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Sydney, Australia
Una arquitecto en construcción de un nuevo proyecto de vida...

jueves, 17 de mayo de 2012

Blog’s 2nd birthday

Kids-fall-photography-second-birthday-003This is a really short post. It’s just to acknowledge that my blog has been online for two years now.

Two years that have brought a lot and have taken away a lot too. With several ups and downs; with happy moments and not so happy ones; with lots of news and changes, but the most important thing, two years of sharing with all of you all my anecdotes in this path that is migrating to Australia.

Finally, I’m writing from my new and gorgeous home: Sydney!!!

This is what I wrote last year, and I think I’ve accomplished every aim I set myself with this blog. From now on, my only goal is to keep writing about the settling process and about life here, in order to keep helping people who want to address this exciting adventure.


Finding a job!!! – Part II

Ok…. in my last post I talked about how I found a job, well, actually started writing about it, but I never finished it, so this is the second and last part on how I found my full time job.


4.- The interview:

The day of the interview arrived, Thursday 3 May. I had prepared everything during the previous days. I also went to the place where the interview was a couple of days before just to know for sure where it was so I wasn’t going to be late.

That morning, Ale, a friend, went to my place and helped me with lunch (bought sushi and brought it home hehehe), talked with me in English for me to be a bit more fluent, and came with me to the place of my interview. We arrived at Central at 2pm (my interview was at 3), and sat until 2:35 in a nearby coffee shop, talked for a while and had a chamomile (for the nervousness).

I arrived at 2:45 at the Dean’s Unit (always show up for an interview 15 min before, not more than that), sat for 5 minutes there until the Head of School, Heather, came out, introduced herself and invited me to follow her. While walking she said: “We will have about 30 minutes to talk”… Meaning: the interview was going to last half an hour.

We arrived at a conference room, where three other people were: the Director of the program in Urban Planning, the Director of the research centre “Centre for Contemporary Design Practices” and one leading Senior Lecturer. I sat down and the interview formally started.

They went directly to the point, so the questions were really focused on their selection criteria. What did they ask me (you could use them and relate them to your own work field after some “adaptations") and what did I answer (a tiny summary of the answer) – remember that all the answers are CLOSELY related to the job ad and the selection criteria:

1.- Tell me three strengths you have and how can they relate to the Urban Planning Program? What can you bring to the program?

I am flexible enough to adapt to different multidisciplinary backgrounds and to work with different projects and assignments at the same time.

Since I am a non-English background lecturer I can relate with the needs of non-English background students, and help them understand more easily the subjects we are discussing.

I am really organised and a good planner, which is appropriate in lecturing and researching when trying to achieve goals such as publications.

2.- Tell me about a time you had a problem working in a multidisciplinary team; and what do you think is the greatest challenge in working in multidisciplinary teams?

I described a STAR response:

Situation: In my last job in a participatory design meeting a social worker was encouraging the community to make more demands, creating a disruption in the design process.

Task: I had to control the situation, neutralise the social worker and make the participatory design process to continue smoothly.

Action: I assigned one of the team member to continuo with the design process. I took aside the social worker, explained to him what we were doing and how he could work with us, which he fully understood.

Result: After the quick discussion the social worker apologised, got in track with what we were doing and collaborated with all. In the end, we successfully finalised the participatory design process, in which both the community and the technical teams were happy with the proposed house. [always a happy and positive ending].

In conclusion the most challenging thing about working in multidisciplinary teams is for each member to fully understand what the other professionals are doing in the project.

3.- Do you have a specific research area and focus? Because I see here in your resume that you are finalising Psychology.

For this answer I asked if I could tell a bit about myself and my professional development because it related to my research focus. (Always ask for feedback)… they said “ok, of course”, and they I started telling on how since my master I always cared about designing for people, and after that working in a research with environmental psychologists and how that was vital for me to define my working interest. So, I studied psychology to get a better understanding on the processes relating the human being and their built environment.

Since all that, my research interest is the relationship between culture and cultural expressions and the built environment, specially the public space.

4.- Tell me about you teaching approach and what do you think it is the challenge in teaching nowadays?

My teaching approach is student-centred… and the challenge nowadays is to jump from a traditional approach where the teacher is the expert to an more equalitarian education where every person in the class contribute to the learning experience.

5.- When are you finalising your PhD?

In the last trimester of this year. [btw, I have to work HARD to achieve that, but now I just HAVE to, and I WILL].

6.- If you were the chosen candidate, when would you be able to start?

I am currently available, so I could start whenever it suits the institution.


After that they asked me if I had any questions, and that my friends is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE INTERVIEW. Why? Because there you can not only show that you’re interested to get to know more about the position, but also it’s the opportunity to demonstrate what you researched about the company / university.

