An Interview with Stephen Drew in Involved Magazine

On December 2020, Involved Magazine interviewed Stephen Drew about the Architecture Social and how to find a job in the industry here: https://involvedmag.com/an-interview-with-stephen-drew/

Here is the interview in full, enjoy!

As someone who works in recruitment and with young people through Architecture Social, do you see an increase in architectural employment soon?

So basically, in terms of recruitment slang, the architecture industry is called the job market or ‘the market’ for short. So the market was very busy between 2012 till 2020 until February. When the coronavirus crept into the UK, it had a massive knock-on effect. So to paint a picture, I lead the architectural team at Macdonald and Company. We deal with every different sector of the built environment. In terms of the architectural team, we had no roles, we had nothing to work on and I was put on furlough. What happened in January, February, March, is that all the rules evaporated. There was no written book with how to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. Because you could argue that, economically, this is one of the greatest recessions since 200 years and we are still in it now. We’re not out of it by a long mile. In essence, everything dried up, now things are better. I’ve returned to work. 

The architectural market has suffered. However, there is a pent up demand. If there are more lockdowns, we just have to keep powering through. Whereas I think in the first lockdown, and a lot of businesses were like ‘we’ll deal with this, we’ll see what happens’. But now we have to continue with architecture. I think that what we dealt with in January, February, March, and that effect, has diminished. I suspect it will happen in January, February, March, April of 2021. The other thing to bear in mind as well is that it’s Christmas soon. So everyone wants to go home to their families. No one wants to deal with this until then.

For those practices who are indeed looking for employees right now? What specific types of employees are they looking for? In particular Architectural Assistants.

you have to be your own recruitment consultant

Okay, a really good example was that in terms of recruitment, last week, I was brought on board to find an information manager for a digital software consultancy, which focuses on BIM. Now, a Part 1 [Architectural Assistant] doesn’t have experience in the industry. So when someone is hiring for Part 1 it’s about [finding] someone with raw talent, who is saying, ‘I don’t know much but I have good skills, I’ve worked hard, and I want to apply that to your business’. So you don’t need a recruitment consultant for that, far from it. That’s the important distinction to make. My job is to find tricky requirements for a business when they’re struggling with finding that right person or finding the person for a role.

I never needed to find a Part one. Maybe sometimes a Part two, when a company is busy, but there’s thousands of applications of good people right now. Actually, the reality is, there are no roles for an architectural assistant part one or part two, with recruitment consultants right now, because of the way the business works around recruitment consultancy. So you have to be your own recruitment consultant, you have to be the person who is in charge of their own career, you have to apply for yourself. If you rely on other people right now in recruitment zones, if you are a part one, part two, then you’re gonna struggle.

Are there other sectors in the built environment, graduates should look to for employment?

So first of all, I think that if you’ve studied architecture that you should, by and large, always push to work in architecture. I worked for three years and knocked off nearly four years in architectural practice, did my part one and part two, then I chose to do something different. I chose to go into recruitment but what was important about that is that I think in architecture, the skills you learn are so valuable, right? It’s helped me in terms of recruitment, to become the head of architecture, to become a director, to become an expert in what I do and I put that all down to do in the industry. 

What I would encourage people to do though, is before looking for other careers, I will encourage people to work at least two to three years, [in the architectural profession] if you can. Now, the caveat is if you can, understanding it’s difficult right now. It’s really helpful to work in the industry, so that you have comparisons and experiences to draw onto. 

On the other hand, if you’re struggling right now, there are other things you can do is work in the construction industry, working on the building site is a really good example. Maybe work in doing mock up floor plans for estate agents in a local area. Maybe as you said like setting up an architectural journal, the magazine INVOLVED is incredibly empowering. I think the more your creative juices are going, the better you’re going to be, the more things you’re going to say in an interview, no one wants to know that you’ve been on Netflix for a year while you’ve been applying for a year, looking for a job. It should be like, ‘okay, it’s been a bit tough right now but I’ve also set up a magazine, I’ve been speaking to people in my community, I helped out with the NHS when they were struggling’. All real examples, real world examples are going to carry a lot of weight. 

I completely understand. It is frustrating. But remember, you can work in an interior design company? Have you thought of looking into the local council? Have you thought about doing a little bit of freelancing on the side? Have you thought about doing a bit of marketing? Have you thought about writing? a bit of journalism? Maybe you don’t have to set up the magazine, maybe you don’t have to set up a new enterprise, but maybe you do a guest entry, maybe write a journal piece to this magazine, talking about how frustrating the time period is right now. You just have to keep going, because all that stuff when you get into the interview is going to seem so much more impressive than doing nothing. Look I am far from perfect, so all this comes from personal experience. I’m not saying I did all right. Oh my gosh, I’ve made so many mistakes along the years. Think about it as my pearls of wisdom based upon my own personal mistakes.

Should graduates send out speculative applications?

I sent, in my Part 1, 900 CVs in three days.

