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Thread: Entry level woes... advice?

  1. #1

    Entry level woes... advice?

    Hi all.
    I'm a recent MUPP graduate; Iíve got about a year of an internship under my belt, and what I believe to be a strong academic and extracurricular resume, though lacking in much planning work experience.

    I know the economy sucks right now and thatís a big damper on things, but does anyone have advice about getting employers to take notice of a true entry level resume?

    It seems everything Iím seeing listed as ďentry levelĒ is actually 2+ years experience required!?!?! Iíve even seen some only requiring a bachelorís but require 3-5 yrs experience!
    Is there such a thing as an entry level job anymore? Or are we stuck working part time internships, pro bono volunteering to boost our resumes while poring coffee at Starbucks as the student loans start rolling in?

    Any thoughts appreciated.


  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Sure there is a such thing as an entry level job. When times are good, which is obviously not the case now, many public sector employers will allow you to substitute your undergraduate/graduate level experience as X number of years of experience. Most entry level jobs are appropriate for people leaving grad school. That is the rosy scenario...

    In today's economy, there are a large number of unemployed planners with undergraduate, graduate, and real world experience. It is, unfortunatley for you, an employers market. Given these facts, you are competing against people who meet and exceed the experience criteria who do not need to use their graduate experience as "credit" towards real experience. This is putting you at a competitive disadvantage. Further, many private firms and public agencies are reducing staff or are in hiring freezes. That means there are fewer opportunities for young professionals like yourself to break-in.

    My best advice is to find a job to make money and volunteer with an agence or firm to continue building experience. Try to weather the storm, it will get better, it will just take time.
    Satellite City Enabler

  3. #3
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Plan-it is right on the money...its not you, its them. The economy is terrible right now for all entry level jobs across the board because more experienced people are willing to work for less and you are competing with them directly.

    One advantage to being fresh out of school is you are up to date on the latest in planning theory and practices. Don't be afraid to let people know your specific interests or issues in planning. I stressed my interest in historic preservation in my interview last spring for my entry level job and it turns out they needed someone to fill that knowledge void in their staff. Planning department hiring, at least those of a reasonable size, is not about building up an individual planner, but a team with a broad base of knowledge and skills that can best serve a government or client. Best of Luck!
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  4. #4
    best advice would be to apply anyways... you never know what the applicant pool is going to be like.

    if you can't find a traditional Planner I job... try and find something a bit more on the fringes... I came out of college with a BA in Planning, and I lucked into a job with the state transportation department that was planning-related.

    I guess a lot depends on where you are willing to work and what you are able to do... I work in a rural area, which I don't think I liked as much as I thought I would... but parts of this job i really like.... and even though Im not really doing what I would think of as "planning" (more specifically, I want to do land-use planning and economic development)... I can really think of a LOT that i've learned at this job.

    I'm going back this fall to get my masters.... My personal hope is the 2 years I've spend at my current post, plus a MUP, would make a pretty darn qualified candidate for a Planner I job.

  5. #5
    Thanks, all. That's what I figured but it's calming, hearing it from others.


  6. #6
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    You might have to apply for jobs in cruddy little towns, with nobody trained in the planning field residing there, in a place most people wouldn't want to move to.... just to get those first couple years of work experience under your belt.

    My first job was for a regional planning commission in a small town in iowa, which happened to be my hometown. And that was with just a bachelor's.

    And apply anyway, even if you don't have the years of experience they say they want. If you can prove to them that you are a quick learner, etc, then you may beat out a competition full of experienced boneheads.

    Good luck

  7. #7
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Get up to speed about transportation and sewage issues quick. The stimulus package is going to create an oppotunity for those who can obligate federal funds.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan-it View post
    In today's economy, there are a large number of unemployed planners with undergraduate, graduate, and real world experience. It is, unfortunatley for you, an employers market. Given these facts, you are competing against people who meet and exceed the experience criteria who do not need to use their graduate experience as "credit" towards real experience.

