The top 10% to 20% of architects earn over $100,000 per year, so how do you get yourself into that top bracket?
How do you make a six-figure sum as an architect?
Being in the top income bracket takes a mixture of perseverance, effort, and a plan to succeed. Others do it, and so can you.
You can do several things to reach this financial goal while working as a salaried employee – both Design Architect and Project Architect.
(This post, however, does not cover running your own firm as a licensed architect.)
1. Have a Plan
It is extremely rare for things to just happen for anyone. It takes hard work, strategic planning, and energy to become an overnight success.
Your employers are not going to manage your career for you – that is your job.
You are the one who needs to work out which firms to work for to gain a variety of useful experience and know what those experiences will do to move you closer to your dream salary.
Set your goals and time frames and keep checking in that you are on target to success. Treat your career as your most important project and manage it ruthlessly.
2. Continuing Professional Development
CPD is not a box you tick, but a way of life – if earning a six-figure salary is your goal.
You need to stay at the top of your game and demonstrate that you stay current and up to date with your core skills and acquire useful new ones. That also means seeking out and acquiring qualifications and accreditations.
Invest in yourself and your development.
Every year the universities spit out a fresh cohort of bright young architects – to compete with them, polish your skills and experience so you shine brighter and offer more.
3. Be the Expert
Some people have this vague idea that it is best to be generally good at everything.
But no one asks a generally “good” person to interview on a topic – they ask the expert. You have a collection of skills, and some of those skills attract the big bucks, and you enjoy the work.
Identify what you are best at and get better. Don’t bother trying to be generally good at everything when you can be a rock star in some areas.
When it comes to moving up the salary scale, you need to offer expertise and not just be good at your chosen skills, but the professional who other architects call for help.
Consider these skills to be the hero elements in your resume. Make sure you market your expertise, write articles, tweet, and don’t hide your light.
4. Show Leadership
The one skill every employer looks for is leadership. They are not always clear what they mean by leadership, but that is the skill they want and will pay top dollar.
When it comes to promotion, the apparent leaders get the tap on the shoulder and the invitation to interview.
On the plus side, leadership is a skill that you can learn and exhibit without ever getting the label leader stuck on you. Besides honing your architecture skills, study leadership as one of those non-formal skills that progress you up the career ladder.
The thing to remember about leaders is that they need to have followers. Trying to tell people what to do rarely works successfully; instead, practice the art of persuasion.
When issuing instructions to team members, make sure they are detailed and well thought out.
When others shy away from difficult tasks, you step up to the plate.
5. Own It
Whatever project you work on or role you play, own your part and reach for more responsibility by taking charge. Commit yourself to get a project delivered by obviously investing yourself in its success.
By committing to delivery, you increase the level of trust your employer and colleagues have in you; when you say you will do something, you move mountains to get it done and move things forward.
That does not mean working stupid hours or stepping on toes but performing as the best team member to have.
6. Be Friendly
It helps if you get on with other people to get your job done, including building a rapport with your firm’s clients, contractors, consultants, colleagues, and officials.
People do business with people, and there is that old saying about catching flies by being sweet instead of sour. Being friendly and approachable is the best communication style you can cultivate.
It won’t hurt your career if the firm’s top client always drops by your desk for a quick chat while on the premises. Invest in your relationships with the people you meet through work.
It costs you very little and builds you a supportive network invested in your success.
It is easier to cultivate a friendly, warm persona to everyone you meet through work rather than switching it on for the important people. If you are going to be friendly, you need to be genuine because everyone can spot a faker, which is far worse than being standoffish.
7. Get the License
It takes work, time, and money to gain your architect’s License, but it is also the key to unlocking that six-figure salary. It also opens a range of alternative projects and employers that you can’t access without it.
Start working on getting your License as soon as you get your first architecture job and focus on achieving it as quickly and efficiently as you can because licensed architects earn more and can be partners in a firm.
The sad truth is most architects are not licensed – not for lack of academic qualifications, but by not making getting licensed the primary focus early in their career.
As you progress in career and life, you take on more commitments; passing the Architect Registration Exam becomes an increasingly uphill task in an already-difficult challenge.
8. Be LEED-Accredited
The construction industry is driving towards green and sustainable architecture – a fact that is only going to become increasingly prevalent.
Industry-relevant accreditations help you stand out from the competition and open doors.
As an architect, being LEED-accredited (source) puts you in the driver’s seat to command a salary higher than your peers with comparable experience.
Now is the ideal time to get yourself LEED-accredited if you have not already done so.
9. Become a Partner
The best-paid architects in the firm are the partners. As part of your career plan, include becoming a firm partner as one of your goals.
You may intend to start your own firm later in your career, but attaining a partnership status in the current firm allows you to gain relevant experience of running a business while sharing responsibilities and risks.
10. Stretch Yourself – Take on Complex Projects
To get more, you need to reach higher. That means demonstrating your skills and gaining more experience by volunteering for more complicated and challenging projects.
It is tempting to stay in your comfort zone with projects you know you can easily complete, but that does not move you upwards.
