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Thread: Less-than-entry-level job search; what should I do?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Less-than-entry-level job search; what should I do?

    As I've mentioned a couple times on here, I'm currently searching for a planning-related job in either Athens, GA or Portland, OR. My problem is that as someone with a B.A. in English, I'm not qualified for even the most entry-level jobs in an actual planning office (they all want planning degrees or previous planning work). So a few weeks back I compiled a lengthy list of everything I could think of that might relate to planning (from any sort of job working for a city government, chamber of commerce, to historical preservation non-profits, to environmental groups, etc), and I've been doing searches to find non-profits of that sort.

    The search has been fruitful in that I've found lots of websites of non-profits I would love to work for, mostly in Portland (Athens is a little shorter on that) and that I may volunteer with if I get the chance. But recently a new question has come to mind.

    I've pretty much decided that I want to move to Athens over Portland if I can find a decent job. The problem is that, due to a paucity of positions with NGOs and the fact that the standard hourly wage is lower in Georgia, there are very few well-paying jobs I can find in Athens---in a sort of "planning-related position." (By well-paying I mean like, at least 20,000 a year). For instance, there's a job opening for a park worker that pays about 8 bucks an hour. This seems like it would be a good job for an aspiring urban planner because it's a job working for the city and it involves parks, etc. I think I would also enjoy working outside. But it's low paying and part-time. I guess my question is, should I take a job working for the county or city for the experience? Or is it not really worth the low wage? Would some random clerical position, (for a non-profit or otherwise) be just as valuable in terms of the experience I'll gain? I guess, is my focused search for some job, however menial as long as it is somewhat planning related, the wrong tact? Does it really not matter?

    I have been looking at non-planner jobs with non-profits that work in city development, transportation issues, environmental issues, sustainability, etc...the park worker job is just an example of the type of availablity I am facing in Athens, specifically. Also, while I have clerical experience, most clerical jobs with non-profits have been asking for a year or more experience working in a similar office, which I don't quite have.

    Any advice?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urbanleopold
    Any advice?
    The only advice I can give you is that Georgia has a lower cost of living than Portland so you should not just compare dollar amounts but go to a website that compares cost of living, like bestplaces.net (?? I think that is it -- I gotta go. Let me know if it is wrong.)


    later

  3. #3
    Member Nor Cal Planner Girl's avatar
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    When I first graduated from school- there were no planning jobs. I did little weird-planning-related jobs such as: picking seeds for wetland mitigation (environmental) for three months, worked in a small planning jurisdiction as the receptionistm (ha!), worked as an assistant planning secretary. All of these jobs absorbed about a year of my life... however, they were somewhat planning-related and I was able to put them on my resume. I finally got a job with County planning after that. As another example for you- our planning secretary wanted to be a planner- so, she started taking planning classes and received some certifications. Albeit- these was not necessarily the 'standard' planning education route... after four years she has become a Planner II with our County. Slowly but surely- just keep plugging away and you will get what you're looking for.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    The only advice I can give you is that Georgia has a lower cost of living than Portland so you should not just compare dollar amounts but go to a website that compares cost of living, like bestplaces.net (?? I think that is it -- I gotta go. Let me know if it is wrong.)


    later
    I guess I was assuming the cost of living was close or negligible in those cities, because rents aren't that different. Both places you can get an apartment for like 400, though admittedly for Portland that is definitely the low end, and in Athens there appear to be good apartments for that much.

    Anyway, I did the comparison...funniest part was that one of the categories for comparison is # of Starbucks. Portland: 45, Athens: 1.

    But yeah, in summary, Athens' cost of living is generally a lot lower--except utilties are significantly more expensive, for some reason.

    Cool site.