    This just isn't entry level. Let me put this in perspective. I recently applied to a job in southern california as an associate planner. Min. reqs were 3 plus years, project management experience, CEQA, document writing, etc. The filling period closed a week and half ago. I spoke with the HR rep there and she said they typically only take 1-2 weeks to review and notify candidates of their status through mail/phone. This position received over 300 applicants. Even if you discard 20% of the applicants as people just applying to apply for "a" job, this leaves over 240 qualified applicants. ! So, it is rough out there. My question is, how do you set yourself apart from a pack of 240 applicants?
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    My question is, how do you set yourself apart from a pack of 240 applicants?
    One way is to put some effort into your application and thoughtfully address the job requirements. Look at how to describe your experience, even if it wasn't professional experience, in a way that shows you have what the job requires. I once worked for a firm were we hired someone whose work experience before graduate school was several years as a flight attendant. She showed how it involved working on deadlines, dealing with customers, dealing with crises, etc. She gort the job because she showed relevant experience. Keep in mind that these things have to pass the straight-face test. So give them a lot of thought.

    I have spent days putting together KSA's (knowledge, skills, and abilities) for particular jobs (and much of the effort can be recycled into other applications) and it always has paid off. If nothing else it shows that you are taking the situation seriously. Describe relevant class projects, how your thesis addresses particular requirements, how while you don't have a particular skill you are going to get it.

    I believe that it is a mistake to just send in your standard resume with a generic cover letter. Remember that everything you send to a prospective employer should be used to sell yourself. Briefly address, with specifics, the job requirements in you letter, and focus your resume on the job requirements. It's a lot of work but it pays off. I'm hiring right now and I got about 85 applications for a single position. I was not impressed with letters that just said "Here's my resume." I was not impressed with resumes that just listed jobs without shaping the description of the jobs to the one being applied for. And I was not fooled by resumes with bullsh!t objectives that said "To be a planner in a small. coastal Oregon town." (I am an emeny of objectives statements in resumes anyway. They are wastes of paper and space.)

    Don't limit yourself to a one-page resume if more will be helpful. Put in things that show the skills you have, or that you are a hard worker (paid for college by splitting firewood and delivering it? Put it in). If they make you apply electronically with a specific form, submit your additional materials as supplementals.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    If you can swing it, do a few unpaid interships / volunteer efforts. I had to do it under Bush #1 and it paid off.

    Wait. I'm 40 and unemployed - thanks Bush #2.

    *sigh*

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I agree with Otis, everything needs to be tailored. Include a portfolio of your work, which is also specifically tailored to the job description. Yes, this might take a couple days of work for one job position, but I think it pays off in the end.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Volunteer effort, and special outreach, can pay off.

    I was offered a temp position that was to be created specifically for me because I sent a draft press release describing the recent release of the new city bicycle map.

    V: Nice map. As bicycle club newsletter editor, I'd like to publish a news item about it. Got a press release?
    DDA director: Don't have one, too busy to write it.
    V: [draft document]
    DDA: I like it, change this one item. Are you available for work?

    Hope that this is of some inspiration to someone.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by P1nr_Bill View post
    It seems everything Iím seeing listed as ďentry levelĒ is actually 2+ years experience required!?!?!
    I've searched urban planning job listings on and off for several years. I don't get the impression this is a "new" development. It may be worse than usual, but I have seen lots and lots of entry level job listings over the years that require a bachelor's degree and 1 or 2 years experience. That has long stumped me in terms of "How on earth does anyone break into this profession?"

    I never managed to finish my bachelor's in environmental resource management with a concentration in land use planning and policy but I do have a certificate in GIS. Still, I have been working for over two years at something not related to planning at all. In my case, there are additional complications, including many years spent as a homemaker and a life threatening medical condition. For me, getting healthier has been the single biggest goal I have for furthering my career. With getting healthier, my performance at work has gradually improved. I think that will eventually open up more opportunities for me.

    Good luck with this.

  14. #14
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    What Should I Do?

    I just graduated with a B.A. in Mathematics from Fordham University. I really would like to get into urban planning, and I'm leaning towards community development/revitalization. I'm not quite sure what the next step is, whether or not I should go straight to grad school and get my masters, or should I first try to find an entry level job or an internship with a CDC or the City Planning Commission. I have tried the latter and have been largely unsuccessful, and it has become increasingly discouraging.

