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Thread: Small city planning manager to big city lower-rung planner? Bad career move?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Small city planning manager to big city lower-rung planner? Bad career move?

    I have been working as a manager for planning, building and code enforcement in a city of 20,000 for a couple years now and I have loved the experience. However, since my career began, my goals have now transitioned into working as a department director or city manager for a larger city. (The arrogant side of me wants to be a big fish in a big pond).
    However, my wife and I have been looking to relocate for quite some time and an opportunity has opened up in a different area for a larger city (250,000 people), but as an assistant planner. Thing is, it is a City in which I would like to establish myself and move up and the pay, actually, would be substantially higher than what I currently make now.
    However, it is not the money I am after. My fear is that, in light of my goals in my career, someone 5,7,10 years from now would look at my resume and see this "demotion". My mentor weighed in over coffee and said many people will look at relocation for family as somewhat noble and to let my work speak for itself. But I am still leary of how a move like this would play in my career.

    Any thoughts?
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Number 1s get fired, numbers 2s retire. Go for it. You will be able to focus on real work without the budget and personnel crap. Some cons however. You can't become number 1 without budget and personnel experience. You just might know more than the boss, and it takes a certain personality to grovel. As for your specific question, I agree with your mentor and would not worry. The career track I grew up with just does not work in today's market. You will be taking on additional duties and responsibilities anyway, perhaps more people to supervise. I would ask about a change in title from Assistant Planner to something more ego boosting such as Deputy Director, Planning and Zoning Administrator, Planning Manager.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    There are a lot of details that make it hard to give too much advice, but I think it is a perfectly reasonable explanation for you to give to any reasonable person. You wanted to work in a larger city, an opportunity came up, while the title is not what you would have liked, the experience hopefully will be. Most likely your plan would be to work your way up within that city, no? If so, it's less of a worry anyways. People love to promote good people from within.

    Just go into it with your eyes wide open, look into the politics of the new city and make sure they are ones you can live with, etc.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    How many people work on the planning staff at the new city? Where does "assistant planner" fall in the hierarchy over there? Personally, I would be very reluctant to take a new job at a lower position, no matter how prestigious the department/firm/whatever. The problem with getting into a big pond, is that there are a hell of a lot more fish than you are used to, and sometimes no matter how big you think you are, it's really the amount of time in the pond that matters.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I'm all over the place with the idea. I have the same career goals and my wife would love to move to a bigger city, but so far I just don't have the time in as a rural county director. On the plus side it's easier to get hired if you live in that city, especially if this is the city you want to retire in. No one has to pay for moving expenses. I think people will understand taking a demotion for you family and life. Also, I've always considered going from small pond director to bigger pond assistant director at least equal if not a promotion due to the increased problems of bigger ponds. If we're talking a drop to counter assistant you would really have to talk up why you made the jump and that you're not burnt out, run out of town, etc. It might make interviews a little more difficult, but I think the resume will still land you an interview.

    Good luck!
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Well, it is possible you could be seen as overqualified. I'm not sure how much that happens in our world, but there's a chance that the planning or hiring manager would be wary of hiring a managerial-type figure for what is really a entry-to-mid-level position. Not necessarily that you would be butting heads, but they might make assumptions about whether or not you can work under someone when you already have years of experience working over people.

    Of course, this is all on their end, so you can't do anything to change that. My advice is to search for more manager/director-type openings instead of Assistant Planner positions.

  7. #7
    I've got mixed feelings about it. I did the traditional, minion in a larger city, the PD in a small, rural jurisdictions. I've also been a PD ever since. I also progressively moved from smaller jurisdictions to larger ones.
    While I don't have a problem with and it's a very understandable move, you will have some explaining to do if you want to become PD again.
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    That's tough zman.. I demoted myself from a senior planner level / management level position in the private sector for a more stable, public sector gig in a location that my wife and i agreed would be far superior for our family (plus getting and finding a job in 2010 was a feat of its own). While it was great the first year or so learning the ins and outs, after about 2 years I have been itching to move up to a more senior planner / manager position that fits more my capability than say, "counter" planner or "project re-designer". I have purposely omitted my title out of my resumes that i send out because i fear hiring managers would look badly upon that.

    Not to mention I have a co-worker, while good at their job, I just have a better grasp of law, processing, and and overall abilities, but the person has been here longer than myself. It really sucks knowing this and knowing that person makes more money than i do.

    Taking the demotion for family and economic reasons was still in good choice imo, but it definitely set me back goal and career wise because i envisioned myself at least in mid-management by now, not barely getting by and making a tad over what i made in 2008.
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Do what you want to do, be happy and forget about how you look to others. Life is too short to worry about appearances or titles.

    If you are happy you will excel.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Thanks for the all the weighing in. I spoke to a long lost Cyburbian last night who has experience in this region and got some inside information.
    Yes, Ego plays a role in this.
    Yes, I actually like the role I have had for 2 years in which I deal with budget and personnel. While the resume "back-step" is a consideration, I am unsure I would be happy going back to an on-call counter planner role.
    I have been morphed into an administrator's role and have found my strenghts and stride with that. I'm not the employee to come in, get my work done, and leave.
    I currently supervise 4 people, have the door to both the city manager and the Council open and great support on process. Looking after Code Enforcement and Building staff, not only planning, I am very challenged.

    I think I may wait until something of a resume bump or desire responsibility type position comes up. But I think I will still interview, there have been jobs about which I have learned much during the interview.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  11. #11
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    how much autonomy does the position carry? if you have to be looked over on your projects or day to day operations, knowing the little of you that I do, I think you will go stark raving mad

    how old is the director - do you think they will leave or retire over the next decade - if the person is a "lifer" then you won't ever get to that position - and if you walk in with a 'tude like you want that person's job and they feel it, it might not be a great place to work

    i agree with your mentor (how awesome you have one btw) that moving for family or I want to live there reasons always works on a resume

    interview and sniff it out at least, as you posted

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Sounds like you made the choice, and I think the right one. The one way you might consider it would be to move into a different management role. As example, from planning director in a city of 20,000 to long range planning manager in a city of 250,000. Otherwise, moving to a simple planner role is not going to help you move into another director's role.
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