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Thread: Masters in urban planning but can't find work

  1. #1
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    Masters in urban planning but can't find work

    Okay I hate to beat a dead horse, BUT we all know that the economy is not so great . I guess this is just a post to vent. I have been out of planning school for a little over a year now and can not find work. I have been interning all this time for experience and have made my search national. I am pretty sure there are some other indivduals in my boat. Any advice out there would be greatly appreciated. This situation is extremly overwhelming and I feel like I have exhausted all of avenues in my job search

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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I don't know that there is one answer that will find you a sure and quick solution. What I believe is that you really need to do two things:

    1. Intern / Volunteer / get experience. It looks like you are doing this. Hopefully you are getting a better understanding of how the system works and getting your head into the real world and out of the ivory tower. This will help you sell yourself when you are...

    2. Networking. This is the most important thing to do. Building a network of people that know who you are, know what you can do, and know that you are able to fill a position when needed, is the best way to find a job. It takes time, effort, and many times failure, to figure out how to build a successful network of contacts, friends, and co-workers.

    If you do both those things, it will help you get yourself ready to act when the opportunity does arise. Obviously keep applying everywhere. There seems to be an increase of job opportunities over the past 6 months. Hopefully you will find something that fits you.

    Good luck!
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    Thanks Hink. Yes I have been interning, which has given me much experience and allowed me to meet alot of people in the transportation field. *Fingers crossed

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    It's pretty slow everywhere. I just finished my planning masters myself and have had only rejections so far. My classmates who finished before me had to wait typically four to six months before landing their first full time gig though eventually most found positions they are enjoying. I too hope to find work soon. I am also applying nationwide but curiously am having more luck getting interviews from local places than elsewhere.

    Looking at the location you are in (Northern NJ), it may be tougher. There is a glut of planning schools down there (Rutgers, Pratt, NYU, etc) and the metro NYC economy had been really hard hit. A friend of mine moved to NYC a few months ago and has yet to find full time work. It's pretty hard up here in Boston too so I'd look out for smaller communities that are further away from planning school locations. They will have a harder time filling positions than major cities that are glutted with planning graduates.

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    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    I would be curious as to how wide a net you're throwing out there. Are you willing to move from one side of the country to the other? I didn't make that drastic a move myself, but when I was unemployed, leaving my state was about my only option.
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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by rent8104 View post
    Okay I hate to beat a dead horse, ... I have been out of planning school for a little over a year now and can not find work. I have been interning all this time for experience and have made my search national. I am pretty sure there are some other indivduals in my boat. ...This situation is extremly overwhelming and I feel like I have exhausted all of avenues in my job search
    Very common refrain on this site, and will be for several more years. Keep at it and keep the networks you built in grad school going. Eventually something will break free, in the meantime stock shelves at Lowe's if you have to.
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    Quote Originally posted by Slideruler View post
    It's pretty slow everywhere. I just finished my planning masters myself and have had only rejections so far. My classmates who finished before me had to wait typically four to six months before landing their first full time gig though eventually most found positions they are enjoying. I too hope to find work soon. I am also applying nationwide but curiously am having more luck getting interviews from local places than elsewhere.

    Looking at the location you are in (Northern NJ), it may be tougher. There is a glut of planning schools down there (Rutgers, Pratt, NYU, etc) and the metro NYC economy had been really hard hit. A friend of mine moved to NYC a few months ago and has yet to find full time work. It's pretty hard up here in Boston too so I'd look out for smaller communities that are further away from planning school locations. They will have a harder time filling positions than major cities that are glutted with planning graduates.
    Yes NYC is oversaturated with planners. I graduated from a NYC planning school, but live in NJ

    Quote Originally posted by Coragus View post
    I would be curious as to how wide a net you're throwing out there. Are you willing to move from one side of the country to the other? I didn't make that drastic a move myself, but when I was unemployed, leaving my state was about my only option.
    I am open to move anywhere in the country.

