Author: Jennifer de Graaf

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Networking for the Rest of Us

Welcome to the last of five posts (here are post one, two, three, and four) about networking (finally!!).  It took me a staggering 9 months to write this last post; I was not typing the entire time, I swear.  I’m sorry for the delay if you were actually looking forward to this, though I believe that sometimes things happen for a reason.  Perhaps some of the experiences of the last month here have been why I didn’t get my act together before now.

Last month, I left my job and decided to be full-time “on my own”.  Networking before was an important part of being a professional, but now it is a matter of getting that next project or not…. And if not, then (shudder) getting another job. 

For me, networking always seemed to “businessy” and not my style.  I’ve always been schmooze-averse, and never really saw myself as being a networker.  What I’ve discovered over the last several years is that building relationships is the very best networking you can do.  Here’s where I got schooled:

I started teaching for UC Berkeley Extension this past January.  My students were from incredibly diverse backgrounds with all sorts of skills and knowledge that will help them stand-out as professionals when they finish their program.  One of them, however, is on her second career, having already had a rather accomplished first career.  We had lunch earlier this week and chatted about her new job and my going solo.  I commented that I had no idea where my next project would come from, that I wasn’t sure I knew how to find clients.  What she said was such a ‘oh, DUH’ (she rattled off a list of networking tasks like call people I’ve worked with before, reach out to friends) that I wondered where my brain had been.  Seriously.

The point I want to make to you, dear reader, is that “networking” works vertically and horizontally.  Where I hope to be helpful to her in her career in Landscape Architecture, she is already helpful to me in getting better at marketing myself and my business.  I’m not limiting my network to prospective clients or employers; if I hadn’t been having lunch with my student, I wouldn’t have benefited from her broader knowledge of marketing tactics.  You never know who will be useful to you or you to them, so why not bring it to everyone!?

One more story, then I’ll be quiet:

About a year ago, I participated as a portfolio reviewer for the ASLA NCC.  During the event, each of the reviewers was asked to say something to the whole room, to share a lesson learned from the event.  At the end of my spiel, I invited people to visit my blog, friend me on Land8Lounge, and so forth.  Networking, right?

Take a guess at how many people out of 18 sent friend requests or followed up in their expressed interest.  Go ahead, try to guess.  Only one person followed-up with me, and she was the woman who had coordinated my participation (rock on, Toni!).  Did she follow-up because we had more contact before the event?  Were others shy?  Did I suck eggs and nobody wants to talk to me?  I don’t know.  My point is that there are plenty of opportunities to connect, and few people are actually doing it.  Are you?

Networking is a bit like making friends, but not always so personal.  If someone isn’t a good member of your network, move on.  Surround yourself with people of all kinds, bosses, students, colleagues, and strangers.  Tell everyone what you do … better yet, tell them why you do it.  Landscape Architecture is a seriously fabulous career to have, so keep up the good work!

5 Reasons to Bother Networking

In the last three posts, I have been talking about networking – where to do it, ways to grow your network, and talking about one of the secrets to networking that few people acknowledge.  However, we should at least know why we’re doing all this, right?!  At the time of this writing, I have just walked in the door from a networking mixer.  The mixer wasn’t one of those super organized things where people pay to be a member and stuff like that, this group is more informal, all organized by one woman who knows a lot of people, and most of the attendees are individuals working for themselves or about to take that leap.  Among the many people I met tonight, these four stood out:

  •  A personal assistant who was happy to talk about how her work was going, some of the challenges she faces, what she loves about it, and I came away feeling like we could be friends.
  • A photographer who introduced himself by saying ‘let me tell you why I’m here’ but if your business didn’t have a storefront that he could do a 360° panorama photo of (his latest product), he was out of there, looking for the next person to sell on a 360° image.  Nevermind the fact that he also does portraits and I could probably use a new headshot.
  • A woman who was starting a bicycle-delivered soup company.  Her Pear Parsnip soup sounds delicious and I hope that the two cafes I suggested to her as potential clients work out, and I hope that they start carrying Pear Parsnip so I can go eat it.
  • And a financial advisor who spent a very long time chatting with me and answering all sorts of questions about how his business works.  I was able to learn why he does this work and what the rewards were.  I recognized in him the same passion for financial advising as I have for Landscape Architecture, and that is no small thing.

I came home with five business cards, and I probably handed out seven or eight.  I might call one or two someday, and I might not (I’m sure as heck not calling that photographer!).  Someone may call me, but not likely because they’re personally in the market for my services as a landscape architect.

