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Thread: Job specialization switch advice needed

  1. #1
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    Job specialization switch advice needed

    So, I graduated with my Master's in Community Planning from the University of Maryland in 2007, and started working immediately for a small private company in the DC area that does federal planning. I took the job because my friend also started working there, it was the first one offered, and it seemed well-paying and interesting enough. Two and a half years later, I'm still there, and happy enough, but I know that it is not the type of work I want to do for a long-term career. It is a lot of facility assessments for the Navy and writing reports about relocating or building new Coast Guard facilities, not exactly the stuff of young planners' dreams.

    I'd like to switch to something in transportation planning or economic development, both of which I have academic, but no real world experience in. Looking at a variety of job postings, it seems like I am stuck in the age-old dilemma where you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get the experience. I also currently earn $60k, nothing super, but enough that I would be extremely hesitant to go back to any entry-level positions with a significant pay cut, not that there are necessarily a lot of those jobs around anyway.

    I'm currently 27, and realize I have a long career ahead of me, but I don't want to be stuck in my current specialization for the duration of it. Is there any advice people can offer about how I can switch planning specializations without starting over again, or do I simply need to wait for the economy to turn around? Is there anything I can do to make myself more marketable, or employers likely to dismiss my resume immediately for not having the right qualifications? I do have AICP and LEED certification though.

    Sorry for the long post, but thanks in advance for any advice you can offer!

  2. #2
    I would keep looking for something you find acceptable that doesn't require experience you don't have. If you really want to switch specialties, though, you'll have to make sacrifices, especially at this time. Luckily, you're in the DC area, where there are a lot of planning jobs. Perhaps you could get into the DOT or some agency that could use your skill set but doesn't require trans experience. Then work your way from there.

    Just out of curiosity, do you work as a "community planner" for the Navy? What position do you currently have?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    60k in a recession and you are 27 with an MUP? Sounds pretty good to me. I would wait out the recession. Get an online certificate in transportation planning or ED that tacks onto the MUP. Compile a collection of writing samples from these courses (or from graduate school) that display your competency in these other areas of planning and make your pitch to other firms...
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  4. #4
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    60k in a recession and you are 27 with an MUP? Sounds pretty good to me. I would wait out the recession. Get an online certificate in transportation planning or ED that tacks onto the MUP. Compile a collection of writing samples from these courses (or from graduate school) that display your competency in these other areas of planning and make your pitch to other firms...
    My thoughts exactly. Granted, Silver Spring isn't a cheap place to live, but there are PDs on Cyburbia that are twice your age and making less than you. Take nrschmid's advice and expand your horizons on your own time. If it makes you feel better, read some of the older posts on this forum and count your blessings!
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

  5. #5
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    As far as I can tell, DC has weathered the recession pretty well, so I can sometimes forget what it's like out there in the rest of the country. Like I said, I'm happy where I am for now, I just know I am going to want to switch over specializations at some point and am not sure how to do it. I'll certainly keep looking for interesting positions that my qualifications do meet, but in the meantime, any specific suggestions on where I can "expand my horizons" or where there's a good place to get an online certificate? Even with this and an improved economy a year or so from now (hopefully), will I likely have to take an entry-level position if it's in a new field?

    Also, how stringent are most employers regarding the minimum qualifications that they post? I've always thought that every position and company is unique in its own way, and that on-the-job training is by far the best way to learn a position. And I consider myself to be a quick learner and pretty capable of doing any position if given a bit of training and time to feel my way, but I'm guessing a lot employers won't even give you the chance to prove yourself if you don't have x, y, and z already on your resume, no matter how capable you may be.

    And chocolatechip, as far as the Navy "community planners," have you been looking at the USAjobs site? I work for a private company, so that is not my job. However, if I remember correctly from seeing the advertised positions, at least part of what I do (about 25% maybe) is what those positions are looking for, and I actually fit those qualifications very well. It's just not a job that is an improvement over what I have now. Except for the hours and vacation I suppose.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by tjconn728 View post

    Also, how stringent are most employers regarding the minimum qualifications that they post? I've always thought that every position and company is unique in its own way, and that on-the-job training is by far the best way to learn a position. And I consider myself to be a quick learner and pretty capable of doing any position if given a bit of training and time to feel my way, but I'm guessing a lot employers won't even give you the chance to prove yourself if you don't have x, y, and z already on your resume, no matter how capable you may be.

    And chocolatechip, as far as the Navy "community planners," have you been looking at the USAjobs site? I work for a private company, so that is not my job. However, if I remember correctly from seeing the advertised positions, at least part of what I do (about 25% maybe) is what those positions are looking for, and I actually fit those qualifications very well. It's just not a job that is an improvement over what I have now. Except for the hours and vacation I suppose.
    In my experience, employers stick to what they advertise as far as minimum qualifications. And in this recession, there's plenty of job seekers out there with more than the minimum qualifications.

    Based on your initial post it sounded like you worked for a federal agency and it sounded a lot like those NAVFAC planner jobs. Anyway... I'm with nrschmid and just waiting it out. Like I said before, if you really want to get into something else, you might have to make sacrifices, like taking an entry level in the place you want, if you can find it.

    You're in an enviable position for a lot of us because you're currently employed, paid well, and in a place where you can easily look for other jobs, so don't throw it away just because you know this isn't what you want to retire doing. Hell, most of us will change entire careers several times, anyway. And 2.5 years is hardly any time at all before you get something else. In fact, it's a pretty short stint, hardly longer than some internships.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    You DO have AICP under your belt, which should mean to an employer that you are capable of working in MANY different areas of planning. However, you will be competing against other certified planners with degrees and experience in your desired specialization. Since you already have an MUP and want to continue working in planning, an online certifcate as I mentioned before should show your seriousness in a different area of planning. I am considering an ED certificate with Penn State down the road.

    You also work in a very specialized area of planning that has little to no overlap with transportation or ED. Since you have done the same military facilities planning for the past few years, you "might" need to downplay that experience when you apply for other jobs down the road, and bring out projects/coursework from graduate school and the certificate program.

    Hope this helps-
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Use the next 2-3 years to earn a certification from the Neighborhood Decelopment Council (NDC) or International Economic Development Council (IEDC). Familiarize yourself with BRAC and begin networking with economic developers in military communities. Use your current position to establish a niche.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  9. #9
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    Thanks for the advice. I'll definitely be looking into some of those programs in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I actually have an interview for a volunteer position on the Silver Spring Citizens' Advisory Council, which is probably exactly what it sounds like. Meets once a month with the local planning board and other community stakeholders to give input on local issues, ranging from development to transportation to education. Is something like this likely to boost my resume much or diversify my experience in potential employers' eyes?

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