’s Guide to Job Titles: Studio Director

In our third installment of Archinect’s Guide to Job Titles series, we attempt to tackle the nuanced role of the Studio Director without falling back on search engines like Google and Bing or job boards like Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster, or Ladders [not in original article]. As with most positions within architecture firms, the lines are quite blurry when it comes to the role of Studio Director. For some, this leadership position acts as a kind of operations specialist and strategist while also functioning as a firmwide design leader. For others, the Studio Director might function as a buffer between design teams and the higher-level leadership of an organization. And for others still, this individual might run their studio as a kind of “mini-firm” within a larger firm, responsible for their own business development, hiring, project management, and overall growth. The intricacies and variations associated with such a dynamic posting can’t be explained exhaustively, there will always be some deviation. Nevertheless, what follows is our attempt to capture the inherent essence of this career path in architecture.

Structural Relevance

Architecture firms come in many forms. Depending on size, the internal structure of the personnel will differ. Some firms might operate in a departmental structure, where each team works on a specific phase of a project: a design “department” might work on the programming and schematic phases before passing the work on to a technical department that would realize the construction documentation. Others might have various project teams, each with its own project managers who are overseen by a Studio Director or Principal(s). And others still might divide into multiple studios, each with a specific function, and led by their own Studio Director, respectively. In this structure, each Studio Director would report to a Managing Principal, Design Principal, or both. Some Studio Directors may even be partners of the firm or Principals themselves. When it comes to the possible organizational structures of design firms, the variations are many.

While the interpretation of the role will differ from office to office, a Studio Director will typically oversee a studio. This may be a single studio under one roof, with a small or medium-sized staff, separated into smaller teams, each with a project architect/project manager, a job captain, and designers. Each team leader could report to a Studio Director who then might report to or collaborate with a higher-level leadership team, such as a firm’s Principal(s).

A studio could also be one of many within a larger firm, each with an expertise focus such as hospitality, healthcare, sports, workplace, restoration, or interiors. Each Studio Director would have specialized knowledge and experience in their area of expertise. In this model, studios might operate under the umbrella of a larger firm but would function as its own “sub-firm,” having its own clients, staff, and sometimes even its own receptionist. These “studio structures” can vary widely, and the nuances will depend on the organization in question.

A Studio Director Needs to be a People Person

In Archinect’s Growing Leadership and Practice: Laney LA’s Search for a Studio Director, we dove deep into conversation with Anthony Laney of Laney LA about his search for a Studio Director. “On day one, five project managers, each with their own team of one to two aspiring architects, will report to the Studio Director,” Laney told Archinect. “So, in total, the Studio Director will be leading a team of about 14 people. Right now, I’m giving about 30 percent of my time to a Studio Director role. We want to tear the lid off of that and allow someone to give it 100 percent of their time.” Here we have the leader of a relatively medium-sized firm in need of a Studio Director to act as a point person between him and his project managers. Laney saw this as someone who was not only in love with design, but who also had a deep passion for creating and building a great team.

People skills are 80 percent of the job, probably more…

Archinect also spoke with Lindsay Green, Principal and Studio Director at OFFICEUNTITLED, and Shawn Gehle, Principal and Co-Founder. On the topic of managing a team and dealing with different kinds of people, the pair elaborated further. “People skills are 80 percent of the job, probably more,” they said. “You have to deal with multiple personalities every day. Happy people; sad people; staff; clients; personal issues amongst the team.” They went on to articulate the expansive role a Studio Director might have within an office. In addition to effectively managing people, a leader in this role might also take on responsibilities of reviewing the office’s backlog and ensuring future staffing needs are fulfilled, overall professional development and client management, internal development of team members, human resources, and finance. “We really rely on Lindsay to run this office, we look to her to understand our overall health and outlook,” Gehle said of Green. “She acts as a kind of Chief Operations Officer, shepherding the resources within the office.”

A Strong Business Acumen

Green’s role goes far beyond that of the traditional project manager or project architect, but rises further into rigorous strategic planning and execution, calling for business acumen and facility not typical in architects. “I think if someone is considering this role as something to work towards in their career, they should consider getting an MBA. Understanding business is crucial in this position,” Green elaborated. “And even after that, it’ll take on-the-job experience to establish an understanding of how firms operate.” 

Where before one’s core preoccupation might have been client satisfaction, design quality, timely deliverables, and internal team health, the focus now expands to a broader higher level concentration dealing with the business, strategic, and developmental aspects of the organization as a whole. Yes, project teams are concerned with these aspects, but on a fundamentally different level. They have a responsibility for their projects, whereas a Studio Director’s daily duties directly deal with the trajectory and direction of the bigger picture, moving beyond a partial focus to a comprehensive one.

What are firms looking for?

