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Thread: Where did YOU start?

  1. #1

    Where did YOU start?

    Hi all,

    First off, I feel bad re-posting this but I'm pretty sure I posted this in the wrong forum and I don't know how to delete it....Sorry!

    This curious newbie is wondering, "How y'all did it!" How'd ya find your way into a particular focus in planning?

    As some of you might have read in my introduction I'm currently entering the world of job searching. I received my undergrad in urban studies and planning absolutely loving it and still very passionate about the field. I find my interest lies in the social side of things as well as transportation and environmental impacts. Though I lack a high (even moderate) level of experience, I have a strong ability to learn and work. Anyways....
    I'm finding the search a bit overwhelming and am at a bit of a loss for where to start with my lack of experience.

    As we're all aware planning is such a diverse field with so many avenues of interest and work. I'm interested in how you found your niche. Do you apply for jobs and start where you land. For those of you with your job of choice, how did you make your choice?
    I'm taking the track of going after it all within reason. I feel somewhat limited by my geographic location (being surrounded primarily by small towns) so I've opened myself to relocating to particular areas of familiarity, like PA and VA (some family is in Austin, TX which is a small pull) in hopes of this increasing my opportunities.

    I look forward to your feedback and thank you in advance for your thoughts

  2. #2
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Planners as a rule are generalists. We sort of do a little of everything and if we are lucky our employers let us have a niche or two that we can "specialize" in when that work comes around. I am sort of a water rat, so I get to do a bit of that when such work comes to our office. Another guy in the office is the brownsfield and transportation go-to.

    When you work in a small shop or a small jurisdiction, specialization is very hard to pull off.

    Specialists can find work in the private sector or the state or federal government.

    So I would say if you want to work in a niche of the planning profession, you might have to go to a big city or well-populated county, or go into the private sector or seek employment in the state or federal government. However, I think a broad range of planning work experience will be an asset when you seek employment in a specialty.

    Personally, I like the generalist approach of planning. Do a bit of everything. It is good education and helps you find what you most like to do. A planning niche can become tiresome. For a while I worked primarily as a writer of planning documents. I was good at it, but the same thing day in and day out is wearisome for me.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  3. #3
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    For your first job I'd suggest taking anything that is in a good community, with decent pay. You may think you know where your interests lie now, but once you are exposed to different functions of a planning office, you may change your mind. It makes sense to have a focus later in your career. I'm still not there. My first job was as a transportation planner (not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be), then I worked in current planning for a county, and now I work in long range planning for a different county. I enjoyed current planning the most, but my long range planning job pays more, so I'll stick with it.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Ah.....

    For me it was an internship in long range planning that led directly to filling in for and putting out fires with current planning..... After that, it was just plugging away up through the ranks, eating up bits of knowledge on every subject possible....

    Umm......unless your going to send apps to Canada, Europe or Massachusetts , I'd keep that little comment about "social side" to myself..... (even though that aspect of planning social equity, is one of my favorite subjects....most places are complete wastelands when it comes to social planning discussion)
    “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    - See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-ph....r7W02j3S.dpuf

  5. #5
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    LOL to The One...and he's right, btw

    I lucked out, when I left private sector consultant firm planning/permitting world, I went into an entry level position in a Planning Department - it allowed me to learn the ropes and work my way up and gave me the opportunity to see where I wanted to head.

    Like others in here, I like being a generalist planner and that's the value of being the department head or the lone planner.

    no resume time is wasted (except for resume stains, of course) so getting into the ground floor and giguring your way up to what you want to do is the best route.

  6. #6

    Cheers

    I'd keep that little comment about "social side" to myself.....
    Thanks, I'll take your words of wisdom But, But....

    I appreciate your comments and the generalist approach, I'll be sure to keep ya's posted

  7. #7
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Sandi View post
    Thanks, I'll take your words of wisdom But, But....

    I appreciate your comments and the generalist approach, I'll be sure to keep ya's posted
    Community development may be a good area for you if you are interested in social equity and planning... just a thought... Fair warning though--it has its fair share of headaches to go with all of the warm-fuzzies.

    I got started as an intern in a very small town with no other planners. They decided to keep me and I developed a small department with me remaining as the only planner. I was a generalist, but it allowed me to see what I was really interested in (I also learned that I hate tiny towns). From there I stepped into my current position in long-range planning and community development, the two areas I'm most interested in and passionate about. The city isn't huge though (50,000), so I'll dabble into the current side of things when they get into areas I'm most familiar with, like sustainability, brownfield projects and incentive programs.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  8. #8
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cch View post
    For your first job I'd suggest taking anything that is in a good community, with decent pay. You may think you know where your interests lie now, but once you are exposed to different functions of a planning office, you may change your mind. It makes sense to have a focus later in your career....
    Agreed. Find ANY planning job that will work for you for a couple of years (plan on at least 3). This will get your feet wet and since you're a newbie, they'll expect some of your job to consist of 'professional growth' like conferences and reading that are pretty broad in the field. Through that, you can start looking at which direction you're looking to head in and also be making the necessary contacts for later.
    And don't tell interviewers that you don't have a focus in mind. While you might not want to tell them that you're interested in the anthropology side of planning, you could say something like "right now, I'm leaning towards blah blah, and I think that this is the perfect place to really learn and grow in the field". Being too vague or whatever-whatever makes you no different than some guy off the street (or gal).
    How do I know you are who you think you are?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    Boy,,, long time ago. Went to school for Landscape Architecture. Got a job for a city and here I am 20 years later.
    "Yeehaw!" is not a foreign policy

    Renovating the '62 Metzendorf
    http://metzendorf.blogspot.com/

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Plus
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    A couple of Internships (1 paid - County & 2nd volunteer - Urban Trails)
    Still with the same city-county agency after 15 yrs.
    Jack of all trades, Master of just a few.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I worked an internship. Then on the private side for a few months. First job in the public sector was in code compliance. Made my way up the ladder and now I'm here....should have stayed in the unpaid internship.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    unpaid internship in long range planning which led to a full time job in current planning. Now with my third city-county agency but still in current planning and wouldn't want to go back to long range.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    community development

    Sandi -- if you're finding it hard getting into positions with actual planning offices, I would recommend looking for jobs with an affordable housing non-profit or developer, or non-profits with an environmental lean. I've found that directors of those types of organizations are often enthusiastic for new blood, so to speak, and it might be a nice approach if you are interested in the "social" side.