So since very few of these people are my clientele, and none of them are prospective employers, why go?  Nevermind this event, why network at all when so much of what we do comes from a few narrow sources?  Below are a few reasons to network.  Reasons to meet new people, see if they’re someone you might want to keep in touch with:

  1. Looking for a job or a client are obvious reasons to network.  ‘nuff said.
  2. But it is also good to learn something about what others do, like everything I learned from the financial advisor.  Who knows, maybe someday I will have a financial advisor as a client, and something I learned tonight might keep me from sounding like a total idiot on the subject.  Maybe he will be a client of mine someday, or think of me for a client of his and send a referral.
  3. Talk about business and finding leads (the financial planner and I shared ideas on finding clients, and I may have helped the soup girl find two cafes).  You never know where a good idea might come from, or a good referral.
  4. Be supportive and get encouragement.  This is worth its weight in gold, believe me!  I enjoyed sharing stories and ideas, especially from those on the front lines of going out on their own.
  5. Gain practice explaining what you do and also practicing making small talk with total strangers.  It is important to be comfortable explaining Landscape Architecuture to laypeople and finding ways to talk about it that resonate.

What’s the worst that could happen?  You meet some new people and spend an evening shaking hands that don’t result in more work.  I know I’ve spent my fair share of evenings doing far less productive things than that. Whether you go to mixers or chat with random strangers on the subway, I hope you’ll keep the above five items in mind.

Next time I will be talking about networking for people who hate networking (like me!).  Got a great networking story?  Hate networking, and never want to do it, not ever, no way, never?  Let me know in the comments! 

6 Ways to Grow your Network

Okay, so you went somewhere and talked to lots of people.  You followed my advice on the best places to network and you even tried to apply the best kept secret in networking, but you still don’t have that shiny new job or fabulous client, and you’re cursing the very seat I’m sitting on.  ‘Thanks for all the lousy advice, Jen’, you say. 

Well shoot, man, what’d you expect?  Those new contacts don’t know you yet; your work is far from over.  In fact, networking is never over.  For those of you who hate it, I’m oh so very sorry to have to tell you that.

The point of networking isn’t to ask for opportunities from everyone you meet.  It is to build relationships that are mutually beneficial.  When it works in your favor, you can usually look back and see how an opportunity came along through your network, and those more fruitful contacts are often some of your closer relationships with other people.  People who know what you do, what your goals are, and are inclined to send opportunities your way.  So it is important to build the strength of these relationships.  Below are a few ways to do that.

  • Participate:  when you attend an event, sit by a stranger.  Want a presenter to remember you?  Sit right up front where they can’t miss you.
  • Connect:  Ask questions of people you meet and show an interest in whatever they say.  Tell them something about yourself that they might find interesting.  Do you both adore Teacup Chihuahuas?  Awesome!  Talk about that.  You already know that wherever you are is something you have in common, there’s no reason you can’t also have other things in common.
  • Share:  Aside from your love of microscopic dogs, tell your story.  They say that people ask questions that they themselves want to answer.  So ask someone their story.  ‘So….what brings you here when you could be home with your sweet dumpling of a dog?’ you ask.  They’ll tell you their reasons, opening the conversation up for you to tell yours.
  • THANK YOU NOTES:  I cannot stress this enough.  Whatever form you choose, thank you notes are serious business.  Even more so if you write it by hand and mail it.  Email is okay if you don’t have that kind of contact information, but if you can find it, do.
  • Keep in touch:  whether your communication with people you meet is mostly online (emails or through LinkedIn), or in person, keeping in touch is important.  I’m not talking about finding another chance to sell the other person.  I’m talking about keeping in touch with another human being.  Finding out how they are, simple as that.
  • Ask for introductions: Do you know someone who knows someone? Better than the impersonal LinkedIn introduction, ask that well-connected person to introduce you somehow (trust me on this, its not the only way, but I do believe its the best, most expedient way!) – if your friend is a trusted source, it kinda doesn’t matter if the introduction is via email, phone, or in person.

I found this article on networking “POTTY training”.  I think it is cute, and had to share it with you.  Do you think its cute?  Do we also both adore the color green and Siamese cats?  Let me know in the comments! 

