Alternative Career Paths

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    Aaron Kraemer


    I received my MLA last year and still have yet to find full time work. I make do in retail part time, and some contract work on the side. I am thinking of casting my job search wider (I have been sticking to urban design/planning and landscape arch/design so far). Any ideas as to other avenues to look at where my training would be at least a little bit relevant. At this point I just want out of part time retail work. Also any strategies on how to market myself to something that is not my degree would be most appreciated.

    Thanks for any input.


    April Prey

    I have seen ads run by companies that sell equipment/products related to landscape architecture.  Apologies for not keeping links to them to show you.  One in particular, a company that sold playground equipment, was very upfront about preferring graduates of architecture/landscape architecture programs, and noted they were often their best salespeople.  Extensive travel seems to be required with most of those positions.

    My background prior to going back to school is in the legal industry (paralegal).  I may end up back in that environment working for a land use lawyer.  You might as well try that.  Lawyers like educated people working under them, even if you are filing papers (I am not kidding – you need a BA to work as a receptionist in all but the tiniest of firms).  You need very good writing skills.  Unfortunately, the legal industry has been hit hard in this economy as well, so you might be competing with new JD’s who can’t find real lawyer work.  But there is constant turn over in legal secretary/paralegal jobs as it often functions as a two year break between undergrad and grad school/law school for some.  So try selling your skills to those practicing in land use/zoning/eminent domain/construction law.

    This may not be much help.  Sorry about that. But thank you for distracting me from CD homework for a few minutes.

    mark foster

    Aaron, you are at a good place for some great advice–every question I have asked here has been met with very thoughtful and accurate answers.  

    If you want the best advice it would help if you provided more information–if you are comfortable doing so.   For instance:  Are you personable and interested in management/sales, or more of a nuts and bolts person?  Are you comfortable or feel challenged when working on commission, or would you prefer hourly wage/salary?   Do you need to make a lot of money immediately  (can you say student loans?), or can you survive on subsistence rations in exchange for an open door? What would you like to be doing every day (active, vs. desk job)? Are you mobile, or do you need/want to stay in one local?

    For example, there are two bits of advice depending on the answer to the last question:

    If you want/need to stay in one place–design build or local suppliers to the industry.  If it is heavily populated, perhaps a national company who needs a rep in that area.  These would be any company who advertises in LAM, but I am guessing most of these would be commission based (see second 1 and 2 above)  

    If you are mobile, and/or able to travel extensively to do the job:  private/public environmental mitigation, FEMA, NGO’s of various sorts.

    Lastly–I have taken this fork before, and seen others take it.  Some took gigs which suited them better than LA and they made great careers and happy lives as something else.  Others took gigs which allowed them entrance to the profession later.  This is always a very personal decision for everyone, but can sometimes be serendipitous–be open to the answer in the years ahead.  I thank everyone here would agree that our training and talents makes us better at whatever we do.  Good luck.

    Leslie B Wagle

    Well if you’re willing to go outside your degree then you must be willing to adapt with your degree…but you don’t say if you would relocate. Fortunately I’m out of the life zone of needing to do this for myself, but just did a test I thought I’d pass along.


    Go to, put in landscape design as key words, then in the area field don’t put a city and zip code. Instead, just leave that blank and it has USA below and I discovered it will pull up results for the whole USA.


    The first several pages have a lot of the computer industry use of the key words (not helpful and I don’t know who decided to hijack our field name) but anyway keep scrolling and from pages 3 or so onwards, there are scattered firms all over the states (unfortunately less so from the southeast I noticed) looking for designers right now. I don’t know if they are swamped with applications, but it’s a start. Many of them do mention they want “sales” in the task mix, but there are a lot of worse things to do and at least you would pick up a lot of understanding of estimating, insight into plant availability and performance, the skills and crafts needed for hardscape work, etc.


    How about pretty much any other field in existence.

    Dont undervalue your design education. It sounds like you want to use your head, but not too particular about staying in the traditional design career path. Why is it that every graduate of a design program thinks they must relegate themselves to working in a design sweatshop??

