Working from home? So are we. Come join us! Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, planning adjacent topics, and whatever else comes to mind. No ads, no spam, no social distancing.
This is a cautionary tale from a long-term unemployed planner. I was laid off nearly 2 and half years ago. Initially, I applied to planning jobs and another field in a former career. I live in the Northeast which seems to graduate more planners than the the local economy can handle. My wife makes more money than I did and she refused to move again so I'm stuck. So here's my advice . . .
1. Upward- You better be able to get increasing responsibility and more impressive projects early in your career or you're going into career stall. Your best bet to break that cycle to impress the hell out of new employer. As I tell others, "Don't worry about failure. Most people don't get the opportunity to fail." You'll get screened out before getting assigned things deemed over your head. I did what I was supposed to do in my first planning job but it was a small office and a lot of the more complex plans were done by consultants. My superior got his job at the right time. His boss quit and he got a promotion in a year after he was first hired. Good to work for talented people who can build you up rather let you stagnate while they get all the credit. Also good to work in a place where staff looks like they are older and may retire in the near future. That's how another guy I was hired with moved ahead.
2. Onward- You are your resume or you better have a great story that overcomes a lackluster resume. If you aren't progressing, you'll be stuck in your position which is ok if you enjoy what your doing and don't want more pressure. Unfortunately, if there is an economic downward you'll be gone if you don't have seniority or if you're just another faceless employee. Better be prepared to move if you don't get a job in 6 months to 1 year tops. There's a shelf life on your education and experience. If you don't get a job soon enough, you may get an interview but you'll be screened out of many jobs as most employers are risk adverse. Cast a wide net on where you're willing to work. I've always wanted to live in different places but some people can't imagine leaving friends and family behind.
3. The after (planning) life- If you can demonstrate flexibility and competence with measurable achievements from the planning field it may help but most non-planners interviewing you won't be impressed by your planning credentials alone. I always wondered what people do if they lost their planning job and can't get another within say a year of actively looking for a job. When I decided to get my planning degree I did some research before on the job market outlook and asked a local planner who attended the same university on how hard it was a get that first job. She said was hired before she graduated and thought "bingo" I've come to the right place. I later found out she lost her small town planning job when the town made some cuts and she became a church secretary. In my case, I found myself expanding the list of acceptable jobs knowing that nearly all of them paid at least 20% less and I'd be at or near the bottom of the totem pole in a new field. This is especially true if you're over 50 and your resume looks more impressive than the guy straight of school. He's got potential, will work cheaper and probably used a computer in his crib. Better to accept a bottom line of what you're willing to do and choose from some unenviable jobs believing at least your not working in a field you really hate. Me, hated restaurant and manufacturing jobs because I'd been there and done that. I had one job interview where I was told to expect to be physically assaulted on the job and I couldn't even get that job. Ironically, I have another job interview there coming up. I did do the gig economy job with Lyft for six months but I read on the internet that it (same goes for Uber) it's not something you want on your resume unless maybe for a driver job.
Urban planning isn't a bad field so I'm not going to trash it on my out because it didn't pan out for me. When you choose a field of study in college you really can't sure if you'll get a job in that field or if you'll find yourself quitting or getting fired later on. Hopefully, you had a good time in college or learned how to think for yourself and have some goals on what you want out of life. Planning is just a job and if you don't work in the field you can't call yourself a planner. You move on to gain some experience in something new which you may have never experienced if you had a clearer career path. Lastly, you may want to see the Japanese movie "Ikiru" Ikiru - Wikipedia. It's about a planner and I saw it years before I got into the field but it stuck with me.