Finding a job during times of adversity

Written by: Kate Marks, Founder and Director of EvolutionHR
Published on: 1 Nov 2017

I do not want to be a harbinger of doom, nor can I foresee the future. However I think we can all agree that we are already experiencing uncertain economic times – regardless of how well or badly the Brexit negotiations go.

Let’s consider some thoughts on recruitment and job search during more adverse times.

As with everything, this situation can be viewed from both sides – that of the job seeker and that of the company looking to fill a role. 

Construction is a notoriously volatile sector and often one of the first indications of a level of economic concern is a stop on hiring. But the work still needs to be done. A high proportion of companies will turn to agency workers or hire staff for short, fixed term contracts as a way of limiting or managing their financial commitments. (Although, this could be considered a false economy since agency staff are historically more expensive than direct hires.)

In this scenario lies a conundrum: Whilst companies may choose this short-term strategy for their own purposes, they may then look negatively on those applicants whose CVs show a series of short periods of work, rather than longevity of employment. My message to these employers would be, ‘you can’t have it both ways’. 

The same principle may also be applied to those who have experienced redundancy and a period out of work. Market fluctuations mean that a higher than average percentage of people working in the construction sector, including architecture, will have been made redundant at some point in their career. It is important to remember that redundancy is a financial and business decision. It is not about the individual. 

The world of work is changing, and the concept of a job for life is pretty much long gone. Most of us have already become used to a certain amount of mobility and flexibility in our working lives.

So, let’s look at some tips that we can adopt to help us in our approach to work. 

Perhaps that is the key pointer – your approach. I have read with alarm that those who are recruiting – whether that be an agency or a company – often experience candidates with a total lack of enthusiasm for the role, the company, architecture, life… Of all the professions, architecture is one that needs passion to succeed. If you can’t show it in your application or at interview, then why would a future employer take you on? So, show some interest, passion and enthusiasm.

You may have trained for seven years to become an architect and expect a level of respect and interest in your portfolio because of that, but unfortunately life is not that simple. All architects are in the same position.  So, sit down and consider what you really want.

  • Is it a job with one of the big-name architecture practices? If so, research them, apply for work experience, offer to work shadow. 
  • Is it a well-paid job with good benefits? Look at the more commercial practices and pursue them.
  • Is it the chance to fulfil a particular architectural philosophy or approach that you admire? Research articles and apply to those practices who reflect your beliefs.
  • Is it a job to fund your hobbies or spend more time with your family? Look at practices close to your home.
  • Is it a particular sector or project type? Look at practices that specialise and be prepared to travel.

Do you want to work in design? Or design management? Or on the technical side of things? Which phase of a project would you like to focus on?  Specialisations may help you to gain a foothold in a company from which you can grow and develop.

Be clear about your goals, and be persistent and focussed in following them.

Use and develop your network: No matter your level of experience, you will have friends from university, former colleagues, or people from other disciplines that you’ve worked with on a project. Networking is not comfortable for many people, but it is a useful skill to develop, so start with who and what you know - try attending RIBA events to meet people from the industry. Get chatting to people – it doesn’t matter who – you will begin building contacts. Don’t expect immediate success with this, it develops over years, but you may get lucky!

Take what job opportunities you can: Part time, fixed term, updating drawing mark-ups, snagging visits, redesigning the foyer or the toilets. Whatever it may be, it is helping to build your work experience and portfolio, and keeps your skills fresh. 

Volunteer your services for short periods: Although I fundamentally disagree with unpaid internships, a short period – a few weeks maximum – of voluntary work will enhance your skills, give you additional experience and make you on the spot for any vacancies that arise. 

Unpaid work experience or work shadowing: As above, these will help develop your CV. Regardless of where you are in your career, you can always learn, and this may enable you to gain an understanding of different working environments and help you hone your personal goals. 

Adopt a flexible approach – geographically: Consider relocating to where the work is.

Widen your geographical search.

Learn new skills: Increase or update the skills that you can offer. There are so many learning opportunities online or, if you have funds available, you can sign up for courses. It could be learning another form of software, refining your hand drawing skills, or learning about different building codes.

  • Use this time wisely, you will recall it as a rare opportunity for reflection on your career, personal goals, and priorities.
  • Keep reading, visiting places of interest, speaking to people, watching or listening to podcasts. Keep up with current ideas and thoughts.
  • Bear in mind the changing nature of work in practice – 3D Revit and BIM/VR environment working are increasingly in demand, so how would you promote your communications skills? – verbally, drawing or use of Revit, team working, etc. 
  • Prepare for interviews by considering your response to tricky questions about your CV:

- Why have you moved around so much? – not because you didn’t get on with anyone, or you hated your boss, or you found it difficult to get into work on time. How about: you wanted to enhance your experience of working in different environments and on different sorts of projects;

- Why were you made redundant? – clearly the company was not able to win as many projects as they had wished.

It must be reiterated that, in these two cases, it is very short sighted if the interviewers naturally assume that either is negative. It is reasonable to ask the questions, but experienced interviewers will be aware of the changeable nature of the architecture market recognising that many people have been made redundant and that hiring for short periods is a common reaction to uncertain times. 

Remember to keep positive and seek advice from the experts such as RIBA Appointments.

A summary of action points from the Recruitment Consultants at RIBA Appointments:

  • Employment history – ensure this is consistent and be prepared to explain any gaps;
  • Entering new sectors – if you are trying to enter a new project sector or industry type in which you have little or no experience, consider how you would explain the value you can bring to the business;
  • Ambition – be able to articulate your goals and how these align with those of the role you are applying for and those of the practice;
  • Weaknesses or areas of development – be honest about these and show positive ways in which you have addressed them;
  • Redundancy – understand the recruiter’s need to find out more and be prepared to respond questions such as, what was happening at that time? who else was made redundant? why were you chosen?  
  • Positive mind-set – despite the difficulties you may face being out of work or struggling to find the right role, do try to be passionate, confident and engaging when dealing with recruiters;
  • Research – do your homework and be sure you can articulate why you want to work at this particular practice;
  • Questions – show enthusiasm by making sure you have some questions to ask in your interview -  such as business strategy, upcoming projects or growth plans.

by Kate Marks, Founder and Director of EvolutionHR, HR consultancy to the built environment and author of HR for Creative Companies.