LA’s searching for a JOB….a few suggestions.

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums STORY BOARD LA’s searching for a JOB….a few suggestions.

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    Having practiced Landscape Architecture for….well, what sometimes seems like forever, but still, loving every minute of it; I remember first starting out in May of 1977 when I graduated from Texas A&M University.

    Times change.  Our U.S. economy goes up and down like a yoyo.  I was fortunate, that for most of my LA career (and I’m still practicing), our economy has been pretty strong…though, I must admit, the past 7+ years have been challenging!


    1.  Get your LA degree.  B.S.L.A. or Masters in Landscape Architecture.  But, you first really need to be SURE that this career program is “right” for you.  It’s one thing to want to be a Landscape Architect and it’s another thing to have the “potential” to succeed at it.  I know this isn’t a popular statement to make, but, I am personally surprised that some LA students are actually awarded LA diplomas.  In fact, I recall an LA professor of mine, who told me, some of my classmates would never succeed as a Landscape Architect…which I thought was an odd thing to hear.  But, now, I understand what he was talking about.

    2.  While going through that 4 or 5 year program, develop a “strong portfolio”.  Which should include strong “hand graphic skills”, “learn a wide variety of computer skills…autoCAD, etc.).  Though, I have to admit, I have never produced a single drawing by autoCAD… I took my first Architectural Drafting course at age 12 (7th grade)…so, my Contract Documents (by hand), served me well over the years.  But, times have changed, you must have great computer drawing skills. But, hand sketching & being able to produce hand drawn color renderings is also a plus.

    3.  Earning good grades or having a high GPA is always a plus, but, not a must have.  Owners of LA design firms are looking for “potential”.  I personally remember classmates who made good grades, but, really weren’t very good LA students.  And, some of them, never even pursued a career in Landscape Architecture.

    NOTE:  After earning your LA Degree…you need to be thinking seriously about becoming “Licensed” as a Landscape Architect, in your home state.  I believe, you are required to have a minimum of (2) years of experience, working directly under the direction of a Licensed Landscape Architect…then, you will become eligible to take the L.A.R.E. examination.  Once you have passed the L.A.R.E. & have your (2) yrs. of experience, you will be eligible to apply for your “Landscape Architecture License” in your home state. Every State is a bit different in their “Licensing Laws” for LAs and you’ll need to do a lot of research about the L.A.R.E. exam (as this is NOT an easy exam…and is an exam that is administered 100% by computer).

    4.  It’s a very competitive market place for LA’s.  But, there are hotspots out there.  Do some on-line research.  Look at job opportunities on job boards like  

    5.  Research the city & State where in think you wish to work as an LA.  Some States (like NY & CA have very high costs of living & high State Income Taxes.  In California, annual incomes from $47k will cost you 9.3% in State Income Taxes + you then have Federal Income Taxes.  So, learn everything you can about the city & State where you’re searching for an LA job.  Look at the city’s apartment rental rates & availability, crime rates, cost of living…learn everything about that city!  And, don’t be afraid to search for an LA job out of State.  Because, when you first starting off, the important thing is to get “experience”.  You’ll likely have to pay for your own costs to travel for a job interview & your own relocation costs – so, you have to take that into consideration as well.  Try, if you can, to set up more than 1 job interview…make the interview trips count.

    6.  Your Portfolio (even if only student work) and your Resume’ better be “very strong”!!!

    7.  There’s a book I bought for myself (less than $10 on called “HireMe”.  Takes 30 minutes to read.  Teaches you everything you need to know about HOW to give a fantastic job interview; which is very, very important!  The book even has several “sample interview questions”.  Many years ago, after reading this book, I did a job interview and received an $85k job offer with a $10k sign on bonus.  That book made all the difference!  Well, I did have a little over 20 yrs. of exp., but, had not done a job interview in yrs., so, I really believe that book helped me land the job.

    8.  Social Media is a new way to job search….and working with a “Head Hunter”…they can sometimes help you find the job you’re looking for.

