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The coach: Should I move overseas?

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The AJ’s career coach, Matthew Turner hears from three job hunters with decisions to make

Should I move overseas straight after completing my diploma?

THE COACH Yes, this is a great time to make a move like this as you can afford to be footloose. I know a lot of people who spent a period overseas early in their careers, and I can’t think of any that regret their decision in the long term.

The only disadvantage is that you will be likely to be learning in a different system (contractual, construction techniques and so on), so be prepared to change somewhat on your return. But you are at exactly the right stage to experiment with work a little, and being in a new country can also be a great opportunity to build a wide network, as well as give you an extra edge when you return, if indeed you do return.

You will of course need to pick your destination carefully. In many places it is hard to get work, especially for those with little experience or with language barriers. You will find the labour market in many places is not nearly as flexible as it is in the UK, so the best place to start is by milking every single contact you have.

I am looking for a new job, and I am worried about references. I have only spent a short time with my current employer. Before this, I spent almost eight years at a previous practice. Things were mostly fine there. However, I fell out with them, as one of the projects I worked on towards the end did not go well. I am therefore apprehensive about giving them as a reference. How should I handle this?

THE COACH With references, trying to cover things up or mould what people say about you is rarely going to work in your favour. Even if there is no direct connection, the architecture industry is small enough for people to be happy to ring others up directly to find out more detail if something seems fishy.

Your perception that things went wrong on a project might be overblown. If you were there so long, you must have had a reasonable track record in this office, and most bosses will not be vindictive to the point of ruining your chances.

I would suggest the best way to proceed is to think of your best ally in your old practice, and name them as your referee. And, of course, warm them up beforehand, as no one likes to be thrown unprepared into providing a reference. Normally employers don’t approach referees until after an interview, so another good idea when you are talking to them face to face, without raking over old coals, is to gently guide your prospective employer around the wider context of the project that concerns you.

I have had an interview recently at a big practice. I could tell they were keen, and they have offered me the job. The trouble is that the work is mundane, and I am a bit embarrassed about telling some of my friends that I will work for this practice. I am playing for time. Should I resign myself to this job for a few months, or hold out for my applications to big-name firms to come good?

THE COACH While you could get stuck in a rut in an office you don’t really want to be working in, I sense your fear of others’ reactions and perceptions is really the issue here. After all, you presumably went to interview because, to some degree, you wanted to work there.

I find it a bit worrying that you describe your job offer as something you have to ‘resign’ yourself to. Like many architects, for better or worse, you have a strong value judgement about a given office and the work it undertakes. An outwardly prestigious office can turn out to be a dreadful work environment – a maelstrom of bad management, cliques and tempers, where more than maximum commitment is required.

While you may think the job you have been offered is mundane, time spent there could equally be seen as an opportunity to gain valuable experience working somewhere where there may be other benefits, such as a better structure, more opportunities to gain responsibility, or learning to work effectively with consultants. Although the design side of things may not appeal to you, you could gain great experience in a range of other very useful skills that could stand you in good stead.

The crucial issue to focus on is what you are trying to get out of a given work situation rather than simply the prestige of the practice name. If the work is not delivering what you need, then think of moving on. But don’t be too impatient. Leaving before 18 months or two years could mean you fall into a dangerous cycle of thinking the grass is greener.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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