Goal setting for a killer career in architecture

5 minute read

Building a career, rather than just a daily work obligation, requires finding a role that you love. And finding what you love calls for a bit of upfront vision: Where do you want to be in five, 10, 20 years? In what position do you picture yourself over the long term? What types of roles do you want to fill?

“Everything in life is design, including one’s career,” says Benjamin Kasdan, AIA, Director of Design at KTGY Architecture + Planning in Irvine, Calif. “The same imagination and planning effort put into every design project should apply to our careers, as well.”

Here are a few tips to help you set goals that get you to the career of your dreams.

Try everything.
Setting long-term career goals first requires a general idea of what you want to do. And that means spending some of your first months and years trying new things until you find the areas of practice you’re passionate about.

  • Push yourself. Ask to work on different projects outside of your existing portfolio, even if it means working extra hours. “You have to see opportunities and jump into them,” advises Nancy Ludwig, FAIA, President and Senior Principal at Boston-based Icon Architecture. “Take a look around—at more than just the project you’re working on but to everything that’s going on—and offer your services.”
  • Leverage your AXP hours. The experience hours that will give you the skills to become a licensed architect also will help you understand your strengths and where you want to use them. Where do you fit—Design? Project Management? Construction? Research? What kinds of projects interest you? What kind of team arrangements are ideal? Use this opportunity to explore different disciplines and practice areas.

Learn from others.
Goal setting doesn’t need to be an independent task, nor should it be. Lean on the experience and insights of others in the field for ideas and support.

  • Look to firm leadership. Most firms have an annual review process; if goal setting and long-term career planning aren’t a part of that discussion, ask if they can be. This ensures your manager and other firm leaders understand your long-term aspirations so they can direct work and training accordingly. “We have a standard line [at our firm]: We’re not going to tell you what you have to do. We will help you get there, but we need to know where you want to go,” says Ludwig.
  • Find your peer group. Along with meeting with your manager to discuss performance and goal setting, lean on and collaborate with a group of colleagues. “Mentors can help shape goals and provide feedback on achieving them, but meeting regularly with a mutually accountable group of peers in a similar point of their career(s) is perhaps the most effective way to stay on the right track,” says Kasdan.
  • Connect with your local AIA chapter. There’s an amazing community of local architects and future mentors at your disposal, plus education events, lectures, volunteer projects, and other ways to get involved and gain exposure to different areas of practice. Not a member? See if you’re eligible for a free new grad membership!

Get started now.
Creating long-term objectives, and weighing the milestones required to achieve them, can feel overwhelming. Careful upfront planning can help keep you from getting tripped up.

  • Write your goals thoughtfully. UC Berkeley recommends expressing your goals in a positive format, rather than in terms of what you don’t want. It also suggests writing goals that are realistic and attainable, that are within your control to achieve.
  • Break goals into steps. Career objectives, from getting licensed to presenting at a conference to running your own practice, can be overwhelming. Work backward and set manageable goals and sub-goals to create incremental, achievable building blocks along the way. Set reasonable timelines and deadlines for each of those smaller steps. This process ensures you stay on track, helps you determine all the prerequisites and tools you’ll need along the way, gives you smaller victories to celebrate, and makes each overall mission less overwhelming.

Consider getting licensed, which is one of the first goals for many young designers. Kasdan set out to pass an ARE section every six to eight weeks to achieve his goal of getting licensed within three years of graduation. “There were definitely some setbacks along the way, but my yearning to be an actual architect kept me going.”

No matter what, don’t let the concept of goal setting overwhelm you. “Be flexible,” Kasdan advises. “Goals are important tools to help guide your professional growth, but life is full of surprises. Try to embrace the changes and enjoy the process.”

Another way to be better prepared is to take advantage of AIA’s networking events, endless resources, education, and more. Learn more about free AIA membership options for recent graduates here.