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Thread: Landing an internship/entry level position in the Greater LA area while in grad school.

  1. #1
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    Landing an internship/entry level position in the Greater LA area while in grad school.

    Hey guys - first post, though I've been a long-time reader (as was suggested by a former adviser of mine...)

    I was wondering how other planners that launched their careers in SoCal went about finding their first internship or entry level job.

    A bit of background about myself - I went to school for planning out in LA and lived there for 3 years. The semester before graduating, I decided to return home to Wisconsin for a short stint, realizing that this would be my last chance to live near family for quite some time (if ever again). I moved back to Wisconsin to finish up my degree and will be graduating in May with a degree in Geography - Urban Planning Emphasis. Because I went to school here in Wisconsin, I was able to take a year of cartography and GIS that I wouldn't have been able to had I finished up in California, but I am lucky enough to have taken course work in CEQA as a result of living there for a time.

    That being said, I've been accepted into a masters program out in LA. I'm greatly looking forward to returning, but have hit a bit of an impasse as far as my job search has gone. I haven't had an internship, and have been having the toughest time finding one. I'm willing to do any type of work - from planning for a city or county, to consulting/project management, to working on CEQA documents (though my preference would be to work with a city planning department or with a Metro).

    Where are the best places to look for entry level positions/internships? How do you feel about cold calling for internships? Am I crazy for hoping that I'll find a paid internship?

    Thanks in advance for your help. I must have applied to 20-30 jobs/internships in the last 90 days and haven't been having good luck. Most places I follow up with send me straight to a voicemail.

    While, I'm certain that living far away puts me at a disadvantage, I know that it only takes one person willing to take a chance on me. I'm hoping that my resume, being chuck full of CA zip codes will help...

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by p.gritzmacher View post
    That being said, I've been accepted into a masters program out in LA. I'm greatly looking forward to returning, but have hit a bit of an impasse as far as my job search has gone. I haven't had an internship, and have been having the toughest time finding one.
    Dozens of threads on this issue. They are all the same. Economy, no building, competition, no building. Lots of folks in the same boat. Advice on all the threads: network.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    I got my first internship though through my advisor in grad school. I got my first job doing what everyone else did, applying for all applicable openings and interviewing until someone took me in. As for internship opportunities in the LA area, you might want to try SCAG or Metro... they usually take in a few interns every year.

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    ColoGI - understood. It has been tough networking from out of state. I do have some contacts (other students that have found employment, as well as my adviser in LA), but really wonder if I stand a shot through other means.

    cng - I've been working close with my advisor, and he has been absolutely fantastic in supplying leads and links. It just seems to be tough to separate myself from the crowd. I have applied to Metro, but haven't had any luck talking to a 'real' person when following up. When you found your first internship, was it just a waiting game or did you diligently pursue follow-up?

    Thanks for the idea of contacting SCAG. I haven't even really considered them.

    Do you know if many of the internships pay? It's going to be tough to afford living in LA, working 20+ hours a week interning, and making time for another job to make ends meat (which I know from experience). Finding a paying gig would be key - though it may be too much to ask in this economy...

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I have applied for planning jobs while working in other states. Here are a few tips to earning interviews.

    1. Build up your network of out-of-state planners. Luckily when I was laid off from my planning job in Kansas a few months ago, I already had several contacts in Texas, which led to several interviews. Cyburbia and LinkedIn groups helped.
    2. Show how your planning skills in your state relate to typical projects in the other state. You are going to have to do quite a bit of homework on this, especially if you are unfamiliar with how planning works in other states. Many on here will tell you that planning in California is VERY VERY different than most other states (that will be one of your biggest crutches).
    3. Do NOT say you want to move anywhere because of the nice weather, culture, etc. That's okay BUT you need to back it up with more detailed reasons.

    Plenty of incoming graduate students want internships before they start school, and that is very understandable. It helps to find out how planning works before they make the investment. However, internships are still hard to come by, and many employers are reluctant to award internships unless you have at least 1 year of school under your belt, but there are exceptions.

    If you really want to find out more about the profession, a simpler way is to set up informational interviews and shadow a planner for a day or two. If you do it out of state, like I did when I was considering an MLA at UGA in April 2008, you might have to take a few days off, pay for a plane ticket, and do a heavy round of interviewing.

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

    Family Guy

  6. #6
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by p.gritzmacher View post
    cng - I've been working close with my advisor, and he has been absolutely fantastic in supplying leads and links. It just seems to be tough to separate myself from the crowd. I have applied to Metro, but haven't had any luck talking to a 'real' person when following up. When you found your first internship, was it just a waiting game or did you diligently pursue follow-up?
    My advisor went to bat for me and made the initial phone call, telling them it was a requirement that I finish an internship as part of the graduate program. By the time I contacted them myself, they had pretty much set up a schedule for me. Needless to say, I don't expect it to be this easy for everyone else.

  7. #7
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    nrschmid - Thanks a ton! I have been trying to leverage my CEQA knowledge. I'm thinking that maybe attaching a portfolio (CEQA documents that I've helped create, General Plans, Neighborhood Plans) would be incredibly helpful.

    I've been doing quite a bit with LinkedIn and making my first attempts at joining this community. You've all be so welcoming!

    I have been shying away from talking about specifics about the place, other than saying that Los Angeles is the reason that I decided to get into planning. One day, I was driving through the 401-101 interchange and thought to myself, "Why is this the busiest interchange in the US? What factors are pushing people into the valley? How does this impact their life?" These questions undeniably are why I want to enter this profession. Learning and practicing in the area that has inspired me would be a dream come true.

    From what I gather it may be in my best interest to attempt to find a job in another profession during my first year, if at worst, as a backup. I can keep attempting to find an internship, but I'll probably have better luck a year or so down the line.

    One of the things that I have going for me (as far as flying out is concerned) is a network of friends that will take a bit of the cost burden out of heading out west. This should be instrumental. When you were setting up informal interview, did you head into the interview with any set expectations? Was this simply practice? How receptive were the potential employers?

    cng - You're making me kick myself for transferring out. The school I'm graduating from requires a capstone rather than an internship. I've been working with a city helping them develop a neighborhood plan, but haven't actually been working in the office with them. I've been the group leader, and have been responsible for organizing, writing, editing, photography, and GIS work but I'm not sure that this is something that I could appropriately express on my resume. My former school (the one in LA) required an internship, so your option was probably far more likely at that time.

  8. #8
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    A bit of an update - I was able to land an interview for an internship. Best piece of advice for people in the same situation as me: not everything is posted. Sometimes, you have to be willing to cold-call planning departments to ask about potential internships. Likewise, you may have to be willing to accept an unpaid internship simply to gain experience and exposure.

    Thanks for all the help guys!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ThePinkPlanner's avatar
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    Even before the economy took a downward dip, paid internships were hard to come by. I know what its like to need the money- I put myself through school. So I started with unpaid work with a low level of commitment just to get my foot in the door and get something on my resume. I went to school full time, worked 20 hours a week at nights or weekends for actual cash, and still got 5-10 hours in a week at my internship. I started off with small projects that weren't sexy, but weren't paper-pushing or coffee-fetching either. After a few months, they started to give me some paid opportunities from various small grants. I rode buses and asked people about public transportation, then managed all the survey data into a report. I helped out at charettes and other public meetings, and by the time summer came, got at least 20 hours per week paid. I think many places will take you if you are competent and free. And they'll find a way to keep you and pay you if you prove yourself as a worthy asset.
    Good luck!

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