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Thread: Three months post-Master's degree and still no job

  1. #1
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    Three months post-Master's degree and still no job

    I'm writing this post mainly to see if many others in the profession have experienced similar destitution while searching for their first "real" job. Here's my story...

    I recently finished my master's degree (MCRP) in May of '08 at a decent program in the mid-south and have moved back home to St. Louis to look for a job. Having interned in both municipal planning and non-profit community development during my tenure at grad school, I felt that I have at least some quality experience to bring to the table.

    While looking in both the St. Louis metro area and the Twin Cities area, questions began to pile up that left me wondering why I still don't have a job. The job market for planners seems so flooded that I can't even land an interview for many entry-level positions, especially those over 500 miles away in the Twin Cities area. Is it just a bad time to enter the field, or is it always this tough to get that first job?

    Other larger metro areas like the Twin Cities already have quality planning programs in the area - will municipalities and firms in the area just draw from the local talent pool to stock their agencies?

    I've got a few connections here in St. Louis, but not much compared to the network I had established while at school. Is it all about knowing the right people?

    I'll leave it at that before this rant wanders too far off course. Just wanting to get some feedback from others in hopes of easing my mind and maybe getting a few tips on what helped fellow planners land that first job.

    Thanks,
    Kevin

  2. #2
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kmneill View post
    Is it just a bad time to enter the field, or is it always this tough to get that first job?
    Yes and yes. We got over 40 applications for an entry level current planning position advertised last month. Most were well qualified, with a masters degree and/or years of experience.

    It took me about six months to land my first full-time job after I finished my undergraduate studies. I worked for a temp agency in the interim. That was in 2002, another rough economic era. Sitting around and doing nothing is probably the worst thing you can do from a potential employers perspective. Do you have some kind of job now?

    I worked full-time while studying for my masters, so I already had years of experience when I graduated. I think you may be a little handicapped with no full-time experience.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    These are really lean times and you have my sympathy. Job hunting is tough, especially when you are straight out of school and have no on the job experience besides internships. I was in a similarly difficult position out of grad school and took a year-long AmeriCorps position at a community development corporation in order to get experience and, well, be able to eat and have a place to live. It was not an internship - it was a full time housing development job that just paid pretty low. It was great experience and led to a full time planning position. Think about it... you've already got some experience as an intern so you'd be a shoe-in.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    I've told this story many times in this forum to discouraged folks such as yourself. I was nearly a year between my second internship, which happened after I completed my course work, and my first full-time planning job.

    Was I discouraged? Oh yes. Did I think I might never get a planning job? Sometimes.

    But I finally did. It wasn't the job I really wanted - as a planner on an island in southeast Alaska. But it turned out to be a great learning experience and the first step to a job I really wanted.

    So, keep on trucking. Send out those resumes and job applications. Do your homework on the place you are applying fot a job Go to umpteen job interviews well prepared and do your best. Every time you go to an interview, you will learn more about what they are going to ask you and what they want to hear. By the time you've done a lot of them, you will have great answers for the often-asked questions.

    It is hard not to get discouraged sometimes. I remember. Your opportunity will come.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I will chime in with some specific advice. Looking for Planning jobs in the Twin Cities is like trying out for the Chicago Bears with only high school football experience.

    I am from the Twin Cities and everything (short of small potatoes code enforcement) is governed by the Metro Council. The Twin Cities is amazing in the way they share tax-base between cities - it is very, very progressive. Because of that, people in the planning profession all want to work there. (At least people in the Midwest and great plains region). Even then, the Met Council has a bias towards people from the U of MN Master's program.

    I'd love to work up there but the competition is so fierce you really have to be in your top form.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    cast your net wider, if you can.

    as i was finishing up my Master's i applied to jobs up and down the east coast from Florida to Massachusetts. i received a number of interviews, a few i did by phone, three follow-ups i did in person on my dime. it was worth it. i got multiple job offers and one placed that didn't hire me referred me to an adjacent municipality and gave me a great reference. i ended up taking a job with that adjacent municipality.

