A foot in the door
Parlour and Monash Architecture present our next Light at the End of the Tunnel session. In this session, Chi Melhem and Ryan Barton offer tips and tactics, strategic advice and encouragement on getting going in the profession – in a Q & A session with Justine Clark, Naomi Stead and our highly active and engaged audience.
– So we recognise the traditional, continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respect to elders past, present and emerging, and to the indigenous Australians who are part of the Parlour community and I should say also, all First Nations people, who are part of the Parlour community. Welcome and thank you.
So, this series as some of you know, is called, "Light at the End of the Tunnel." This is the fifth event, that happens every Friday, at this time. Looking into architecture as a profession, a discipline and a practice and how it will be affected by the pandemic. The first four sessions, really, were kind of big picture scene setting discussions, asking where are we now and where do we think we're going? This is probably the first session where we try and get down really into some close detail and very specific advice. So, our guests previously have included Misty Waters, Helen Lochhead, Jess Murphy and last week, we had a session on leadership, with Eloise Atkinson and Adam Haddow.
This week our guests are Chi Melhem and Ryan Barton and what we're focusing on today, is how students and recent graduates as well people who find themselves outside the work force and wish that they were in the work force, can get a foot in the door, or back in the door, of the profession. Justine will introduce Ryan and Chi, in a moment, but my role is to introduce some practicalities and nuts and bolts, before we begin, which will be particularly relevant for those of you who are, for whom this is your first time.
So, as always, we ask that you just keep your microphone on mute, usually. But we do, in these events, ask you to maybe leave your camera on, if you're willing to do that and if you've got the bandwidth to do that, because we find, it's meant to be a community event, where we come together, so we find it's quite nice to be able to see your faces and for you to be able to see one another's faces. So we invite you to leave your camera on. The format is a Q & A. It's informal, but informative. Justine and I will ask questions and keep things moving along, but we also, are very happy to take questions from the floor throughout. So please put your questions in the chat. Then, we will pick selected questions throughout, and then ask the person who has posed that question, to actually say it. Turn on their camera, turn on their microphone and say it, to pose it to Chi and Ryan. Then also, if you feel like you'd like to put your own observations or experiences into the chat, please also feel free to do that. We're very happy for it to be a kind of parallel narrative and it's worked really well, for the last four sessions, in that regard. So, from the more junior people, we're interested in knowing about your hopes and fears and experiences, with trying to find work in architecture. From more senior people, we're really interested in what kind of help and advice you can give, but also, what your experiences have been, both past and present. We won’t get to the all of the questions, unfortunately, every week, unfortunately, we don't have time and have to miss some really good ones. But the questions that you ask, will help to inform the topics of subsequent sessions. The questions fall into four general sections and now, I'm going to throw it to Justine to introduce these four sections and today's guests.
– Hi, everybody. Thank you. Very nice to see so many of you here again, from previous sessions and lovely to see new people here too. So, this session is called, "A Foot in the Door." We're really interested in what kinds of advice and information we might offer to those who are just setting out on a career in architecture, or those who are looking at getting back into architecture, or of course those who have found themselves on an unexpected break. We're interested as Naomi said, in a kind of combination of practical advice and more kind of big picture discussion. In naming the session, we thought, a foot in a door, is sort of about getting started, about setting out. But it's also alludes to that door stopping and the need to sometimes help pry the door open. So I guess, mostly we're thinking about setting out, but we're also interested in how you would get the door open in the first place. I think our speakers bring very complimentary perspectives to these questions and we're very pleased to have them here.
I've got to say, this was really one of my absolute last minute event organising experiences. So they both said yes at very short notice, so thank you very much. There's also a comment in the, Samy Pillai has pointed out that the CPD question aren't live and I'm sorry I've had so many deadlines, I totally forgot, so I will do those this afternoon and will send you the link out. So just write something thoughtful afterwards. That's basically what you need to do. So my apologies. Anyway, lovely speakers who are here, regardless of my organisational capacity.
– Hey Justine, just before you get into that, Justine. Do you mind stopping sharing your screen, so that we can just sort of see each other?
– Sorry, there we go.
– [Justine] That's the way.
– Excellent. So right. Ryan Barton is from Bespoke in Sydney, a colleague of Misty Waters, who we had the great pleasure of having for our very first session. Ryan studied landscape architecture in the UK, at the Manchester School of Architecture and he went on to gain some experience in Shenzhen in China. Then returned to the UK to work in landscape and urban design. So he has worked across architecture landscape and urban design. He then came to Australia in 2016 and since then, has been recruiting, as I said, at Bespoke. So he brings that kind of multi-balance perspective.
Chi Melhem, she is a great friend to Parlour and we're finding ourselves increasingly drawing her into our world, more and more frequently. We're very pleased to have you back again, Chi. Chi is a Director at Tzannes in Sydney, a practice with a very good reputation as an employer. A practice that offers all roles flex, paid overtime, paid parental leave and various initiatives around work life balance. Chi leads the people and culture portfolio there and she's a very strong advocate for equity. She also teaches at UNSW and is on the state design review panel in New South Wales.
So again, I think really great, we really enjoyed having a pair of speakers last week and I think really very pleased to have you both here this week. So, let's get started.
