I went to Belgium last summer for a short weekend trip to meet my parents who were travelling around Western Europe. On the first day, I brought them to Brugge and then to Gent, where I lived for six months on a student exchange program. It has been 5 years since I last went back, and the experience of living there is definitely one of the experiences I miss the most.
It is not so relevant now, but I wish to remember Alex’s and my experiences in looking for an architectural job in London during the recession. There was no special formula nor was it an amazing success, but writing about it reminds me about the positive attitudes to adopt and the negative thoughts to eliminate while walking down any future path. As Alex and I walked through it together every step of the way, it is safe to say that we share very similar opinions on this.
Firstly, it wasn’t easy. It was stressful. The period of staying at home with no fixed routine while waiting for positive responses in a city where we didn’t know anyone (at that time) led to a pretty mundane life fraught with frustration and arguments. The only positive aspect was that we were fortunate to have sufficient funds to rent a reasonably comfortable place to tide us through the entire jobhunting process. We believe that having a comfortable workplace was a prerequisite.
Alex and I were both not among the best students in our class, so simply sending out our university work as it was just wasn’t going to cut it. We laid out a few strategies and decided on those that suited us best. We considered just sending applications constantly without stopping, but decided being blindly persistent would not help us in the face of fierce competition. Therefore, we decided to spend an appropriate amount of time to refine our portfolio and skills first, so that our applications stand a better chance.
As the job of an architect requires us to have well-rounded knowledge, we also focused on exploring other work that could teach us skills we did not acquire in Architecture school. We continued to build our business, and tried to kickstart a few new projects, most of which never took off. That wasn’t important— what mattered was that we were able to understand our strengths and weaknesses better through the process, and we were able to use that knowledge to help prepare our pitches to potential employers.
In the end, it was pretty basic and straightforward. Patience and persistence were the fundamentals. Spending time and effort to look at what worked and what didn’t, and then testing out different methods to make them work better, were the substance. Rather than sending the same applications all the time, we did them in a few batches, constantly tweaking and modifying them. We figured we wouldn’t know exactly what works until we started hearing back from employers, so we didn’t wait till we got the “best” version.
It was reported that an advertised job at that time could attract 600-700 applications within a few days. A medium sized firm would receive an average of 50 speculative applications weekly. Therefore, showcasing our technical and design skills was the bare minimum. Our applications first needed to grab people’s attention to warrant a closer look and to avoid getting lost in the sea of applications.
After experimenting with different forms of applications, we finally started to receive some responses. Alex attended a few interviews and landed a job fairly quickly. For me, the responses were mixed. Many companies rejected me due to having no openings, but they replied with specific compliments to my application format. It gave me confidence that I was at least getting their attention. Shortly after that, interview offers started to came in as well. Many were unfortunately from companies which were also not hiring, but wanted to give me an interview in the optimistic hope that something would come up.
I knew I was in the right direction, and all I needed were patience and some luck. Attending the interviews also sharpened my presentation skills. In the end, an offer finally came from one of the companies who interviewed me a few weeks earlier, who had no vacancies at the time of interview.
Like many people, I have always came across many uncertainties. I hope our experiences can be a reminder for me to be confident to go after the things I believe in.
When my parents came, we did a day trip to Cambridge, about an hour there by train from London. I would expect the town to be quieter as it was the summer holidays. Contrary to my belief, it was even more crowded than usual with all the tourists. It was my fourth time visiting the traditional university town. The river was so packed with punts this time. I have done the punting tour a few years back, and at that time it was a very pleasurable and relaxing way to enjoy the sights of the majestic colleges from the river. But It lost its essence when the punts could hardly move.
In the morning before my family and I left for Cambridge, we went to Caravan King’s Cross for brunch with Alex and Xenia. Their visit in London for a friend’s wedding coincided with the dates my parents were here. We unfortunately arrived 30 minutes late because of the DLR train part closure, which, having been London residents for some time, should have anticipated and checked beforehand. That’s the London transport system: One interrupted service can make a great impact on the whole journey. We then had to take the bus and Tube with two changes throughout the journey.
The restaurant got really crowded with long queues about 30 minutes after we arrived. It is located in a former granary building, now occupied by the well-known Arts university Central Saint Martin’s. The area is part of the King’s Cross regeneration development area, set to be the new creative hub in Central London. It is also where Google will relocate their new UK headquarters. I can imagine this will be the next exciting spot in London.
During the time we were there, there was an art installation using Granary Buillding and the buildings around it as the canvas. Silver foil and sometimes paint stretches along the wallss of the historical buildings. The large geometric shape could be seen together from a specially constructed viewing platform across the road. I thought it was a simple but playful and thoughtful way to enliven the space.
Columbia Flower Market only opens on Sundays. Two Sundays ago was probably going to be the only day with lovely and sunny weather for that whole week, so I planned a trip there for some photographs.
Wandering around alone in London gave a different experience but could be rather difficult if i plan to have lunch in a crowded cafe with self service (which obviously, I did). The flowers at the Columbia Flower market were very fresh and cheap! The atmosphere was very lively with the sellers shouting out the prices. On normal days, the road looks very colourful with different and brightly-coloured shop frontages. Each store has their own distinctive style, and altogether they play a big part in defining the characteristic of the very lovely local neighbourhood.
This road is now one of my favourite spots in London.