I wanted to be an artist, but my parents said I had to get a “real degree”. So instead of art school, I went to architecture school.

I think of those days as a creative boot camp, where artistic vision and design skills got you top marks. I graduated, got my first job….and discovered architecture firms operate under a completely different set of priorities. School taught us to be creative, but not how to succeed in a creative career.

A young girl with astonished expression with a cupcake on table in front of her as she looks at someone offscreen. Photo by Nathan Bingle on Unsplash

I figured it out fast, but it would have been nice if someone had warned me ahead of time.

If you want a successful architecture career, there are four things you should know.

1. Your Life Will Be Ruled by Timesheets

Remember staying up all night to finish your studio project? Guess what — we don’t pull all-nighters in the office.

You'll work during office hours and finish by the deadline. You’ll be told exactly how many hours you have to finish a project task and you’ll write down every one of those hours on an architectural timesheet.

Reba McEntire squinting menacingly and suspiciously at you as she taps a pencil in her hand thoughtfully.

Late submitting your timesheet? Accounting will make you regret it.

If you need more time, speak up! Your supervisor is responsible for the team staying under the total budgeted hours.


Janice, the project architect, gave you 20 hours to draw a roof detail. You're not familiar with the drawing software and you're struggling. What should you do?

2. The Number One Threat is Being Sued

Construction projects can be worth millions of dollars. Architects get sued all the time, sometimes years after a project is finished. Every drawing, document, letter, or email you send is potential evidence in a contract dispute or legal action.

Joe Biden at a press conference saying,

Don't say anything on behalf of your firm, unless you have permission.

Your Little Black Book

Every architect carries a notebook (or tablet) to write down:

  • ideas and sketches

  • conversations or calls

  • field notes

  • meeting minutes

  • contact info

Your notes might be important if the firm gets sued.

3. The Only Way To Become a Partner Is to Get New Clients

Being good at your job is not enough. To earn promotions or open your own firm, you have to be great at getting new projects.

Sure, you're a junior, but start impressing clients now. Show them you're someone they want to work with.

Simon Cowell nodding, impressed, at an America's Got Talent contestant as the audience applauds behind him.

When you meet a client:

  • Say hi — explain what you're doing on their project.

  • Be professional — don't say negative things about the firm, coworkers, other clients, or ex-employers.

  • Be a problem solver — always present solutions along with the problems.

  • Be responsive — answer their emails/voicemails right away.

4. Junior Staff Don't Get to Design (Much)

A cat standing on its hind legs outside a window straining to look above window sill at the person inside. Photo by Bing Han on Unsplash

Everyone wants to do the fun stuff. Senior staff aren’t picking on you — there are some good reasons why you’re not given the juicy design work:

  • It involves meeting with the client — you're too junior to be trusted with that.

  • It must be buildable — experienced staff can sketch ideas they know can be constructed to meet budget and codes.

  • Senior staff are faster — less than a third of project hours are for design, so experienced designers are first in line.

Take Action

Work with the priorities of architectural firms and you'll be ready to launch your successful design career!

Aa man in silouette against the rising sun with arms spread rise as if greeting the dawn. Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

Here's what you can do:


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