We all know that trying to find work in a down turn is challenging, some of us have been here before. I remember graduating into a down turn a very long time ago. But, I think many young students and recent graduates now, have really had no experience of this beforehand. So, I guess, yeah we're here to try and help. We're here to help pass on knowledge and I just wanted to start with a broad question to both of you of, what are the key factors that people should be bear in mind as they are looking for work in challenging economic times? Who wants to go first?
– Chi, shall I go first?
– [Chi] Yeah, you can go first.
– Thanks, Justine. So similar to yourself, I kind of graduated in a down turn, as well. So I've kind of experienced it first hand, as well, you know, trying to find that first break, in a challenging time. I think the first thing to probably know, is that it is going to be very competitive and challenging. I think being positive and persevering is probably one of the main things we can do. Keeping a positive outlook, making sure that you keep trying, knocking on doors and even if you get some knock backs along the way, you've just got to think, these things can take time and you've really got to persevere and make sure that you keep kind of, making different connections, speaking to different people within the industry, really using your network and eventually, a door will open. It's just about being very perseverate with that.
– I think to add to that, in challenging economic times, it's really easy to compromise and I think where you can, really stick to your values and what you find important. So, take a step back and don't give up, what kind of architect you want to be. Really think about what kind of architect and architecture you want to practice. Then think about what firms out there can help you along that journey, to facilitate your growth as an architect. Really start there and make sure that the practices that you are looking at, really do support the values that you're looking for and can respect you and your skills and pay you appropriately. Don't compromise. Don't lower your standards. Don't work for free, or any of that kind of stuff. So, really start at a high level. Set yourself for a high standard and go explore your options and then slowly, go from your A-list down to your B-list and do your best to retain as much of what you want, as possible, even in this kind of economic time. I think if anything, you don't want to start compromising your values this early on, in your career.
– Chi, does that apply to basically kind of starting behind the eight ball, as in certainly in a different sector, the higher education sector, I've seen that sometimes, if people don't start at the point where, they may wish to start, they basically, they've got a lot of ground to make up.
– They do.
– It's kind of a handicap, if you like, on them, in the racing sense, of their…
– Yeah, yeah.
– Payments and seniority and career progression, then it could have ongoing effects, throughout their entire career. Is that where you're coming from with that sentiment?
– It's coming from that and just, I think when we are in a difficult time, the GFC, COVID, people do tend to feel like they have to get desperate and then lower their pay, what they're asking for their pay. They lower what they're willing to accept, in terms of employment conditions. If everyone does that and we start to really, it's a bit of race to the gutter. So, it's both putting yourself in a strong position, so that you're not having every year, to then fight for a pay increase, because you were so low to start with. But also, just to set a benchmark for the whole industry.
The industry's led by what people are willing to accept in terms of their employment conditions. So if we all collectively set a high standard, it just puts the rest of us and the whole industry in a better footing. Then in terms of where your career is at, obviously there are a lot of students in this session and they haven't graduated yet, having a job while you're studying is always going to be really helpful, even if it is one day a week. That kind of experience does put you ahead, once you graduate, from those who don't have that work experience. Does that answer your question Naomi?
– [Naomi] Mm-hmm.
– I wonder, I mean I totally agree, Chi, with not participating in the race to the bottom, because really, that is a race that the whole industry has to kind of work to prevent. But I wonder if there's also something to be said for, I mean sometimes the perfect job, or the job in the kind of practice you want to go and work at, is not always available. There might well be a kind of, I suppose sometimes you can find opportunity in unexpected places and so I totally agree about not compromising on standards and not working for nothing and not being exploited, but is there also something to be said for keeping quite an open mind about where you might find opportunity and that a kind of practice or kind of employer, who wouldn't be the one you would go with in the ideal times. There may still well be things you can learn there.
– Yeah, absolutely. I think that goes with that understanding what kind of architect you want to be. Architecture's a long game, and there's many ways to get there. So, if for instance you think that you want to work on really large buildings and that's your ultimate goal, but the only practices that you have availability to are small, residential firms. There's nothing wrong with starting there, because, the lessons that you learn from working quite closely in a small firm, and kind of Bespoke detailing and really handling experience will then contribute and add to your kind of diversity and breadth of skills when you do decide to step up and you've got an opportunity to work for a larger firm. So, yes absolutely keep an open mind, but going back to the fundamentals, knowing what you want and what kind of architect you want to be and then figuring out what steps you need to take to get there, will really help you prioritise where you apply for positions and when those positions are unavailable, then when you go to your B-list, how does that B-list still align with your overall trajectory?
– Yeah and just to add to Chi's point there. In terms of kind of adding another string to your bow, like you touched on, it's good to get that experience in the smaller boutique residential, even if you do want to go into the larger projects. Again, in some of the larger firms, there may be other opportunities available, for instance, they may have a submissions coordinator, or maybe some sort of report writing type of role. Now again, that might not be exactly what you were aiming for, but if you gain experience in that type of firm, you're obviously learning about those projects. It might be in a slightly different capacity, but that's adding another string to your bow and then from that, you could then step into a slightly different role, or it could be a steppingstone to the position you were originally aiming for.
