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The coach: ‘Sole practice hasn’t worked out. How do I return to being a salaried architect?’

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Careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect who, having struck out alone, wants to return to the pack

I set up as a sole practitioner a few years ago, but it hasn’t worked out, and I want to go back to being a salaried architect. Do I need to forget my age and qualifications and pretend to be only at Part 2 level or a technologist in order to earn an income? If all the foreign architects are disappearing back to Europe, why aren’t they being replaced by the experienced British architects that were discarded a decade ago?

Matthew turner

Being so intertwined with the construction industry, architecture is beholden to the vagaries of the economy. But we as individuals are beholden to ourselves as well. I say this as your email has a tinge of regret, which I think may be colouring your enthusiasm for the choices ahead. Change can be challenging, and especially hard when you feel life hasn’t gone to plan. However, a new phase is much easier to cope with if you are able to see the positives. 

You are at a moment of shift, which can be incredibly challenging but ultimately enriching. I am a firm believer in the advantages of being adaptable in life. Running your own practice is many architects’ idea of success, but having tried it and not succeeded is not a failure, but an opportunity for huge learning.

Consider what might make you an unattractive prospect to an employer. I would predict this is likely to be attitude, rather than skills-based

You list various questions you have about how to approach a future possible employer. I would spend an equal amount of effort working out how to present your experience as useful to a practice. Avoid focusing on the ‘should haves’ or pretending you don’t have experience, and think through what might make you attractive over a Part 2 student. It is also important to consider what might make you an unattractive prospect to an employer. I would predict this is likely to be attitude, rather than skills-based. 

For example, a fear that your experience makes you intransigent, or you are not a team player, or you feel hard done by, will add risk to a hire of someone in your situation. So think of ways of spinning your story (to yourself as well as others) so as not to cast your move back into employment as a negative, but part of a positive journey.

While you may need to make sacrifices in terms of perceived ‘status’, which your question alludes to, there are many ways in which someone of your experience can provide value in someone else’s practice. But this is something you may have to prove, rather than it being accepted from the outset.  

With the right frame of mind, the next step is finding opportunities, which is a far more straightforward process that everyone has to go through. Start with your network, and also consider agencies, which can be a great way to get your foot in the door.

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)

  • The advice seeker does seem negative, but the advice is even more so.
    If someone has been a sole practitioner, that must surely be an advantage to smaller and medium sized practices.
    Assuming of course there was at least one good successfully completed project, and the reasons for returning to being salaried were lack of opportunity rather than lack of management/skills etc.

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