  8. #8
    Anecdotally I can say there are a lot of openings here in Texas. Several of my classmates from grad school in Florida have landed decent paying planning careers in DFW, Austin and Houston. Although not directly related to planning, there are several right-of-way companies that are looking for experienced professionals with GIS.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    It sounds like you are doing the right things. You can still expect it to take a long time. Many times your best opportunities will be in remote rural locations. Are you willing to live in rural Central Missouri, Eastern Montana, or the Plains of Texas for two years? Fewer people are, so the competition can be much less. Also, your masters will count for more, even without a great deal of experience. You may also find that the position is planning-related rather than purely planning, or that it encompasses everything. For example, you might find a position as a Main Street manager or Extension agent. Then again, you may be the planner, code compliance officer, economic developer, grants specialist, and in winter, part of the snow plowing crew. You should also expect to make very little. Another thread here was recently discussing a position that paid $25,000 to $35,000 per year, and you can believe they were hiring closer to the $25,000 figure. Inexpensive housing only helps a little.
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    It sounds like you are doing the right things. You can still expect it to take a long time. Many times your best opportunities will be in remote rural locations. Are you willing to live in rural Central Missouri, Eastern Montana, or the Plains of Texas for two years? Fewer people are, so the competition can be much less. Also, your masters will count for more, even without a great deal of experience. You may also find that the position is planning-related rather than purely planning, or that it encompasses everything. For example, you might find a position as a Main Street manager or Extension agent. Then again, you may be the planner, code compliance officer, economic developer, grants specialist, and in winter, part of the snow plowing crew. You should also expect to make very little. Another thread here was recently discussing a position that paid $25,000 to $35,000 per year, and you can believe they were hiring closer to the $25,000 figure. Inexpensive housing only helps a little.
    Unfortunately, I can not work fulltime for 25k, especially when I make a decent hourly rate as a part-time intern. But this is also the NYC Metro region so pay is a bit higher here. I will keep networking and the search continues

    Quote Originally posted by OfficialPlanner View post
    Anecdotally I can say there are a lot of openings here in Texas. Several of my classmates from grad school in Florida have landed decent paying planning careers in DFW, Austin and Houston. Although not directly related to planning, there are several right-of-way companies that are looking for experienced professionals with GIS.
    I would actuallly love living in TX. I have been looking there, applied to a few things yesterday. Thanks for the heads up.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by OfficialPlanner View post
    Anecdotally I can say there are a lot of openings here in Texas. Several of my classmates from grad school in Florida have landed decent paying planning careers in DFW, Austin and Houston. Although not directly related to planning, there are several right-of-way companies that are looking for experienced professionals with GIS.
    I work basically two different jobs. Job #1 is contract work doing GIS (around 40-45 hours a week here in Houston, TX and I am paid a competitive hourly rate. The contracts for job #1 are all over the country and I am currently working in at least 13 states but I don't need to travel. None of the work is planning, although a small fraction of the contracts deal with ROW. Job #2 is my own business that I am starting (with more contract work around the country). I am keeping my AICP for right now but I don't intend to go after too many planning contracts since planning is a dead skeleton of a profession.

    There "is" GIS work to be done down here in Houston (and in Texas) but I want to stress a few things: mapping in the state of Texas is jacked up (a huge huge nightmare) that doesn't compare with any mapping I have done anywhere else. My job is VERY fast-paced and I had to teach myself MapInfo on the fly. I already knew the ins and outs of ArcGIS, having worked extensively in the program on actual projects for over a decade. Jobs down here generally expect GIS people to have industry experience (which means most planners are out of the running) ON TOP OF my technical skills. Don't expect to just apply for any GIS job down here if you don't have a decent amount of work experience. You are going to have to charm your way into non-planning jobs, and I relied HEAVILY on marketing my transferable skills (see previous posts).
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  12. #12
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    In my limited time spent on the job hunt (I'm currently in grad school), I have found that you really can't predict who's going to call you in for an interview, so just be diligent and use networks. I recently got offered a full-time, pretty well-paying job that I didn't even apply for, but have yet to get any calls for internships that I've applied for. If you're open to jobs that aren't necessarily just for planners, that may help too. The job I'm taking really falls into the realm of market research, but it's through a public agency so I still feel like I'm having an impact on the public good and using skills relevant to planning. In fact, the job description didn't even mention a planning degree. Trust me, I have no educational background in marketing or business, but I was able to talk about transferrable skills.