20 Places to Exercise your Networking Skills

Okay, so the 2013 ASLA Conference isn’t until November, so you still have some time to dust off your networking skills and make your travel arrangements.  I realize conferences can be expensive and out of reach for many people, but the rewards pay off in the end, especially if you take advantage of the networking opportunities.  Whether or not you are able to make it to Boston for this year’s conference, let’s think about other in-person places to build your network.  Here’s a start: 

Still in school or recently graduated?  You get to add:

  • Classmates and Alumni
  • Tours of firms: who did you meet?
  • Project jurors and visiting speakers:  did you make a connection while they were there?
  • Instructors

What about online?!

I’ll get to more on networking techniques in future posts, but in the meantime, look at the facets of your world and find opportunities to meet people. How many of the above are part of your life?  How many can you easily add?  I’m sure there are countless things that I should add to the list, so please feel free to add your favorite in the comments!

As always, thanks for reading!


Networking Part 1: The Best Kept Secret to Networking

I’ve got networking on the brain.  Despite increasingly digital interfacing, personal connections still rule, so here we are.  Of course, everyone uses the word “networking,” and whether you’re looking for work or not, having a network to leverage – for whatever – is a very good thing.

Last post, I mentioned the contact cards that emerging professionals were handing around at ASLA.  I was so impressed with the savvy students and recent grads I met!  People at ASLA’s national conference (waaay back last fall) were chatting in the lines for coffee, beer, books, vendor tables, and in the lecture halls.

Everywhere you looked were people who were likely interested in something you liked too.  Anywhere at a conference you can be standing near someone, read their name-tag, say something (anything, really), and find something to talk about.  Congrats.  You’re networking.

EXCEPT…. if you leave that conversation not knowing who you were talking to, they don’t have any idea who you are, and neither of you has a reason to follow-up with the other.  Now you’re just chatting-up a stranger. No congrats for you.

So when you meet new people, networking is all about starting a conversation that will go beyond that initial contact.  You need to find out whether you can benefit that person or they can benefit you….

OOH!  Did you see that?  The best kept secret of networking?  It is right there….find out if there’s some way that YOU can benefit THEM.  Don’t have anything to say?  Check out this article from on the right questions to ask and how to ask them.

I’ll be spending the next few posts on networking for landscape architects. I’ll look at places to network, people to network with, and the reasons we network. I’ll even try to convince you networking haters that it ain’t that bad, so sit back and get comfortable…then get out there!  As always, if you have specific questions or ideas, comment here. 

Interview with an INTERN!

Last post, I yammered on a little about mentorship; something that I think is tremendously valuable and rare. Useful information doesn’t always come from “above”, though, and I think we’ve got a lot to learn from all levels – so this time I wanted to find out what it was like to be an intern. Meet Rebecca Sunter (Hi, Rebecca!). Rebecca is entering her second year as a Master’s degree candidate at UC Berkeley this fall. This past summer, she had three internships. One of them was at PGA design, an established Landscape Architecture firm in Oakland, CA. Rebecca also worked for a relatively new interdisciplinary design firm, Hyphae Design Laboratory, also in Oakland, CA. Her third internship was for the San Francisco Planning Department. As before in these three posts, the answers given below have been vetted by the person interviewed.

Q: How on earth did you wind up with three internships?

A: I applied to several places because I had heard how difficult it could be to find work, especially as a first year student. When I got offers, I kept saying “yes” because of the unique value of each. Then, come June, I had to juggle all three in one work week. Each of the three were very different from the others, and at times it was emotionally draining, but I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything.

Q: What was the most helpful thing you learned?

A: It was really helpful when someone explained the why behind how redlines were done for a set of construction documents; like how highlighting redlines I’ve fixed helps the project manager keep track of what has been done. Also, being told the reason behind all the changes I was making helped me understand how construction documents are formatted; how the plan, sections and details all fit together. Using AutoCAD was pretty new for me, so it helped a lot to have someone who would take the time to explain.

Q: What was your greatest challenge in being an intern?

A: I found it hard to demonstrate ways in which I could be a more meaningful contributor with skills my employers didn’t realize I had while the skills I felt the companies were in more need of were some of my weak areas.

Q: How did your expectations match what you were actually doing?

