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Thread: Finding first job-give up all hope??

  1. #1
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    Finding first job-give up all hope??

    I recently received my master's from a well-regarded Big10 planning program. I never interned for a planning agency in grad school because:

    a) I went into planning school thinking I would most likely end up working in a nonprofit doing community development/"urban affairs" type stuff, as that was consistent with my previous experience. My summer internship involved work in this vein.

    b) My department assigned me to a 20 hr per week graduate assistantship that had absolutely nothing to do with urban planning, so I didn't really have the free time during school. (I didn't complain though since the assistantship paid more than twice what other grad assistants were making)

    c) didn't seem like there were lots of internship opportunities locally anyway. (and fellow students' responsibilities seemed limited to GIS data entry--which I was getting plenty of in class)

    I am not having as much success with the nonprofit job search as I'd like, despite having a few years of decent work experience before grad school. Though I hadn't expected to work for a planning department, Planner I positions do look like an attractive way for me to build some expertise. (as much as that's possible in planning)

    My question is whether I'm totally out of luck in this endeavor. I got excellent grades in planning school, work hard, and am willing to learn. But I worry about hiring managers out there unwilling to look at transferable skills. Am I screwed?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Which school did you graduate from? If you are from Chicago, the only Big 10 planning school in that state is in Urbana-Champaign. I know University of Illinois at Chicago has a masters in planning but is that big ten, too?

    Assistantships and internships can be tricky. I did several internships in GIS in other offices and agencies because that WAS the only thing available for undergrads. Mapmaking was my backdoor into planning. As a student struggling to get quality professional experience, I often compared student labor on campus to cow manure: cheap and plentiful, though cleaner.

    Have you earned interviews from non-for-profits? If so, then I think it's more of a question of preparing for your interviews. What type of work do you want to do or learn about more? Have you considered the peace corps?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Have you picked up a copy of "What color is your parachute?" ?

    How about "Wishcraft"?

    (And there are lots of other good books out there. Those two just readily come to mind.)

    There may be detours along the way, but if it is something you really want, eventually, you can get your foot in the door. However, sometimes a crisis is a time when we get to question whether or not we really want it. If you do some soul-searching and conclude that you still want it, then it might be time to come back and start a new thread and, instead of asking "Am I screwed?", ask how to get unscrewed.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Finding nonprofit work is tough. The organizations are usually small and many just barely squeak by from fiscal year to fiscal year. They don't hire often for this reason. Have you considered volunteering with a local CDC as a way of getting some "on the ground" experience in community development?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    I don't know that you have much to worry about if you seek work with planning departments. One of the great things about planners is the profession is willing to accept "transferrable skills." There are plenty of planners who started out in other professions. A different work experience is not a hindrance.

    Experience as a planner might help you get into non-profit work later on. One of our former planners now heads up the state office of the Trust for Public Lands. I know another planner who also went into non-profit employment.

    I have responded several times in these forums to people fresh out of grad school who are perhaps a little discouraged in their job hunt or wondering if they should even try planning. I pretty much tell everyone that sometimes it takes a while to land that first job out of grad school, don't be too picky about what job you take and be willing to relocate. After you have a year or two of experience, then you can start looking for that better job doing what you want or living where you want.

    Good luck.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  6. #6
    I would have to agree with all the previous statements. As someone who is also trying to break into the field, the job hunt has been VERY frustrating. I am finding that this is a tough field to get into, as many places are not very open to considering out-of-state applicants. I too am trying to transfer my professional skills (in the environmental/public health field) into the planning realm. After nearly 4 months of sending out an incredible number of resumes and apps, I am finally getting my FIRST interview this week! But, as with anything that you really want, you have to be persistent.

    More than likely there will be many bumps in the road. As a quick example, I was strung along by an assistant planning director for about a month, originally told I was getting an interview & then basically blown off without ever getting the interview. Stay positive, stay aggressive, be flexible, be persistent. Also, a nice tall glass of Jack & Diet at the end of the day helps

  7. #7
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Which school did you graduate from? If you are from Chicago, the only Big 10 planning school in that state is in Urbana-Champaign. I know University of Illinois at Chicago has a masters in planning but is that big ten, too?
    Off-topic:
    Northwestern is in Illinois as well.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  8. #8
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I would go for a beginner planner position. It would be good work and is probably much more stable than a nonprofit job.

