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Thread: Worried about my work experience

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Worried about my work experience

    Apologies for posting on a worry that may only apply to me, but I decided to post this in case others can use my question as a resource.

    I feel pretty confident about the schools I'm applying to for next fall, as I'm a pretty good candidate. While my GPA and GRE scores are not stellar by any means, both are good for what I'm hoping to do. Those writing myrecommendationletters think I walk on water, and I'm a confident writer. There's only one aspect of my application that worries me -- my career. It started when I was in college, and I had a ton of responsibility. Then something snapped, I stopped caring about life for a while, and my career has since flat-lined.

    My career started as an internship for a financial trade association, which turned into a job I balanced while in school. I stayed for 18 months while pursuing a full courseload. I had quite a bit of responsibility over communications with membership, and performed very well at that job. I left to pursue a school-related research project, but felt I could have stayed forever. My coworkers and my boss felt that I walked on water. I also got to work on lots of transportation and environmental policy, as our members were very interested in the cap-and-trade legislation then weaving through Congress.

    My decline began my senior year. I'll spare you the details, but I entered a quarter-life crisis, moved back home to Western NY, and basically stayed in a funk for a half year or so, many including days where I never left my bed. I since found a job, got new direction in life (which planning was apart of), and developed a more spiritual/gratuitous side I never worked on before. For the first time since I was very little, I can say that I am happy to be me. I have grown.

    What hasn't grown is my professional life. In fact, it has been a disaster. As my location suggests, I moved to a city not rich in opportunities. I found a job with a small company that, while offering extremely good pay for my age group and this area, it is just not a story I want to emphasize in my resume at this time. I'm doing marketing and international development work for a company an acquaintance owns, which she recruited me for. My efforts have experienced setbacks, the owner chickened, and is now basically paying for me to fill a chair while she figures out how to make use of me. It's not worth quitting over -- the money is good and it may take months to find another job I'll have to quit a few months later. Nevertheless, it feels like a downgrade from my last job, both in importance and the amount of experience I gained. I also can't point to any quantifiable results I gained for this company. If it helps, I did do some things I've never done in my career before -- they just didn't work out.

    I know many admissions committees like to see increased responsibility and growth throughout an applicant's career. This is something of a backslide. Admissions committees probably don't care for my mental health sob stories, and I really don't want to share unless I have to. Is there a way I can spin this? Do admissions committees even care? For what it's worth, the president of the trade association I worked for (who knows me very well) is writing a recommendation letter for me.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Everything looks good. Do not mention any mental issues in your applications. Your early 'career' has its ups and downs, and so with everyone else.

  3. #3
    I agree with mike. If you were applying to get back into the workforce at a high level, some candor may be necessary. For grad school, it's easy enough to explain it away as "I was burning the candle at both ends and something had to give..." and leave it at that. Admissions and faculty understand perfectly. Good luck.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  4. #4
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    I have a similar concern. When I look at what you've done in your career, I think to myself, "at least it seems somewhat relevant."

    It has been 5 years since I graduated college with a degree in history. Since then I've worked in an industry that has nothing to do with planning at all: Reality Television Producing. I fell into the industry because I graduated into the 2007 economy and it was the only work I could find at the time, and my desire for more and more responsibility kept me hooked into taking more and more work until I woke up one day and realized it was my career. While my personal interests, leisure reading, etc do have relevance, I am not sure how to sell (or gloss over) my career and worry that it might paint me as an unlikely candidate to enter a planning program. I've had the fortune to be successful at said career by now, but in my eyes it is a success that I do not want (ironically I despise reality tv), and thus am not sure how to value it in this context.

    I think that I can point to being a strong worker when it comes to ironing out logistics, and by nature as someone with a background in history I am very analytic. I also can boast some degree of quantitative strength and have taken at least one microeconomics course. I just don't know how to tie these in a cohesive way to my career to not only make myself seem like a strong candidate, but also a genuinely dedicated one.

    What would you say about this? Do any of you know people who have entered programs after coming from an unlikely profession? Is there any advice any of you might have?

  5. #5
    Planning programs attract people from a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds. Some grad programs will admit students directly from undergrad with no work experience. In fact, I can't see anyone being denied solely on the basis of their past work experience.
    The important thing would be to stress why you have a strong desire to pursue planning in the statement of purpose.

    Where work experience will be a must is when it comes time for internships or finding a fulltime planning gig after graduation. It's essentially a Catch 22: how do you get work experience to be hired when everyone already wants experience?
    The content contrarian

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by OfficialPlanner View post

    Where work experience will be a must is when it comes time for internships or finding a fulltime planning gig after graduation. It's essentially a Catch 22: how do you get work experience to be hired when everyone already wants experience?
    Exactly. I'm finishing up my undergrad in environmental science right now and was worried about work experience. The first thing I did was just email a few municipal p&z departments saying that I was looking into the profession and that I wanted to see what it's all about. They let me come in as often as I wanted (so I was there every day) and gave me a project working on sidewalk inventorys with a planner on staff, as well as bringing me into various meetings. The connections I've made there have been tremendous and I still drop by the office on occasion.

    My next experience came from me just searching online. I went to department web page after web page and found that the natural resource management office has a volunteer program working on gis mapping and digitizing their stormwatermanagement system. This one wasn't as beneficial as the first volunteer opportunity but it is something I can look back on and point to....

    Such as when I interviewed for my current position. I'm now an environmental planning intern and during my interview they asked numerous questions like "what experiences good and bad have you had at past internships?" as well as others.

    I have slowly worked my way up from somebody just shadowing at the office, to a gis slave, up to environmental planning intern in a PAID position, in the past 10 months just from simply taking the initiative and searching for things on my own.

    I know it's a little late in the game if you are already applying to schools, but see what you can find. Be relentless about things, and take a position even if you think you might not be interested in a certain field, i can guarantee that the connections you make along the way will beneficial in some fashion.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally posted by OfficialPlanner View post
    Planning programs attract people from a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds. Some grad programs will admit students directly from undergrad with no work experience. In fact, I can't see anyone being denied solely on the basis of their past work experience.
    The important thing would be to stress why you have a strong desire to pursue planning in the statement of purpose.

    Where work experience will be a must is when it comes time for internships or finding a fulltime planning gig after graduation. It's essentially a Catch 22: how do you get work experience to be hired when everyone already wants experience?


    Question: Does anyone know which grad programs require or prefer work experience, versus which programs are more likely to take students fresh out of college?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by vl3 View post
    Question: Does anyone know which grad programs require or prefer work experience, versus which programs are more likely to take students fresh out of college?
    No program I can think of outright requires work experience but I know most would probably prefer it. However I don't think having no work experience would be that detrimental to your acceptance since the field is so difficult to break into without a masters.

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