A Timeline for Job Hunting in Planning

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Many students are understandably worried about getting a job once they graduate. The slow economy has made this more difficult and also changed some of the parameters in terms of approach and timing. For example, many employers are hesitant to make early commitments, delaying some phases of the job search. In this blog I outline a strategy for using the academic year to find a job or a summer internship using the North American academic calendar as a base.

Fall, from September to November, is the time to prepare your approach.

  • Visit your university's Career Services office (they likely have a branch in your college) and find out about their services. Go to sessions on topics such as cover letter composition and networking. Use their coaching services to do mock interviews or have them critique your resume. Find out how they can link you to potential employers.
  • Go to lectures and conferences where practitioners are speaking and get a sense of the variety of opportunities available. At this stage don't be too picky-if you want to work in a firm consider government and nonprofit opportunities as well. If you are interested in economic development consider real estate, housing, and transportation as relevant areas.

The winter break in December and January is a good time to do preliminary informational interviews.

  • An informational interview involves the student or job seeker interviewing someone for general career advice, not to gain employment. Such interviews are typically short-20-30 minutes-and focus on general topics such as career paths and the outlook for new graduates
  • As a helpful New York Times article points out: "The other person is doing you a favor, so it should be about what's convenient for the interviewer, not you." 
  •   To find people who will do such a favor you might talk with Career Services. They may have list of alumni prepared to grant such interviews as well as employers who have hired multiple graduates of your program who may be wel-disposed toward current students.

This information will help you focus your job search strategy during the early spring.

  • This is the time to look for upcoming opportunities and start sending our resumes. In good economic times people are hired in the early spring-this is less common now as employers wait. However, there are a number of more formal government and internship programs that have early deadlines and you don't want to miss them.
  • You can also set up additional informational interviews for spring break.

In the late spring my best advice is to finish your degree.

  • If you have to choose between finishing your courses and sending out another application, finish your courses. Employers are justifiably worried about people without a degree in hand-with a degree in hand you will be a much more attractive prospect.
  • Of course, send out applications but don't do it at the expense of completion. Many students put off completing their thesis only to have it drag on for the summer or even for a year. Students either forgo employment or if they get a job are distracted by the need to finish academic work.
  • Attending the national APA conference can be a good idea if you want to relocate-it has a substantial job fair and inexpensive registration rates for current students.

If you don't have a job in May or June look for temporary positions. My tips on gainful unemployment may be useful.

This is my July blog, rather late. I have a number of other blogs on finding a job including using the internet wisely for job huntingmore on job hunting,thinking broadly about job options,. and tips on staying gainfully unemployed if you can't. There is also information on   internships.
Ann Forsyth is professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.

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