    13 months after that first job i took a postion closer to my family and my boyfriend.

    keep at it. look for positions in smaller municpalities. check out local APA chapter websites for jobs. good luck!
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Like the others said, it may be difficult to find your first job even in good times. These are not good times. Many experienced planners are being let go and are your competition for those jobs. Keep your hopes up, though. Consider positions in community development or other related fields. Consider another internship, if you can economize and live off the meager income. Things will change and jobs will return.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I agree with what everyone else has said on here:

    To get the interview, you need to separate yourself from the pack:

    1. Resume and coverletter: tailor both of these to meet the needs of the job you are applying for. For example, instead of focusing on how the job will help you gain experience with your degree, try elaborating on how your degree and internships will help them get the job done. Hit on the bottom line: employers love workers who can get over the learning curve fast, improve efficiency, and save them money (budgets are very tight in the public, private, and non-for-profit sectors).
    2. Portfolio. Send it with each application, whether it's required or not. It can be something as simple as a few writing samples in a binder to a more elaborate digital portfolio on CD to a few rolled out blueprints. I have landed more interviews after college with this tool. Check out earlier threads.
    3. Network, network, network. Get involved in your local APA Chapter, whether that means helping out in committees, attending workshops, etc. Do informational interviews with firms and municipalities. Although few places are hiring, hopefully you will earn some face time with workers which can help you down the road. Don't be affraid of doing un-paid internships: you might earn some valuable experience and gain another network contact.
    4. This last one is geared towards planning students who are still in school: do not wait until you graduate to start looking for work. You should really be doing #1-3 above when you first start school. Students in engineering, ecology, architecture, landscape architecture, law, medicine, business, etc. already start looking for full-time work at or before their last semester in school (December, January, etc.). In a tough economy, this should be a no-brainer.

    Hope this helps-

  9. #9
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    portfolio, portfolio, portfolio

    A portfolio is a must, I brought one to an interview, even though they didn't ask me and I got the job! Keep in mind this was just a few months ago, right after I finished my masters. Having a portfolio really sets you apart from the rest because they are mainly associated with the more design-based fields and I dont think many planners think to make one. In my portfolio: a long writing sample, a short writing sample, a GIS map that I made, a part of a code that I wrote during my assistantship, my thesis abstract, and an illustrated booklet from my studio course.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    I would second the informational meeting strategy. Sitting down for a coffee with a seasoned planner can do wonders. I did this during my first job search and left the meeting with a list of contacts at agencies and firms all over the city.

    I would also recommend broadening your search. My first full-time job was in the communications department of a large city housing authority. The pay was terrible, but it allowed me to dabble in event planning, project management, writing, media and public relations, and transition planning, These are can be key skills for planners.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian shishi's avatar
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    Times are tough. I got my master in May, but have years of experiance. I am planning on relocating from NYC to Twin Cities, Canada, or the Northwest. I was out in the Twin Cities for a few interviews and the competition is very fierce right now. I have been making ends meet with part-time work and numerous freelance gigs. Just keep on sending resumes out and make contacts.

  12. #12
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    Thank you all for your input and advice. I'm glad to hear that my experiences are shared by at least a few others in the field. I've been carrying out a number of tips already for the last few months, tailoring my resume and cover letters for each specific job, networking and attending local APA events, etc. I find the portfolio idea interesting, even though my design skills are minimal. Trying to set yourself apart from the rest of the field can be tough, especially when 60 (yes, 60!) other people are applying for one of the few job openings in the metro area.

    While expanding my geographic range may not be too feasible, as my girlfriend of seven years would be limited in work opportunities in more rural communities outside the metro area, I have begun to expand my search beyond the traditional realm planning into the non-profit community development field, where I have had some experience, albeit internship.

    Again, thanks to all those who have responded. I'll be sure to update this post when further developments positive or negative, occur.

    Kevin

  13. #13
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    I'll chime in with another vote for the portfolio. Bringing one with me to the interview for the position I am currently in was not required but I put a quick one together mainly focusing on my GIS skills and writing in more of a marketing style and after months after I got the job, my boss told me that my portfolio put me way above the rest of the competition.



    Back to the job search front, don't get too discouraged with being unable to find a job in your chosen field. The lack of jobs and the dirth of applicants is by no means limited to the planning profession and it is seeming to be less and less limited to hard-hit geographies in certain areas around the country.

    A couple anecdotes to show just how tough it is out there: My wife, who just passed her CPA exam with undergraduate and graduate degrees from an internationally prestigous university and about seven years experience as a comptroller/treasury analyst is having a difficult time finding an accounting or auditing job in this major metropolitan area (just a couple of months ago, before she was really ready to switch jobs, there were many many more accounting jobs listed at various firms). And she is sort of stuck because in order to actually become a CPA she is required to work for a specific period of time in public accounting.

    A buddy of mine who has his CPA license, JD, and LLM and about 5 years experience in public accounting recently moved to Seattle (which is supposedly still a relatively strong economy) with his girlfriend. After being out there for about 3 months, he has been unable to find a full-time job (yes, I thought he was an idiot for moving out there with no job lined up, but that's another story).

