Becoming a senior architect is usually a matter of both education and expertise, and is easiest achieved with significant planning. It is not usually possible to enter the field directly at the senior level, which means that you will need to be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort working your way up. Most senior architects have spent many years in junior levels before rising to the upper echelons. Charting your course early will not usually save time, but can make the journey to become a senior architect more predictable and, in turn, easier to visualize and achieve.
Pursuing formal education is usually the very first step you need to take in order to become a senior architect. You should plan to complete both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. The field you study at the undergraduate level is not usually crucial to career success, though programs in math, engineering, and civic planning are often the most useful. More critical education comes at the master’s degree level. With very few exceptions, you must hold a master’s of architecture or architectural science before you can be considered to become a senior architect.
Most master’s degree graduates begin their careers in low-level positions. The vast majority of senior architect training actually happens at the junior level, as architectural associates perfect and refine the skills they will need to someday be leaders in the field. Young architects must usually work their way up based on merit and success on a range of projects.
It is usually a good idea to choose your first job with your long-term career in mind. Switching tracks mid-career is almost always possible, but the most competitive candidates for senior positions usually have extensive portfolios in nuanced areas. For instance, if you hope to become a senior architect in charge of corporate buildings and downtown renovations, it is usually wise to look for jobs in urban firms. Such a firm may not be the best place for someone hoping to go into landscape design, however, or residential neighborhood planning.
Once you are established in a firm, do some research on the qualifications and credentials needed to be considered for promotion. Most of the time, promotion is not something that even becomes a possibility for at least a few years, but knowing the senior architect requirements can help you plan. A certain number of site hours may be needed, for example, or you may be expected to assume certain leadership positions in planning projects. Even if not required, seeking out leadership opportunities can help you showcase your skills, which may in turn make you a more competitive candidate to become a senor architect when positions open up.
Much of the hiring game in architecture is circumstantial. There are usually only a limited number of senior positions in any given firm. Jobs are sometimes created at the top when business is exceptionally good or when major projects require it, but this is uncommon. As such, it may not be possible to become a senior architect the moment your skills warrant the promotion. Some architects will look to switch firms at this point, often entering jobs with more prestige or more nuanced focus areas.