A: Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. And, as it turned out, I was asked to do very different things in each office. At PGA Design, I worked in AutoCAD a lot, doing redlining for a large-scale development project. At Hyphae Design Laboratory, I had to be much more a jack-of-all-trades, with a heavy emphasis on digital proficiency. Ultimately, at Hyphae, I ended up using experience from my previous Design/Build work to work on a planting plan for the Trailhead for the Tenderloin National Forest on Market Street in San Francisco. Whereas, at the San Francisco Planning Department, I was helping out with their Urban Forest Plan (UFP). I did some street tree typology and graphic development for the UFP, working mainly in pen + ink, Photoshop, and InDesign.

All in all, I was glad I’d had office jobs before so I understood office culture already and could focus on the software and substance of the work that was new to me – if I had been new to working in an office, it could have been really overwhelming bouncing between the varied office cultures and work flows.

Q: So now that you’re headed back to school, do you have any advice for other students?

A: I’d say take risks in school! If we don’t take them now, we’ll never get the chance. In the real world, it’s all about budgeted time + hard and fast deadlines. The faster you produce on the job, the greater profit. If you can make more money by doing a rendering faster than the way you’ve always done it, that’s what you’re gonna do. It’s in this precious limited time in school that we have the luxury to explore. Aside from your grades, failure means less in school; future work or paychecks aren’t on the line. Go out on a limb, have victories and failures in school where it is safer to learn from those experiences.

Also, I’d say don’t be afraid to say you don’t know on the job. I think this fake-it-till-you-make-it philosophy only serves to hold you back. I saw that the times I showed my bosses that I was learning and demonstrate that I was climbing the learning curve, our relationships became more interpersonal and they seemed more inclined to mentor me. Part of that was admitting when I didn’t know how to do something. I felt like that was a big part of building interpersonal relationships. That, and also interacting with the people in the office; finding that professional line between saying good morning and getting to know people while not wasting people’s time.

Q: Have your internships changed how you will approach school this year?

A: Absolutely! I know more about myself now, and I have a much clearer idea of what I am interested in doing with my career. I’m going back more focused. I also noticed that the “real world” is more team-oriented than in school where your projects are so often your own. Once in a while, UC Berkeley offers travel studios that function in collaboration. I just got back from a travel studio in Quito, Ecuador where we worked in teams to develop site-specific stormwater management BMPs. Travel is always fun and eye-opening, but working in a team, I learned a lot about myself as a collaborator. Before I graduate, I definitely hope to take another travel studio for the collaborative experience alone.

Q: What will you do differently next summer?

A: While I wouldn’t change a thing about the buffet-style approach I took to summer internships this first summer, I know I want to be more focused next summer. I want one internship where I can really get in deep with a particular project. I want to become part of a team, not just be the face that comes in ever so often. So, I’ll apply broadly, as I did this past spring, but will force myself to say “yes” only once.


Why look to an intern for my blog-post material? Well, here’s the thing. Working with Rebecca reminded me of what it is like to be new to this profession; learning as much as you can as fast as you can. By being her pleasant, eager to learn self, she exemplified what a good co-worker (or employer) is, and what they’re not. In our office, she (inadvertently) illustrated perfectly just how important personality is to success. Stay tuned for the next post, where I’ll post an interview with one of her summer internship employers.

Mentorship: 18 Quick Tips for Mentors and Protégés

A mentor is a person who is more experienced than you are (in either the same field or a closely related one) who helps and guides you in your career. I thought this concept was simple enough until I had a few conversations with someone who’s direct supervisor is called his “mentor”. “Baloney!” I said (paraphrasing) “A mentor CAN’T be your supervisor!”

Sure, you can find career advice anywhere – see the 6 Pieces of Advice that I gathered – but that isn’t mentorship, either. A true mentor is typically someone who(m):

  • Is more experienced than you are
  • Knows you personally
  • You admire and trust
  • Helps you think through things so that you can make decisions
  • Cares about how you’re doing
  • Helps you understand your own strengths / weaknesses and what to do about them
  • Will tell you WHY

A mentor is NOT someone who:

  • Berates or rubs your nose in your weaknesses
  • Is your supervisor or works for the same company/department
  • Sets a bad example or has a negative attitude
  • Never seems to have time for you
  • Has a stake (of any kind) in the outcome of your decisions

I got lucky. I found someone early in my career (an architect) who I’ve gone to for advice now and then and who has been absolutely invaluable. I still talk to her and also get advice from lots of other places: employers both past and present, colleagues, online research, friends, family, and so forth; but not one of those mentioned is a true mentor. My mentor understands the industry, knows me personally, and has exactly zero stake in the results of my decisions unlike those other resources. It is because of her that I have a strong opinion about mentors and what a benefit finding a good one can be.