    Also, a note on networking. I tend to be very shy at networking events, so I don't usually talk to a whole lot of people, and I almost never leave having given out or received business cards. But I do pay attention to who's there, and I will occasionally send an email afterwards to start a connection with someone at a company/agency I may be interested in. I also do a lot of networking using social media. It doesn't always pan out right away, but sometimes those informational interviews or email inquiries pay off. The job I just got was partially a result of sending my resume to another company back in early November. I also had an interview earlier this month with someone who had gotten my name from someone I had met back in October. You just never know.

    Best of luck!

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    Ah, could I but do things over again. Differently.

    Fine example of what not to do, I am. 55 and trying to beat my very capable daughter to the first Planner slot in the family. In May, she exits her Fifth Year Masters Program and has matters wired with the Mayor's Office in Pittsburgh. Gives me just three months.

    Feds are not hiring from the general public until at least September. The exception is Forest Service firefighter which you are young enough for but they already ruled me out. How might eligibility improve? Peace Corps is a rough option. Does qualify for Federal preference for a year, if memory serves. Americorps is the daughter's route to employment. Might be the source of your internships, too, for all I know. Pays squat but does have some educational repayment benefits and might have some employment preference benefits for the Feds. Worth a phone call at least. Active Duty Armed Forces anyone? They think nothing of my time in the Reserves.

    Advice from a Portland, OR planner was head into the boonies. Said that planners from his area cut their teeth in Utah for the most part. Human Resources analyst from the Federal Natural Conservation and Resource Service made the point that geographic flexibility was the real key to entering Federal Service. Pointed to South Dakota where they simply could not find qualified people willing to go there.

    Reminds me of an interview in Mt. Shasta. Somehow got on the subject of wives and looking for same. "No. You have to bring one of them with you."

    There are a lot of sacrifices to be made to strengthen eligibility. Did not make said sacrifices in my younger days. Bargains made to fend off other devils and cannot regret that however costly. If you have no devils, count your blessings and consider that the hiring climate will improve and has never been in your, my, or anyone else's control. The latter is a mental state management reminder, by the way.

    Give you a qualified suggestion right now. Rapid City, SD. Mt. Rushmore. Harleys. Cool. Planner slot. Catch is that it is a transportation specialty and my background is economic and community planning. Have to hope that you are a transportation geek.

    Best.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    I will 2nd or 3rd the advice of looking south and west. I am just entering my mid-career, finished my Masters in 2007, and just moved to Texas from Illinois. Texas wasn't hit as hard by the recession, and is still growing pretty strongly. I am in the Houston area in a city of about 75k, and am plenty busy. The TX APA seems to be posting at least one new position a week. I have hope that we are slowly beginning to come out of this, as I am seeing more places with job ads.

    Coming out of school is tough, it took me almost 4 months to land my first gig, right as the market was beginning to cool in late '07. If you want to do planning, stick with it and eventually something will come through.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Signature's avatar
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    Turning Internship into Job

    Hi all,

    I am wondering if anyone here has been able to transform their internship into a job. BUT I want to ask specifically about the last few years: 2008-present. This is not the roaring 1990s or booming early 2000s.

    I have a planning master's. I have been able to get public sector internships (suburban, county) but I have not been able to get a job in the public sector. Has anyone? If so, wanna tell me what specialty (ie, transportation) and if you are big city or small town. My guess is only transportation types in Big cities have been able to do it.