    If I recall the figures correctly, the nation has shed more than 500,000 jobs so far this year!! It seems like the only field that is really doing any good is the medical field. Sometimes I kick myself for not becoming a pharmacist like my mom wanted me to be!
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  14. #14
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    I think that I will be joining this club in a few short months as I enter my last semester of my MCRP. I've made the tough decision that staying in NJ is not a possibility due to the very high cost of living and the lukewarm job market for planners (I don't like that most planning is privatized here either). I will be returning to SC for a time while I hunt for a planning gig somewhere in the South because I can at least afford to live there without killing myself.

    I've noted down a lot of suggestions from our more seasoned friends here. I would really like to work in a municipal/county planning office but realize that the economy is crap and employment opportunities limited. I was thinking of seeing about an unpaid internship/volunteer type arrangement so I can at least get my feet wet a little. Has anyone taken on a new grad in such an arrangement or done it themselves?
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

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    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    It seems that at this point, if you're not prepared to move to a different State, it's going to be tough.

    Even if you have to move to some god-awful place for your first job....do it. You'll have that much needed experience under your belt and it will open the door to much nicer possibilities. Stay there a 6 months, a year, then move on.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kjelsadek View post
    I will be returning to SC for a time while I hunt for a planning gig somewhere in the South because I can at least afford to live there without killing myself.
    The Raleigh and Charlotte metros have still not entered recession (knock on wood). They are good places to look for planning jobs. A lot of the boomers are retiring and being in the right place at the right time could make all of the difference in the world.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kjelsadek View post
    I think that I will be joining this club in a few short months as I enter my last semester of my MCRP. I've made the tough decision that staying in NJ is not a possibility due to the very high cost of living and the lukewarm job market for planners (I don't like that most planning is privatized here either). I will be returning to SC for a time while I hunt for a planning gig somewhere in the South because I can at least afford to live there without killing myself.

    I've noted down a lot of suggestions from our more seasoned friends here. I would really like to work in a municipal/county planning office but realize that the economy is crap and employment opportunities limited. I was thinking of seeing about an unpaid internship/volunteer type arrangement so I can at least get my feet wet a little. Has anyone taken on a new grad in such an arrangement or done it themselves?
    during grad school i did a summer internship with the Town of Hilton Head Island. there was another guy there who was older but interning with them because he was waiting for a job to open up in Savannah. HHI was happy to have the help and the guy was happy to be working and getting experience.


    plus, i would start the job search before you graduate.
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    This has been said time and time again on Cyburbia but I don't think it can be stressed enough-an internship is a HUGE leg up in getting a job no matter if you have a Masters or only an undergrad. Even if you think the job is below you take an internship the experience will be invaluable and it gets your foot in the door.

    Best of luck
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Thanks all. It was kind of along the lines of what I was thinking. I just don't want to be out of the planning loop for a long while before I find a permanent gig and would like to be learning the day to day practicalities of being in a planning office even if it is unpaid. I'm never opposed to taking any kind of job as long as it moves me along in the general direction that I am headed towards. I'm hopeful that I can figure out something that allows me to make ends meet while pursuing planning as a career.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  20. #20
    Cyburbian fructa's avatar
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    same boat

    just writing in with moral support, here - i'm in exactly the same boat. graduated from UM at the top of my class in April, and since then have rated 2 phone interviews and one follow-up, in-person interview. My lease runs out on Monday and I'm moving ... into my inlaws' house. It's kind of humiliating, but we have to be free to move to wherever the job, when it arises, might be, so.... yeah. I thought a masters would make me *more* employable... well, maybe someday. Hang in there; we're all going through it together (which actually makes it harder for each and every one of us, but whatever). I think of all the UM grads, about 6 have jobs at this point? And one guy's already quit his. Whee!

  21. #21
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    kmneill,

    check your email.

    gulfcoast

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    The Search Is Over!

    Thank you everyone for the responses. I received great advice, support and general guidance from everyone that posted. These posts gave me confidence that there actually was a job out there for me somewhere. Seeing all the specific tips gave me a few new ideas and reassured me that I was already taking many of the necessary steps.

    I just took a job with a local non-profit organization and will be glad to get started in just a week from today. Strengthening my connections and taking advantage of the resources I hadn't even realized were right in front of me really helped get this position, and I'm thankful to have great friends sharing great advice.

    Thanks again for your posts. Much appreciated.

    Kevin

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    congrats good luck

  24. #24
    Cyburbian transguy's avatar
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    Great news and best of luck!
    Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress.

  25. #25
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Woot! Great news.

    As for the rest of us....hang in there baby! Something has to come around soon. I did a little homework when I was in SC so I am hoping to cobble something together when I shift back down south. Some friends of mine gave me some good ideas as far as work is concerned even if it isn't pure planning but at least it's somewhat similar and will fulfill my eventual goal. I wish the Census were earlier because I would really like to be a part of that!
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

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