Does starting your own business hurt your chances of being hired?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Does starting your own business hurt your chances of being hired?

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    Jonathan Smith, RLA

    I graduated from the University of Idaho in 2008 and, as there were few firms hiring at that point, started a design/build business. Meanwhile, I have applied for every position I can find, that I qualify for, since then.  All the while, my business is growing.

    My question is:  Am I hurting my chances of eventually being hired if I own my own business?  Will employers avoid me because they don’t want to train their next competitor?

    I never envisioned myself as a business owner (though it seems to be working out alright) and through school, always anticipated working for someone else.

    I don’t mind working for myself, but having never learned from working for someone else, there is a huge knowledge gap that school doesn’t prepare you for

    Jonathan Smith, RLA

    If you wouldn’t mind explaining where you come from, Russell, then maybe I can get a better perspective on your answer. For your perspective, I’m in my early thirties, have a family and ambition to succeed that has more to do with working on the type of projects that have the potential to leave the world a little better when I’m done. Idealistic? Yes, but it the same reason I pursued education earlier in life.

    The market I now work in is small and the work I do is relegated to small residential design/build projects. With little room to move up the food chain.

    Adding to this is the tremendous knowledge gap that exists when you jump in with both feet directly after graduating. I had little choice in this matter, though, as no firms were hiring and I wanted to pursue a career track that included landscape design.

    I want to know if owning my own business will hurt my chances of being hired because then I can down play the “owning my own business part” and act as though I simply designed and installed landscape projects to get by while the market was slow (which, in fact, is the truth).

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    “… I can down play the “owning my own business part” and act as though I simply designed and installed landscape projects to get by while the market was slow (which, in fact, is the truth).”

    I think that if you do that you’ll be OK. It is going to be such a shake up to the norm in hiring policy when this all shakes out. Depending how it goes, the on-site management might be the most valuable commodity because it might be the hardest experience to find …. maybe in established offices, too..

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Oh come on. The guy wants to design landscapes at a higher level than he can ever hope to living in the small town that he currently lives in. Yes, it is possible that he could have a wonderful life landscaping within that context. Clearly, this is not what he wants to do. He wants to work in a market where there is a lot more opportunity to express his creativity and the budget to see his plans realized.

    That will not happen where he is if he were one of the leading LA’s from one of the most prestigious firms in the world in the community that he lives and works in. I know because I actually was the “gardener” for the wealthiest person in that town (care to guess, Jon?).

    He won’t be able to pack up his portfolio of built work and move to a bigger town and take away work from other people working that higher market based upon that portfolio and resume. He will lose those jobs to the established companies who have been working that market AND to the startups who got their feet in the door working for those other established firms already working at that level. All Jon wants to do is be one of that latter group to break into a market that is nearly impossible to climb into without already being connected to it.

    Once at that level, the portfolio is geographically portable to some extent. A portfolio from a lower market is not portable to a higher market. It just isn’t.

    You can walk in the door of a firm and instantly work in the market that took them years to develop and walk out a few years later established in that market. You can not do that based on potential. You might as well stand on a corner with a “will work for food” sign slung around your neck. No one hires an LA, a designer, or a contractor for a high end project based on potential. There is way to much to lose. They will take experience over potential every time.

    If Jon truly wants to work that higher end design market, he has to ride the elevator and that means working for someone else for a period of time who is already in that market . It might not be fun. It might not pay great. It might take a while to have a position open. But, he won’t get there doing foundation plantings on $200k houses until he gets a big break. The only teacher he’ll have is himself. The only opportunities will be based on what he’s already done.

    If he just wants to make a living he can work at Patty’s Place stuffing burritos and have a reasonably decent life. If he truly wants to design landscapes at a high level, he needs to get a foot in the door.

    Landscape architecture is not going to disappear from the planet unless all development stops. There will always be some people building fine homes and other structures who want and will pay for what we call landscape architecture. There may be more of them, or there may be less of them, but they will be there.

    Those of you who are against the human drive for riches need to get a grip. Without wealthy people our opportunities are extremely limited. Recovery of our profession starts with people accumulating wealth.