More complex projects give you more visibility, more experience, a better portfolio, and more salary in a shorter time frame.
11. Complete Projects
When it comes to employability, which is more useful to a firm?
The architect who helicopters in and out of projects or the one that does the full cycle?
The ability to service the entire life cycle of a project from concept to completion is invaluable. It shows you are reliable, hard-working, and committed to your projects. In other words, you are the best kind of architect and the one worth that six-figure salary.
When it comes to meeting your career goals, you will need to move jobs, but getting whole project experiences as part of your portfolio shows you have staying power.
12. City Rich, Country Poor
The amount you get paid depends on your location.
There are plenty of reasons for this – the higher cost of living in cities, more jobs, and competition for skilled employees.
Plus, cities and countries having a push on redevelopment and construction provide better-paying jobs. If you want to earn the big salary track where the money is – if you are happy to move for the job.
Consider employment in an emerging market economy where architecture firms and construction companies are willing to pay high salaries to skilled professionals.
If you are working for the only architect in town, there is nowhere for you to go and little incentive for the firm to offer you a high salary.
13. Language Skills
Being able to speak another language fluently can open doors that otherwise remain closed.
English is a common language in many countries, but not all. By not having a second language, you are cutting yourself off from some lucrative markets.
It would be best to balance the effort it takes to learn another language with the potential rewards. If you are not interested in working in a non-English speaking country, then invest the time in learning another skill that improves your earning potential.
Suppose your firm does not prohibit you from taking on freelance work. In that case, you can do some additional work alongside your salaried role as a way of earning extra money and seeing what other jobs are available.
You can embrace the freelance world and only work as a freelance contractor for a couple of years or life. This lifestyle allows you to earn more per contract and experience many different working environments.
A successful freelancer can earn that coveted six-figure sum and think of all the useful contacts you make and the place you can visit in your working life.
The freelance world (and freelance platforms for architects) helps you create a stunning portfolio and learn all those practical business skills you need if you intend to set up your own firm or earn a partnership with a larger firm.
Freelancing is not for everyone, but those who don’t mind dealing with uncertainty and are willing to go out to pitch for clients can build a higher income.
15. Work for the Big Boys
If you are motivated by the highest salary potential, you need to seek more prominent construction companies. The bigger the company, the higher the profit margins, and they are willing to pay higher salaries.
There are some smaller niche construction companies with higher profit margins, but it can be challenging to get information about them.
If you want a six-figure salary, you need to work for the companies that pay their architects those salary levels. That means doing your research on the types of employers architects work for and targeting the more prominent construction companies with your resume and networking.
16. Choose Your Career
Some roles naturally pay more than others. A project director for a real estate developer earns more than a humble designer.
When you are planning your career, you can focus on moving into alternative career roles for architects that attract higher remuneration.
When you start, it is worth reaching out to architects who have the role you think meets your needs. Ask them about their experiences and portfolios, as this gives you a practical insight into how to shape your resume to land your dream job.
Generally, getting your License tilts the odds in your favor, but other components help build your career.
When it comes to landing lucrative opportunities, there is a lot of truth behind the saying that who you know counts more than what you know.
That does not mean you need to be born with all the right connections, most people are not, but it does mean you need to reach out and make connections – professional connections.
Although you can build an impressive social media network, you still need to shake hands and share a cup of coffee with interesting and potentially useful people.
Go to professional events, training, and join clubs. Potential clients and employers are everywhere, and you increase your chances of getting advance notice of opportunities by improving your connections.
18. Bring in Clients
Architects who attract clients to their firm make more money – a mixture of increased salary and commission.
It makes sense to reward employees who increase business profits. Most firms have arrangements for introducing clients, so practice your pitching skills.
You may not have the License now to take on the project on your own, but the commission from introducing clients may be more than enough to nudge you into the six-figure income bracket.
19. Be a Great Communicator
Communication skills are one of those soft skills that the best architects acquire. It looks as if it is a natural characteristic, but most architects (who want to succeed) take time to improve their communication skills.
Being able to persuade and encourage other people to support you is how you achieve your career goals. From being good at interviews to building a rapport with clients, excellent communication skills promote your progress towards your dream role.
20. Deliver Quality – Always
Whatever you are working on, whoever you are working for – do a good job.
Although you need to plan and work to increase your income, the cornerstone of success is doing a good job. It is that commitment to delivering quality that gets you noticed, recommended, promoted, recruited, and an excellent reference.
When you know that you deliver the best work you can, you build confidence in yourself and inspire it in other people. Your boss trusts you with the best clients, and your co-workers want to be on your team.
If you are committed to earning a six-figure salary as an architect, then consistently deliver quality work.
The architect’s salary is a hotly debated topic among budding and working architects – always will be.
A reasonably-experienced architect can make in the region of $60k-$80k per year. But breaking into the six-figure salary bracket is tough – made more challenging when the focus lies solely on the money itself.
However, the tips above highlight areas where you can increase the odds in your favor depending on your circumstances.
You don’t have to be born lucky to get the magic six-figure sum; you need to create the condition for you to seem lucky.
But you will know you earned it.