    The analytical thinking and basic background in earth sciences, engineering, and communication will serve you VERY well in a broad range of careers. What are your interests??

    As far as marketing, I would simply think about tailoring your resume to ‘speak the language’ of whatever path you decide to pursue, ie if you go after a marketing position you might highlight your skills and experience learned in verbal and graphic communication, presentation skills, and interdisciplinary team work. Maybe you have some of your own ‘branding’ concepts you’ve come up with??

    My point is, more grads should apply their education to a braoder range of careers and universities should encourage this. There is NO REASON you should be working a ‘survival job’ or menial labor because someone else has an MBA or whatever it may be. In five years or so academia might catch on…

    Aaron Kraemer

    Thanks everybody for the advice!

    ALEX P

    Whew.. im glad i found you….

    I have a BLA, and I work at a Contemporary Art Gallery  as an exhibition assistant.  I think you need to take a step back and realize what you went to school for.  You studied landscape architecutere, thus breaking that down you studied:

    1. Theory/critiscim

    2. culture

    3. demographics

    4 spatial design

    5. NOT PLANTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    those things can be re-applied to many different fields.  I want to be a curator of contemporary Art (capital A).  I think that that means dealing with contempoary culture in a space with a critical eye.  hmm.. seams to hit the big ones.  What do LA’s do:  think about the culture and demographics of a space with a critical understanding of things.

    a lot of people get hung up on the “plant” aspect of LA, just dump it, or leave it alone.  I hate this notion of “oh come design my back yard” no, im not some horticulturist/landscaper at the local suburban nursery.

    stop worrying about “oh is this LA” or is that LA.. seriously everything can benifit from your micro to macro understanding of the world.   This helped me find my desired career path.  Im damn proud to be an LA, just not a traditional LA.  I think there needs to be more people who know about LA but are not actual LA’s 

    so once again, take a step back, break down LA, and think about what it is that you like so much about it.  


    Dude with your attitude, you’ll be a fine candidate for being one of those people who know about LA, but actually aren’t LAs.  


    I think if I were a recent LA grad I would rather be cutting my teeth designing “backyards” than working in an art gallery. You’re absolutely right, you’re not even a horticulturist/landscaper at the local suburban nursery you’re just an exhibition assistant. What a snob. Enjoy yourself thinking about culture and spatial demographics with all of your critical understanding of things.  

    ALEX P

    Well excuse me.  I was trying to help this guy realize that maybe you dont have to design back yards just because you have a degree in LA.  Sheesh, take a chill pill.  

    Jordan Lockman

    It is good to have an open mind, but also to realize that designing backyards is landscape architecture, just at a smaller scale.

    Tosh K

    Designing backyards is awesome, better when the client wants to drop millions on them as some do…

    Other than the non-design LA jobs (government, NGO, nonprofit):

    Graphic design

    App design seems to be a pretty popular alternative (and a lucrative one when done right).




    TV/Movie (mostly rendering and set design)

    ALEX P

    yes in 1950!

    ALEX P


    i say it in quotes because i was taught never to use the word ‘natural’ because it means something different to everyone.  You’re just as mean/opinionated/aggressive as me. 


    A lot of those guys started from money. In fact, some of halprins earliest projects were his own home and friends.

    there is really great residential work here in my area, but there is also a lot of really bad work, even despite the money.

    Leslie B Wagle

    I used to admire those early guys too and assumed it was a universal type of market and that being skilled would get one “into it.” But looking back, and I prepared a lot of residential plans, the whole record was not as satisfying as I had imagined at the start. I didn’t mind that I needed bigger projects in the mix to make a living, but it was rare that the private spaces were carried out fully (although the few that were were individually satisfying). I don’t know if it was the conservatism of my region or that I didn’t know how to reach people with deeper pockets better….or the whole economy led to higher installation and material costs relative to disposable income across the spectrum. Maybe it never was realistic to think that student dream style work would engulf the whole country.

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