I’ve Graduated, Now What?

Ann Forsyth's picture

Many of those who have recently graduated in planning are currently asking "how can I get a job?" Of course a number of recent graduates do have work. But government budget cuts may mean that local jobs are hard to get. This is the time to use your imagination. To get you started here are some ideas: 

  • Nonprofits are a great place to start. They seldom pay well but you will get experience and typically you will be helping save some aspect of the planet as well. Unpaid internships can often lead to nonprofit jobs-as long as you impress them!
  • Small cities, particularly ones in out-of-the-way places, can also be a great place to work as you'll get to do a bit of everything. You may even start off as planning director-though if that is the case be sure you find a support network!
  • Big cities often have big and complicated bureaucracies with planning jobs in less obvious places like housing agencies, public works departments, and facilities management groups. Look beyond the planning and zoning departments.
  • Similarly, big engineering, architecture, and development firms may have small units that do planning work-planning sites and districts, getting permissions or entitlements, doing public participation, or coordinating projects. One of my most interesting professional experiences was bidding for a job as a subcontractor to the planning unit in a multinational engineering firm. It was fascinating seeing how they put together the proposal.
  • Very small planning firms often hire part-time and hourly people when they have work. Big firms doing smaller projects in your local area may need helpers for things like public meetings. It is a bit unpredictable as a long-term employment strategy but it can give you useful skills and potentially good references. Let your contacts, including your network of fellow graduates, know you are available.
  • Freelancing can take the form of subcontracting for small and big firms, or you can directly contract with a city or other planning entity. Again, it isn't the most stable work but it can give you the experience to get a more permanent job. Over the years I've done quite a bit of this kind of work, a lot of it remotely.
  • Related fields: There are often positions to be had in public policy, foundations, the softer side of engineering, mapping, and so on. There may well be alumni of different colleges who could provide contacts. Take advantage! 

Finally, as well as types of employers you should also consider the locations where you are looking for work. In an earlier blog I advised to be prepared to go to Kansas, meaning a place where you can get great experience and don't have to compete with dozens of other recent graduates. There is life beyond Boston, New York, and San Francisco. 

And in the interim stay gainfully unemployed. Work will come eventually.



This is May's blog, a few days late.
Ann Forsyth is professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.



I've Graduated, Now What ?

All good advice, but way too late in the process. Getting a job (or more importantly getting a modicum of professional experience) should be part and parcel of the learning process, especially at graduate school. As I interview prospective students applying to join the (graduate) planning program that I administer I spend as much time discussing getting experience, networking, and connecting with the labor market as I do about the details of the educational program.

The job market for planning has been transformed over the past decade and as (as faculty) we do our students a disservice if we fail to give them an honest assessment of job prospects, as we see them. I also believe it is our duty to offer employment guidance and support to our students as they progress through our courses and assist them to find pathways into the world of (hopefully paid) work.

subcontracting - how to?

Great article! One question I have as a recently graduated student is how do you get into subcontracting if your network or past work experience doesn't necessarily lead in this direction?

DON'T stop reading

Your planning school education will most likely have left you with MASSIVE and VITAL gaps in your knowledge.

Read everything you can find on urban issues, by Alan W. Evans (University of Reading, UK), Paul Cheshire (London School of Economics), Alain Bertaud (World Bank), Peter Gordon (University of Southern California), Shlomo Angel (NYU), William Fischel (Dartmouth - NH), and Richard Morrill (Washington, Prof. Emeritus).

The essential start, would be Alan W. Evans' two 2004 books, "Economics, Real Estate, and the Supply of Land", and "Economics and Land Use Planning". These SHOULD be among the most-used standard texts (if they are not), the first for urban economics students, and the second for planning students.

Planning in Kansas

Just a word about relocating to Kansas -- don't expect that what seems "out of the way" to you is necessarily a place without planners. The State of Kansas is home to two accredited graduate schools of planning - the University of Kansas and Kansas State University - meaning that we grow our own planners quite nicely. Planners from other places are certainly welcome here, but will have to compete with recent local graduates.

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