In my case I asked three questions:

  1. I read on your website that you have three postgraduate courses and that in two of them you have sustainability, urban design and planning theories courses. Is the lecturer position related to any of those subjects?
  2. I also got to know that you have several research centres in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Building. Would the chosen candidate be able to affiliate to any of those centres? How does research work here at UTS regarding that?
  3. What are the next steps in the selection process?

To the last question they answered they were going to take a few days to review their notes from the interview process and the reference letters.

The interview lasted for 20 minutes in total. So I left happy about it, but with just one thing on my mind: they didn’t like me so it ended really quickly or they were dazzled by me and they didn’t need more time to make up their mind to hire me.

5.- The call:

The next morning at 8 am, I wrote an email to Heather to thank her and the panel for the interview… and at 8:30 I got a call on my mobile that I couldn’t get at the time…. As soon as I could, I listened to the voice message (it was Heather) and I called her back right away.

She said: “Hi Gabriela, I am calling regarding your interview yesterday. We thought it was really great and we are quite impressed with your teaching experience and your research background, so we’d like to offer you the job”.

As you can imagine I started jumping of happiness all over the unit!!!!!

We talked for a few minutes and arranged a meeting the following Wednesday. 

6.- The contract and beginning to work:uts logo

This week HR sent to me by email and post my contract package. So I  am officially contracted by UTS as a Lecturer in Urban Planning… well, actually I’m still in the process of it, filling out all the forms and getting to understand about UniSuper (which manages academic staff’s superannuation).

I’m starting late June, so I have enough time to prepare for classes, which start in August.

Despite that, I already had a work meeting with Heather and next week I’m going to attend as a juror to the pre-final presentation of “Group Project A: Urban Renewals” (one of the courses I’m teaching next semester). I’m really looking forward to that.

And as you imagine: I’m really excited and happy about my new job.

To finalise this post, I’d like to make a balance of this three months here and the things I said I should have already done by now:

  • Start the skillmax course: started, finished it and found it really helpfull.

  • Elaborate my portfolio: also did it… I finished it for my UTS interview (because they asked for professional practice experience), and didn’t use it. However, I don’t regret one bit investing time in this task.

  • Work on my thesis: haven’t done that jet… but going to start really soon… at most Monday next week…. full steam ahead!!!

  • Look and apply for jobs on a daily bases: didn’t do that either… Instead I focused on giving the best of me in my tutorial at UNSW and in applying the best I could for jobs that fit me.

  • Look for a place to move: did that!!! I have to write the post about it. However I’ll give you a little glance of that… I live a lot closer to the city, where I can ride a bike almost everywhere (I will ride to go to UTS), and I live with the most amazing czech girl.

  • Socialise with my friends here: ok… doing that!!!! hahahahaha…. every time I can.

  • Buy some things for when I move: did that… thankfully my roomie had lots of stuff so I didn’t have much to buy.

  • Go to yoga classes: did that, but right now I’m waiting to start at UTS, because the have a Fitness Centre (right across the street from my office) that offers yoga classes, and that have really good prices.

That’s it for now…. it’s been a really long post so far Winking smile… hope you enjoyed it.


jueves, 10 de mayo de 2012

Finding a job!!! – Part I

i got a jobWell, after 82 days (almost 3 months), six job applications and one interview:


Now… a friend just asked me last week, before my interview, if I thought I have invested my time properly in the job seeking issue, and my answer at that time was: I’ll tell you after I know whether I got this job or not.

As you can imagine, now my answer is: Ok, yes, I think I’ve invested my time properly regarding the job search.

You may think, that was luck!!! And it may be a little bit of that involved, but I’ll tell you what happened and how I did it.

1.- Looking ahead in time:

As I told you in a previous post, networking is an important factor in the job search process in Australia, so, last year even prior I had my visa, I took the opportunity to come here and let myself to be known in my discipline. If you don’t have such an opportunity, well, create it yourselves. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

From that I got my first casual job (local experience) and one of my referees.

So (again) networking works!!!!!! Be on top of that!!!!

2.- Applying for jobs:

I’m not going to talk about how to look for a job and how to apply for them, because there are too many blogs and forums that provide that information in a very detailed way. However I’m going to lay out some tips about it while letting you know my personal experience.

As I said before, I only applied in total for 6 jobs. The first two was as an Urban Designer in the City of Sydney. One of them was a little bit out of my league, and the other one was perfect (I applied the second day I was here). However, when applying for Local Government job (as well as other institutions such as universities) besides from the cover letter and the resume, you have to address the “Selection Criteria”.