– I just saw an interesting comment from Linley Hindmarsh I think it was, that said, if she had her time again, she'd probably go work for a builder, in the down turn. I think that's a really interesting alternative to be open to, is that when you can't find a position in the industry that you're in, don't be afraid to look at complimentary industries, like building or project management, because, you'll still gain lots of valuable experience in those other industries that will help you become a better architect, when you do decide to come back to the profession, or when the opportunity presents itself.
– I think also sometimes those things, those sideway steps, might open up all kinds of other opportunity. I mean I think I graduated a year after Linley, as I recall and I worked at an architecture library, at the Architecture School Library for a while. There was no one for three years, that I know that got a job in practice. There were no jobs in practice. It wasn't like, you could work for a practice you didn't want to. There was just no work at all, anywhere. I'm sure had I not graduated into that time, I wouldn't have ended up being in the industry of architecture Australia. I mean, it kind of, sometimes the sidesteps you take, open up other kinds of opportunities. I mean I think there's, I'm kind of fascinated by how much you decide what you want and just go for it, and how much you, kind of glance sideways and see what might be there unexpectedly, and I think sometimes, that comes down to just different personality types, or different kinds of investment in a profession, I guess.
– Ryan, I wonder if you would like to take the question from Becky Williams. Becky, in fact, do you want to ask it?
– Yeah, I was just wondering, what you can expect to be paid? You talked a bit about making sure that you're not compromising on that. But what is reasonable, I guess? People don't really talk about it. So I'm curious to know. Thanks.
– Well, obviously to start with the award rates, you absolutely shouldn't be going below that and I mean most employers are good, honouring those award rates. Most. So I mean look, that is the benchmark. If you're a recent graduate and you've not got any professional experience, I think it is fine to go in at that entry level, at the award rate. You need to remain competitive, of course. So you don't want to be pricing yourself out of the market. So yeah, I think looking at the award rate, is really where I would be starting. Then if you have got professional practice experience, you can look at kind of I suppose adding to what your previous salary was, or looking at maybe other people at that level in the industry and what they're being paid. So, yeah. I think at that entry level, it tends to be all quite similar, from what we see.
– Can I just ask, especially the kind of younger people out there in the audience, do you know about the architect's award and are you aware that sets minimum rates? Can we have a little maybe a show of hands? I don't know how we do this, but, I suppose I'm constantly alarmed, to find people who don't know that there is an industrial mandated set award, that sets those minimum rates, that sets things to deal with overtime, that sets a whole lot of other stuff. I wonder if Chi or Ryan, you might just quickly, explain what the award is, to those of us, to those people who may not know.
– Ryan might be better to answer this one.
– So, I mean the Australian government have set award rates for I think, most professions anyway. That is legal government guidelines that outline the minimum for what people can be paid. You can just do a quick Google search and just type in architectural award rates, New South Wales, or Australia. There's a PDF there. It breaks it down very clearly in a table, into, are you a student, are you a graduate of architecture with a Masters, how many years experience you've got and then what the award rate is, for the level of experience you're at. So that is very clear and it is very accessible for everyone with just a quick Google search.
– Yep and the minimum wage, I think today there was an announcement that the minimum wage is going up. The award rates will go up in relation to that. It normally happens on the first of July. Because of COVID, that has been delayed. The architect's award is part of the Building and Construction Group and I think those increases will be put into place in November. The award rate is pretty low. It's not a high rate. It is so you absolutely should ensure that you are paid at or above that rate, whatever your level, whatever your circumstance, whatever your experience. Because it takes all of those things into account and it's illegal and employers can be fined and all the rest of it. There's new wage theft legislation coming out in Victoria. So I really would urge you all to understand the award, I mean Jess Hyde, has just made a comment about how in her experience, practice rarely follow, especially in relation to overtime and I think that's right. Practices are a bit slack about that. The only way that's going to change, is if there's pressure.
Somebody else has asked, who negotiates it and if the institute has a role in that. The award is negotiated by the Union, which is Professionals Australia, the Architects Division of that, for the employees. For the employers side, the ACA is the negotiating body on that. There's a special rate in there for students, which came about actually, I think years ago, because people in the ACA, own children were students of architecture and they realised that there was no rate for them. So it's quite well defined, for students and graduates up to registration, after that, there's no guidance at all, so.
– I wonder if we might go to--
– Sorry, I've just become obsessed about everyone knowing the awards. So go, Naomi.
– We're moving perhaps a little bit away from the award, although that is really important. Kat M has a question, but Kat's microphone isn't working, so the question is, "I was an international student and recent graduate. It's been really tough finding work in architecture in Australia. During my studies, I couldn't even secure an internship, lowering my chances of getting a job." There's a couple of other questions also about special advice for international students, who are in quite particular situations.
– Do either of you want to speak about that?
– Ryan, maybe it's worth talking through the Visa and the sponsorship scenarios?