    9.  If you’re just starting out, looking for an “entry level position”, don’t be too picky, take what you can get for the “experience”…even if the pay is low, which it will be.  With “experience”, you can begin to move up the ladder.  Be SURE to keep “samples” of sketches, drawings, any project you work on and develop a “professional portfolio”…..that portfolio is your ticket to your future…guard it with your life. When you do land that job, be a “sponge”…learn everything you possibly can, from the experienced LAs around you.  And remember, during your 1st yr., you are being watched very closely, so, make every hour of every day count!!!

    GOOD LUCK…..and I hope you enjoy the Landscape Architecture profession as much as I have!

    Best Regards,

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

    Dave McCorquodale

    Great advice, Bob!  


    Okay Bob. Let me rehash this a bit.

    1 – how elitist of you. The fact that only ‘some’ people can make it professionally in LA after completing a professional LA program (especially a MLA) shows how lame the LA profession really is.
    2 – your portfolio is the only thing that you will be judged on, so yeah that needs to be good.
    3 – No one cares about grades
    4 – Hotspots = there are more than 1 job available, but no more than 3 and you will have to beg to get them.
    5 – See #4, you’ve gotta go where the work is no matter the cost of living.
    6 – Duplicate of #2, but the duplicity shows exactly how important it really is.
    7 – Are you kidding me?
    8 – See #7
    9 – Aka you are an indentured servant that should grovel for the chance to work for poor wages in order to help inflate your principal’s income. Oh wait, did anyone mention that working in architecture firms is a pyramid scheme?

    And yes, goodluck everyone. What a great career track.

    Leslie B Wagle
    Leslie B Wagle

    Wow Bob you’re up early. Not meaning to thread-jack into another topic but the numbers you gave are interesting. I also had a lot of group homes, elderly, and multi-family work that I don’t “show” on my page I have stashed if needed. I saved the technical drawings in miniature but these projects are hard to photograph and were always more a challenge of getting past reviews and helping needy people in tight budgets. So, lately I have arrived at a strange insight when thinking back on all the work that led to a reflection on landscape architecture itself.

    If we take 30% of your total and divide by your number of years, that makes about 5 mysteries per year. I also suffered the hard student passage with husband at minimum wage etc. to get the training, just 3 years or so ahead of you. If I take out the 15 year span of working in a planning department and some semesters teaching, I also end up with a low number of NON-multi and single family residential.

    My question is, does that residue essentially stand for “prime” or more aesthetically-driven projects? I’m thinking about what I hoped to design as a younger person starting out, and did get my hands on some of the time, but that was much rarer than I ever expected.

    So here’s the theory: In other words, in order to really make a living, we have to take what comes and in my case it included a lot of government low-income housing that served a social purpose but always had a minimum budget. No matter how sensitively done with what we had to work with, it’s not “notable” to the passer-by or even the residents. The more supported urban spaces, well-landscaped corporate office complexes, medical/dental properties, parts of college campuses, government-funded renovated arts buildings, church grounds etc. that lent themselves to becoming aesthetic, were few and far between. Although looking back, they can be collected into a comforting legacy, I’ve also seen some neglected and a few replaced with other uses. 

    I suppose it varies with the historic timeframe and luck one falls into, but I wonder if we shouldn’t share this “reality” among more people coming along behind? We tend to blame (at least speculate about) our kind of training, or region we live in, or recessions, or status of the profession, or public awareness, etc. but in truth, society needs those “basic” jobs done far more than the “cream” of the stack, and most of our time will be spent meeting those basic needs.

    People, if you’ve had a fantastic career at Disney World, please don’t respond to this, LOL.


    Actually, I found that (this) generation of students has a fairly realistic expectation as far as scale of projects. Everyone should be very cautious to pigeon-hole new LA’s as having starchitect expectations. From my perspective, the reason why the largest percentage of students become disillusioned / leave the LA industry (or at least why I did) is because many (most?) of the basic employment expectations are not met by the LA industry/current market. Some of those expectations include: getting employed, making a living wage, upward mobility, not suffering at the hands of your principal, etc. You know, the basics of 21st century employment. Would it help if successful LA’s like Bob or Leslie shared their experiences with projects to students? Doubtful. Neither of those designers ever dealt with the great recession in the most fragile period of their careers (aka the beginning). I think students would be eager to hear from a LA from the depression era, though … if only they were still alive. But until that miracle happens, sharing your prolific career that spanned the most affluent period of american society to people that are just worried that they can get an entry level job and pay off their student loans grossly smacks of ego-centrism.

