Volunteering is a great way to grow your professional network, according to NCARB Manager, Examination Development, Michelle Cohn, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C. “I know several people, myself included, who have turned volunteer positions into employment opportunities,” she says. In fact, Cohn served as a licensing advisor before joining NCARB last year. And don’t think you have to be licensed to get involved. In recent years, we’ve expanded the make-up of our committees by inviting interns and recently licensed architects to join the conversation.
You can also earn IDP credit for certain pro-bono work. Tutoring local students, lending a hand at a homeless shelter, and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity all count toward your leadership and service hours.
2. Join a Professional Organization
One of the best ways to meet new colleagues is by joining an organization like the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), American Institute of Architects (AIA), or National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). “I’ve found the AIA to be a tremendously valuable resource for professional development, as well as peer mentoring and continuing education,” says Perkins+Will Senior Associate Jon Penndorf, AIA, LEED AP BD+C.
3. Attend Industry Events and Conferences
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to attend the AIA National Convention each year for the past several years, and I’ve developed many good friendships from those events,” says Penndorf. “They are people from all over the country with whom I share common interests and, on occasion, have collaborated with professionally.”
Students can purchase heavily discounted tickets for events like AIA National, while museums and alumni associations often host free lecture series. Whether you attend a large conference or an intimate gathering, Cohn and Penndorf have a few pointers:
- Do your homework. Find out who will be attending the event beforehand and set a few goals for yourself. You don’t have to talk to everyone but should be open to making new connections.
- Don’t be a wallflower. The architecture world can be small, so every relationship counts. Cohn suggests starting small by volunteering at an event. “Checking names at the door might seem dull, but it’s a great way to connect names and faces for a later conversation,” she says.
- Bring business cards. This may seem obvious, but business cards are a quick and efficient way to exchange information. Plus, you can send a follow-up email or handwritten note afterward.
4. Leverage Social Media
Seventy-seven percent of organizations use social sites to recruit potential job candidates, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. “LinkedIn is a pretty amazing tool if used correctly,” says Penndorf. “I’ve definitely reached out to people via LinkedIn after meeting them [in-person] or being virtually introduced by a third party.”
The trick, he advises, is striking the right balance between being social and professional. Be sure to regularly update your profile, join relevant groups, and engage in meaningful dialogue. “Unless you are friends with someone, don’t send them a Facebook friend request or comment on all their Instagram photos,” he says.
5. Keep an Open Mind
At the end of the day, you’re in control of your career path. “Put yourself out there and try new things,” encourages Cohn. “You never know who you might meet!”