    Thanks!
    "Believe. No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit."

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Signature View post
    Hi all,

    I am wondering if anyone here has been able to transform their internship into a job. BUT I want to ask specifically about the last few years: 2008-present. This is not the roaring 1990s or booming early 2000s.

    I have a planning master's. I have been able to get public sector internships (suburban, county) but I have not been able to get a job in the public sector. Has anyone? If so, wanna tell me what specialty (ie, transportation) and if you are big city or small town. My guess is only transportation types in Big cities have been able to do it.

    Thanks!
    Not to harp on the obvious, but cities/counties are making do with slashed budgets by getting free-cheap work out of interns and contract part-time work. That is how they are making do. When money comes in, a few are able to hire full-time. I am starting to see the RFPs pick up hereabouts and some of the private big firms are starting to look around for contract bodies. They are the early indicators in this place that things are loosening up a bit.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Signature's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    ...Not to harp on the obvious...
    It's really a shame that practioners have the attitude that its okay to exploit younger workers. Really shameful since this supposed to be a public service/helping profession. I have seen a few who've been willing to help, but some have been cold as ice towards the younger aspiring planners. Just leveling with us that there is no opportunity in the profession would have been nice. Instead, they just don't speak to us at all. I'll make sure to pass on to my university what my experience has been, because young workers don't deserve that kind of treatment.

    Sorry ColoGI ...It's just been EXTREMELY frustrating. I'm glad you think things are slowly turning around. I hope more practitioners will reach out to the younger folks. We need more guidance and friendship.

    Sig
    "Believe. No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit."

    ~ Helen Keller

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    Internships worthwhile, to wit...

    Okay, back to the history that cannot be replayed. Passed on always as cautionary tales.

    AICP. "AICP preferred." Lots of ads. What separates yours truly from taking the bloody test? Two years in a recognized planning capacity. Would internships fit the bill? You bet.

    Woops. Worked project management in the building trades for how many decades? Advice to work at Lowe's is really sub-optimal. Give your internships their due.

    The test is not a gimme. 60% pass rate. Only twice a year at registered locations after nearly a strip search at the door. Lots of design history that you slept through to restudy. Basic statistics. And so on.

    Every AICP accredited planner that I have talked to expressed a sense of accomplishment, like folks get after Boot Camp, at being able to cobble together a work history documenting two years of experience. Part time here after part time there with what percent recognized as planning by the APA? Look it up and get a chapter representative to give their counsel. They are really happy to do so.

    In no way is it too early for you to get on with the documentation end. Personally, I would like to be in your position and wonder whether, in spite of the obvious demoralizing tales, you are about to turn the corner on your professional career.

  19. #19
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    Try checking your local Americorps office for planning or planning related jobs.

    I just finished my MUP and am working as a planner through an Americorps funded collaborative planning a HUD Choice Neighborhood project. It doesn't pay much but it is great experience and a lot of fun.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Signature View post
    Sorry ColoGI ...It's just been EXTREMELY frustrating. I'm glad you think things are slowly turning around. I hope more practitioners will reach out to the younger folks. We need more guidance and friendship.
    Sig
    No problem. Its a long road and there's not much gas in the car. Exploitation is what capitalism does, and public sector planners work for cities that have had austerity forced on them, and we all know how well that works out (not that that stops some American pols from implementing it anyway).
    -------
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  21. #21
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    Leveling with Folks

    "Just leveling with us that there is no opportunity in the profession would have been nice."

    Nasty. Short response because I am biting my tongue about an essay length Viet Nam analogy applied to the state of the planning profession and the country at large.

    I hope that I am following the correct Cyburbian protocol in the view of the moderator. Have never used the private messaging.