    Not that my experience is that comprable to yours, but I decided I wanted to get into a planning career after graduating with a B.A. in English, did an AmeriCorps position for 11 months with an affordable housing non-profit, right now I'm doing a paid internship with that same organization assisting in the development of a new complex, and I'm in the process of interviewing for a job working with a locally-based national organization that does charrettes for land use planning. I imagine you have better prospects with a background in urban studies and planning, but with the job market you never know, and an AmeriCorps position can be a nice way to break in.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Started in a paid internship in a small town in the Napa Valley, then got an intership (paid) for two places: California Coastal Commission and City of Davis. I tried to get a 'real job' for about six months, but it was pretty hard in 1990... I finally landed a job up in Yreka but Davis didn't want me to go so gave me a permanent position there instead (thank goodness!) Then I just kept climbing the ladder and moving north... and here I am in Edmonton. Hmmm, what was I thinking?

  15. #15
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    10 years ago I was an intern where I am currently the Town Planner. Got $500 for the whole summer.

    After graduating, spent 3 years as a Staff Planner for a city near the seacoast (entry level, paid $24K per year)....moved on to my current job from there.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Starting out without much experience is difficult. My experience: I graduated with my undergrad, had two years of experience as an officer in the Army, and had experience working with both the Census Bureau (GIS) and as an intern for a Chicago suburb. This was in 1990. After several months of unsuccessful searching I returned to college for my masters. With that in hand I took a job as the sole planner/economic developer in a rural village and spent two years networking intensively. Then my first really good job sought me.

    The advice you have gotten so far is good.
    1) Don't limit yourself geographically. Look in other states and especially look in fast-growing communities.
    2) Think rural. The jobs do not pay well but you run the show. As you look for your second job you will move up the ladder faster than your planner I peers.
    3) Consider going outside of the traditional employers. Look at state jobs for policy analysts, program managers, etc. Look at downtown revitalization jobs, as many, many small downtown programs hire recent grads. Look at non-profits in the housing and environmental sectors.
    4) Network! Now and in the future, go to every conference, workshop, training program, or whatever you can get to.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  17. #17
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by NHPlanner View post
    10 years ago I was an intern where I am currently the Town Planner. Got $500 for the whole summer.
    Too funny! When I was in St. Helena I got $3000 for a whole summer, and I basically wrote their Parks and Rec element to the General Plan. California had really specific requirements and I did a ton of public outreach (like surveys, public meetings), plus did a funding section like a capital facilities plan for parks. At the time I was so stoked to have $3000 because I was still in university, but now I just laugh at it because I know they got a decent plan for what they would have paid $50k or $60k for at the time. Ahhhh... the things you do to get into planning...

  18. #18
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Four years ago in a.... well... for a City that is located midway between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. It might be a good experience for some, it was not for me. I was there one year, and got a job offer back in my home state, and here I am, same position three years later.

    Biggest advice is when you’re offered your first job, do some serious research on the community and the existing staff to see if you would be a good fit to both. If not, it might not be the most pleasant experience.
    There is no such thing as failure, only learning experiences. However, it is our choice to learn the lesson and change or not.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    My first job for 2 years was in water resource planning. Not for me. Went to work for a county, in zoning/land use, and loved it. Did that for 15 years in two places. My current position in trails planning was just to get out of a bad job and stay with the same employer, but I've grown to really enjoy it, too. I can't really say I've "tested the waters" in multiple areas of planning; I just got lucky in that I hit two areas that are fun for me.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    First job after college was a paid internship with a land trust. Met a few public sector planners during that internship, and I've been following (trapped) in their footsteps since.
    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"

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Mark's avatar
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    Look for a good employer!!!

    1. College credit internship for a City, general planning & zoning.
    2. Post college paid internship, grantsmanship for a service provider to seasonal and migrant workers.
    3. Full time planner with a very small community planning & landscape architecture consulting firm.
    4. Temporary planner, conducted a parking study for a City.
    5. Planner II, county/regional planning commission, lot splits, zoning and grants.
    6. Planner I, urban township, 90,000 residents, 2 months later, Assistant Planning Director for the Dept. of Planning and Community Development. Primary role CDBG entitlement program director, grants director for Township, parks and rec planning and BZA, with secondary back up of the Director, planning and zoning.
    7. Principal Planner, City with 85,000 persons, within a year Planning Director, planning and zoning, and starting to work more with Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and Local Development Finance Authority.

    It all adds up. When you start, my advise is find a good employer. Decent salary, a place with financial stability and professional staff. When you are young, it is acceptable to move around a bit.
    Ohhhh Mama, can this really be the end!

  22. #22
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    I was always interested in transportation planning, but I took a rather roundabout route here.

    1. Internship at large newspaper

    2. Communication assistant at large housing authority (served on several planning/logistical/transition committees)

    3. Associate at planning/community development firm

    4. Part time grad school --> MCP

    5. Transportation planner with city/mpo

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