Sadly, most of us don’t have a mentor as I learned when fishing for pieces of career advice from colleagues for the last post. Not one of the people I polled could tell me about their mentor.

BUT, hooray! There is a possible solution if you don’t have someone in your life yet who you can talk to: the ASLA has the Emerging Professionals Network. I strongly urge recent graduates to give it a shot or find someone another way with whom you can start to form a relationship and go to for impartial career advice.

On the flip-side, being a mentor is a rewarding job! You need to posses interest, commitment, and confidence in your abilities as a professional as well as a desire to be helpful to someone. It is an important and rewarding thing to do.

A mentor may share with a mentee (or protege) information about his or her own career path, as well as provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and role modeling. The mentor should be prepared to help with exploring careers, setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources. If you are considering mentoring someone, you should be prepared to:

  • Listen
  • Value your protege as a person
  • Develop mutual trust and respect with your protege
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Help your protégé solve his or her own problem (rather than give direction)
  • Focus on your protégé’s development

With all that in mind, I encourage all of us to be the best mentors and proteges we can be for each other.

I have some exciting posts in the works coming up, but keep the emails and comments coming! Thanks for reading.

The image above was assembled using this resource for the image and this one for the quote.

Six Pieces of Advice

I love how stuff comes together sometimes. I recently overheard a conversation between a firm principal and a prospective Landscape Architecture student. This principal probably spent 45 min answering questions, and gave out plenty of information about the profession. They reminded me of discussions I had when I was a student which got me thinking. Where do people get career advice? Did anyone give you good advice before/during/after your schooling to be a Landscape Architect?

Following are a couple of the best pieces of advice I’ve gathered along my journey, but don’t let that keep you from putting your two cents in the comments!

“Always assume that your client is Interested, Intelligent, and Ignorant.” – CG

“You can put up with it, change it, or leave it.” – RL (and another friend’s version of this concept was simply put “you can always vote with your feet”- JP)

“Work for a small firm for a couple of years. If you go to a big firm right out of school, you’ll get pigeon-holed and not given much responsibility. Working as close to the principal as possible in a smaller firm is where you’ll learn the most.” – BT

“Keep in touch with everybody you meet, send them a thank you card, do this every time you see them. Even if they’re not today’s connection, you never know, and they will know who you are.” – JG

“Apply for everything. Practicing interviewing is a worthwhile thing to do, especially if you know you don’t want the job.” – HT

“Don’t study/read about/think about just your profession. Get to know how HR works, read business books, blogs, cultivate a hobby or another creative outlet. Become an expert in a few things, but know a little about as many subjects as you can.” – JD

Who do you go to when you need advice? Anyone? Everyone? A Mentor, maybe? How about next time we have a chat about mentors! Yep. That’s next time. And one more snippet from a smarta** I know:

“green side up” – JS

4 Tips to a Networking Success Story

Last post, I put up some benefits of losing your job. Here, I want to illustrate how important networking is to getting that job in the first place. I realize I am jumping around a bit, but when this story came to me, I just had to share it. First, let us go backwards to a piece of advice I got years ago…

When I was a student, I attended a lecture where an employer said in his presentation that the best thing we could do to find work after graduation was to keep in touch with everyone we met, including himself. I have never forgotten that advice, and today I heard a story that I think brings it to life rather nicely. It is a story about someone getting a job just last month after an extended amount of time (almost 4 years) being “self employed” (unemployed) and I thought it had several points that might resonate with some of us who have been looking for work.

1. Form Relationships

2. Build Relationships

3. Keep up with the Industry

4. Add Recent Work (even pro-bono) to your Portfolio

The person I heard from was laid off in Fall of 2008 just like so many of us. He leveraged his basic office skills (described to me as typing, answering phones, and showing up on time) to find temp and volunteer work in various places. In each of those presumably “outside Landscape Architecture” circles, he formed relationships with new people and kept in touch as work opportunities continued to shift. By keeping his growing network aware of his continued hunt for full-time work in Landscape Architecture he actively built relationships through personal contact and social networks.

In addition, my friend decided to keep up with the industry by attending seminars, through organizations like AIA and CLF; reading trade magazines, and earning his LEED AP credential. Through these efforts, he received several referrals for paid freelance projects and consulting work with design firms. He also accepted a couple of pro-bono projects. With all of these opportunities he was able to add recent work to keep his resume and portfolio fresh.

