The more I read these threads, the more I see I've been pretty lucky in my life. But I guess there are even some lessons in my career roll of luck.
I graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor's degree in Dec. 1990. The snowballing recession in California was about to go to 7.7% unemployment in 1991 and on to the low- to mid- 9% in the next two years. Planners were getting fired in N. Cal. left and right.
But because I lucked into a job with the City of St. Helena in 1989 to write the Parks & Rec Element of their General Plan, I ended up getting a paying internship with the City of Davis in the summer of 1990 when I was still in University. I think it was $7.25/hr. I wrangled for night meetings to get time and half. I took anything they threw at me, even took projects regularly to subdivision committee and ended up taking some projects to PC/council. It was desperation on my part to make money out of a 24 hour/week job. And Davis, despite being a small town, was incredibly expensive to live in.
So in 1991, there was this huge political battle within the Department, which was really hard because I was friends with all of the various 'bosses', and there were a lot of them. When one of them got fired, he ended up giving me a part time job where he landed: at the California Coastal Commission. I got a great intership two days a week at the Sacto office reading proposed legislation all day long and writing little blurbs on each of the various bills with a note of support//non-support to pass on to the Commission's lobbyist. The best part was that it was at the top of a beautiful old 12-story building on J St. in Sacto, and often I was the only one there for days at a time because the main office is in SF and the lobbyist and policy writer were in the City a lot. Reading hundreds of bills was mind numbing, but after awhile it became like playing 'where's waldo?' with legislation, looking for bizarre riders that would compromise some wetland or shoreline in the midst of OSHA legislation or health bills or something. I almost sneared at this job, since once again it was without benefits, was called 'intern' in the title and was only two days a week. But the thought of having such great responsibility in a job was really appealing, and it ended up being such a great experience. Oh yeah, and it paid $11.25 an hour.
So I went about a year on the two interships, scraping by. I did all kinds of night meetings to get time during the day to make jaunts to various recruitment interviews throughout California. In the end, after 25 interviews or so, I ended up landing a job with Siskiyou County in N. Cali. A few weeks before, one of the Assistant Planners left the City of Davis, where I was interning. Because I had unsucessfully went through a recruitment with them a few months before (which was difficult to go through), they were able to offer me a position on the spot when Siskiyou called for a reference. By that time, I had made myself invaluable. I worked with the biggest weenie of a developer on a regular basis, the one that nobody wanted to deal with. I took the crap of the crap when it came to projects to make them keep me... and I guess it worked.
I stayed there and moved up the ladder a bit, for five years or so. I've landed all but two jobs I've ever interviewed for since, as those two interships started me off so well.
So I guess this is what I've learned: 1) if you can't find a job, get a temporary internship: it's experience, not titles; 2) don't get all hung up about being underpaid/overworked and take anything they throw your way; 3) night meetings have important people (well, for landing a job at least), learn the players and the dynamics of the community you want to work for and make sure you work it into your interview answers.
I've seen a number of junior planners walk in and out of my department in recent years. All very talented. All very bitter in a way where it comes across that we all owe them something for being there. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it seems like the mentality of the junior planner has shifted from trying to please the employers to making sure that the employers please them (and being quite vocal if they aren't pleased). There are a couple of planners & technicians I've worked with that were quite talented, who I would give a shining reference, but who I wouldn't hire back just for that difficult attitude. So the last thing I'll say is, to the greatest extent possible, try to keep a good attitude about things. Because when there are so many people to choose from, "fit" and "personality" do make a difference.
By the way, I'm not implying that you have an attitude or anything... I just know from experience how brutal the interview system is when you have to do them on a regular basis and how it can affect your attitude after awhile.
So best of luck! I wish I knew more about Texas... I'd love to help.