– Yeah, that is a huge factor in employability. It can be difficult and quite costly for studios to sponsor people. So I think if you studied here, having a graduate Visa and then with that a pathway to permanent residency, is beneficial. If you are relying on an employer to sponsor you, it does sometimes make it slightly more difficult, as there are reluctancies from certain companies and as I said, it can be quite costly and it's quite the rigamarole, to go through that process as well. So I think yeah, in terms of actual, having a working Visa and ideally, an independent working Visa that isn't sponsorship, is a good start for that. Then again, if you've studied overseas, making sure that your degree has been recognised by the ACA, as well, is another big thing. I'm just making, yeah.
– Different organisation, the AACA, not the ACA.
– Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So obviously, different degrees and different parts of the world, equate to kind of different qualifications in Australia. So just making sure you've had that recognised and you understand where you sit, in terms of the Australian qualifications, as well.
– What about experience overseas, Ryan? Does that count, it's a question from Rutu Kothiwale. Sorry, that was probably mispronounced.
– Yeah, I mean, a lot of employers won't actually prefer people to hit the ground running, without an understanding of Australian building standards. However, at the same time, it really depends on the employer and every individual is different. I think some overseas experience, if somebody's got a beautiful portfolio and worked on some amazing projects overseas, I think it's very easy and very transferrable, you can apply a lot of that to a lot of the design work in Australia. So I think, Australia's a very multi-cultural country and there's a lot of people in the industry that have come from overseas and done extremely well and I don't see that as much of a hindrance. The first step can be the most difficult. But it's really important just to make sure that you've got your portfolio and your CV in order and looking as like a high quality publication, that the portfolio is really, really important, and you need to sort of lead with your strongest foot forward with the portfolio and the CV there.
– I wanted to come back to that question, Ryan, get really specific about what is a good portfolio and what is a portfolio which dooms itself, perhaps? But just before we do that, can I ask you Chi, there's a question from Lynne. Lynne, would you like to pose your question? Come off of mute and ask us the group.
– Okay, yeah, hi. Yeah, I just want to ask about what about more senior architects? I've been in architecture for over 20 years and was trying to get my registration through the experienced overseas practitioner, when I lost my job last year, essentially because, well basically I was more expensive than somebody who had less experience than me and there was a turn down in work. So yeah so, how does someone with a lot of experience, get back into the field, when they've essentially been edged out of the market?
– Yeah, that's a really good question. I think generally, taking even the age away for Tzannes in particular, we've always struggled to, I think with senior architects, they come with a lot of experience but also, a kind of certain culture that they've established for themselves. So we haven't had much luck in the past with hiring seniors and kind of injecting them into the company, mainly because we've got so many kind of ways of working, that that's always a challenge. So just generally, it is challenging for practices in general, to get a senior and inject them in at that high level. But I do think that if you've got the experience and the body of work there and even if you've had a period of time out of the industry, it's what you're willing to come back in at and at what level and whether the title's that important to you, or whether it's more important--
– Well no, I mean I've even tried for just drafting positions and responses I've got were, "This is an inappropriate position for you, because of your level of experience." I just wanted to be in the work force. I have no issue with what kind of work I'm doing. I've been through the whole gamut, over the years.
– In that case, were you asking for a particular pay range that was above that position?
– Not at all. I've even worked for minimum wage.
– Oh really? See I personally would feel very uncomfortable hiring you, at a lower role than you're capable of and that goes back to that compromise again. But I know you're wanting to get back into the work force, so that's easy for me to say, being on this side of the fence. My advice for you is, it is tough, I think you should look for, well what kind of work are you wanting to get into?
– Well I've been involved in basically educational, commercial, multi-residential, single residential, my specialty, when I lived in Canada, before moving to Australia, seven years ago, was education, but there's not a lot out there. So I have probably more commercial architecture experience. But I've even done heritage. It's really just being able to get back into the work force. Right now, I'm busy upskilling. I'm doing an access consultant, a cert four in access consulting, try to get into age care.
– Yeah, I think it's that tough position, because you are a senior and at your level of experience, you're not required to be on Revit producing.
– I'm highly experienced in Revit. In fact when I moved out here, I was in a very large firm of over 60 people and I was only one of two people who knew how to use Revit. I've been using Revit for over 10 years, so.
– Oh okay, all right, so.
– That's not an issue.
– You don't sound like you're not employable. I'm not understanding,
– No definitely.
– Why you're--
– I'm definitely employable, but there's just
– I mean, at the level
– nothing out there.
– that you want to get into, I--
– It doesn't even matter. I'm happy to go in at a junior level. But like I said before, when I applied for a junior position, they told me that I was too qualified, so.
– Yeah, I just think for job satisfaction, you taking a step backwards is probably not going to be good for you in the long run, even if you mean you're back in the work force. So, a lot of employers will probably be conscious of that, as well and not wanting to do you a disservice. It comes back to that--
– That sounds like a bit of an evasive answer, but.
– I know, but we've had people with a lot of experience, desperate to get back in and wanting to come back and do a graduate position and that just isn't fair. We wouldn't employ someone with your skill and pay you a graduate's wage, knowing that you could do much more than that. That in itself is wage theft and it's really unethical.
– So you feel that it's better for a person with a lot of experience to be unemployed, than take a lower position?
– No, I would prefer you try and find a position that can use your skills and whether, have you tried looking at maybe an alternative, like Justine was saying before, project management?
– Yep, I've even taken a property management course, to try to get a job in that.
