How to Survive a Recession for Architects

How to Survive a Recession for Architects

An architect’s salary is, in many ways, a reflection of the overall economy. In times of prosperity, demand for elaborate homes, business buildings, and museums (to name a few examples) is high, and thus the architect benefits from the prosperity of everyone else. Alas, in times of recession, the desire for brand-new buildings is one of the first of luxuries to be largely tossed out of the window until conditions improve.

After the housing crash of 2008, for example, many were reluctant to invest in new real estate for the fear of history repeating itself, and thus the architecture career field sustained a permanent stain, even if the issue pertained more heavily to lending issues than to the homes themselves.

With the architectural career field being one of the most susceptible to suffer in times of economic downturn, you might be curious how to keep your job in a recession. It’s true that architecture during recession is not the best place to be, but that doesn’t mean you need to suffer or head straight for financial destitution. Taking heed of recession survival tips during more challenging times can keep you sailing, at the very least.

Be Invaluable to the Firm

While it’s certainly a case of “easier said than done”, being invaluable to the firm that employs you is crucial to keeping your job. There are several ways to go about this, but the central purpose in all of them is to convey to your employer that by letting you go, they would lose far more than they’d gain by reclaiming your salary.

Show your commitment to both architecture and the prosperity of your firm whenever possible. Indicate, perhaps by staying late or coming in early to work from time to time, that you are satisfied with producing quality designs and are willing to put your work ahead of yourself when needed.

Also, while you don’t necessarily need to pander to your boss, you should offer to help with tasks and adapt as needed to help facilitate his or her effective management while sympathizing with the fact that everyone is affected by the recession, even those above you.

Upskill or Double Down on Your Strengths

The ubiquitous idiom, “a jack of all trades is a master of none”, is particularly applicable during a recession. To combat being let go due to mediocrity, it’s pertinent that you do not waste your time developing skills that you know many others have already mastered, because competition is fierce.

To improve your chances of keeping a job, the best strategy you have is to identify and strengthen your existing skills, specifically the ones that you already have an edge with, to ensure that the odds of being outperformed by others is reduced. Having a niche helps you stand out by enforcing the fact that you offer an irreplaceable strength in one or more of the various components of architecture.

Take a Voluntary Salary Cut

During a time when many in your firm are forced to make sacrifices, taking a voluntary salary cut is an optimal, although not ideal, way to convey your commitment to your employer and your value as a part of the firm.

Taking a voluntary salary cut also spares you from the stress of uncertainty from waiting to see what happens, especially considering that if your firm is facing financial difficulties, there is a probability that a salary cut is afoot whether you take it now or later. The longer you wait, however, the higher the chance that a salary cut turns into a discharge from employment.

Be Versatile in Times of Limited Opportunities

With the framework for supporting architects significantly weakened during an economic recession, one of the only ways to ensure that you remain employed is to broaden your scope amidst a shrinking horizon.

You don’t need to subject yourself to giving up architecture in the long run, but while you wait for the economy to recover you should seize every opportunity you can to expand your skills to avoid being left behind when demand for architecture jobs returns. It’s not the end of your career if your firm decides to let you go, as there are other jobs you may be well-qualified for that will let you continue to improve your resume while keeping yourself afloat in the process.

Opening your mind to the prospect of jobs like real estate development, interior design, or teaching at a community college affords you more opportunities than shutting yourself off from alternatives to working for an architecture firm. It might be tricky landing a job in a different field than you’re accustomed to, but it’s certainly feasible.

Do Freelance Work on the Side

Fortunately, the prevalence of the internet opens you up to all kinds of jobs regardless of where you live. While freelancing usually doesn’t pay as much as working for a dedicated architectural firm (although with experience, it can surprise you) it is an incredibly manageable way to bring in some extra income to help fill in the hole of a salary cut.

Websites like Upwork and Freelancer provide a variety of jobs for different backgrounds and skill level. Plus, you get to set your own schedule so that it doesn’t interfere with your primary means of employment.

Keep a Good Rapport with Clients

Ultimately, your clients are where the work comes from, so by keeping a good rapport with them you can ensure that you always have a network to fall back on when you face unexpected changes to your position and career. If your clients are consistently reminded of the fact that they can expect quality work from you, then you can alleviate yourself of the burdens associated with starting from scratch when the economy eventually recovers by keeping a foot in the door.

Maintain a Good Relationship with Consultants

As with your clients, your relationships with your consultants is one of the strongest of bonds in your professional circle. As your industry peers, consultants help you connect with the variety of other people who are implicated within each project you partake. Therefore, your consultants are going to best be able to emphasize with your position and the type of work that you do — as such, the recommendations they are able to provide to their own clients are of the highest value.

Through mutual respect between engineers, interior designers, cost consultants, and all other design professionals you’ve built rapport with throughout your career, there is a safety net that will enable the others to assist one another if ill fortune falls upon somebody.

Focus on Getting Licensed (If you haven’t already)

You might not have needed a license to get where you are now, but when times grow tough and competition becomes fierce, licensed architects are ultimately going to be the ones to fill limited positions.

There are plenty of other advantages to being licensed that are evident even in times when the economy is booming. On average, licensed architects have a higher salary and are able to land more lucrative projects than their unlicensed counterparts.

The best thing you can do is to start now. Check the requirements of your jurisdiction to understand what specific requirements are necessary. If you already have a degree from a NAAB-accredited program, your next step is to enlist in the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP), record your experiences, and prepare to pass the Architect Registration Examination®. It will take time, but you can continue to do what you love and get paid while you earn your license.

Brush Up on Your Resume and Portfolio

In defending yourself against unemployment, you will certainly benefit from having a strong, persuasive resume and portfolio at your immediate disposal. If you’ve held steady employment for several years with the same firm, it’s probably time to head down to your archives and brush away the cobwebs to update and strengthen your resume. Reflect upon the time that has passed since you last used it to land a job and take note of your accomplishments.

Whether you recognize it or not, you are a probably a more competent architect now than you were when you graduated architecture school, so if a potential employer asks to see your resume, make sure that it’s updated with the improvements you’ve made and the most recent work experience. If you neglect to do this, you run the risk of undermining yourself severely with outdated information.

With your portfolio, there is also a good chance that you notice improvements in your more recent designs than the ones you initially included with your application. While you can certainly keep some of those same designs in your portfolio (maybe to show how you’ve improved), don’t forget to include your more recent look so that an employer can see what you are capable of now.

Stay Positive and Keep Looking for Opportunities

It’s hard to stay positive if you’ve been discharged from a lucrative architecture job, but it’s best that you remind yourself that the situation is temporary and that opportunities exist to those who look for them, rather than succumbing to depressed lethargy.

In times of economic recession, life becomes difficult for many people, not just architects. If you are between jobs, keeping yourself occupied through freelance projects can help in improving your skills, making you a stronger architect than ever, and staving off hopelessness.

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