Specialized architect or general?
A few weeks ago I read this post from Brijuni Arquitectos about the dilemma of a multidisciplinary architect or a specialist in the job market. It’s a post that I agree with and I wanted to contribute my own two sense by sharing my experience.
My activity in the labor market for architects has been spent in two different ways:
- As a headhunter. Companies and architecture firms ask me to find optimal candidates for specific employment opportunities.
- As a consultant. I help other architects find work in their sector.
Over the years I’ve worked with many different cases, and the decision between a specialist or a generalist always comes up.
1. What do they ask of me as a headhunter?
Almost always specialized profiles.
In reality, I think it’s normal given that companies call me when they are already looking for a complicated profile to find. To find a generalist architect, chances are that no one is going to call a headhunter. (There are a lot of generalists in Spain.)
Moreover, the tendency isn’t really to search out generalists. The usual is to search out the best in a certain field for specific jobs and concrete functions. These architects are normally the ones who are the most specialized.
About 90% of the processes that I’ve done follow this line.
I remember one case in particular where I was asked to find a specialist in something so specific that it ended up being incredibly difficult for me to even find candidates. I was only able to come up with two. The architect who was chosen in the end, landed a very interesting job with a great wage, despite having relatively little experience.
She had gone into depth with a very specific subject matter that coincided with a market necessity. She really hit the nail on the head.
2. My experience as an architectural consultant
When I work helping my colleagues find employment, I can explain more or less the same story.
Those who find jobs the quickest and those who end up with the best jobs tend to be those architects who have more of a specialist profile.
Is it possible to find work in Spain being a generalist architect? Of course it’s possible, it’s just more difficult (it’s more complicated to make yourself stand out) and the compensation tends to be less (that what is not common is valued higher).
Those who are generalists and multi-purpose are asked to have more to offer as far as micro-level studies go, which is precisely the organizational form which has the least amount of future in the profession. What’s more, micro studies that do prosper will also probably be those who end up specializing themselves the most.
What does it mean to be a specialized architect?
There is no definition for this.
We could talk about someone who is very specialized (for example an architect who knows about data analysis for commercial buildings) or someone who is more specialized in general (for example a hospital architect).
It could be architectural typology (schools, auditoriums), management methodology (Lean Construction, BIM Manager), technology (smart buildings, home automation), or specific functions (client relations, business development)…
There are many options. What is fundamentally important is that there is market demand for the specialization that you choose, and that it responds to the necessities of a big enough group of employers.
And, of course, specializing in one area doesn’t mean getting yourself another certificate or a master (which are options), but rather it means having knowledge and significant experience in a specific area and maintaining yourself up to date about this same topic.
You need to be up to date with your specialization and know how to use and apply it to resolve specific problems. In the end this is what potential employers will be interested in.
Specializing yourself in a particular area is going to help you if you are looking for work as an architect. It isn’t that you won’t be able to do it without it, but it will be more difficult.
It goes against the general understanding of the profession in our country and what we are taught in school, it even goes against what we sometimes like the most, but it works. I see it every day.
As always, in the end it’s a personal decision, but a specialization is at least worth considering.