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The current job market may lead recent graduates of architecture schools to believe that the only question they will likely be asking their future bosses is, "Do you take sugar with that?" But a year after getting their first position, there are certain to be questions that these young architects will have wished they had asked. In an attempt to minimize this regret, archrecord2 asked architects at small, medium, and large firms how smart job seekers can put their potential bosses in the hot seat.

"I was just so glad to get a job where people paid me money," says Dick Hudgens, of Richard Hudgens Architect, in Selma, Alabama. Hudgens emphasizes the importance of landing at a firm where job diversity is the order of the day. "How much variety will there be in the work that I do? I wouldn’t want to get chained to a desk doing the same thing all the time."

"What kind of responsibilities will I have in the next year?" asks Jonathan Marvel of New York’s Rogers Marvel. "In my firm, we throw out a bunch of responsibilities to new hires, and it’s sink or swim. It’s very important to be given responsibilities at lots of different levels to round out the architectural experience."

Arlene Matzkin of Philadelphia’s Friday Architects asks, "What am I going to get a chance to do? Will I ever design anything or get to be a project architect on a small job? Some firms have a monotony about them, so you better know what you’re buying into."

Peter Nicholas of Chicago’s Nicholas Clark echoes Matzkin. "What happens in medium to large firms is that you get cubbyholed into a specialty. I’d want a firm that would allow me to grow into a role."

Marvel says architects who are starting out need "a level of self-confidence. A lot of this comes from the relationship a young architect has with the partners in the firm. You must feel comfortable, intuitively sensing the presence of dialogue."

To ensure that a young architect feels that sense of dialogue, James Williamson at Williamson Pounders Architects suggests you go to the top: "Ask principals to say something about their vision for what the firm should become in the future. It would tell the employee about the firm; whether its desire is to increase gross receipts, win an AIA award, or improve relations with customers."

This connection with the firm’s senior members ("Who am I going to work for?" asks Williamson) isn’t merely a question of access, it’s an issue of continuing education and preparing for the next step.

"A crucial question to ask would be how to address issues of responsibility and the real coaching one could get from a partner or a project manager," says Carlo Frugiuele of Urban Office Architecture. "I often try to expose students and people who work for us between the [New York and Milan] offices to all phases of the design process, from client interviews to the production of documents and site administration."Matzkin adds, "Hopefully, you’re going to use all of your skills to move ahead or advance to another firm."

Certainly, there’s a danger in asking questions—you want to get a job, not to come off as an investigative reporter. "When you start off, you’re afraid to barge in and ask them anything," says Hudgens. "You can’t feel inhibited."

"If it were me, I’d want to know what I might be exposed to in the first two years that will allow me to see the full range of professional experience and give me a better view of where I want to proceed," says Chris Hayes of William McDonough and Partners. "The more aggressive you are about it, the better."

The questions young architects ask may make the difference between spending the early part of a career designing skyscraper bathrooms or using it to learn skills that make a better architect.

Jason Clampet

 

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