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Thread: What do managers really think about those with a master's degree in planning?

  1. #1
    Mar 2015
    Evaston, IL

    What do managers really think about those with a master's degree in planning?

    This may seem like a silly question for some, but I certainly want to hear other's thoughts. I just came from a interview that left me confused and maybe slightly offended.

    The interview itself was really great. I met with two of the Sr. Planners/Managers of the planning department. I thought I was a great fit for the position and a good opportunity. The position is entry-level for the agency. But then it all took a u-turn when the hiring manager of the current planning division asked me a strange question. Actually it wasn't even much of a question but more of the comments that left me a little bewildered. Basically he asked about my degree, which is a master's in urban planning. He questioned whether I was serious about the work, that he's worried that I may be too "idealistic" about planning. He proceeded to lecture me that planning isn't about finding the best use of space but just managing what people want to do with their land. Maybe some programs don't do a good job talking about the realities of the planning profession. And what he said wasn't necessarily all wrong. I just was taken aback that he made a generalization about me as if I were naive about planning, which I assure you I am not.

    I feel there are so many other reasons someone may be concerned with candidates with a Master's degree, but the assumption that one with a master's degree is too idealistic? Do managers think this about planners with a master's degrees?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
    Aug 2001
    Rustbelt Incognito
    This has nothing to do with your degree. It has to do with your personality.

    When I was interviewing for a summer internship during the first year of my masters program, the CEO of a nonprofit basically did the same thing to me, casting doubt at my good intentions. I think it was a tactic on the CEO's part to convey their focus. Ultimately, I did not choose that non-profit.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
    Jan 2009
    Remote command post at local bar
    It sounds like something you said in the interview coupled with possible pre set notions of the current planner led them to think you might be idealistic. My guess, the "best use" comments may have set him off. He's right that we don't actually find the best use of land, the market tends to do that, but he's short sighted for thinking planning just manages peoples land.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
    Nov 2002
    Ocean to the east, land to the west
    There are lots of jaded planners out there. Not sure what to do with them but acknowledge that there are lots of crappy situations in planning land but that doesn't mean there are never opportunities to use your learning and experience to make your community better. It's all about knowing when to push and when not to.
    Don't read the comments section. You want to, but don't do it.

  5. #5
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
    May 2003
    Staff meeting
    You ran into a dud of a manager/professional. Don't work for this person.

    I'm a manager with 16 years development review and long range planning experience with an MUP.

    A Masters or Bachelors is part of getting to the interview, but if I can tell the interviewee is a knucklehead in person after asked the right questions. I won't hire this person.

    A Masters degree is not a universal red flag, but it's not a universal pass either. It depends on the person.

    Good luck on the job search.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

    You know...for kids.

  6. #6
    Sep 2010
    About 45 minutes southeast of Thibodaux, Lousiana

    I've had to defend my master's degree on many occasions. I'm careful how I phrase things, but I'm not shy about saying that I believe that more education in any field makes you a more competent professional in that field. Is is nurse with more training/certifications better than a nurse with less? Is an electrical engineer with a master's degree a better electrical engineer? Most likely, yes. (Note: PhDs excluded...that is truly it's own thing)

    It seems that management usually suffers for the following issues (assuming they are older, government folks with minimal formal education):

    1. Masters degrees are intimidating (What if that new hire knows more than I do?)
    2. Master's degrees are nothing more than personal enrichment courses for idle liberals. (Who needs book learnin'? The best way to be a planner is to memorize this ancient code and offer prompt, polite service at the zoning counter)

    There are still MANY out there that think that planning is nothing more than zoning administration. They really think it's just clerical work. To me, that makes for a very depressing work environment.

  7. #7
    Feb 2013
    The Midwest, God's gift to Planet Earth


    I find your potential manager’s comment both laughable, confusing, and disturbing because in my experience, you really can’t get your foot on the door in planning nowadays without a masters degree (at least in the major metros) since most people don’t study planning in undergrad. Your potential manager sounds woefully out of the loop. Over 40 people applied to my entry level job in PA (where higher ed in planning and AICP aren’t really required or necessary ) and most of the applicants had a masters in planning. It may depend on what sort of talent pool he / she was recruiting from; if HR was looking mostly at local candidates, there might not have been much competition from outside people with masters degrees?

  8. #8
    Nov 2009
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    They already had a candidate in mind, however, they needed to fill their quota for X amount of interviews they were required to do. So they didn't care about offending you before you left. This has happened to me more than a dozen times as a MUP graduate in municipal planning interviews. It just shows lack of tact on their part.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian solarstar's avatar
    Aug 2002
    It sounds to me, with that "idealistic" statement, that he may have run into a planner or two right out of school that may have acted that way. Like others have said, it's really naive to believe that anyone with a Master's degree is automatically out-of-touch and too focused on ideals. I have worked with one planner (in a depressingly long career) that I can say was too idealistic and couldn't grasp that we had to follow our own code and not what she thought was best for the universe. She was really an extreme case, though - it says a lot to have a degree in planning in my opinion (mine isn't, so I obtained that AICP to show that I wasn't entirely clueless). It's probably a good thing you heard this at the interview, though - that's a good sign to move on to a happier place.

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