Getting Employed

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    Shawn Boyd

    Hi. My name is Shawn. I’ve been through the whole catch-22 experience loop for far too long (since 2009) and I really need to figure something out. Anybody have any thoughts on what I need to do to get employed by a design/drafting office? I know it’s a common general question. A thought that I had was to get a couple certificates in AutoCAD/Solidworks at a local campus. The problem is that they are night classes and I have a day job. If I could find a job that would substitute my current one or come close to it in the morning then I would be able to take them. I have to make at least a certain amount to pay for rent, student loans and other expenses. Another thought is just to move but that involves having enough money saved up and risking it. Also, my girlfriend currently lives with me and I don’t want her to quit her drafting job unless SHE found something else too. I’ve already tried local design/drafting companies and get the same thing over and over. I’d prefer to work for a landscape design office but anything is good for now. I’m just getting exhausted. Thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Look at civil engineering and surveyor offices. That is where I got my start. They don’t like training future competitors any more than LAs do – advantage to you.

    Tosh K

    2nd Andrew’s recommendation – I learned AutoCAD on the job in a city engineering department.  Alternatively maybe with a contractor (shop drawings).

    Shawn Boyd

    Thank you for your advice but I already tried local surveying and engineering jobs and didn’t have much luck. I’m just becoming more annoyed and exhausted about the whole situation.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Are you marketing yourself as a landscape architect to those firms or specifically how your skill sets fit their needs for simply drafting as-built plans or whatever else they need done? 

    A cover letter letting them know how your skill sets are valuable to them and that you are unlikely to be a competitor in the future may help. Some LAs tend to market themselves to CE/LS offices in such a way that looks like they want the office to do more LA type work rather than to show how you can help them with what they already do.

    Small local firms near where you live are a good place to start.

    Shawn Boyd

    Hi Andrew,

    At the moment I can only market my skill sets because I’m not officially a licensed LA. With the experience that I had with offices around here, I already marketed myself as a landscape designer not a LA. They were only interested in what they do and if I had enough experience to do the work on my own without needed assistance. I’d love to present my landscape design skills to a non LA/Design office but I feel like they wouldn’t be interested. They’d listen but wouldn’t be interested. Maybe if had more experience and a license under my belt I don’t know.

    I believe cover letters are very valuable in a way where you can sum your skills/abilities and present yourself as a beneficial employee for the future. When I lived in Philly for a few years, most of the offices did require a cover letter. Where I live now, I doesn’t seem as much as a requirement.

    In terms of small local firms in my area, where exactly are you looking at because I want to know? Do know the names of the offices because I can see whether I’ve been in contact with them already?

    Thank you for your response.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Your response above is exactly what I was alluding to.

    “They were only interested in what they do” 

    Well, they are not in business to do what you want to do. If you want to get your foot in the door at a CE or LS office you have to put the landscape design/architecture out of your head and think like a CE or LS. I assume that you are trained in ACAD and have some site plan drawing skills – that is exactly what many of them need more than another rod man or someone who tested harmonics on a suspension bridge.

    If you go in looking to be pigeon holed as a landscape person, they have little use for you. If you go in there willing to draw lot lines for survey points to be put on for field work, to connect survey points to draw existing conditions’ to add an addition onto a house plan, to put dimensions to property lines, …. It is a piece of cake after years of LA design studio. A bit boring, but easy. Soon they’ll have you adding septic design, grading, drainage, …. and everything besides planting design. …. and eventually they’ll have you doing that as well as long as you are hanging around.

    If you want to work for them, you have to do what they do. Show them that you want to do what they need you to do and they’ll take you in. It is a huge springboard, especially if you are not getting in anywhere else.

    That is great experience to get into an LA office. It is even a better place to see how all the different design fields work with (or without) each other and give you a chance to see where unexploited opportunities are for a future business of your own.

    If you think like everyone else, you’ll be just another of a ton of LA students looking for the same job in the same way …. lost in the crowd.

    Step out of the crowd and find a way to fit an existing need. Don’t wait for a need that fits you.


    Shawn Boyd

    I must of misread your response. I am willing to be flexible for any type of work. It’s just a matter of finding the right employer who can take me in and get me started.