– Well actually, Lynne, we really sympathise and what you're saying about re-training yourself sounds like exactly the right thing to do and in fact there's another question from Tess Tweeddale, which looks at a similar kind of question. Maybe, Ryan, we'll hold off on that question about folios and CVs and ask Tess Tweeddale to pose her question. Are you there, Tess? Maybe I can pose it.
– While we wait for Tess, I'll just say that, I think that issue of returning into the workforce, at a kind of more senior level, is one that we're very aware of as an issue, and I think we might run a separate session on. We are certainly planning a session with Kate Doyle of the AACA, looking at registration and those sort of experience practitioner pathways. So hopefully, Lynne, we'll be able to provide some more information and support in future events, as well. So thank you. Tess, are you there?
– We seem to have lost Tess. So well Tess' question is a very good one. So and it is that, "The repeat nature of down turns in architecture and the limited pathways to senior roles, particularly for women, would you suggest adding a second major in another field? I sometimes think that it would've been a good idea and something I would suggest to younger industry participants." What do you reckon?
– I think yeah, it can be very beneficial to add another string to your bow. I think in terms of some kind of patterns that we've seen in this down turn, the landscape and urban sectors, seem to have remained actually quite strong and a lot of the roles that we being still actively working on and a lot of the studios we've been hiring for are landscape and urban studios. So as an architect, if you have an interest in landscape or urban design, or anything similar, I think it could be worthwhile, doing an extra qualification in that. Or even trying to gain experience in a multi-disciplinary firm, where you can gain exposure to that. That kind of, to a degree can recession-proof your experience, in the sense that you become more flexible.
Now, going back to Chi's first point, I think you should always stick to what your passion is and I wouldn't just do that, for the sake of it. I would only do that if you do see yourself having a passion for urban design, or place making, or landscape. But yeah, if you've got an interest in that, I would absolutely encourage people to kind of diversify and broaden their experience.
– Ryan, I wonder how would you, going I suppose slightly back to Naomi's question about portfolio that we didn't end up with, is how would you recommend people, how can people kind of frame experience they've got in the sort of broader built environment, even in fields completely outside of it? I mean are there ways of kind of thinking about the kind of broad range of experience you have and how that might be productively brought to bear on the career in architecture, or landscape, or whatever? And how do you suggest that people do that, for example, in their CVs? Because you don't want to have that big gap, necessarily, but, you kind of have to make an argument for the connection and relevance and I wonder if there's something, some advice that you could offer there? How can we, and I know it often faces women who've got children. Like how on earth do you explain that spending two years bringing up their small child, has actually increased your skill level and not decreased it. But I think it's relevant in the kind of broader range of context.
– Yeah, well I think in terms of the CV, I think you've got to look at the CV and the portfolio together. I think a lot of, if you diversify, it's probably easier to actually display in the portfolio, as opposed to the CV. We always say with CVs, keep it very concise and succinct. Having pages and pages of the different projects and experience that you've worked on, is relevant, but at the same time, you've got to understand that, when you're sending a CV to a company director, it's an extremely busy person, that does not have time to look through the list of projects you've worked on, so. Maybe if you outline a list of sectors that you've worked on and maybe a few highlights.
Then in your portfolio, again, we see a lot of very successful portfolios, from very senior level people, that are actually just two or three pages long and they might just have a very nice spread of projects. So you might have some age care facilities, some commercial towers, some blue seat residential and it's just very succinct and to the point. So I think, yeah, I think showing diversity, very quickly, concise, succinct. It doesn't have to be spread across numerous pages. You can do that in a sleek and a sort of succinct way.
– I think also, this will take a bit more time, but, researching the firms that you're applying for and understanding what kind of work they do and what kind of presence they have in the industry and then tailoring your CV to align with that, often grabs our attention. Because when you're looking at so many CVs, if for instance, we do quite a diverse amount of work, but we don't do say, that much in hospitals, and all of your work has been in hospital work and we get a CV with just hospital images, it makes it, you kind of often wonder, "Well, why are they applying for us?" So what you need to do is, couple that with a very clear letter, as to what you understand we're about, why you think you'd add value to us and even though you've got hospital experience, you're great at documenting, you've got a great design, something that aligns with this practice that you're applying for and then in the front page of your portfolio, just a very quick summary of what your skillsets are that will cover, regardless of what industry this practice is in.
What are your Revit skills? What are your design skills? How many years of experience have you had? What kind of roles have you held? Are you a project architect? Are you able to run a project? Or if you're a graduate and been able to support certain projects.
So that letter and that cover page, is a very good snapshot for us to very quickly see how relevant your skills are to the position we might be thinking of filling. Then when it comes to the images of all the projects that you've got in there, also just a very short kind of bullet point, beautifully laid out, of course. Which says, what the project is, what it's value is, what your role was and kind of what you added to that project, gives us a really quick ability to run through all of your projects and see, well okay, these are all hospital projects. We don't do any hospitals. But we can see they ran this project. They understood the DA process, the documentation process, how to run it through construction and they're the skills that we actually really need for some of our other projects. So that helps us very quickly capture an understanding of why it is that you would be appropriate for us.
