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The Coach: ‘I’m a European architect. How do I break into the UK market?’

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Careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect from abroad on how to get a foothold in practice in the UK

How do I break into architecture? I am from Southern Europe and have been working in London for four years, but in hospitality. My original plan was to work in architecture, which is my profession, and I looked but I didn’t manage to get work when I arrived. Hospitality was easy to pick up, but it was meant to be temporary. Even years later, I still have no architectural experience in the UK, so I don’t feel any more confident.

Matthew turner

The process of coming to a new country and finding your professional feet really can be a struggle; people who have not done it have little idea of how daunting it can be. You should try not to beat yourself up with regrets, but focus on how to take action. Things have changed since you last looked for work. Presumably you have better English than when you arrived, and no doubt you understand the country much more than before, even if that doesn’t mean you know the architectural profession here any better than when you arrived.

I have twice made a move to a new country, once successfully, and once less so. What I learned was that, beyond hard work, uncovering opportunities was down to three things – connections, timing and luck. You need to work on the first two and keep your fingers crossed for the third.

The main thing you should aim to do is get yourself out there. As you will no doubt know, so much of the job market is word of mouth, and architecture is no exception. Mine your Facebook friends and your community for opportunities, and go and get involved in the busy architectural scene. Lectures, talks and exhibitions abound, and attending these provides the chances to meet people in the profession. Get interested in current architectural issues in the UK, and the range of practices, not just big names.

Given you have been out of architecture for a few years, you should also make an attempt to understand how work differs from home. A great way to do this is to meet up with people who have the same kind of training and work background as you, who are currently working here as architects. Take them out for a coffee and ask them what the specific differences are. You may think this is daunting, but most people like to share, and you will likely find someone who would love to talk about the differences to home, once they get on to the subject. If you get on well, you could even ask them to review your CV and how you could best present yourself.

Timing is another factor. Who knows, spotting in the trade news that a practice has landed a repeat roll-out of a restaurant design might be the perfect moment to submit a concerted and focused sell on your perfect combo of architecture and on-the-ground hospitality experience. The link can be really tenuous. I recall an architect friend of mine who was at his wits’ end with an unsuccessful job hunt in Madrid in the depths of the crisis, who got a break purely because a particular office (who had won a job in an obscure country) spotted he had happened to be on holiday to that country years previously and had done an enthusiastic photographic journal of the trip.

Your search will be considerably improved by even a short spell working in an office

This timing element is especially important when securing your first job in the UK. If timing doesn’t work in your favour, then I suspect your search will be considerably improved by even a short spell working in an office, which is where employment and temp agencies can be very helpful.

As for the sprinkling of luck, you will need this, and with Brexit making the construction economy more uncertain, the employment landscape is changing. But the phrase in English ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ is very true for someone in your situation. It is hard to break in, no doubt, and you need to work at it. Building an informal network for job-seeking will likely be the best strategy, and can be a very helpful thing in wider life too.

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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