  5. #5
    Member Nor Cal Planner Girl's avatar
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    ... well if Starbucks is a determining factor- THEN CHOOSE PORTLAND! Really, Portland is a very cool place- I was just there a few months ago. I seriously considered moving there- cost of living for me is cheaper ( I live one hour north of San Francisco) AND- the people are cool... unfortunately- so is the weather... I've become somewhat attached to my Mediteranean climate

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Nor Cal Planner Girl
    ... well if Starbucks is a determining factor- THEN CHOOSE PORTLAND! Really, Portland is a very cool place- I was just there a few months ago. I seriously considered moving there- cost of living for me is cheaper ( I live one hour north of San Francisco) AND- the people are cool... unfortunately- so is the weather... I've become somewhat attached to my Mediteranean climate
    I actually went to school in Portland for four years...hence my desire to return to it. (And I actually grew up near San Francisco--Albany, CA...the weather isn't actually that much of a switch. Does get cold in the winter and rains more, but we had some really gorgeous spring and fall days, not to mention the summer, which was often warmer than SF).

  7. #7
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    Urbanleopold, I'm looking to do the exact thing you are, except in Atlanta. Numerically there are more opportunites in Atlanta, but it's mostly devoted to economic development and infill--the last thing this place needs is to be expanding. Plus there are a lot more...progressive...people here who are all up in this sort of planning and development stuff in their free time. The GA state gov't appears to be steering major new development in the physical direction of Athens.

    I've only been here for a few months, but it seems that a lot of areas out there are starting to go from dead-empty to built up (they just dropped a Ritz-Carlton resort a half-hour south, in Oconee) and so there might be more planning board/developer opportunities if you look outside Athens proper.

    Money-wise, I took an internship (with a big PR frim, not planning related) in Atlanta for 8$ an hour and had no problem making it work with a roomate and sharing a car. I'm going to guess Athens will be even cheaper than that.

    Obviously, UGA is a big part of Athens, and they have what appears to be a sizeable landscape architecture program with some urban design classes in the mix as well. If you haven't already, you might try to get a hold of the urban design professors and see if they can suggest anything in town. With all those grad students who need internships in a town like Athens they probably have seen it all.

    The best advice I've gotten so far is from a fellow Cyburbian who suggested pitching my writing skills to architecture firms for marketing and proposals (hooray for top-notch English program and PR experience). I have experience in public policy so I'm going to work that angle as well.

    For the moment, I'm going to stick with a PR type job that keeps me dealing with people and active in strategic planning, research, analysis, and creativity--maximizing my transferrable skills. That also opens me up to take night classes in urban design at GA Tech, do unpaid volunteer work, etc. But that's mostly because I have college loans to pay (boo to top-notch english program!), not because I think that's the best option.

    On a side note, are there any English majors who end up doing anything related to what they did in college? I don't know how I would go about using poststructuralist theories of semiotics to put food on the table.

    Anyway, hope this helps! Feel free to PM me if you'd like to compare notes.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by friars04
    Money-wise, I took an internship (with a big PR frim, not planning related) in Atlanta for 8$ an hour and had no problem making it work with a roomate and sharing a car. I'm going to guess Athens will be even cheaper than that.
    Athens may also still be pedestrian friendly. My sister attended her first year of college there without a car, living in the dorms. She later had an apartment and a car but when I visited, I was 13 or 14 and you could get around by bus, on foot, etc. That was about 25 years ago, so I would ask around. But if you do not need a car to survive, that makes a big difference. My sister now lives in Atlanta and the sprawl makes it impracticable to live without a car, IMO -- in spite of Marta, and what have you. I have lived in Germany and bought groceries on foot, with a backpack to carry them home (and a baby strapped to my chest and a toddler on my shoulders). The distance you have to walk to do things like that is a make-or-break for living a carless lifestyle.
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 11 Mar 2005 at 4:13 AM.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Athens will be cheaper but Portland will certainly give you more opportunities. You have the correct approach. Working in government or in one of these non-profits will get you networking with the right people and may open doors. Take advantage of PSU to get in a couple related courses.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian PlannerByDay's avatar
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    Just saw a well know economist speak at a local university. He said people are still moving to Portland despite having among the highest unemployment rate in the country (7.2% annual in 2004). He says the area is overflowing with high quality individuals who are unemployed or underemployed.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the unemployment rate in Athens was 3.2 % in 2004.