    If Signature and rent8104, in particular (I may have missed some others), care to drop me a private message I will mention two Vermont planners who were reasonably candid during my search there. They took a lot of time on the phone to talk to me. I bet that they would be willing to do it again.
    Last edited by Max; 22 Feb 2012 at 12:28 AM. Reason: typo, redundant word

  22. #22
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Signature View post
    It's really a shame that practioners have the attitude that its okay to exploit younger workers. Really shameful since this supposed to be a public service/helping profession. I have seen a few who've been willing to help, but some have been cold as ice towards the younger aspiring planners. Just leveling with us that there is no opportunity in the profession would have been nice. Instead, they just don't speak to us at all. I'll make sure to pass on to my university what my experience has been, because young workers don't deserve that kind of treatment.
    Young workers are exploited in every profession. It is the nature of seniority. Interns learn by doing work that senior planners don't have time for. Does that provide the best learning environment... probably not. Unfortunately, when public sector planners are being asked to do more with less, there are only so many options. Personally, I don't have time to babysit. I would love an intern that is motivated and willing to learn. I have looked, and with tight budgets, there is just no money to pay someone.

    I had 4 internships in undergrad and grad school. They were invaluable to me. Obviously this was prior to the economic collapse, so everything is harder now. I get how hard it is to do simple tasks and hope to help on projects.

    Again, personally, I love students, interns, etc. I have always tried to provide opportunities for students at our local colleges, and even those in Cincy or Columbus to volunteer here for experience. The value that you get from such an experience is two-fold - 1. You get to work on a project that you can use as a resume piece. 2. If you don't completely stink up the room, you can probably expect to get a letter of recommendation from me.

    You aren't going to get paid, but you are going to get experience. And from a hiring perspective, I want the guy/girl who has experience and good letters of recommendation.

    Many places just don't have the ability to support an intern or a young planner. I am optimistic that we will see more opportunities in the future though.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Many places just don't have the ability to support an intern or a young planner. I am optimistic that we will see more opportunities in the future though.

    I don't. This is the same stuff I have been hearing for the past 5 years...it will get better. What are working with this time around as we work out of a recovery:

    New construction: barely
    Public sector benefits: slashed/significantly reduced
    Budgets: much smaller or slashed
    Workload: too high for an entry-level
    Planning profession: too many people for too few jobs
    Internships: stolen from practicing planners
    Tuition: no cheaper

    If I had these constraints going into school or the workforce, I would have jumped ship before I even started. It's just not worth it. Am I pessimistic, probably. But I have been hearing this "it will get better" garbage for the past half-decade. Enough is enough. I left the profession and have no regrets.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Many places just don't have the ability to support an intern or a young planner. I am optimistic that we will see more opportunities in the future though.

    I don't. This is the same stuff I have been hearing for the past 5 years...it will get better. What are working with this time around as we work out of a recovery:

    New construction: barely
    Public sector benefits: slashed/significantly reduced
    Budgets: much smaller or slashed
    Workload: too high for an entry-level
    Planning profession: too many people for too few jobs
    Internships: stolen from practicing planners
    Tuition: no cheaper

    If I had these constraints going into school or the workforce, I would have jumped ship before I even started. It's just not worth it. Am I pessimistic, probably. But I have been hearing this "it will get better" garbage for the past half-decade. Enough is enough. I left the profession and have no regrets.
    Planning profession has slowed down immensely but several of my classmates who graduated last year were able to find planning positions after 4-5 months wait. A prominent planning professional did tell us young planners and new graduates that there are too many newly minted planners getting into the field right now though. The same thing happened in the 1970's he said and many ended up taking non-planning related positions. Either way, I'll be happy to land a position that uses at least some of what I learned in planning school.

  25. #25
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Many places just don't have the ability to support an intern or a young planner. I am optimistic that we will see more opportunities in the future though.

    I don't. This is the same stuff I have been hearing for the past 5 years...it will get better.
    The big difference from then to now... 5 years has past. We are now exiting the recession. Things will get better, and they already are. Planning jobs, although no where near the level they were in 2006-2008, are coming back. I see two or three a week now, where before it was more like 1 a month or worse.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

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