Is it worth waiting for?

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    William J. Blount

    Ok, I know the title is a little weird so let me explain.  I graduated with my LA degree about 4 years ago, and despite my best efforts I still have yet to be hired into a company where I can use my degree.  I’ve been hired into a couple different engineering firms doing CAD work, but I don’t want to be a drafter long term.  So my real question is this profession worth the wait?  I’ve read a few places online where Licensed, practicing LA’s are telling recent grads to just abandon the field because, the pay is low, and trying to get into a firm is near impossible right now.  After four years, I’m starting to agree with them.  I loved this field in school, I very much enjoy designing spaces that people can use and enjoy, but since I went to school in my late 20’s and am now in my early 30’s I don’t really feel like I can keep waiting just to get into an entry level position, especially when I have a guaranteed position in a family company.  So to people that are actually practicing, would you in my position, keep waiting to get a job as an LA or cut your losses and move on?

    Robert Anderson


    That is a very tough question and one that, trying not to be too philosophical here, only you can answer. A quick scan through Indeed and I found over 300 openings for Landscape Architects. Now they are all in the lower 48 but just the same, if you are passionate about the profession perhaps one of these might be a fit for you.

    I have been practicing for over 25 years and with the exception of a period of 18 months where I was un-employeed I have always been in either a full LA firm or as you have worked at a Civil Engineering firm taking the “engineering” and making it more aesthetic with my design background. The Civil Engineers grew to appreciate this over time.

    Yes I have found the profession to be very rewarding and I honestly couldn’t tell you the number of lives I have touched with my designs and work I have done to improve our environment. At the end of the day did I make as much as even our Architect friends…no, but it was worth it!

    Hope this helps.

    William J. Blount

    Thanks for the insight.  I do love living in AK, however it does severely limit my job prospects.  I may have to reconsider where I call home. Although moving makes me a little leery as well, only because I have already moved twice for jobs where they “where going to start me in drafting and then move me to design work when they had space”, and the space never came.  So if I move again I want to be absolutely sure I’m getting the position I want and not the promise of the position I want.

    Chris Barker

    Hi Will,

    I was (am) in your same shoes.  I graduated with my degree at 28 and am now 32.  I too have been on the fence about the industry at times since finding jobs is very difficult without the usual 3-5 years experience.  I started doing my own projects on weekends for friends and through craigslist to generate my own experience and build my resume/portfolio, all the while working in an unrelated job.  I’ve found that this field is very competitive and at times saturated so my approach has been to take on small residential front and back yards to get some experience.  It eventually paid off and continues to do so, but it did take 3-4 years to see any results.  Good luck, hope this helped.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I graduated in ’97 at 35 and had just started a family in Idaho. I moved back to Massachusetts 2 years later when I really started looking for work. I was in the same boat as you in that I was not getting hired by anyone and wound up drafting in a CE office. Just like Robert, I did everything that I could toward designing sites rather than drafting them. It was not a fast process, but it worked.

    I did leave and intern for a licensed LA – the only job that I had that totally sucked (intern exploiters), but I got what I wanted out of them (license) and they got what they wanted out of me (long hours on low salary).

    I went back to working in CE offices doing Civil Site Plans full time and also worked for a high end design/build as an LA part time. The civil office was a great place to see and understand the big picture in land design, permitting, who is doing what, who refers whom, what opportunities exist, why certain people like working with certain other people, why they don’t like working with someone else, what some professionals do better than others , ….  Between that and developing my landscape design abilities working with the owner (and great designer) of the design/build set me up on two parallel courses that eventually merged.

    Patience is the key thing to make it in this profession. Nothing comes quickly and few people make much money in it when they don’t work for themselves. I used to be very discouraged working in the CE office, but it really was the key for me to understand the opportunities and how the business worked where I live. I finally saw a niche that I thought existed which I could exploit with my combined skill sets and I jumped in.

    I can’t tell you that it will work for you and where you are, but I can tell you that you are in the door, so look beyond your desktop to understand how that business works and get a feel for the opportunities in the marketplace that office serves. It may tell you that you are not in a place where you can make it work. You may find out that you can do rewarding work in that office (site design is fun, too).  The worst that can happen is that you get really good at grading, drainage, and get a great wealth of knowledge of site design that will give you a huge advantage over LAs who have minimal site design skills.

