Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 12 of 12

Thread: To become a generalist or specialist? Quant person weak at soft skills. Anyone?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Sep 2009
    Location
    NY
    Posts
    61

    To become a generalist or specialist? Quant person weak at soft skills. Anyone?

    I always have this question, but never really get it resolved: for a entry-level job seeker, is being a specialist in a better position than a generalist?

    Now this question is more urgent than it ever was to me. I'm a second year MUP student, and trying to figure out how to spend this year before I graduate. I'm mostly a quant person, good at handling data (stats and econometrics that kinda stuff), GIS, economic/financial analysis and transportation modeling. And I'm comfortable, actually pretty good at technical writing. But when it comes to regulations and law, politics, participatory planning, people managing, negotiation, etc. I am WEAK.

    Ironically, I was approached by an HR of a bank on LinkedIn the other day. He considered my profile a good fit for their quantitative strategy analyst position and would like to talk to me if I'm interested. Considering the gloomy job market, I said yes to him. But I really want to get my first job in planning, not finance.

    Anyone share(d) similar concerns/situations?

  2. #2
    Member
    Registered
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Washington, DC and New Jersey
    Posts
    2

    Take the job

    Take the job. The market sucks right now and it's always better to have a job while you're looking for one. Take the job and be grateful.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Dec 2006
    Location
    midwest
    Posts
    2,802
    If you want to work as a planner, you need people skills, moreso than writing, research, or design.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Sep 2009
    Location
    NY
    Posts
    61
    Quote Originally posted by eclisham View post
    Take the job. The market sucks right now and it's always better to have a job while you're looking for one. Take the job and be grateful.
    Thank you eclisham. I will prepare well for the interview and try to get this job first.

    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    If you want to work as a planner, you need people skills, moreso than writing, research, or design.
    Thank you for the insight, NR. I'm not 100% sure what exactly the people skills a planner need are. My understanding now is that planners need to be a good mediator, resolving conflicts and negotiating with different parties (developer, politician, residents, business owners, architects/designers, etc...) And a planner should probably be a good public speaker and moderator of meetings?

    And is there a way to tell if I have the potential to do well in those regards? I mean I never actually mediate anything..

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Oct 2007
    Location
    San Diego, CA
    Posts
    771
    Schmid,

    Maybe, but not more than other things. I've never hired anybody for their "people skills" alone or primarily.. yes, one looks for them as part of the package of course, but when looking for team members, firms and agencies look for highly qualified professionals, with skills and experience - whether urban design, land-use and zoning, environmental, resource planning, GIS, outreach and facilitation (yes, outreach skills are actually a professional skill, and have very little to do with "people skills") whatever, not "people skills" per se. Frankly, if I'm looking at your resume in a big pile, if I can't figure out which of those skills you're a specialist in a few seconds I stop looking. Neither I nor any of my colleagues who are in hiring positions have ever hired a non-specialist, even if that's we advertise for. Specialists with broad skills beyond their specialty are the best but broadness without specialty is a deal killer.

    My suggestion is find a way to start to develop into a specialist... preferably in some aspect of planning practice you're passionate about, even while making sure that you build a core of the full range of competencies planners need. These days, specialists generally are the ones who get hired and who keep their jobs. Otherwise you're just one in a very big and growing crowd.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 02 Oct 2011 at 2:03 PM.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Dec 2006
    Location
    midwest
    Posts
    2,802
    I'll rephrase, compared to other professions, related or not, that use transferable skills such as quantitative reasoning, technical writing, design/illustration, etc. people skills are a much bigger part of our job as a whole. We are in the business of shaping communities one way or another and our interactions with public (residents, appointed/elected officials) is what separates us apart from the quantitative-heavy work of a chemist or the technical writing skills of an underwriter or the industrial design skills of a coffee table maker.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Oct 2007
    Location
    San Diego, CA
    Posts
    771
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    I'll rephrase, compared to other professions, related or not, that use transferable skills such as quantitative reasoning, technical writing, design/illustration, etc. people skills are a much bigger part of our job as a whole. We are in the business of shaping communities one way or another and our interactions with public (residents, appointed/elected officials) is what separates us apart from the quantitative-heavy work of a chemist or the technical writing skills of an underwriter or the industrial design skills of a coffee table maker.
    I beg to disagree. People skills are critical in any profession where you have to promote your ideas or those of a constituency you serve and advocate for. That's true irrespective of whether you are a lawyer, a developer, an engineer, an entrepreneur, an architect, planner or an ad exec. Planning no more or no less so. You may wish to argue that It's less so perhaps for somebody who just works behind a screen or scalpel - computer programmer, physician, actuary, accountant, or academic/industrial scientist, but I would argue that even in those professions, if you try that approach for more than your first couple of years out of school, you'll eventually find yourself in a dead end position or unemployed and unemployable. The publish part of public or perish means people skills too. No matter what you do, you need to be able to explain yourself to your stakeholders, clients, bosses, constituents, patients or peers or it'll eventually catch up with you. Even if you are an actuary.

