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The coach: ‘Architecture feels like a very class-based occupation’

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AJ careers expert Matthew Turner advises a student on how to break into the profession

I am in my last year of study and really worried about how I am going to find work. It seems everyone else has options. I come from a family who run a shop, whereas some of my contemporaries are children of architects, and many of them are pretty posh. I get the feeling they get a lot of help and guidance. 

My parents came here in the 70s, and I am the first in my family who has gone on to higher education. I am at a provincial university, and I cannot afford to move to London on the off-chance of finding work. What should I do? It feels like architecture is a very class-based occupation where those who succeed are the well-connected or moneyed.

Matthew turner

Matthew turner

Your email made me think back to my own university days. I remember observing that the people who made the most noise were often the people with the most opportunity – they had often been through an education that developed and nurtured their confidence. Good for them. But you shouldn’t be defeated. Some of the things you mention, such as the cost of living in London, are barriers, but where you are heading with your thoughts? Are you trying to prove a point or do you want to make the most of your career? I am not sure I agree with your jump to identify a class-based society as stacked against you. It sounds as though you have given up before you try. 

I suggest you approach this coming year as the master of your own destiny, rather than contemplating defeat. Connections are important, but you can influence this. This means networking, asking your tutors about work (many tutors use their teaching to recruit), going to your local RIBA events and meeting people there, getting in contact with people you know from previous years who are now working, and generally doing your best to be available. The most important attributes you can have when landing your first job are enthusiasm and flexibility, with a dash of modesty. 

Of course the correct CAD skills, the uncannily relevant final student project and the previous experience in an architectural office do help. But it is also important to get into the positive career-developing habit of observing what you are good at, or what others freely tell you are your skills. Doing this will make you more self-aware, able to communicate from the heart, and hopefully will make you dwell less on the good fortune of others. 

Also bear in mind that your background could well be an asset at times. For example, many architects have to undertake consultation with diverse groups as part of their commission, so not being ‘posh’ could quite easily be a selling point and could make you the stand-out candidate. 

But for now, concentrate on networking. My very first job didn’t come through architects I knew but through another connection entirely. Landing that first job can be stressful, but it has to be done, so good luck!

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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Readers' comments (1)

  • UnknownEntity

    "For example, many architects have to undertake consultation with diverse groups as part of their commission, so not being ‘posh’ could quite easily be a selling point and could make you the stand-out candidate. "

    This smacks of tokenism. A very bad road to go down, jobs should be filled on merit, not because of someone is different.

    Terrible advice.

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