YES. hundred million per cent.You totally need to apply to companies that do no post jobs. The reason why is because half the time people in businesses don’t post jobs. Think about it from a business perspective. Why do I even want to advertise? If I’ve got people in my inbox, ready to interview? So you have to be that person there. This is not a time to be precious. Be picky if you have a few offers on the table. In my part one, I sent 900 CVs in three days. I had 10 – 15 interviews, one said yes, and this was during the last global recession in 2009. I went to the RIBA website, and I sent my CV to everyone. I had one yes and it was EPR architects

So the same thing can be echoed here. How many CVS did you send today? Is it five? Is it ten? You should be sending like 50 to 100 a day. Most people will say when you’re a student, you need to pick three or four companies that you really love and write a custom beautiful letter to them. Then hopefully, they’ll invite you for an interview but that’s not always how the real world works. If you love Fosters or Heatherwicks, whatever practice it is, then you write that custom letter. For everyone else, you write a generic one, which is suitable for the most. Then when you get a response from someone, you then customize it around them. Right now you need to be going out to the market and sending your CVs everywhere. 

If you are not sending your CV to a lot of places, and if you are waiting for job boards, I don’t blame you, because no one teaches you how to do this. But listen to me now, you are doing this wrong, and you need to change the formula, try out the way that worked for me. Not getting any results is going to make you upset about architecture, it’s going to make you feel unvalued when there’s so many good skills you have. Why be picky before you’ve gone further down the process. You don’t even know what it’s like to work there yet. A quick tip for anyone is to go to the RIBA’s website, download the PDF called ’the list 20’. 

Anyone reading this, do not blame yourself and do not think you’re a failure. Job search is about the right place at the right time and maximizing opportunities.

Are there any common pitfalls or mistakes you’ve seen in applications?

There’s no right way to go about it. It’s very important, you make a very good first impression. The things I would challenge are, is a CV legible? Is the font clear? Can it be printed in grayscale? does it say all your experience, do you say how many years worth of Revit you use? Do you say all the relevant stuff? Do you talk about your predicted grades, do you put a reference on there? Do you put your contact details, so it’s very easy to contact you?

Also spell check because honestly, the amount of people who do not spell check their CVs is hilarious and look, I’ve been there as well. However, when you spend hours on this beautiful crafted CV that you’ve created, you forget to look at it because you’re so consumed into it. So look, please do a spell check or ask someone else to read it. Someone else will read it and be like, “What the hell are you talking about?” And then you’ll go, “Holy moly, I didn’t even see it” because you were reading it, but you weren’t reading. You were kind of scanning it with your design brain switched on. Also make sure that the CV and portfolio can be downloaded easily. Make sure it’s not pixelated. 

Tell us of course about the Architecture Social! What role does it play right now and what are the future aims for it?

It kind of evolves as I go. The Architecture Social was born out of furlough. I used to be a Part 1 and a Part 2. I remember how awful it felt as a part one, going into the global recession looking for a job, it was this kind of scary feeling. I hated it. There was no better time than being on furlough to set something up. The goal was to help people to get a bit more confidence. I’m not a qualified, CPD therapist, or what else but what I can do is I can draw upon my experience. Also, what I wanted to do was to make this community. I wanted to look at a way to maybe catalog the thoughts that I had about how to go about getting jobs. 

You have really good little bits everywhere you have your magazine but I was not aware of it. You have other people doing really well like Sana and :scale but I was not aware of all the stuff she does. You have Nylda with The Architectural Experiment too. That’s why I did the Architecture Social. When I was on furlough, I mean it wasn’t fantastic. In terms of what I was doing in terms of recruitment, we were incredibly busy and overnight things closed. It’s the same with architects, I can imagine it felt awful. It was just nice to set something up. I love to help, especially the younger generation, it’s really important. It’s also good to make connections. 

I needed something during that time period, because being on furlough is very lonely. I’m grateful that I did it and that I’ve met so many people from it. Where it goes in the future, is that now I’m back working in my job as well. It’s so good to speak to employers for the strategic roles, advising on businesses, finding I.T managers, BIM managers, finding project leaders, finding project architects, finding these roles. I love the social because if I work with these companies, then I’ll help them find part one, some part two or three, which is great for graduates, but while we’re not there just yet. What has been a great resource is anyone that is currently looking, or wants to talk or use, can do as much or as little as you want. Hopefully it provides a little bit of relief for everyone during an awful time. Anyone’s welcome from the architectural industry. That’s the whole point, spreading awareness, spreading comfort, getting involved, having a giggle or sometimes shedding a tear, maybe? Just being there for each other. It’s a community. 

For anyone reading this, you have to remember that this is an opportunity for you to rise above it and remember that it’s difficult for everyone. But if you go above and beyond, especially in a job search, mixing it up, using my formula. Sometimes it’s the way forward. The way out is through. Sending 30 CVS before pandemic you might get a job, now we gotta do 1000. Try it guys. Hopefully that’s helpful.

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