Updated: May 8
The stock market could be at an all-time high. The President could have just signed a bill into law that decrees planning as the single most important career in the country. Suburban mayors and managers could have just suddenly woken up one morning and decided, unanimously, to completely rethink suburbia and create a walkable, mixed-use wonderland, and still hunting for a job would be the single most stressful activity in the world.
So how about doing that during a time where the words uncertainty, unprecedented and strange are at the top of every email, article, and press release? Whether you’re a current student, a recent grad, in transition, or just generally feeling anxious about your job security, what you probably need now more than ever is some good advice and reassurance. So, let’s try and give you that in the form of a listicle, shall we?
1. You got this.
Take a deep breath. You are not alone in feeling pressured and panicked right now. This is not the first time this has happened (2008/9, anybody?), and it probably will not be the last. There is every chance that you have a hundred competing priorities right now, and your job search is just one of them. Take the time to be human, feel your emotions, and then approach this with a level head.
2. Connect – at a distance.
Now, more than ever, community is important. Even though we may all physically need to stay at least six feet apart, we need to seek out every available opportunity to stay in touch. This article in TheMuse has some great recommendations for how to approach emailing potential hiring managers, as well as joining industry-specific LinkedIn groups (and here is a cheap plug for the APA-Illinois LinkedIn group!) Speaking of cheap plugs, APA-IL has a series of events coming up that will help you to stay connected, feel informed, and maybe even find that mentor or connection you need to take the next step in your career.
Starting on April 17, the APA-IL Membership Committee has been hosting weekly virtual Happy Hours lovingly referred to as the APA-IL “Lockdown Lowdown”. APA-IL Members at all career stages have the chance to get together (virtually!) and sound off about the challenges they’re facing. Watch your APA-IL emails for registration information.
If you’re on the job hunt, chapter-only membership provides an affordable way to access a range of networking and development opportunities, and show that next employer that you are committed to being the best planner you can be.
On May 7th, the APA-IL Membership Committee offered a FREE “Pathways To Planning” career webinar. A panel of professional planners discussed what they did to get to where they are today. Highlighting non-traditional career paths, planning as a second career, and more. Be sure to check out the recording!
3. Stay Involved.
There will be times when the job search can feel fruitless, especially after a string of rejections, or when you’ve been ghosted by the fifth recruiter that week. It can be all too easy to convince yourself that it isn’t going to happen for you, and that you should be putting your efforts into something else, like a promotion at the unrelated job you assured yourself was only temporary. Nobody ever got anywhere by giving up. You decided to become a planner for a reason, so keep that passion alive. Look for some upcoming free webinars (which are increasingly available as we all adjust to working and connecting remotely), reach out to a friend for a chat about an issue and then write a blog about it, or, if you’re an APA member, check out an E-Book or the latest issue of Planning! You are a planner, even if your job title doesn’t reflect that yet. Hiring managers will be looking for the people that turned a crisis into an opportunity.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask.
The reality for many is that when economic difficulties strike, budgets for internships are some of the first to be cut, especially in municipalities. This can leave the new, or soon-to-be, planning grad feeling under-prepared and inexperienced. One great alternative to a traditional internship is taking the time to perform some informational interviews. Reach out to experienced professional planners (LinkedIn is your friend) and see if they wouldn’t mind taking some time to chat with you. Not everybody is in a position to say yes, but for the most part we’re a friendly, communicative bunch and happy to help.
5. Trust the process and remain open.
The most important thing about getting your first job is to get it. So many of us graduate with grand ideas about the exact type of planner that we want to be, or don’t want to be. Maybe you are convinced that the only way to bring about real change is working as a consultant, and municipal planning has nothing to offer you. Maybe you don’t feel ready for planning at a regional level like CMAP and would prefer to start small at the local stage. It is good and important to have goals, aims, and ambitions, but it’s all too easy to miss out on what actually might just be the perfect fit for you. This article by Stephanie Blochowiak for the APA has a great series of practical steps you can take to work out exactly what you want from your career. Sometimes, circumstances may leave us with a job offer for something that typically we never would have considered, but those can often be some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences. This article by GovHR USA tells two stories about turning the job you don’t want into the job you do.
6. Tell your story.
As Planners, we tell stories every day. Stories about the history of our places, and stories about the future of them, too. The most important story you can tell right now is your own. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to take a non-planning job. The skills you’ll use in Planning can be found everywhere, because urban planning touches everything.
Barista? That customer service background will help you with every stakeholder interaction you have. Amazon driver? You probably know more than most about the connectivity issues your area faces. Taking a gap year? Great job gaining a clearer picture of the career you want!
7. Reach out to the APA-IL.
What would a professional association be without its professionals? The Chapter is always looking for a few good volunteers to help with events (virtually or in-person), always collecting new ideas, and always trying to help our members. Feel free to reach out the APA-IL by emailing email@example.com with questions, ideas, or just a note to let us know what you’re up to!
The APA-IL also encourages anyone that is feeling anxious, depressed, overwhelmed, or scared about the future because of the COVID-19 pandemic to Call4Calm. Call4Calm is a new free-of-charge emotional support service available through the Illinois Department of Human Services 24-hours a day, seven days a week. To use Call4Calm, text “TALK” for English or “HABLAR” for Spanish to 552020. A licensed counselor will reach out to you by phone within 24 hours. Call4Calm is free to use and all communication through the service is anonymous and confidential.
Blog by Phillip Green. Phil is a member of the APA-IL Membership Committee and a Planner at the Village of Woodridge, IL. You can read more about Phil by visiting the APA-IL Member Spotlight.