One of the design firms this guy was consulting for offered him a full-time permanent job after he spent a few months consulting for them part-time. The opportunity came from people he’d met three years before at a seminar. My favorite part of his story is that two weeks after being hired, he was in a position to recommend another person to the same firm – someone he’d met along the way, and who is now consulting for his new employer part-time (just like he had been weeks before).

“It’s not who you know that matters – it is who knows you.”

I think it is especially interesting that while he was asked to share his resume and present his portfolio at an interview for the consulting work, it was essentially the relationships that he’d maintained that got his foot in the door in the first place to get the chance to talk about his work and then later prove himself as a desirable hire.

I related this story to another friend who made an excellent point. She said, “It’s not who you know that matters – it is who knows you.” She’s right. So if you’re trying to get hired on the merits of your resume and portfolio, but aren’t putting at least as much effort into meeting people and staying in touch with them, as important as the resume and portfolio are, I think it is time to reconsider that strategy, especially since of these two people I mentioned, neither of them found their current position by applying to an advertised job.

Sound familiar?! This seems to be the current status for employment of a lot of Landscape Architecture people: networking, consulting, and giving back. Landscape Architecture firms are still largely gun-shy about hiring a permanent employee. However, the word on the street is that firms are getting busy again. So, keep your ear to the ground, form relationships, build relationships, keep up with the industry, and add recent work to your portfolio. It will pay off!

Got a great job-getting / networking story? Share it below!

Please send me your best piece of career advice for the next post – I’ll be putting up some great stuff I’ve been gathering!

7 Benefits of Losing your Job?!

Last time I posted, I was concerned with copyright issues and Pinterest. But today, I had a conversation with a friend who inspired me to finally put down something that’s been on my mind: the benefits to losing your job.

When I started this post, at first I listed all the things you get to do with your new-found free time: like visiting museums and truly enjoying a cup of coffee. I listed a dozen amusing free-time things before I remembered why I was writing about this, and that I’d covered those things before.

Getting laid off can be good for you. Call me crazy if you like. I felt the same way when a guy at my first “real job” told me that he believed everyone should get laid off at least once in their career, but hear me out. The following are 7 opportunities that you can benefit from after a job loss:

1. Build your network.

Networking is the #1 way to get any job. Use every possible opportunity to meet new people and build your network. Attend local events, lectures, and volunteer days. Schedule informational interviews with local firms and get a feel for who might be hiring. You never know where a lead for a job or project could come from.

2. Working for another company (or yourself)

No two companies or employers are alike. Working for another firm gives you the opportunity to see how different companies operate, to work with new people, and to stretch your creativity. You also have an objective view into what works and what does not. (Knowing what not to do can be powerful stuff.)

If you choose to work for yourself. Well, then. The sky’s the limit! Though, I would always remember benefit #1.

3. Remember why you love being a Landscape Architect

Maybe your career has strayed from the original inspiration? Here’s your chance to re-evaluate the path you’re on. Try something else and see if you miss it. Nobody’s gonna question a departure from the field, especially when jobs are so hard to come by….and you don’t have to feel guilty for “leaving” Landscape Architecture for a little while if you need to!

Also, remember that the job you have today doesn’t define you!

4. An incentive to keep your portfolio and resume up-to-date.

You should probably update your resume and portfolio every six months. But… we seldom do, right? Losing your job will give you the time and added incentive to get it polished.

5. Get away from the negativity

Harsh, but true: sometimes you have to leave the building to get out from under a glass ceiling.

6. Get out of the Pigeon Hole

Go into your interviews saying ‘I did X, but what I really want to do is Y.’ Your previous learning experiences will help inform your value with the next employer, so make the most of it (this applies to project types, upward mobility, and whatever you need it to).

7. Re-define your terms

The next job can be negotiated. Go part time if you want; explain that you need to leave early one day a week for a class.

From what I’ve heard and observed, there are more projects popping up out there and things are improving, but not enough yet for employers to hire full time employees. Most are still reluctant and putting hiring off as long as they possibly can.

I hope this helped put a positive spin on difficult situation. Sometimes you need to make lemonade. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments!

