In my part of the architectural woods, there has been a lot of movement alerting architects to many issues around labour practices. Indeed, Parlour and the Architecture Lobby are actively working to bring attention to poor labour practices in architectural practice. One neglected area of this conversation is how architects recruit staff. Of course, not all architects are crap at this, but I would argue there are some widespread recruiting practices in practice that are unfortunate.
I have a friend who has applied for 140 architectural jobs since graduating. His crime? Hard to know what the problem is. He is personable, highly intelligent, he already has a degree in planning and had the motivation to do a Masters of Architecture in his 40s. Oh fuck, did I say the 40s? He is now in that not so fantastic position of being a graduate with minimal architectural experience — an older person in that difficult zone between graduation and registration.
For international students, I would suggest the situation is even more difficult. I cannot begin to write about that here. From what people have been telling me, it is all too painful and damming.
Few architects are trained in Human Resource capabilities. For many practices, the worst thing that can happen is that the design architects get hold of the recruiting process. Imagine being in a room full of critical negative designers who think a BIM is the greatest thing since Salada crackers. But if you are looking for a job in an architectural firm this is precisely some of the things you may be confronted with.
The pressure cooker ambush
The firm asks you to come in for the interview. When you arrive, they ask you to “do a BIM software test” as a part of the recruiting process. You were not expecting this. You are ambushed! You have 45 minutes to do a complex drawing (like the one above). You are told that at some point during this time someone will come in and ask you impromptu questions. Your tormentor’s also want to “debrief’ after the test. In the debrief they ask you if you like Heatherwick.
The Revit sinkhole
A variation on the pressure cooker. You have three hours to do the computer test rather than 45 minutes. They say take as much time as you like. You find yourself on a crap windows machine with a few digital files to deal with. Nothing works, and then you realise this is a kind of weird REVIT test. But the libraries don’t work, and the machine keeps crashing. It’s a REVIT sinkhole. One of the architect correctional officers slowly paces the room as you try and make sense of things. There is no debrief, and they say that they will get back to you, but they never do.
The take-home exam
This selection process is a variation on the pressure cooker above. You get an email 12 hours before the interview asking to do a design exercise. The exercise is to design using sketches, In Design and Revit a 90 unit multi-residential development on a site in the outer suburbs. You are told you must establish design principles, siting principles, draw some typical unit floor plans and sketch a hero shot. At the\end, you need to stand up in front of the design directors and explain your “concept.” They ask you critical negative questions, and one of them starts asking you about stair tread and riser heights.
The innocent face of recruitment
You are over 45 with lots of experience. You have just been made redundant. You apply for a job through a recruiting company. You go in to meet the firm’s recruiter who finished a marketing degree straight after VCE. Their previous role was in events management. You check out their Instagram profile, and they are doing Mezcal shots with their friends at a mango vape bar. In-person they look very “corporate”. They dismissively glance at your portfolio and tell you are over-qualified for the role. You never hear back. This cycle repeats every time you go to a recruiting agency. Some people say the recruiters only recruit in their own youthful mezcal shot vaping image.
The misplaced role
You apply for a project architect’s role for a large medium-density residential design project. You get to the interview, and they tell you it’s a hospital design role. They ask you for examples of your hospital work. Luckily you have this type of experience and send it to them. They respond by email and say they will get back to you in a week. You never hear back despite repeated calls over the following six weeks.
The money machine future
It’s a high-level role, and in the interview, the directors ask if you are confident enough to bring in $6M in fees in the next year. They quiz you about your school networks and contacts. It all goes pear-shaped when you tell them what school you went to. A year later the firm goes into liquidation.
The form filling-in-thing
Often you have to fill in forms. Often these forms are incredibly generic, and you wonder what the point of them is that a civil conversation cannot establish. If you get a form that has a field for your hobbies, I think it’s best to answer this in the affirmative and fill it in by writing Crystal Meth or something like that.
Don’t mention the baby
The interview was going well, and the interviewers then get the fact that you and your partner have just had a second baby. You mention how you would like to get home at a reasonable hour. You are having another child with your partner. They quickly shut down the interview saying “we don’t think you would fit in with the culture of our firm.”
The old promise
We will contact you say the recruiters, the HR people and the architects who interviewed you. But they never do.
The hunger games
What can be said? This is the group interview. It privileges the pushiest, show-offs and best-dressed candidates. These candidates may or may not be a good fit for the office. Of course, this kind of process will favour the candidates who are more like the architects doing the recruiting. It is an opportunity for them to see more people that they can “select” with the filter of their own unconscious biases. If you are shy, without English as a first language, mature age or just normal without being a pushy sociopath, this process will exclude you
There is a lot more I could say about all of this. Selecting the best people suitable for your office is a complicated business decision. You may not always get it right. But I am sure most of the above practices aren’t going to help you get it right or help your bottom line. We talk a lot about the demographics of diversity in architecture but maybe its’ time to start talking about the mechanisms that foster and discourage diversity.
Happy to hear more about this issue.