    At the end of the day, if you want to shape communities, you better know how communities work.. both from a regulatory perspective and from a systems one. Qualitatively, quantitatively and representationally. And you need to explain what you know to the world. That's what makes you sellable as a planner.. not that you know how to work a crowd. You're not a politician or a salesperson.. or a realtor.. or publicist... all professions for which "people skills" are paramount. Some of us (like me) work with heavy duty quantitative analysis, modelling and representational design work (I actually do both quant stuff and design), others work with regulations, still others work with complex methods and theories of negotiation and consensus-building. All of us need to be able to talk to people effectively about what we do, but the fact that we know how to do that is just a small part of our professional repertoires. I may spend 30 out of any 50 to 60 hour week crunching numbers, building models or making or reviewing technical drawings, but I'm out there presenting, meeting or selling the balance of the 20-30 hours. As one's career progresses, one can expect to do more of the latter and less of the former (I'm probably a bit older than the average here).
    Last edited by Cismontane; 02 Oct 2011 at 3:16 PM.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Jul 2010
    Location
    BC, Canada
    Posts
    218
    Just my .02, but I would think there is certainly demand for planners who can do technical land use-transportation analysis, etc. A lot of municipal planners, at least where I worked, might be good at the concepts of planning, at regulating things like design and zoning, and decent at working with public process, but did not always have the modeling skills. Perhaps these are more important in consulting work, as municipal work often seems to revolve around politics and "values" unless one is in a state with stronger statewide planning legislation.

    I've seen some really interesting scenario planning around land use plan options done by area consulting firms. One thing you probably don't want to do, however, is be pigeonholed into doing one transportation study after another for shopping centers and subdivisions ...

    Financing of redevelopment also seems like an interesting niche for a quantitative planner ...

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Sep 2009
    Location
    NY
    Posts
    61
    Good to read the debates! It seems there's a lot I need to keep up with. But at least now I have a clearer picture of what to do

  10. #10
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2008
    Location
    the delta
    Posts
    1,203
    Quote Originally posted by docwatson View post
    Just my .02, but I would think there is certainly demand for planners who can do technical land use-transportation analysis, etc. A lot of municipal planners, at least where I worked, might be good at the concepts of planning, at regulating things like design and zoning, and decent at working with public process, but did not always have the modeling skills.
    I completely agree. I don't feel like these concepts were touched on at all in planning school. Economic modeling, transportation projections, etc. should be standard in all planning undergrad courses. I honestly feel like I don't know any of the important quantifiable pieces of data in planning but I know the history and legal implications of planning. I've often told my alma matter this but I don't know if they've made any changes.

    On a related note - planners need people skills because we facilitate projects. We may not be engineers or designers but we know how to get these people together and share information. We know who to contact, how to build support for projects, and what to do with various information. This is a missing piece in engineering firms that do "planning". To me, planning is collaboration and facilitation, not engineering (but that's because I don't know how to do the above-mentioned stuff).
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  11. #11
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
    Registered
    May 2003
    Location
    Staff meeting
    Posts
    8,329
    I'll also agree with docwatson. For your first job I would recommend getting yourself started by getting a technical/quant position first. Once you're in, you can further develop your "people/political" skills by jumping on such chances that will arrive within that job (especially if you're with a "small" organization).

    That way you can get paid to develop your skills and hopefully find a fellow employee or supervisor/boss that can help mentor you.

    Also, in this job market, I wouldn't turn away an unsolicited job interest like you got. Ask illiniosplanner.
    Last edited by mendelman; 05 Oct 2011 at 11:50 AM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Colo Front Range
    Posts
    2,471
    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post

    Also, in this job market, I wouldn't turn away an unsolicited job interest like you got. Ask illiniosplanner.
    Agreed x10. x102.

    And maybe you could start a side job explaining how you are one of the few graduates actually working a white-collar job.

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. GRE: Verbal vs. Quant
    Student Lounge
    Replies: 3
    Last post: 26 Oct 2012, 11:55 AM
  2. Morning person or night person?
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 22
    Last post: 18 Jul 2012, 9:31 AM
  3. Generalist Architect?
    Introduce Yourself
    Replies: 2
    Last post: 28 Jul 2010, 1:41 PM
  4. Replies: 1
    Last post: 09 Jun 2009, 5:05 PM
  5. Replies: 0
    Last post: 28 Feb 2001, 9:55 PM