Job Searching Advice

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    Daniel Braswell

    I am approaching two years since graduating from grad school and I still have not been able to land a job in my chosen career field.  I have degrees in Landscape Architecture and City and Regional Planning.

    I have had several interviews with firms in my area, but I haven’t been able to get over the hump and get an offer. I have 2 yrs experience in the field, but the last time I worked in the profession was several years ago. I feel that I am a good candidate for any firm.  However, the longer that goes by that I do not get an offer, I wonder if I am marketing myself wrong or if the growing gap in employment in the field is viewed as a negative.

    I relocated to the Boston area shortly after graduation. I am trying build a professional network here, but it has been slow going. I am unable to relocate outside of the metro area.

    I was wondering if anyone has encountered the same issues as me in job searching and what they may have done to land the job.  Does anyone have any advice on landing the job in the ever changing job market?  It seems, at least from what I have been told, that walking into firms or calling and asking to visit is looked down upon.  What are some things that I can do to keep current and keep my skills sharp even though I am not currently working in the field?  How can I grow my professional network without coming across as desperate for a job? Any advice that anyone has to offer, would be greatly appreciated.  



    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    If you present yourself the same way everyone else with similar education and experience going for the same job does, you will be one of many. If you present yourself differently, you may become one of a few.

    Your job description sounds to me like it is describing your values and what you want out of your career which may seem to pass over the job that gets your foot in the door. Present your skill sets, your desire to get down to work, and do it from the perspective of how you might benefit your employer.

    Everyone with your education shares the values that you describe making it very generic. Use that space for a description of how you are prepared to do the specific job that is advertised. Laser focus on that job and make every other skill you have just something that comes along with the package that is you.

    I’m just a residential landscape architect, but I went through the rejection phase when I was getting started. It may be different in the Urban Planning world, but I can only speak from my perspective. That is how I eventually got in … and moved on with.

    Mark Di Lucido

    Daniel—you don’t specify how you are trying to build a professional network–is it face-to-face or? Social media never got me anywhere. In my experience actually knowing or at least meeting potential employers is by far and away the best way especially if it’s in a casual non-employment related arena. And I’m inclined to believe these days that an employment gap isn’t viewed as a liability like it may have been, mainly because there are so many more of us out there with gaps and valid reasons for having them. And I don’t see desperation that way either. ‘Desperation’ shows a strong desire to work and contribute and usually passion for what you do. Your twin degrees would seem to make you a good candidate for agency or municipal employment. Are you focusing there?

    If you felt comfortable with any of the interviewers send a follow-up email asking if you could have presented your experience better or what they were looking for that you ostensibly didn’t have, then use this the next go-round. Walking (cold-calling) into firms shows initiative—a valuable skill usually not learned in school—it always impresses me though some firms do view it as an intrusion into staff time.

    Keep your skills sharp by volunteering (if you’re schedule and finances allow) and consider pro bono work.

    One of my job search experiences included being rejected by a firm to be followed by an offer of employment from the same firm three years later. My skills hadn’t improved in the intervening years between the rejection and the offer and if anything got rusty. The difference probably was I was more of a ‘known quantity’ (read: was already employed) when I applied the second time around, which of course is how volunteering and pro bono work may help.

    Last, know that it’s still a very tough job market for LAs—it took me almost 3 years following the downturn to finally get a ‘real’ LA job. 


    Willing to relocate to a different state or country would certainly increase your options. And moving to another country especially is risky, emotionally demanding, but you’ll get over the hump after a year.

    After losing my job due to the 08 crash, I moved back with my parents, and kept going at my portfolio, improving old projects, trying new ones. I sent a few emails, but always heard the “sorry, we’re not looking for anyone right now.” After about 9 months of searching I found something in China, and just went for it. Crazy move, missed home, friends and family, but you have to do what you have to do to survive…

    If relocation is not an option and you can’t find a job in your area, keep improving your portfolio. Try competitions to keep/improve your skills. Some even offer cash prizes. If there are no competitions you’re interested in, take a look around your city and find an empty lot and try something out. Employers are looking for what you can offer them… so if you want to design, the only way really is to show your value is in your portfolio.

    Daniel Braswell

    I have been building a network through fellow alumni and coworkers.  I have not had much success networking through social media, only searching for open positions.  