    Derick Langel

    Jon, I am in the same boat …maybe many of us are, with the difference that i do not feel my business is taking off and probably much older…, I get projects here and there, so for me both points of view are very valid, no need to get all fired up fellow LA’s; there is nothing greater than to be your own boss, but also working on million dollar projects + is very rewarding…, in the end , I believe it has to do with your personality, if you are the corporate team player or the free spirit…, again, I have done both, and enjoyed both and for me it is harder to decide for other reasons (I have two cultures background, am an Architect in Costa Rica as well, but have two kids and need to put food on the table), and have tried partnerships or other ventures and have not fully worked out.Right now I would take a position with a firm. Definitely my two cents for you Jon is to keep doing what you are doing, especially if it is working out, you are getting experience and getting cash flow at the same time and learning more field experience, you would be surprised how much project management you will keep learning , even if they are “small” projects, and show on your Resume what you are doing,why shows character, if getting a job is what you want keep searching, someone will appreciate you are a designer but also had a shovel in your hands and managed field personnel…, it is better than showing a gap, or worse, not being shortlisted for a position because you are down playing your biz but they can find you online,website…etc…as an established biz.That is what I am doing, and it is hard to tell what has been the determining factor in not getting shortlisted in positions in the USA, ; since I seem to be luckier with overseas offers… maybe that is something that is good for you, for some time and then come back to your biz. Whatever you do don’t let yourself get rusty…get LEED certified, learn or practice your 3D stuff, learn more irrigation, keep yourself up to date with autoCAD, tutorials, etc…, things you can talk about in your next interview or tools that will help your biz grow even more, being more productive… good luck man.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    No need for name calling in a civil discussion.

    I never said that he is not capable of doing high end design. The essence of what I said is without a track record of having already done high end design either on his own or while working with/for someone else, he is extremely unlikely to be considered for high end work let alone getting those jobs. Even if no one takes the time to directly mentor him the way that you did, he will be in a position to see and hear a lot of things that he would not while working in his own home. He will have examples of plan work and built work of high end jobs which he can show and also can point to the fact that he worked with company X. That will get him consideration to interview for some higher end design contracts that a few pictures of $10,000 back yards in subdivisions will not.

    The word “teacher” may not be the best, but he would only have himself and his existing circumstances to learn from. A person can learn a lot by being in situations without anyone taking the time to directly teach him. No one hires anyone and sticks him in a closet and accepts the work without review and correction no matter if it is cadmonkey work or more complicated work. You can not function in a job without learning something because they need you to be functional in the way that they go about their business. Observation from inside is quite a learning experience in itself.

    I learned a lot in an office where the other LA’s were anything but mentoring. They taught me nothing about design. I did learn a lot about sales and how to turn prospects into clients. I observed how their system worked for their situation (and later that their system did not work at all in other situations). I went in as a person only with a degree. I left as a person who worked for X and had some built work examples to back it up. Having worked for them definitely got me through doors that were not open to me before despite the fact that I was there for a very short time. I got in there because they paid very little and demanded 60 hours a week (intern exploiters?). The next door I got through was only because I had worked with that well known company. I definitely elevated my marketability as an employee because of it., although it did suck.

    My question for you is whether your trainee would have been able to get his foot into the door to land the jobs that he got simply based on his drawing skills or did it help that he had a portfolio of built work and/or a resume showing that he had involvement on higher end projects working with you or others?

    Will Richardson

    I’m slitting my wrists here…


    Jonathan, life is a journey take the opportunities given and enjoy then. Believe me I did not start out to be a business owner when I graduated from college, however here I am thirty two years later and twenty three of that the owner of a firm. After all of that, I am looking for the next opportunity the next change. As to weather you’ll spoil your job prospects by doing your own thing. I believe that you have made your self more valuable because you are learning the lessons of management which few young landscape architects get exposed. There are employees and employers which do you want to be that is the decision that you have to make for you future.

    As to the employers who make life miserable for their charges, shame on them. For those who endure such conditions for fame or fortune, shame on them. There are a number of great places to work, even in a recession. It may not be in your home town, but they are out there. This is my third recession, each one was going to be the end of life as we knew it, this one will pass as well. The only question is what are you doing to get ready for the next one and how will things be better for you and your family.

    Will Richardson

    By the way, What’s up Jon? More power to ya for starting your own business, I can’t see it doing anything but helping you. You can choose to utilize or downplay that experience as much as you wish when it comes to finding a job elsewhere. However, I would think the management and one on one time with clients would be something that employers value.

    I did just think however that if you are planning on keeping your business at the same time as working for another firm, make sure there is not a conflict of interest. That might hurt you when you are looking for another job.

    Cliff See

    hmmm.. for me, your 2014 predictions may not be realistic (for USA…

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