[Image by BUILD LLC]

In the last months we have reflected on the many resumes that would usually be arriving each day this time of year from current students seeking internships, and recent graduates seeking full-time positions at a small firm like ours. Because of the COVID-19 situation, design firms (like so many others) are operating under work-from-home orders, and with an uncertain future, few are in a position to hire, even for temporary summer internship positions. The prospects of design students and recent grads securing professional experience in the near future are dubious, which students clearly understand, as incoming resumes have slowed to a trickle. Soon, the online curriculums at design schools will wrap up the current school year, releasing tens of thousands of students into a marketplace that doesn’t exist for them. For students and soon-to-be graduates, this presents a troubling and daunting future; and as a firm that prides itself on a long-standing and regular internship program, this situation is no less disturbing. It also provides a challenge for thinking creatively, and we are ready to take on the mantle. If there is a single mindset to move forward with into these unprecedented times, it is to never let a good crisis go to waste*.

BUILD’s initial guidance for how to professionally navigate this crisis involves jumping ahead to the future: as we continue to wrestle with, and come to terms with COVID-19, design firms will re-establish collective operating patterns in one form or another. While working together in offices and studios may never look the same, there will once again be new jobs available for recent graduates and interns. Resumes will be sent and received, interviews will be conducted, and positions will be filled. While design grads and students compete for these positions, one thing is certain: employers are bound to ask how you weathered the quarantine, how you spent your time, and how you generally navigated this global situation. The question does not warrant a logistical answer, but one that illustrates how you problem solve and conduct yourself under challenging circumstances. Did you apply your creative analytical skills to the pandemic? Did you use this time to better your future professional prospects? Did you remain active and productive under the protocols of social distancing? Or did you sit on the couch eating Doritos and binge-watching your favorite Netflix shows?

The scarcest resource in a designer’s education is time, and very soon most students are going to have an uncomfortable abundance of it. So, we’ve organized our guidance into ten bullet points, all of which are aimed at putting this time to productive and favorable use. Keep in mind, this is BUILD’s list, and each firm probably has their own.

1. Get the portfolio updated. If there are unfinished projects or some needed fine-tuning of the graphics, now is the time to wash through the portfolio, bring it up to date, and get it looking sharp.

2. Thoroughly research the firms you want to apply to later. Follow them on social media channels. Know the projects to reference. Know who to approach for an interview. Read their blogs, listen to their podcasts, and understand what they are looking for in new hires and interns.

3. Take on a design competition. We’re not typically fans of architectural competitions, but these are A-typical times. If an architectural competition could bolster your portfolio, or put you in touch with a broader professional network, it may be worth the effort. Design competitions are also a great way to keep the design-mind active and nimble.

4. Supplement your education. Architects often regret not taking college-level courses in business, real estate development, photography, or whatever it may be for you personally. Online tools now give students (and anyone for that matter) access to this learning. The best part is, you can take a sincere interest in the material rather than being worried about cramming for tests and being graded. We like the courses offered through CreativeLIVE, as they are geared toward the creators and creatively-minded. When a resume comes through the door indicating that the candidate has educational experience in business or real estate development in addition to architecture, they go to the top of the stack.

5. Flex your design muscles as a response to the pandemic. Design a mask or a medical face shield. Design a backyard office pod. Even if the schemes aren’t realized, it shows that you are using design to solve timely and critical issues. Your education has positioned you to use design as an instrument to solve problems and it’s game time. Any of these designed objects would be an extremely powerful addition to a designer’s portfolio.

6. Help out. Figure out how you may be of assistance to your community (without putting yourself in harm’s way, of course). Deliver meals to hospitals. Make grocery runs for the elderly. Make masks. Not only do these proactive tasks help society beat COVID-19, but they provide an outstanding response when you’re asked about what you did during the pandemic.

7. Read all those books that designers are supposed to (but rarely do). You know, those books that you tell yourself you’ll read when you’ve finally got some down time. The books that professional architects, designers, and urban planners have been referring to since you first started paying attention to good design. Here’s a start to the books that will give you some serious horsepower in a design life:

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander
For An Architecture of Reality by Michael Benedikt
The Power of Limits by Gyorgy Doczi
Wabi Sabi by Leonard Koren
The Engineer Imagines by Peter Rice

8. Start a dialogue. Just because firms may not be hiring or interviewing doesn’t mean that you can’t start a dialogue with them. Social media makes this easier than ever, and provides a direct connection to your favorite architecture practices. Set up the relationship now so they know who you are when you approach them later.

9. ____________________. Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.—Bruce Mau

10. Devise a temporary professional plan B. While the quarantine will taper off at some point, many experts are predicting a second wave of infection, which will bring a second wave recession. The design professions are typically hard hit during recessions, and you should have a plan B in the event that architecture firms and design practices are not in a position to offer internships or entry level positions in the foreseeable future. We recommend a plan B that dovetails with the architecture profession, and maybe even bolsters it. Construction work is always a go-to, as the experience builds excellent knowledge for a career in design.

We know this time will be challenging for design students seeking internships, and maybe even a defining moment in the careers of soon-to-be graduates attempting to begin their careers. But rather than thinking of this period as a pause, or succumbing to paralysis, we propose taking full advantage of the time and bandwidth this situation offers. The years ahead will be extremely competitive for design practices, and they’ll need resourceful individuals who think on their feet and respond to challenges with creative problem solving. More, using this time constructively may be the exact ingredient that ignites your career before everyone else who is shopping their resume around town.

Cheers from team BUILD

*The phrase never let a good crisis go to waste is credited to a host of important people including Winston Churchill, Saul Alinsky, Rahm Emanuel, M. F. Weiner, and probably others.