    Design is not the toughest part of this business. The toughest part is to position yourself so the work comes to you. You are in a good position to learn how to go about that if you pay attention.

    Mai Swanson

    Hello.  We are a full service landscape company in Winter Park, FL looking for a qualified Landscape Architect.  Please send your resume to: if you have interest.

    Thank you

    Glenn Arthur

    Hi William,

    Great advice from Robert Anderson and Andrew Garulay.  

    If you have the passion, your designs will come from your skills, your training and from your heart.  A future employer will pickup on your passion and your ability to connect with the hearts of their clients and their clients’ projects , so don’t give up William. 

    Andrew Garulay’s advice about positioning yourself is so true . Life and business has a way of unfolding when we least expect it to, so just try to keep yourself up to date on the industry( especially technology marketing and social media )  and do whatever job you need to do to get exposure and experience, as Andrew suggests.

    Great designs create emotional experiences for your clients , thats the “heart to heart” part .  When you touch one client’s heart, they refer you to others .  

    You may also consider checking out a couple of short courses on self development and building rapport with clients, such as NLP and others .  It all helps mate.  The more you become aware of whats going on around you in the world of business and “people” , the more likely you are to recognise an opportunity when it passes your way.   

    Good luck on your journey William

    William J. Blount

    Thanks for the wise words everyone.  While many of the kids I went to school with walked out of school and into some of the top firms in New England, its nice to hear that is not the normal story, and many took a much more journeyed trip into where they are.  I’m gonna try and stick it out for awhile longer and try a little harder to get my foot into the doors.


    There are many roles to play in the LA profession and we often work with consultants who specialize in specific parts such as lighting, ecology, structural engineering, etc. We also have people join our company who have spent time working in those consulting firms early in their career. So yes there is a chance for you to move on to design office later in your career if you want.

    Doing CAD work doesn’t sound sexy I agree, but it is part of what we do. And if you think of CAD work as a method to engineer design (yours or someone else’s), maybe you will feel better. I spend a lot of time doing CAD work too, but in the process I learn a great deal about materials, how to put things together, and what works and what doesn’t. Knowledge of construction helps makes your design a lot more “real” and better IMO. 

    You may also find that some offices looking for junior level to senior level positions require that they have knowledge of how to put construction documents together. So consider yourself in a good position being in an engineering company if you can manage to learn it all. You can learn design on the side. As some have suggested, do a friend’s yard on the weekend to fine tune your design skills, but take it one step further by doing construction drawings and actually getting it built. Seeing a project go through all the phases from initial design concept to actual construction is very valuable. If you keep doing it this way and have consistent good results, you may not even need to find a job at an LA company 😉

    Continuing LA is up to you really, but there are many different paths to take, and you don’t really have to join an LA company as an entry level to “make it” in this profession.

    Tosh K

    As others have pointed out, a lot has to do with positioning.  I had a similar job while in grad school, mostly CAD jockey, but I got work on planting plans were I managed to get some freedom to design mostly based on understanding what planning boards may be looking for (an engineer might say less-evenly spaced shrubs, while you might call them ‘drifts’ increasing likelihood of approval).  I also felt like I learned more about drainage and grading than in most design offices.

    I’d also like to echo the allied fields approach to job search, whether it’s in the public sector (DOT, Parks) or private environmental consultants maybe even artists that do installations.

    Initial pay is low, but after you gain the requisite experience and become efficient at your work, it’s a decent to comfortable living.  We get paid for the work we do not the time, so the more work you can get done in the same time the more you get paid.  Being in an engineering office has most likely made you aware of how to produce work efficiently (they usually are much better at it than most LA offices – though some higher end offices can afford to burn time on strange design obsessions).

    At the end of the day, the satisfaction has to be a large part of the job – it’s not seven figure salaries or media attention.

    I’ll add that while many graduates immediately seek work in a high-profile office, that work is seldom rewarding at the entry-level.  It most often ends up being a name on a resume and many will need to move onto less prestigious places to learn the necessary knowledge to get licensed.

    Brandon Clemson

    No, it is not worth waiting for. If you want to make enough money to buy a house and support a family, you need to cut your losses and take the position in your family’s company. Harsh words, but it sounds like you’ve already come to this realization already. LA, as taught in college, bears zero resemblance to the working world. If you’re in in for the love of the game, then keep going. But if you want to enjoy life outside of the office and have a stable long-term career, do something else. 

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