– Yeah, I think that's really well said, Chi. Certainly, I mean I've had quite a lot of experience in hiring people. Of course, it's all in the higher education sector. But, it's a kind of classic question, which you ask, is the first question in the interview, which is, "Why are you interested in this job?" But if someone asks you that, what they're actually saying is, "What do you know about us "and what would be good for us, in hiring you?" So if you say, "Oh, I really need a job." Or, "This looks like a cool office." Or, "I want to move to Melbourne." Or whatever. Wrong answer, because, you make it all about yourself, you really do yourself a disservice. It makes you look naive, apart from anything else.
Really, what you want to say is, "I know what you do and I'm interested in what you do. "I know what I do and I know how I can bring something to your organisation and really make a contribution which will be good for both of us." So, I mean it seems to me that seeing from the point of view of the employer, like what are they going to get out of this, is absolutely crucial in the CV, the letter, the interview, everything. What are you going to bring to them?
– But being genuine and honest, because the last, we can spot a sycophant anywhere. When you're interviewing 20 people and you get someone who says all the right things, but you know that it's not actually genuine, that comes across very quickly, as well. So make sure, and that comes back to my first point, be aligned with whoever it is that you are applying with and pick out the qualities that you like about them, that suit you and are reflected in who you are as a person. Often, that alignment is really powerful, when you interview someone. You can see very clearly that they are genuinely someone that can add value to your practice.
– [Naomi] Justine?
– Well I mean I entirely agree, I mean it's the same thing that we were talking about with Jess, in relation to how you negotiate conditions, is again, to always be thinking from the perspective of the person on the other side of the table. I think, I'd say that's a classic, isn't it, of just talking about yourself, instead of what you bring. So we were also naming, I'm quite interested in what other blunders people have seen, that you Chi and Ryan have seen, not as a way of sort of, belittling anybody, but as a way of I suppose warning people of some of the kind of classic things to avoid. So as well as what to do, what not to do and what kind of really honest advice do you wish you could've offered to people sometimes, in a de-identified way.
– I think the classic thing that we often see with young graduates, is overstating their experience and position. We understand that as a graduate, you have a certain level of experience, but what we're looking for is that you've got a base level of knowledge that we can work with and that you're willing to learn. The worst thing to do as a graduate, is to come in and say, "I worked on this project. I designed it, I delivered it and it was me." I think that really demonstrates a lot, or tells us a lot about you as a person and why we wouldn't be able to work with you. So be honest and don't be afraid to say, "Look, I don't have the experience, but I'm willing to learn and I was able to add value to my last project, by doing X, Y, Z and I got a lot out of that, and I think I'd be able to do the same here, in your practice." You don't have to know everything. We just want to find someone who has that base level of knowledge and is willing to learn.
– What about you, Ryan?
– Yeah, I mean obviously we get a lot of applications, CVs and portfolios. Aside from the obvious, making sure, I mean you see some spelling errors on titles and everything, which is always surprising. I mean, that is the basics that you really need to get right. But, also keep it professional. You sometimes see portfolios that maybe have got a lot of people taking selfies and things like that and pictures of themselves. Not a professional sort of head shot and things like that, as well, and we always kind of think, look, this is a professional portfolio, that is going to a potential employer. It needs to look professional. Also, if you're going to have an image of yourself in there, make sure that the image of yourself within that, is also a professional image, as well.
– Yes, we're not hiring models.
– The other--
– Oh, sorry, you go.
– Sorry, the other thing is, because you have to remember I guess, the person on the other side is reviewing quite a lot of CVs and you want to stand out. We are architects and we are a design-focused industry. So, just the simplicity of the way you lay out your CV, says a lot about your design eye and white space. There's a lot to be said about white space. Don't be afraid to have it. Prioritise the information. Putting only the relevant things. A short CV that grabs your attention, is far more effective than a really long CV, that after the 10th page, we don't want to keep looking. So be punchy and design it as if you're designing a space.
– Ryan, one of the things that Misty, your colleague, said to us a few weeks back, was that young graduates can often make a kind of classic error, which is that they put student work that they're very proud of and is often very beautiful, et cetera, et cetera. Which they might be solely responsible for, rather than their contribution in what might seem to be less visually spectacular, or perhaps even a little bit boring, bathroom details, or whatever. But that practices are actually interested in, what part they had in a larger practice, built outcome, or whatever. Do you have anything to add to that?
– Yeah, absolutely. I mean if the first five or six pages of the portfolio are all student projects from university, it may give the employer an impression that this is a recent graduate with no professional experience, whereas, if you reverse that and add, I'm not saying put all your professional works at the front and student works at the back. It could be mixed, as long as it's clear and laid out well. But, making sure that there is professional work near the front, so that a potential employer can see, "Oh, this person has actually worked in a studio environment." Like you said, even if it's not the most glamorous of work, it's still very relevant and it might not necessarily look amazing on the page, but it'll show a potential employer that you have worked in an office environment, you've gained some valuable experience and you've probably got sort of more professional maturity, than maybe someone that hasn't had that experience. So, it's more important to show that, for those reasons, really.