    And yes, not having a LA degrees sucks. But, the most important part is the experience and licensure. No one cares if you have a MLA from GSD if you aren’t licensed. And, if you did have a BSLA from Cal, then it wouldn’t be as good as someone with a MLA from GSD, and so forth and so on. Everyone get’s prejudiced against because of something. 



    I enjoyed reviewing your extensive LA portfolio just now….very nice work! *smile*.  Very interesting that you went from a “music degree” to the LA profession.  Both, creative & expressive though…in different ways.  Funny, I took piano lessons in the 5th grade……but, gave it up…wish now, I hadn’t.

    Yes, I was up in the middle of the night for a bit….couldn’t sleep.  So, I wanted to see what was going on here @ LAND 8.

    Actually, I have closer to “43” yrs. of LA design experience…but, who is counting at this point….LOL.  Easily 25% to 30% of the projects I designed were smaller projects…that took me maybe 2 days to 1 week to accomplish…and well, after all these years, it is a bit difficult to know “exactly” how many projects I have designed during my LA career.  I know, if you offered me a Million $, I couldn’t name them all…no way.  The larger projects (multi-family, commercial office, retail centers, etc.)…took several weeks of time (from prelim. to final contract documents thru site inspections).

    Looking back, I feel I put in way too much over-time.  As I mentioned, when you add up those OT hours….it easily equals (4) calendar years.  I now advise younger LAs that it’s important to find “balance”……between fun, work & personal relationships.  Easier said than done in a profession like Landscape Architecture…which is very time intensive!

    I still remain active designing, even at my current age…as I continue to have a constant urge to express my sense of creativity…..but, I am slowing down, finally. Designing high-end residential as well as providing LA design consultation & creative design services to young LA firms is where I’m at these days. Now, I feel I can be selective…and stick with the fun projects…*smile*.

    Sincere Regards,



    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    As someone who left a decent paying solid position doing civil site plans in a civil engineering / land surveying office in 2011 to go full time as a self employed landscape architect I think that the unrealistic expectations in the profession were based in the belief that the profession should provide a mechanism for advancement rather that of what type of work there is.

    They tell us in school that “the profession” provides advancement through “internship” or “apprenticing” or whatever you want to call the experience requirement for licensing. They spoke of mentoring and hoe LA’s like to give back to the young people in the profession. I do think that is a real build up of expectations that is not well planted in reality.

    Reality is that it is a Darwinistic profession. You (or me) have to adapt to the current environment and re-adapt as that environment changes whether it is for employment or for business opportunities. That environment is both geographically and economically specific.

    It is absolutely necessary to study and adapt to that environment on what you observe on your own and not rely 100% on what others tell you it is. It is also necessary to understand that in any environment there are lots of successful adaptations. Sometimes the most unique are the most successful  like a giraffe. Other times many successful species have very similar characteristics.

    All adapt from what they once were. When less change is needed to complete the adaptation the more likely the species is to complete and for the species to survive.

    I hope that was not too “out there” and no, dope is not legal in Massachusetts until tomorrow.


    Wow. So only the strong/most fit deserve to practice LA huh? Guess I should have cut my principal’s throat earlier on in my career – and a few of my other coworkers to boot! 

    Leslie B Wagle

    Jonathan, I sense your frustration but in response to the “Neither of those designers ever dealt with the great recession in the most fragile period of their careers (aka the beginning),” there is a lot more to tell but I spared the readers.