So what are firms looking for in a Studio Director? Take Gensler, a corporation based around a “collaborative studio leadership model.” Each studio has a specialty and is led by a highly experienced Studio Director, who oversees everything from overall management of the team and projects to the finances and budget. They work closely with staff in both professional development and mentorship as well as hiring in collaboration with HR. Studio Directors at Gensler are responsible for marketing, developing new business, and responding to RFPs, along with several other high-level responsibilities. According to Gensler, those pursuing this role should have a minimum of 15 years of experience and have a proven record in their area of focus. Moreover, Studio Directors at Gensler should possess a comprehensive personal portfolio of work, illustrating their aptitude and understanding of their expertise. Essentially, Studio Directors are leaders of their own small firm within the larger organization that is Gensler.

A Multi-Disciplined Leader

In the end, Studio Directors are multi-disciplined leaders with a depth of experience that allows them to lead a team of professionals of varying experience levels. They operate on multiple fronts, some of which include business functions such as staff development, hiring, strategic planning, finances, as well as traditional functions like QAQC, guiding design quality, and managing clients and projects. The possibilities appear broad and wide-ranging, but we’ve learned that business acumen is crucial, people skills are essential, and a deep understanding of the traditional functions of the architect, indispensable.

Author – Sean Joyner is an architect-trained writer and editor at Archinect. His articles and essays utilize themes in history, philosophy, and psychology to explore lessons for students and professionals within the fields of architecture and design. Sean’s work prior to Archinect focused primarily on k-12 and higher education projects in Southern California. Some of the things Sean enjoys are playing and practicing chess, studying obscure topics like quantum physics and cryptography, working out, and reading compelling books.

Sean Joyner’s Blog on Archinect
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Too Many Options? How to Decide Between Multiple Architect Positions the Professional Way

Whether you are in architecture or another industry, workers today are finding advantages to switching jobs periodically rather than remaining with the same company over a lifetime. From bigger paychecks to higher positions, the benefits of mobility cannot be understated. However, the way you move from one job to another speaks volumes about your professionalism as well as your capacity for working well with others. Consider these five tips to help you change architect positions without burning bridges.

The Time Factor

Giving notice is usually the first step toward moving up and on. However, how you handle your notice will make a significant impact on how your current employer views you once you are gone. While two weeks is the general rule for resignations, you may need to give time depending on your specific situation. The primary goal is to make the transition from you to your replacement as smooth as possible without sticking around long enough to make people feel awkward. When deviating from the two-week guideline, it is not usually advisable to change that by more than a week either way.

It’s Not What You Know

You know the adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Every architect position you hold gives you the opportunity to build your professional network. You likely have some potentially valuable connections at your current company, which may prove beneficial in the future. Take the time to nurture those relationships before and after you switch companies and be sure to keep your contact information current in case previous contacts need to be in touch with you.

You Can’t Take it With You

Some things you should leave behind when you leave your position, such as company data, clients and fellow employees. Soliciting clients or employees is not an admirable practice and may be a violation of your contract. Take steps to separate your personal information from the company data file to avoid any suspicion of impropriety as you move to your next architect position. An attitude of transparency will make the difference in leaving your current employer on good terms.

Tie Up Loose Ends

At the same time, you also want to make sure you don’t leave any loose ends as you walk out the door. Personal belongings should be taken home with you as soon as you give notice. CNBC recommends you transfer benefits like your 401k as well. You also want to arrange to extend your healthcare benefits if your insurance coverage at your new company does not become effective right away.

Interview at the End Like You Did at the Beginning

Many companies have an exit interview at the end of an employee’s tenure. While this might seem like a tempting time to raise concerns or voice complaints, it is always best to keep this meeting just as professional and positive as your first interview was with the company. If you do have issues to bring up, do so in a positive way – in the interest of creating a better environment for your replacement and others.

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Are you hiring top talent, or is your competitor?

When I read an article titled “People are ‘ghosting’ at work, and it’s driving companies crazy” by Chip Cutter, LinkedIn Editor at Large, I flipped out because it is so true and it should be an eye-opener to hiring firms. I have added my own pointers as well.

Gone are the days where architects are waiting around for a phone call from a potential employer. In fact, it is the opposite. Candidates receive two, sometimes three offers of employment in a week’s time.

Excerpts from Chip’s article below:

Where once it was companies ignoring job applicants or snubbing candidates after interviews, the world has flipped. Candidates agree to job interviews and fail to show up, never saying more. Some accept jobs, only to not appear for the first day of work, no reason given, of course. Instead of formally quitting, enduring a potentially awkward conversation with a manager, some employees leave and never return. Bosses realize they’ve quit only after a series of unsuccessful attempts to reach them. The hiring process begins anew.

Among younger generations, ghosting has “almost become a new vocabulary” in which “no response is a response,” says Amanda Bradford, CEO and founder of The League, a dating app. Now, “that same behavior is happening in the job market,” says Bradford, who’s experienced it with engineering [architecture and design] candidates who ghosted her company.