    While Portland would be a nice place to live. I think I might consider Athens.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    And now for an entirely different perspective:

    From the consultant reports and consulting services proposals I've been reading lately, I think there is a strong arguement to be made that private sector firms could benefit greatly from the services of someone who knows both how to write and proof-read.

    There. I've said it.

    Sell yourself as a writer with planning interests first, then take the on-the-job experience and grow!
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  12. #12
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Yup

    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Athens will be cheaper but Portland will certainly give you more opportunities. You have the correct approach. Working in government or in one of these non-profits will get you networking with the right people and may open doors. Take advantage of PSU to get in a couple related courses.
    I agree that Portland would give you a much better "in" to the planning track than Athens??? or wherever in Georgia.....plus, you'd be living in freaking Portland....what the hell are you waiting for......Oh, by the way, the Planning Director in Milwaukee Oregon RULES.....ONE VERY COOL CAT
    Skilled Adoxographer

  13. #13
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    My two-cents: if you can find a job in a place where you want to live, go for it. Even if it is not exactly planning, it is a good start. It is my experience that planning departments are more liberal than other professions about what qualifies a person to be a planner. A lot of planners I know didn't go to planning school. They are biologists, history grads, American Studies grads, etc. Some didn't go to or finish college.

    Experience, even if it isn't exactly planning, can be almost as good as course work. And if you have a job or had a recent job, at least they know you work. Your first "planning job' often isn't what you want it to be; mine wasn't. But it gets you closer to where you want to be.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by SGB
    And now for an entirely different perspective:

    From the consultant reports and consulting services proposals I've been reading lately, I think there is a strong arguement to be made that private sector firms could benefit greatly from the services of someone who knows both how to write and proof-read.

    There. I've said it.

    Sell yourself as a writer with planning interests first, then take the on-the-job experience and grow!
    Yup. This works. This is how I got into planning. Temped for an LA firm for a while, as an English major, doing writing and editing and some website design, then moved on for a while, then went back to school, and now here I am, surrounded by site plans on a Friday night. Don't rule out design firms. They can usually put someone to work typing, proofing, and sometimes even more planning-related stuff. It was a fascinating introduction, and a lot of fun (helped that it was a very small and congenial office). Plus, the pay was really good (much better than $8/hour!)
    I don't dream. I plan.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Ha!

    Quote Originally posted by otterpop
    A lot of planners I know didn't go to planning school. They are biologists, history grads, American Studies grads, etc. Some didn't go to or finish college.

    Experience, even if it isn't exactly planning, can be almost as good as course work.
    I'm more and more doubting this in a big way.....just look around and see the planning that's been done since the 1970's. I think this profession is at a cross-roads of sorts, regarding our ability to move to the next level of legitimacy, both within City/County halls and with other professions and the public. I can't tell you how many times I've worked with people that didn't have the basics of planning in the beginning of their career to guide their decisions and how that resulted in chaos years, even decades later in a city. This gets back to the ability to employ a comprehensive point of view in everything that we do as planners and unless you're trained in the basics, I don't think that will happen.

    And yes, before you get started, there are obviously examples of highly trained planners who point out potential problems, only to get snuffed by some politician or City Manager who can't see beyond their noses. But I still think its important that we don't just give up trying and continue providing adequate warnings of things to come in the hope that someone will listen. I also think that people that bother to get degrees and/or AICP in the profession are less likely to role over in the face of political/development pressure....

    Oh and the very best planners I've ever worked with or for, have planning degrees, including land use attorney's. .......end of peaceful/friendly rant...

