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The coach: ‘I feel rejected after the Brexit vote’

Uk border brexit eu passport danny howard
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This month Matthew Turner counsels a European architect with the Brexit blues, and also offers interview tips to make sure you hire the right candidate

How can my wife and I feel happy in the UK following the EU referendum vote?

I am from another European country, as is my wife. We are both architects and love working here. Before Brexit we felt settled and hadn’t given our position here a second thought. Now, we both feel a sense of disruption and rejection. I understand much is still uncertain, but how do we become happy again with our situation here?

The whole sorry story of Brexit has sometimes made it seem as if seasonal potato pickers in Lincolnshire represent all Europeans. I would wager 90 per cent of architectural firms would not wish to lose the thousands of professional Europeans in the UK. The European architectural workforce is hugely valued, and people like you are one reason the country’s service industry is almost second to none. And although it is early days for the Brexit negotiations, the prospect of ejecting professional Europeans is remote.

While personally I don’t think Brexit is a good idea, if it does happen, it comes with opportunities. Many of the UK’s larger firms are already experienced global operators, and so your career here could flourish rather than end.

The irony of Brexit is that, quite apart from the residency issue, it may well trigger a self-inflicted recession, meaning everyone has to adapt their career whatever their origin. Even if we do experience the pain of a recession, they can also allow new starts and new practices to emerge.

Brexit may trigger a self-inflicted recession, meaning everyone has to adapt their career whatever their origin

So perhaps you can turn this moment of uncertainty into an opportunity to develop resilience. After all, nothing has changed in your actual circumstances. The key is not to panic about things you can’t control, and to maintain your employability – your skills, and enthusiasm for the work you do. Those who manage this are best placed in good times and well as bad. Most importantly, please don’t believe the picture sometimes painted by the media, that the country has transformed. Aren’t you still surrounded by people who you were happy living with before the referendum? Don’t feel rejected, your contribution and presence in this country is very much welcomed.

How can I make our interview process more formal?

I am an associate at a practice, and have been made responsible for recruiting some new team members. In the past, I found our style of interviewing a little informal – mostly flicking through projects and deciding whether you like the person. I would like to do things a bit more formally. What would you advise?

It is great that you want to be more structured about how you interview; you are clearly thinking like a good manager. Architectural job interviews can too often be carried out more like a chat down the pub, deciding whether you are going to join a clique. Changing this will help prevent you missing out on excellent candidates. 

It is a good idea to try and stick to the same structure and questions for each candidate. This helps ensure you cover the same ground, and don’t get carried away chatting only about when you were at the same college together, or your love of such and such architect. 

This doesn’t mean slavishly following a box-ticking script. If there is something unclear, or something interesting that you want the candidate to expand on, then have the flexibility to do so. 

Without structure, there is a risk we appoint people who are better at interviews rather than the best candidates

Make sure you take notes during the interview. This allows you have to have a more precise conversation later when you are comparing candidates. Notes are also useful for providing feedback.

When going through someone’s portfolio, give the candidate some guidelines beforehand, such as ‘talk us through three projects in 15 minutes’. Their ability to keep to this brief will be a helpful judge of how good they are at listening, and being organised. Make sure you determine what elements of a project they were involved in, and how. 

When I have interviewed, I have always found the response to ‘do you have any questions?’ enlightening. The answer is a helpful guide to their keenness and resourcefulness, as the degree to which they have researched your firm will be evident. 

Of course, a major aspect of interviewing is about ‘fit’ and personality, so you need to gauge this too. But without some structure, there is a risk we appoint the people who are better at performing at interview or name-dropping, rather than necessarily being the best candidate. 

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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