    If I go on to grad school, then I will almost certainly have to take the GRE because of my very weak gpa and transcript, but I'm not a good test taker at all, and my experience has been that standardized tests do not accurately reflect one's aptitude in a subject. What should be my next course of action? Is there any way to enroll in an urban planning program without taking the GRE, despite having not so strong undergraduate credentials?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by neef263 View post
    I just graduated with a B.A. in Mathematics from Fordham University. I really would like to get into urban planning, and I'm leaning towards community development/revitalization. I'm not quite sure what the next step is, whether or not I should go straight to grad school and get my masters, or should I first try to find an entry level job or an internship with a CDC or the City Planning Commission. I have tried the latter and have been largely unsuccessful, and it has become increasingly discouraging.
    B.A. in Mathematics and no experience or education in Urban Planning. I think you should head to school and get 1 or 2 internships while you are there. By the time you are done with the two year program, the job market will be better and you will have a better shot at landing a job. I am sorry if this sounds rough.
    Satellite City Enabler

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by neef263 View post
    I just graduated with a B.A. in Mathematics from Fordham University. I really would like to get into urban planning, and I'm leaning towards community development/revitalization. I'm not quite sure what the next step is, whether or not I should go straight to grad school and get my masters, or should I first try to find an entry level job or an internship with a CDC or the City Planning Commission. I have tried the latter and have been largely unsuccessful, and it has become increasingly discouraging.

    If I go on to grad school, then I will almost certainly have to take the GRE because of my very weak gpa and transcript, but I'm not a good test taker at all, and my experience has been that standardized tests do not accurately reflect one's aptitude in a subject. What should be my next course of action? Is there any way to enroll in an urban planning program without taking the GRE, despite having not so strong undergraduate credentials?

    Plan-It pretty much sums it up. If you are a terrible test taker, than may i suggest a study prep course, or if you can, visit your university's career center, they may offer free test prep courses.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by neef263 View post
    Is there any way to enroll in an urban planning program without taking the GRE, despite having not so strong undergraduate credentials?
    My understanding is that you can usually take a few classes without being enrolled in a Master's and that if you do really well in those classes it can help convince them to let you in. I would suggest you hit the library or do some googling on the topic.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by neef263 View post
    Is there any way to enroll in an urban planning program without taking the GRE, despite having not so strong undergraduate credentials?
    Not every school requires the GRE. My university, which offers an accredited MUP program does not require the GRE. Unless you are dead set on a specific university already, do a little more research into some other schools. You could also think about related programs like geography, public policy, or public administration that may not require the GRE for that particular school (I've noticed that the GRE is usually not a university wide requirement but that it varies by department, so even if Fordham (or whatever school you were thinking about) requires it for the planning department, the economics or political science departments might not require it).
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  19. #19
    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone View post
    My understanding is that you can usually take a few classes without being enrolled in a Master's and that if you do really well in those classes it can help convince them to let you in. I would suggest you hit the library or do some googling on the topic.

    This does help. I got into an great MUPP program with no GRE. I took every Urban Planning class offered to undergrads at my university and I think that really added to my acceptance.


    And as an update to this thread, I'm still looking for full time work
    The pile of rejection letters I've amassed has made me more thankful for my part-time position.
    Also an interesting note; though a number of sources have shown urban planning as one of the top 50 careers of 2009, I think the entry level market is over saturated (or the mid experience level is, making entry openings more sparse.) I've had more than one recent rejection letter say they've reviewed 200+ applications.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by neef263 View post
    I just graduated with a B.A. in Mathematics from Fordham University. I really would like to get into urban planning, and I'm leaning towards community development/revitalization.
    If you're interested in Community Development there are many programs you can go into that aren't specifically Planning. You sound like you would be good at Economics, which is a large component of CD. You could also look into a Sociology program to get a good background in preparing research for CD. I have a BA in Planning but Master's work in Sociology with Econ Development specialization. It's not Planning but it definitely helps keep me grounded in my Planning career to see why the public likes/dislikes certain things and that even though we'd like to see something change or improved, studying CD lets us know if that's politically or socially possible.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    If you are in Chicago maybe you could visit the APA office and try to get volunteer work there. I have no idea if they accept volunteers but you could try it out. Libraries usually appreciate volunteers and they haev a library there. Maybe they need volunteer help setting up these Tuesdays at APA lectures. Maybe those are naive ideas, but I am just throwing them out for consideration. If you can afford it, go to the National Conference for networking. Or go to a state conference if they are scheduled for any time soon.