– Something else that I remember came up out of the AACA, research and education last year, was they asked, they did a survey and they had focus groups and they asked employers what characteristics or skills they particularly valued. It wasn't necessarily Revit. The thing that came out on top was, enthusiasm, willing to work as part of a team, some humility and just a sort of willingness and keenness to learn. So I thought that was quite heartening, actually, because there's quite a lot of, "Oh, students don't know enough", coming out of some sections of the profession. I thought that was a very nice balance, that actually simply, enthusiasm and engagement and a willingness to learn and a willingness to kind of muck in and do whatever's needed. I think it's always quite attractive, the sense that someone's just going to come in here and help and get involved and try and make you a... Again, it's that question of contributing, rather than taking, I suppose.
– We've got a lot of really good comments and observations in the chat. Nehchal Narula, is talking about research positions, whether that could be a good pathway. I would say, if you can get one of them, grab it with both hands. They're very, very hard to get hold of. A lot of support for your comment earlier, Chi, that you shouldn't compromise and that if you take a minimum wage job, it can take an awfully long time to climb that ladder. Kim Bazeley has a really good observation here. Kim, do you want to say that? Where are you Kim? I saw you a second ago. It's kind of an observation, more than a question.
– Yeah, it was. But, yeah I mean I've looked at, I used to do a lot of recruitment at BVN and it is really helpful to have a great survey and there's lots of senior people who are more than happy to help junior staff to look at their CV and give any feedback, just to help draw out. You really want to focus on what your skill set is. What is that you bring? What are your points of difference and what are your strengths? It can really help to talk to someone who's been in the industry for a while. So yeah, I know I've looked at a few younger staff CVs and when they've been going for work and I'm sure there's lots of people like me, that are happy to help with that stuff, so. Yeah, reach out to your network and if you don't have one, make one. That's probably the most important thing when you're looking for work, is just go to talks, go to events like this. Just make connections with people and have people that you can talk to and get advice from.
– Thanks Kim, that's really good. Hey Justine, I wanted to come back to some of the questions that you and I wanted to ask, because I think they're important. And we're running out of time. So, I wanted to ask the one about confidence, because something that is often only in short supply in students and also recent graduates, is sheer confidence. Even the willingness to ring up and try to make an appointment, or to perform really well in the interview. This is a really difficult question, because it doesn't have… the answer is different for everyone. But Chi and Ryan, what would you say about the importance of confidence and how people can build up their confidence?
– Oh Ryan you go.
– Yeah, go ahead.
– No, no you go.
– Well, as you said, it's very different, for different people. But I think one way of building up your confidence is, really trying to put yourself out of your comfort zone. So, if it is making phone calls, or calling a studio direct, if that makes you very nervous, I think sometimes the best thing to do, is actually just go on and do that. Because, once you've done something that makes you feel uncomfortable a few times, you will build up that confidence and probably realise that it's actually nowhere near as scary, as you think it is. We know that can be very difficult for people. But, it's a very important part of the job, being able to communicate with people. There's so much coordination involved and so much collaboration involved that, if your communication skills, if you're nervous about that, it is something that you do need to really actively focus on improving and taking the steps to do that.
– Yeah, I agree with that. I think Kim raised a good point is, coupled with what Ryan said, these kind of industry events are really good to build your confidence and to create, or make a network. These events, when they go back to being in-person, are really great, because it forces you to speak to others and hear other people's stories and you learn a lot from just listening and then encouraging yourself to talk, as well, about your own experience, is really kind of consolidates and I guess, clarifies what you want. That kind of practice is really great, so that when you do end up in an interview, you've got a lot of that confidence and that kind of certainty, in terms of what it is that you're looking for and knowing and having kind of clarity in your thinking and a focus and a passion for what you want, is also goes hand in hand with that confidence, and it makes it very attractive for an employer to want to have this person that not only is sure of themselves, but really knows where they want to go and how they'd be able to contribute to a practice.
– And Chi, would it be correct to say, that increasing your networks is a good idea, no matter where you are in your career? Whether you're--
– Absolutely, absolutely. Yep, and to Lynne's point, I wish I had a better answer for her. But these sorts of events are great, because you never know who you're going to meet and what other opportunities, pathways, or doorways, that might open for you.
– I suppose I'd like to put a little plug for us here, I mean what one of the core reasons that Parlour runs events, is obviously about giving people information. But the salons in particular, are really the main focus of those is bringing people together and trying to help build new networks. The online one we did the other day, where we split people into breakout rooms, quite randomly, was a really good way of people getting to know people they might never otherwise bump into. And we are doing another one of those in two weeks. So please do come along and again, they're really particularly aimed at trying to help build connections across generations, as well.
So, we're not the only answer, but we're part of it, so do try and keep coming to these things. I think the thing Naomi and I were talking about is that confidence, we don't all, the playing field isn't level here. Class background, cultural background, all of these things play into how confident one feels in the kind of architectural world and how that confidence kind of presents or not. We do know that the employment market isn't an even playing field and we've all heard and seen the research about, people with non-Anglo names, changing their names to English and Anglo name and getting a foot in the door much faster. So I guess I'm kind of interested to know, how prevalent you think this sort of way that bias plays out in architecture? I mean the research that I've seen isn't architecture-specific, but I've certainly heard anecdotally from people and I know this isn't an easy question to answer, but how prevalent is it and how do we navigate that?