    I always try to send a follow up email asking how I could improve, but as to date only one firm actually replied back (they chose another person due to more relative experience).  However, I realize that a response is not a given, nor do I expect one. It does make it difficult to improve in the next interview. You are right, I was never really taught about “walking” into firms in college.  I do, every couple months, send cold emails to firms inquiring about employment opportunities.  I realize that this may not be the most productive way, but since I currently have a full job, it is difficult for me to be able to walk into or call firms.  What are some other ways that you may have found successful?

    I am just now exploring opportunities for some pro bono work, even trying to build work on my own.  I have not come across many volunteering opportunities. Where could I find info on volunteering work?

    Thanks for all the advice.  It gives me encouragement to know that there is a light at the end of this job searching tunnel.

    Daniel Braswell

    Thanks for the advice!  I am open to relocating, but the response I have received the most from out-of-state firms is, “we only are considering local candidates at this time”.  So I really pick and choose which out-of-state jobs to apply for.  Relocating out of the country, unless its Canada, is not an option for me. I will definitely look more into design competitions.

    Daniel Braswell

    Thanks for the advice!  That does make a lot of sense.  I will try a different, more focused job description.  Any advice on cover letter content? This seems to be one place many people get hung up on.  Do employers really read the cover letter, or do they simply skim over it and focus more on the resume and portfolio?

    Mark Di Lucido

    To your question about some other ways I may have found successful, that’s a tough one–especially if you’re working full time. I like to think for me it was a matter of, “chance favors the prepared mind” as Louis Pasteur said, but in reality it was probably closer to Woody Allen’s, “80% of life is showing up”. So I “showed up” by applying to anything I was remotely qualified for even if it wasn’t my first, second, or even third preference. Then once you’re working (in the field), even if it’s not your preference, all of a sudden you’re more of a known quantity and way more often than not hiring officials feel more comfortable hiring known quantities.

    I’m going to assume you regularly scout some online LA job sites but do you look at all of them? The most comprehensive and robust one I used was and at any given time I had 10 LA job websites (including municipal/agency sites, ASLA, Land 8) as favorites on my browser. It’s important to visit municipal/agency sites as many use only their internal sites to advertise vacancies.

    But back to other strategies, I’ve heard it said that job vacancies are like icebergs—just as ¾ of an iceberg is under water, so is it that ¾ of jobs are never advertised and are filled by somebody knowing or suggesting somebody. So this makes your network critical. Starting to get long winded here so time for some bullets:

    • Go to ASLA meetings (and conferences if you can afford it)
    • Also meet/get to know architects and civil engineers as often they are the lead consultants on projects and you never know when they’re not satisfied with their current LA sub-consultant so this could be an opening for building work on your own.
    • I think cold emails are a waste of your time. Remember that whoever you’re sending them to is probably inundated with work and emails from other job searchers so you’ve really got to hit them over the head to get their attention. I wouldn’t be above sending someone I really wanted to work for a bottle of good whiskey—which gets to my next bullet . . .
    • Try to be innovative in your approach. I once sent a cover letter that consisted entirely of (in 48 pt. typeface): “I’m honest, I work hard, and I’ll do a good job”. I actually got an interview but not the job.
    • Many municipalities have volunteer programs (they usually have planning and LA departments too). Volunteer for anything, make acquaintances, get known, then ask if there are any vacancies.

    Finally, let yourself ‘come-up for air’ once in a while (forget about it for a few days). 

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Don’t overlook the opportunities that regulation provides for consultants. It forces a need. You are in and around communities with lots of activist personalities that love to sit on boards and help write regulations.  This means that otherwise simple projects require detailed plans. Go to Conservation Commission and Planning Board hearings to learn what is going on, who is doing what, and look for opportunities and people who would be good to know. Read their regulations and learn what people do to gain compliance and approval at their meetings. Many have video on demand of such meetings on the town/city websites or local access television if you can’t get to meetings.

    I make my living on this. I just mailed a plan and request for after the fact replacement of an existing driveway in a city very close to you. If the other cities and towns nearby are anything like this one (and I know they are) there is a lot of subcontracting and consulting opportunities whether as an employee or on your own. Try Land Surveyors and/or small Civil Engineering offices.  

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