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Snagging Six Figures: From earning $52,000 in Architecture to …

The concept  ‘Snagging six figures’ was created after we had readers writing in asking for advice about how to use their degree and current job skills to launch into a different industry or career. We know that no one career story is the same, but telling the stories of others can challenge, inspire and shape your own. We are asking every interview the same five questions:

  • Why they picked their course 
  • Their course experience
  • Their first job 
  • What they learnt
  • Their next step
  • And their advice

Name: Jess

Age: 28

From Architecture into Commercial Construction Project Management

Salary: From $52,000 at 24 to $91,000 at 28


Why I picked the course?

I think like everyone that chooses architecture, I liked the build environment, I liked drawing, and I thought the course, ‘sounded interesting’.


The course experience

The university I went to focused on things that you probably won’t get exposed to in the workforce (unless you really ‘make it’ in the later end of your careers), like colour theory or form, shape and mass. By it’s design, our degree was really conceptual and theoretical. We were encouraged to get internships during the degree and that was the most ‘practical’ aspect to the course. In a really design focused degree, you aren’t drilled with the realities of construct and I think that’s one of the things my course didn’t equip me for. In the real world you are faced with constraint, after constraint, after constraint. There’s code. There’s council. There’s money. There’s constraints!

I think when you are picking a degree, the magic sweet spot is to pick somewhere in the middle between overly practical and overly theoretical or design-based. I do agree that you need to learn the critical thinking skills and the design thinking skills because those things are really important for you to grasp and create your foundation. But there still needs to be some practicality if you want to hit the ground running. You know, day one, you want a wall section? I’m on it.


My first job

So it’s this really weird feeling when you are studying such conceptual principles at university and developed your critical thinking, then you walk into an internship and you’re documenting the build of a stair. You have these huge expectations and you’re really quickly brought back down to earth. If I hadn’t done my internship, I think I would have been very unprepared for the workforce.

I remember in my first year of working, a lot of my architecture friends and I shared this feeling. When we talked about our jobs, we were like, “This is not what we did in school. This is not what architecture is. This is not what I want to do.” There’s the disappointment of not wanting to do the things that are asked of you, because you feel like you are paper pushing or designing tiny details, and you don’t view it as design.


What I learnt

I think to be a good architect, you have to be a lot more than a good designer. You have to be a good communicator. You have to be a good listener. Possibly most importantly for me, you have to be good at making other people’s problems your own, and then solving them. In the end, that’s what it’s like working with clients; if you like working with them and take ownership of the problems, that’s where the value comes in from their standpoint as the client.

I realised that we [as architecture grads] picked architecture because we like buildings and want to design stuff, but we really had no clue about all the different types and all the ranges of things that can be done within the profession. There are so many jobs, there are so many tasks, and there are so many roles that a person can play within the process of delivery of an architectural building.


My next step

In my job in health architecture, I was working with a lot of project managers and that’s what got me interested in commercial construction. I wouldn’t have even considered the job in high school, nor did I know what it was. Project management is about organising all of the moving parts of a build – from the client, to the architect, the engineer and then the actual tradespeople. You need to make sure a job gets done on time and to cost.

I applied for a job in junior project management and got it. Architecture is not a traditional way into commercial property project management so I needed to talk a lot about project management skills – rather than design skills. This was actually easy because as I said, architecture jobs are really about managing stakeholders 80% of the time. In the interview I talked a lot about the importance of efficiency and my experience with managing expectations from clients with the constraints of budgets and council. I read a lot of blog posts about commercial property and I read this opinion piece where a senior project manager had talked about how commercial property margins were made through efficiency and getting a project done on time; whereas in residential, margins were made on variations. I spoke about this indirectly in my interview.

I got the job and started on $80,000, then got a pay rise 12 months later.



My advice is not to look at design as a silo within a build, and you’ll feel more fulfilled in the role. Be informed about life outside your office. I think that everybody is becoming so specialised that there are not enough, “the jack of all trades” architects in the industry. And if you can become that, someone that can sell, work with clients, builders and also design – then you will find that passion that you went into your degree with initially.


The concept  ‘Snagging six figures’ was created after we had readers writing in asking for advice. Do you want to submit your story, or have a suggestion of someone you want featured? Email us:

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