Pinterest Pitfalls

Last time I shared some information about the latest in the PLA/RLA/LLA saga. Today, I want to send out a few thoughts about Pinterest. Here’s where this came from:

A project I worked on at a previous employer won an award. I saw photos of this project pop up on, which was a bit of a thrill, but it also raised some questions. You see, that employer and I have an agreement that I will not put images of work from that firm up on the (publicly accessible) internet due to the larger privacy issue with individual clients and their homes. I am, of course, free to include images in my printed portfolio (which is not publicly accessible) as a representation of my professional experience while under the employ of that Landscape Architecture firm.

So what does one do when this happens, I wondered. Total strangers can pin “my” project, why shouldn’t I? Should I make a board of awarded projects, and start re-pinning like mad? Is Pinterest another portfolio-type opportunity? Maybe Pinterest is a job searching outlet?

I decided not to use it for self-promotion, and I’ll tell you why:

First off, there are some grumblings about Pinterest’s User Terms, and this post makes a completely valid point. I’ve extrapolated the issue to this situation: suppose I work on a garden for Mr. and Mrs. Client while working at Employer Landscape Architecture. That garden is photographed (with the client’s permission) and earns an award.

Mr. and Mrs. Client gave Employer permission to photograph the project and submit it for the award. Nobody gave me permission to take credit for the work (especially in any capacity outside my role as an employee of Employer’s firm). The Photographer may be willing to sell me the rights to use the photos that Photographer took, and will ask me to sign an agreement stipulating how I may use those photos, but unless I have permission from Employer and the Client as well, I should not risk it.

  1. The work and the award belong to the Employer (I’m gonna list it in my portfolio!)
  2. The property belongs to the Client.
  3. The images belong to the Photographer.

I enjoy Pinterest, I really do, and I am sticking to using it for exactly what it is; a gathering of visual inspiration that I can share with friends and clients. Pinterest is a fun place to go to look for portfolio inspiration as well as pretty pictures of gardens, shoes, and food. I strongly recommend avoiding using it as a portfolio opportunity for work you did at a design firm unless you have the permission of the Client, Employer, and Photographer.

Here’s a primer on using Pinterest: What it is and check out #3 on the Pinterest ettiquette.

So, the question remains – to pin or not to pin? What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments.

UPDATE: after writing this post, Pinterest sent an announcement about their updated terms of service.

Professional Credentials: Who We Say We Are

Last time, I talked about all those lovely credentials we can earn and some of the reasons for going to the trouble to add them behind your name in business correspondence.

Today, I want to look at the most important one: Landscape Architecture licensure/registration credentials. Landscape Architects have been feeling the pinch of ambiguity for a while now, and in an economy such as this one has been, that ambiguity translates to a financial pinch as well. This has been a popular topic of discussion for a while, but we can’t seem to agree on how to solve it. Perhaps our tremendous diversity and small numbers have something to do with it, perhaps not, but we’re all keenly aware of the misconceptions that we are fighting.

Whatever your opinion of the root causes, there is at least one thing we can do as part of the solution: use the same letters to represent the accomplishment of having earned the title of Landscape Architect.

So what do we use?! Across the country, most Landscape Architects use one of the following: PLA, RLA, or LLA. Your state may use the term “licensure” or “registration” in their language which may influence your choice of acronym….or perhaps when you passed all those exams, a colleague just told you what to use. Well, now the ASLA has taken a stand and is encouraging the use of PLA (Professional Landscape Architect) as industry standard. They are working with the states to adopt it; not insisting that the states change their licensure / registration process, language, or seals, just to adopt PLA as standard for the acronym.

Part of the issue is that “registration” and “licensure” are terms used by states to indicate the processes that someone went through to become a Landscape Architect, and each of those terms has a distinct meaning. Additionally, there is the question of what to do if you hold a “license” in one state but are “registered” in another. PLA is already used in some places, and covers all bases, so it seems a good fit.

Here’s the deal: ASLA does not mandate letters for LA’s (states don’t all, either, it seems to be driven more by local common practice). Additionally, using the letters “ASLA” as part of your credentials denotes only that you are a member of ASLA. They don’t have anything to do with the licensing exams or keeping your credentials in good standing. They are, however, a nationwide professional society, and that’s good enough for me.

One of the arguments for PLA is that Engineers use PE as their professional designation and the majority of laypeople seem to recognize it, bolstering the argument that PLA could be an easier leap for the general public than something else.

SO- if you’re struggling like many of us with the ambiguity of your profession, maybe you could give it a try. I’m ordering new business cards to make the switch, and I would encourage anyone else to do the same. It isn’t easy, I’ve grown fond of my old letters, but at least it is a start.

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