– Yeah, I mean it is a difficult question. I think in architecture I would say, looking at it across a lot of the studios in Sydney, the big studios, the small studios, I think architecture does quite well, generally, to start with. If you look at, if you just go on one of the big studio's websites, BVN or Cox, or somewhere like that and just look at some of the directors. There'll be names and people from many different backgrounds on there. So, I think that is a testament to architecture, and particularly in Australia, where it's sort of very multi-cultural. I think changing your name and things like that, I think, it really shouldn't have to get to that.
I would like to think that times are changing, very rapidly. There's a massive focus on equality in the work place and I would like to think that people would stick to their guns and really just look at the way the industry's heading and just kind of, if it's a work place that doesn't accept you for your name, it's probably not the work place that you want to aim for, really.
– Yeah, I think that's very well said. I have to say, we don't really care what your name is. We're more interested in how talented you are. Also to the point of confidence, confidence is different for many different people. Confidence isn't always about being strong and loud. There's a quiet confidence that is just as appealing and attractive to an employer as another level of confidence. So, don't change your name, be yourself. Find your own voice, I think.
– Hey Justine, I wonder if we could take one last question from Mary Dewar.
– Mary, do you want to ask it?
– [Mary] I'll ask it, I won't put the video on, because there's a baby on my shoulder at the moment. It's just.
– Well we won't--
– [Mary] It's only a new one, but I'm thinking ahead to when I do re-enter the workplace. I was pretty fortunate in between babies, to have an employer who only needed someone part-time, but it's quite hard to find an employer who only needs someone part-time. So I just wonder if it's worthwhile, starting in a full-time role and seeing if you can do that initially and then trying to negotiate flexible hours, after you've established a presence in the work place, or if there's a way that you can make it appealing to be a flexible or part-time worker, from the offset?
– I think, these sorts of discussions.
– I'll just mute my toddler's coming in.
– Mary, I think that if you're able to have a chat to your partner and see whether you both can go to say four days a week, or share the load, that would be a really good first start. Because four days a week is still quite attractive to a lot of employers. I also think with the way COVID has happened and it's forced everyone to be quite flexible in the way that they're working, it would be interesting to see how the industry hopefully embraces flexible working, once we all get back into the office again and having that ability to do some days from home, might make it a bit easier for you, once you find some childcare to maybe do that balance. So, if you can, I'd really review how you'd want to be a mum with your child and whether you'd want to… if you're happy to go back full-time and lose that time, or whether you'd prefer to try and work it out and find a place that can facilitate you working part-time, when you do come back. I think we just lose enough time as it is. Why compromise if you don't have to?
– [Mary] Thank you.
– Thanks, Mary. Justine, we're almost, very close to being out of time. Do you want to wrap things up?
– Sure, well look I think once again, thank you, thank to Chi and Ryan. I think we've been doing little online claps, so should we do an online clap? I mean I think that's very, there was quite a wide ranging conversation. We've got lots more questions, but I think that's very valuable and I think, also, thanks to the audience, because I think it really helps to hear from people at different stages of their careers. I feel like this is a conversation that can go on and on and hopefully, we will be able to help facilitate some of that. Yeah, please do come to I think, please try and use Parlour to make connections and I guess, we'll think about how else we might be able to facilitate that, as well.
As I mentioned, we've got our next salon, I think it's going to be in early July, maybe the 2nd. I can't quite recall. But that I think will be very interesting one, so please come along to that. The last two weeks, I've told you that we're writing a survey. Well I'm still doing it. It's so close to being released. But eventually, that will be landing in your inbox. So please do take the time to do that. It's taken up a lot of my time. It shouldn't take too much of yours. But I think it will provide us with incredibly valuable data and Chi's been helping with that, as well. So thank you, Chi.
Lots of questions around flexible work and what, where people would like the profession to go. Naomi of course has also been helping and it will feed into her large research project on mutual wellbeing. So I think it will develop some very, very important data and the more people do it, the better that data will be. So please do. Anything else, Naomi?
– No, I mean I guess the only other thing to say, maybe just in closing, is that I suppose that this is a kind of difficult topic for some people, because we really do understand, that if people are in positions where they can't find work and it's been a long time, sometimes more than a year, or they're feeling pessimistic about what the possibilities for them are going to be, especially after a five year architectural training and sometimes vast amounts of experience, as well. That really is a tough position. So I guess, and it's all very well for us to say, we feel for you and we really sympathise, but for those people, try to be kind to yourselves, as well and really prioritise self-care, because it can be depressing, like frankly and literally, to not be able to find a job. So, we get that.
Do reach out to your networks, both professional and personal and recognise that you're going through a really tough time and that it's not your fault and that if you can manage to bring together the grit that Ryan was talking about earlier, and the perseverance, you will find a job. The chances are, ultimately, you will find a job, because the profession is in demand. So, "just keep on swimming", as they say.
– Yes, that's a very good place to end. Thank you, Naomi.
– My pleasure. Thank you very much, Chi. Thank you, Ryan. Thank you, everyone. Lovely to see you all, as usual.
– I will put those CPD questions up, after my next meeting. Sorry about that, everyone.