Some of the behavior may stem not from malice, but inexperience. Professionals who entered the workforce a decade ago, during the height of the Great Recession, have never encountered a job market this strong. The unemployment rate is at an 18-year low. More open jobs exist than unemployed workers, the first time that’s happened since the Labor Dept. began keeping such records in 2000. The rate of professionals quitting their jobs hit a record level in March; among those who left their companies, almost two thirds voluntarily quit. Presented with multiple opportunities, professionals face a task some have rarely practiced: saying no to jobs.

“Candidates are winding up with multiple offers, and you can’t accept them all,” says Dawn Fay, district president at Robert Half International in New York. “Individuals just inherently don’t like conflict or disappointing people.”

Thus, ghosts. Interviews with more than a dozen hiring managers and recruiters across the U.S. suggest the practice is on the rise, forcing companies to rethink how they operate. END.

Top 6 changes hiring firms must make to compete for top talent:

1. Everyone wants Revit proficiency. Guess what; there is a major shortage. If the candidate meets most of your other requirements, then, intensive on-the-job Revit training is needed. Particularly, if they have AutoCAD or ArchiCAD skills.

2. If you believe the candidate has 85-90% of the skillset your job description requires, grab that candidate and don’t look back! How many people are currently employed at your firm that did not have all the skills they have now? Play the long game.

3. Do not prolong the process from receiving the resume, scheduling an interview and making an offer. Or else, a competitor will scoop the candidates right out from under you.

4. Cut down on the long hours. The trend has been Work/Life Balance, and it starts with more personal time. If you had a choice, would you pick a firm with a 60-hour work week or 40-hour work week. Not only do your employees burn out, their salaries are totally diluted.

5. The main motivators in switching firms are better compensation, growth potential, better corporate fit, recognition of skillset, better management and more interesting projects.

6.  If you are designing single-family homes and the candidate has an array of educational projects, the tendency is to reject the candidate out of hand. But, the less flexible you are, the smaller the talent pool becomes. Why not give the candidate a chance? Mentor h/her; a good architect can learn new building types. And besides, architects do not want to be pigeon-holed. They want new career opportunities. And besides architects do not want to be pigeon-holed. They want new career opportunities.

Not made these fundamental changes? Then you are losing top talent to your competitors.

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How to Make the Most of Entry-Level Architecture Jobs

No matter what you hope your destination will be, if you want to make a career out of architecture, it’s going to start with an entry-level job.

While that may not seem quite as exciting as your long-term goal, entry-level architecture jobs have a lot of potential if you know exactly how to approach them.

4 Ways to Make the Most Out of Entry-Level Architecture Jobs

Finding out you’ve been hired for your first architecture job is an absolutely incredible feeling.

However, don’t forget about the following four ways people have successfully taken full advantage of their entry level-architecture jobs, so you can make the most of this opportunity.

1. Consider the City the Job Is In

If you’re still applying for jobs, be sure to consider which city those jobs are in. Ideally, you want it to be a great city for architects, so you’ll be surrounded by opportunities.

That said, no matter where it is, brush up on your networking skills. This will help you on the job (more on that in a minute), but it will also go a long way toward helping you eventually find an even better role if you use these skills within your local industry.

2. Firm Up Your Soft Skills

Your duties as an architect include more than just preparing drawings and structure specifications.

Success will also depend on your soft skills, which include proficiency with:

  • Team-building
  • Communicating
  • Problem-solving

Look for every opportunity in your entry-level role to sharpen these skills and the road ahead of you will become much easier.

3. Come Up with a 90-Day Plan

Every entry-level employee should come up with a 90-day plan to hit the ground running. This is especially true in architecture, though. You should also have a plan for the first week and the first month.

For example, during your first week, meet everyone on your team, department, or inside the entire firm, depending on its size. Become 100% clear on what your responsibilities are, too.

Over the first 30 days, finish meeting everyone if you haven’t already. Make it a point to ask at least one question a day, provided you genuinely don’t know the answer and you’re not slowing down your coworkers. It’s vital that you learn as much as possible.

During the first 90 days, you should look for a “mentor.” This doesn’t have to be an official capacity, but get a sense for whom – aside from your boss – you can learn the most from and keep asking them questions.

Of course, if they ever need help, go out of your way to repay their kindness.

Want Help Finding the Best Entry-Level Architecture Jobs?

As you can see, entry-level architecture jobs can be so much more than just an opportunity to get your foot in the door.

When you take the right approach, they can become a real launching point for the rest of your career. You may even be surprised to find just how quickly the above advice can bring you to your next step.

Of course, long before that happens, you need to land that first position. That’s where we come in. At Consulting For Architects, Inc. we’ve helped people just like you land their first jobs. Contact us today and let’s talk about how we can help you with your specific goals.

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AIA Conference on Architecture 2018

Visit our Booth on the 1st Floor #4315
June 21-23 New York City – Jacob Javits center

Get ready for three immersive days of what’s new and now in architecture and design, hosted in one of the most iconic cities in the world. At A’18, some of the most creative architects, designers, and firms will share how they’re creating their own blueprint and making a difference in cities of every size all over the world.  Find us on google.

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