    Two recessions hit me (and HARD), one being exactly right after I graduated in ’74, another severe one in ’90-’92. (Deletion of tales of woe here). It is because of them and wondering if I ever really recovered that I do truly sympathize. I looked back to the icons of earlier history and thought THEY had it easier. Then in the building boom you refer to I was tucked away in a planning department doing some pretty awful stuff (mixed in with a bit of satisfaction). Nearing retirement it seemed the best place to stay. But yes this last recession has been horribly protracted.

    Leslie B Wagle

    Robert: I played piano all my life (with a nice big lapse in the middle) took it up again during the planning years, and got into the second field (really multimedia vs. performance) approaching retirement. That gave my seniorhood another outlet to mix with wisps of design work, which I highly recommend for those further down the road than Jonathan. And other people may find something that wouldn’t have to prompt another round of training…I just found an on-line program and took it slow. Another retired LA I know is becoming a fine painter.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Not exactly. The analogy is primarily about recognizing the current environment in which you are working in and adapting to it. The secondary point is that each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses from which to adapt from.

    I’m anything but the “strongest”. I can’t draw with my hands to save my life, I don’t do perspective drawings or 3D computer renderings to name some biggies. I’m actually a very weak candidate for a job in an LA office.

    My point is mostly about  the expectations that we were groomed to believe in having to do with how our career paths would go. They make it sound like we enter the profession as if we are in a raft in a stream that carries us along to bigger and better waters into bigger and better vessels.

    Because I have a weaker skill set I knew my paths were more limited so I had no choice but to always be looking for other opportunities that I could fit and hopefully grow in. I could not begin to compete with anyone coming out of school with a BLA trying to get into an LA firm. Consequently, I had to find other paths.

    Fortunately, those paths had me working in between other design professionals including LAs. I learned what those others thought about the LAs that they worked with. I learned what I thought of the different LAs that I worked with from the perspective of the position that I was in. I saw ways that some LAs did things that the others that they worked with liked and other things that they did not like (I don’t mean design things). I saw what they did and what their staff did. I saw who advanced their “interns” and who replaced them with new “interns”. I saw many of those “interns” show up again in various other positions and self employed.

    Most try to do things the way the firm that they came from did things. Basically they chose to compete with well established and well experienced firms (or candidates for jobs) while trying to be the same thing. Unless you have superior skills by which they are measuring, you’ll be disadvantaged doing that every time. Yet, we are taught by our professors that this is how the profession works. There is that saying “never bring a knife to a gun fight”, but that is exactly what we are taught to do.

    The reality is that other professionals pick and choose whom they work with based on their own needs. Firms pick and choose who they hire, who they replace, and who they advance based on their own needs as well. Those needs are always centered around profitability. It is never directly about “giving back” or “developing professionals”.

    You might take that to mean that everything is a competition against individuals or other firms. Far from it. The best way to advance in any job is to always be working to improve the profitability of your employer and to be trustworthy. The best way to advance as a firm is to always work toward improving the profitability and building the trust of those who are in the position to refer you. Sometimes doing less is a better way to achieve that goal.

    If I can survive in this profession with the lack of skills that I have then anyone can. The only question is whether or not you, me, or anyone else can thrive more in a different profession.

    Dave McCorquodale

    Andrew, I think your point about profitability to the firm is perhaps the most important factor in an employer/employee relationship.  Many don’t seem to grasp it, and who can blame them, I don’t think it’s emphasized enough in school or the workplace.

    I’m self-employed and closely aligned with one custom pool builder. I do almost all of my business with repeat clients (primarily home builders and developers).  My approach in dealing with all of these business relationships is this:

    Anyone has the ability to make them money.  I’m going to make that process easier and more enjoyable for them than anyone else.  Same as when I was an employee, except my only “client” was my employer.  

    Jonathan, I understand your frustration.  I’m not doing anything close to what I thought I’d be doing with my LA degree, but I’m happy (although I was happy before I was an LA and will do my best to be happy after I’m finished with LA).  I disagree with the implied notion that upward mobility, fair wages, and employee-centered environments are problems that affect the LA industry more than others.  Both highly talented and well-connected people advance faster than others in every aspect of our economy.  Hope you find your niche and prosper.


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