    Hello Shawn;

    When & if you do get a “job interview” with any type of company…I would highly recommend that you buy the job interview book called “HIRE ME” by Patricia Drain.  I purchased a copy for around $10.00 on  This book takes about 45 minutes to read and it teaches you EVERYTHING you need to know to do an “outstanding” job interview.

    In her book, for example, she states that a prospective employer will make up their mind whether or not to hire you in LESS than the first 10 seconds they lay eyes on you.  So, the old saying “First impressions count” is VERY true.

    Be sure you have a very professionally prepared Resume’ & that your LA portfolio is well organized…..and only contains your BEST work.


    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

    Shawn Boyd

    Lyon Station, PA

    Mark Warriner

    Design / build is a good way to break in. Try Esterline Landscape in Lakeland, Florida.

    Shawn Boyd

    I quit that job in fall 2013. I currently work full time at a battery plant right next to the town and part time as a designer for decking, patios, etc. I am trying to broaden my search but still feel like I’m having difficulty.

    Kevin Reff


    I agree with the people who mentioned CE and LS firms.  This is how I started and when things slowed in the office, I went outside as a rodman and learned surveying.  Working with engineers and surveyors really paid off in the long run.  As an LA our projects ultimately consist of working with the land, so understanding a survey, grading, underground utilities, easements, regulations, etc., is a great benefit to anyone in the profession.

    Learning Autocad is the first thing you need to do.  If you don’t have this skill, you are really at a disadvantage.  Even LA firms are going to require CAD skills.  Going to night class to learn may be hard work, but that would be my recommendation to you.

    What’s the economy like in PA?  Around here (TN), it’s booming and has been for a few years.  Maybe you should consider moving?

    Good Luck in your job search.

    Shawn Boyd

    Hi Kevin,

    Thank you for your reply.

    I have already mentioned in my post that I have thought about taking certificate courses in CAD and even Solid Works at my local campus but they are at night (6:30pm – 9:30pm) and I have a night job (2:30pm – 10:30pm). I understand that I need CAD experience but isn’t CAD from school good enough. I am familiar with the program but unfortunately offices want more experience and I get that. Also, I am still working on getting in touch with LA, CE and LS offices in the area and having no luck so far. Maybe voluntary positions on the side if there are any. In terms of the economy in PA, I am not so sure. It must suck because I haven’t gotten anywhere yet. It seems very limited to specific positions and experience obviously.

    In terms of moving, yes I have considered it but I want to exhaust my options in the area first so I don’t have any regrets. Then I need to research where the profession is growing so I don’t make a big risk in moving. I have a general idea where the profession is growing but not specifically. I would like an office to take me in (even with minimal experience) and have me get caught up in the field. You mentioned Tennessee is booming. So would I be able to get employed based on my experience?

    I would like to also mention that I do have a part-time job in the morning creating designs for residential clients using 3D software. The office specializes in decking, patios and landscape with its focus mainly in residential. I am unable to pursue it full-time because the pay is low and it lacks health benefits which is crucial for me having asthma.

    I considered going back to school but that is just more debt for me to carry and I’m already trying to pay off my current loans. That’s why I would consider taking certificate programs because its cheaper and I get to brush up on CAD and learn other programs. But again there’s a time issue.

    Thank you again for your reply and hope to hear from you soon.

    Kevin Reff

    Around here Autocad is king.  My knowledge of Solid Works is minimal, however 3D isn’t a strong requirement in many offices.  CE’s do use Civil3D and Architects use Revit as well, but most LA’s I know do not use 3D.  It’s fun to work in 3D, but around here there isn’t a strong demand for it.

    My recommendation is to stick with vanilla Autocad, unless you have a strong desire to work for an architect, civil engineer, or other specific profession.  If you are interested in a specific profession, then you should research the software the firms in your area use and then learn that software.

    Perhaps there is a firm that would offer to teach Autocad to you.  I mentored a high school student for about 6 months.  He came by after school for 2 – 3 hours a day, twice a week.  I did not pay him initially, but once he started producing real work, I started paying him.  During the summer he came by everyday.  It worked out well for both of us.  Perhaps something like this could work for you?

    One final thought.  During the holidays work tends to slow down.  I’m not sure if that helps or hurts.  If you did find someone willing to mentor you, having a slow down may give them extra time to teach you.

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