    Had you not put the word 'almost' in the above sentence, I would have been all over that statement
    Skilled Adoxographer

  16. #16
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One
    ....[snip].... I also think that people that bother to get degrees and/or AICP in the profession are less likely to role over in the face of political/development pressure....[snip]....
    That's a pretty funny line....but I'm not dying on the sword. They don't wanna follow our recommendations, screw 'em. Oh, and did I mention that I haven't had much success at our planning commission lately? (no smilie).
    I think that one of the great signs of security is the ability to just walk away.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian MayorMatty's avatar
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    Qualifying to be a planner

    Look I work for someone with a chemical engineering degree who's been planning my locale for the last 20 years. If its any indication about qualifications, we have villages with 75 ft. front yard setbacks.

  18. #18
    Disgusting!

  19. #19
    Cyburbian iamme's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mayor Matty
    If its any indication about qualifications, we have villages with 75 ft. front yard setbacks.
    I guess I don't see your point.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    just send out resumes?

    i've gotten a lot of great responses since I last checked. thanks!

    this idea of trying to do writing work for a firm is a new approach i hadn't considered...should i look for firms that are advertising for a position, or just try straight sending them my resume cold, with a cover letter that explains my interest? would they respond to that positively?

    i'm trying to get my mom, who is faculty at UGA, to ask around for me but she only actually works in Athens half the time so I don't think she knows too many folks.

    thanks again.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian LorenzoRoyal's avatar
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    In my experience, it is more effective to send out a resume (and application) when there is actually a job available. Otherwise, send a letter--or email--suggesting you would like to interview someone at the agency/company. You may get some form of job offer out of that.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    AmeriCorps

    Quote Originally posted by LorenzoRoyal
    In my experience, it is more effective to send out a resume (and application) when there is actually a job available. Otherwise, send a letter--or email--suggesting you would like to interview someone at the agency/company. You may get some form of job offer out of that.

    Hey all...I thought other people with the same problem as me might like to hear how it's been going.

    I have sent a few unsolicited resumes and cover letters to firms in Portland, haven't really heard anything back. There are many semi-planning-related non-profit jobs posted for Portland in Craigslist all the time, but I've actually got the most encouraging responses from a non-profit that I am applying to through AmeriCorps. They work with affordable housing, which seems ideal to me. Since it's AmeriCorps I won't get paid much but I do get my student loans deferred, which means all the cash I've been saving up teaching English through Fulbright (a fellowship that also allowed deferment) can remain inviolate for another year, or longer...nice. It seems like a good way to break into non-profit work since a lot of non-profits have AmeriCorps positions and they don't expect a ton of prior experience. So other recent graduates looking for planning-related jobs, check out the AmeriCorps website.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian andreplanner's avatar
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    I have tried anywhere from clerk help to policy analyst and I have not received a phone call yet. So I mean ya we can all keep plugging away but who knows.. I was even contemplating taking a position as a customer service rep but how much planning is involved there right?

    Then again it would be a good paying job, unionized and it could lead to the planning position you want. Who knows?

  24. #24
    Cyburbian plankton's avatar
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    Consider Athens or Portland as your 2nd stop, not 1st. Maybe you're nearing retirement age, but if not ------> Hook on as an administrative assistant for a planning firm, municipal building/planning office, or public works dept. anywhere. Look into Las Vegas, Phoenix, and other booming areas. Make sure you have good MS Word, Excel, etc. skills (take an adult education class, if nec.). After a year (or less) of showing off your good writing skills (and interest in planning) there's a decent chance that a technician or Planner I job may come available (perhaps in the same organization, the same county, or neighboring city). Apply for it, get it , and then put another year or two in as a professional planner or technician (permit coordinator would be good too) and then "step up" to your dream (or closer thereto) location (and job).

    I think it is key to open up your job search WIDE and then narrow it down as you gain applicable experience. The key is getting your foot in the door somewhere..........good luck

  25. #25
    Cyburbian sisterceleste's avatar
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    What kind of planning classes are offered at University of GA in Athens? I would start with taking a GIS course. In much demand and a little knowledge of GIS can get you in the door of a planning dept as a tech.
    You darn tootin', I like fig newtons!

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