    I don't think the lack of a specific planning dept. internship will really hurt you. Few, if any, planning programs (esp at the grad level), really prepare you for a real current planning position anyways. Most will be on the job training.

    Good Luck!
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by boiker View post
    Off-topic:
    Northwestern is in Illinois as well.
    [QUOTE=nrschmid;367722]Which school did you graduate from? If you are from Chicago, the only Big 10 planning school in that state is in Urbana-Champaign. I know University of Illinois at Chicago has a masters in planning but is that big ten, too?

    Since I have been buried in work I am not in the loop with planning schools at moment. I thought UIUC and UIC were the only ACSP accredited planning schools in Illinois, with UIUC being the only Big Ten planning school from that state.

    Does Northwestern offer any planning degree out of curiosity?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid

    Does Northwestern offer any planning degree out of curiosity?
    Oops.. sorry. Didn't pay close attention.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian bocian's avatar
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    I know that UIUC is one of a handful of schools in the US offering an accredited undergraduate degree in planning -- I think UIC only offers graduate planning degree.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    I have heard through the grapevine that UIC might be opening up an undergrad program, but I am not sure when.

  13. #13
    I would imagine that there aren't very many relevant openings at nonprofits at any given time, and that you'd be competing against more experienced applicants for any that do come up. But with your qualifications, I don't think you'd have much difficulty getting an entry-level planning position at a municipality, county, MPO, or consulting firm. Just make sure to convey an enthusiasm for planning.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Which school did you graduate from?
    I think a lot of people in the Chicago area go to U of Iowa for their graduate program, which is accredited.

    Anyway, I imagine it is pretty hard breaking into the non-profits straight out of school. It seems most of the people who work for them, from my experience, have kind of paid their dues in municipal departments to really understand the inner-workings. They've got their mortgage paid off, kids moved out, and now they aren't concerned with making a living, but more concerned with loving what they do, and applying all their experience to really make a difference sans greed.

    On a lot of other boards on here, people say "your first job shouldn't be your dream job. Your last job should." There is no harm taking a regular planning job for a couple of years to boost your resume.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian rosierivets's avatar
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    Another thought or two... if you aren't that far removed from your time serving as a grad student, I wouldn't rule out the option of considering a quality internship if they are willing to consider you for the position. Although yes, it will be a lot of grunt work, it can provide a foot in the door in a tough market.

    Another thing, be persistant. I had the misfortune of coming in second place for a great position. I interviewed about a semester before graduation. A few months later I sent a follow up letter to state that I'd be pleased to work as an intern (even unpaid). I didn't hear from them until an email followed out of the blue about four weeks prior to graduation. As it turned out, the other person hadn't worked out and they wanted me to come in immediately. Yes, part of what hinged on them calling me back was that I was the runner up. But the other major factor was that I had persisted and attemped to do whatever it took to get my foot in the door. Apparently that had impressed them.

    Finally, one last thought. Right out of undergrad I took a position as an admin in a building department. I found people who believed in me and knew I was looking to further myself and ended up learning a lot which has benefited me in my current position. Don't look at an opportunity that might seem somewhat backhanded crosseyed until you really determine what it can do for you.

    Good luck to you!
    How about you take a gander at making an executive decision for once, huh?

  16. #16
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Hey, there are plenty of entry-level jobs down here:

    http://www.nc-apa.org/

    We have a hard time filling them, so out-of-state candidates are always welcome!

    When I had a hard time getting my foot in the door, I contacted old professors and others in the planning field and asked to meet for coffee to discuss career options. These were merely "informational meetings" but they generated a lot of job leads.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    What is your previous non-profit work? Was it full time or an internship? What other experience do you have?
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Clore's avatar
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    Any way you could get involved with an Oak Park community association and do some volunteer work for them?
    I would think that if you can get some nice looking projects accomplished for them, that it add to your resume.
    ...Moving at the speed of local government

  19. #19
    As my own frustrations with finding a job are now at an all-time high, I figured I would ask this. As someone who would be changing careers and taking a major paycut, do you think I should acknowledge this fact up front. As in, "I realize that this position is a significant paycut for me, but I strongly desire to enter the planning field and blah blah blah..." And should I also acknowledge that I understand that for government positions, they are not going to foot the bill for relocation. I am just looking for a way to knock down these obstacles I feel are killing my chances for consideration up front.

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