  22. #22
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    If you're interested in Community Development there are many programs you can go into that aren't specifically Planning. You sound like you would be good at Economics, which is a large component of CD. You could also look into a Sociology program to get a good background in preparing research for CD. I have a BA in Planning but Master's work in Sociology with Econ Development specialization. It's not Planning but it definitely helps keep me grounded in my Planning career to see why the public likes/dislikes certain things and that even though we'd like to see something change or improved, studying CD lets us know if that's politically or socially possible.
    The non-profit and community development corporation (CDC) universe is alive an well in the more populated areas. Although you might not be making a lot of money, the work is often pretty hands on, varied, and gives connections to government entities that you can leverage in the future.
    "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

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    There is an entry level job on the job board in NC. Pay isn't great but it also isn't an expensive area. Good Luck anyone.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian permaplanjuneau's avatar
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    When I was enrolled in the Urban Planning program at the University of Utah, I needed an internship--all of my fellow students who I talked to were moaning about how they couldn't find anyone who would even accept them as an unpaid intern, so I was a bit worried when I walked into the Salt Lake City Planning Division and asked to speak to the Director. I had an appointment with him later that week, and my internship began the week after that. Apparently, all of my fellow planning students had just assumed that the biggest Planning Dept. in the county wouldn't have space for them--incorrectly. Several months after my internship was over, I received a phone call from my former supervisor offering me a data-entry job in the department. Obviously, I took it, as it was a foot in the door, and I got it because I ignored my nay-saying peers and asked for what I wanted (and I got it).

    Similar lesson, a year and several thousand miles later: over 50 applicants for two Planner I positions (for comparison, the last time my department had a Planner I opening, we had over 100 applications), and I was the only local who was qualified for the job--I was hired over other applicants who were more qualified than I was because I was physically in the town I wanted to work in, and told my interviewers that they should hire the most qualified person for the job, but that I would keep applying until I was the most qualified applicant (we have a very high turnover rate). They believed me, and five years later, I'm one of the most senior planners in the department.

    The lesson I take from this experience is to (again) be honest about what you want and why (I told them that I wanted to be a Planner in my home town, and would keep trying until I got that job), be selective about where you apply (only apply where you are actually willing to accept a job), and be ready to explain how YOU will suit the needs of the position at hand better than anyone else will.

    If you live in an area that is flooded with planners, you may want to move to an area with fewer planners and get a "holding pattern" job until you can get the job you want--rural and small-town agencies are more likely to look favorably on an applicant with familiarity with the area than on a "big-city" outsider with training but no understanding of "how things are done around here." Another great thing about small agencies is that you are more likely to get to do a wide variety of work, instead of getting pigeon-holed as a "residential plan reviewer," "subdivision reviewer," "CDBG Planner," etc.

    In addition to internships, volunteer experience, etc., becoming knowledgeable in particular "hot-button" issues is a great way to set yourself apart from the masses. If you are a Certified Floodplain Manager, are familiar with EPA SmartGrowth's new/pending storm water discharge regulations, LEED-ND, etc., you could be just the planner an agency needs to fill a gap in staff experience.

  25. #25
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I diidn't want to start a new thread, but...

    Can I offer a few tips of advice from a hiring authority?

    - If you are registered on gov't jobs (dot) com, I recommend you review your on-line registration for accuracy. Please.
    - Read the job description carefully. "Yard dude" is generally not a minimum qualification for a planner position. Use your humor in the oral interview (if appropriate), not on the application.
    - If you scheduled trucks out of the chicken rendering plant, you're probably not qualified to be a land use planner.
    - Don't list that you're AICP if you clearly don't have the minimum experience to even qualify to take the test (for that reason, I'm not even going to bother checking with APA to verify). If APA gave a waiver, well, I'm pissed and we all should be investigating this favoritism.
    - Submit an updated resume; not one from 2008.
    - Don't list every course you took in college.
    - Explain long gaps between employment.
    - Don't request a desired salary that is above the range listed on the recruitment.
    - Don't use all lower case lettering.
    - Spell check is important.
    - "Got bored" is not a good reason to list for leaving a job (although it may be true).
    - If you have a master's degree, list your bachelor's degree too.
    - Follow all directions on the form.

    It's ugly, but it's true. Don't waste our time.


    Anything else to add by other folks in the position to hire?



    Maybe this should have been a new thread, but my head is spinning tonight from the material I reviewed today.
    RJ is the KING of . The One

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