What is that? what is the selection criteria? Well, the institutional ads are quite longer than private industry ones, because the have to give an extensive description of the position and the selection criteria they are going to use to select the chosen candidate. For that you have to write (sometimes also in an extensive way) why and how you have each one of the criteria they ask for.

So, in the City of Sydney application I didn’t know how extensive that had to be, so, after finishing the Skillmax course (for more info read: Skillmax and finding a place to live), I look at that application and I wouldn’t have hired me either. Why? The resume wasn’t completely in the Aussie way, the cover letter didn’t EXACTLY address what they were asking for, and the selection criteria document I sent, well, I’m not even commenting on that. So, bottom line: the Skillmax course does help!!!

The third job I applied was also PERFECT for me: it was a a Lecturer in Urban Planning in UTS. It was the perfect fit for me. A 2,5 years contract, doing exactly what I did in Venezuela: teaching Planning Theories and Urban Planning Studio (workshops), researching, and occasionally external consulting. For that I applied EVERYTHING I had learnt so far in the Skillmax course (we had just finished with resumes and cover letters), and addressed a lot better the selection criteria, not really great, but at least a lot better. That was on the 23 March.

Then in the 2nd and 3rd weeks of April, I applied for 4 jobs: one of Project Architect, one of Interior Designer, one of Revit Documenter and one of Interior Design documenter. The two latter were basic jobs, but I still applied, and the other two were alright, not perfect, not even close, but alright. Well, for those applications I took under consideration everything I learnt in the Skillmax course, however, no responses yet.

Regarding architectural related jobs:

  • It’s not that easy… not impossible, but definitely not easy.
  • Recruiters don’t usually work with people that have no local experience, so it’s better to do some cold canvasing or to try to get in touch with other working architects (networking once again)
  • Bring your portfolio done when you come to Australia
  • Learn how to use Revit (a program)… 80% of positions require it!!!
  • Start researching and learning about the BCAs (Building Codes of Australia). This depending on what you want to do as an architect.

In general the moral of this part of the story is: apply for different jobs, even if they are not the perfect fit for you, but also you have to look for a job that says “YOU” all over the ad and really make a huge effort in that application. Remember: the resume gets you the interview, not the job… but you HAVE to get the interview first.

3.- Getting an email / call + preparing for the interview:

Of the 6 jobs I applied, I only got one positive response: I was contacted by UTS via email (Tuesday two weeks ago) to attend the 3 May (Thursday last week) an interview at the Dean’s Unit. That same day they contacted me, the Head of School, Heather, contacted via email all my referees asking for some references.

From that day on (for a bit more than a week) I only did one thing: PREPARE FOR THE INTERVIEW.

How to do that (what I did regarding UTS):

  1. Research about the selection process. From that I knew it was only going to be ONE interview, and that it had to be minimum of half an hour.
  2. Research about the company. In my case, I read EVERYTHING on the website about UTS; about the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building; about the School of Built Environment (where the position was); about the programs and courses they offered; about how I could fit into those courses; about the staff that worked there…. EVERYTHING!!!
  3. Prepare a list of possible questions they may ask you… and write the answers to them. In this case I had a list of 30 questions, from which the first 10 were related to the selection criteria. In the answers always give examples, and if they are behavioural questions (they assume past behaviour predicts future actions) use the S.T.A.R method: Situation – Task – Action – Result… and the result always MUST be a positive one.
  4. Prepare a list of possible question you may ask. This is even more important than the previous point, because it shows your interest in the position and in the company.
  5. Role-play the interview with a friend. I thank Yoshkar a great time for doing this for me. I emailed him the position description, the selection criteria, my entire application and the 30 questions (without the answers), and we spent all Saturday afternoon practising and revising some important tips about the interview process, such as during the interview it’s good to ask for feedback (f.e.: “Did I answer your question?” “Is it ok this level of details or do you want me to discuss this a bit further?” “Would it be ok if I give an example on that area?”).
  6. Prepare your portfolio. This is not only for architects: it is highly recommended for you to bring to the interview a nice folder with the job ad, your resume, well the entire application) and some examples of your work. In architecture this grows by adding your professional portfolio. I must say I did this, but I didn’t use it at all. However, I don’t regret spending a long time in this, because it helped me prepare a bit more, and helped me feel a bit calmer during the interview.
  7. Prepare what you’re going to wear: not a silly thing. You have to be dressed properly. So think about it and don’t leave it to the last day, just in case. (Thanks Tocaya)
  8. Try to speak only (or mostly) in English the days prior to the interview… and most of all the actual day of the interview… Try not to speak in your mother tongue that day.


Now, this post is getting too long, so I’ll leave this first part until here. For the next post (coming really soon), I’ll describe the rest of the process, from the interview until now.