A DREAM POSITION with even the most admired architect could turn out to be a complete nightmare especially in a profession given to long hours, low pay, and, at times, difficult personalities. But job announcements and classifiedads generally don't traffic in such information.
As a young intern architect casting about for work in the late '90s, Stephen Simon found it was relatively easy to learn the basics about a firm, such as number of employees, past commissions, and principal biographies. When it came to the nitty-gritty, however, his searches were fruitless. "I wanted information on the firm's culture and what it offered a young person," says Simon. Unwilling to commit blindly to a job, in 2002 he created insidearch.org as a message board where people could discuss what it was like to work at particular firms. Realizing there was growing interest in the information being generated but that there needed to be a common measure for comparing firms, later that same year he introduced the 70-question survey that all firms in the site's database are rated on.
The site now lists about 1,300 firms across the country based on 3,200 individual survey responses. (According to the 2002 Census, there are 12,869 U.S. firms with more than two employees.) Each profiled firm is graded on nine criteria, including work environment, attitude toward interns, and management's interest in seeing employees grow as architects. Also included are respondent quotes about the firm and answers to questions about things like the firm's financial stability or interest in social issues. Forums allow users to carry on public conversations.
There are drawbacks, of course. A firm's rating can be based on the opinion of a single, potentially disgruntled, employee. But even if the data aren't statistically watertight, Simon is convinced of their value. "Ultimately," he says, "I think this information can positively affectthe market for architectural talent." If principals are upset with a low rating, Simon invites them to encourage employee participation in the ongoing survey, thus creating a more accurate assessment of their firm. "The site is helpful on both sides," he says. "If you're looking for a job, it can be very helpful in finding firms, but principals can also see what is important to employees."
Now happily employed at a San Francisco firm that he declines to name (to avoid the appearance of a connection with his website), Simon points out that "in other professions with mandatory internships, the professional organizationsmaintain these sorts of statistics themselves." Although this is not the case in architecture, until something else comes along, www.insidearch.org effectively fills the gap.