As I look back at the range of conversations I had with aspiring city planners at the Canadian Association of Planning Students conference in Toronto last week , I noticed 7 recurring messages in what I was saying. Here is a summary of my hot tips for the quest for a job:
Have a sense of the kind of work you’ll enjoy. The more clear you are about what you want to do, or even simply explore to see if you like it, the more likely you’ll find work that will serve your development. This last post might help you figure that out.
Have a sense of the kind of work environment you’d like. Are you most comfortable in a fast-paced environment, or one that is more stable. Do you need a serious place to work, or one that is more fun? Do you want to work in the trenches, or serve in other ways?
Draw on all your work experience – paid and unpaid. All volunteer work counts as work experience. Notice the skills you learned while volunteering and give them prominence along with your paid work.
Say what you can do in your resume. Your resume tells other about your work experience, but what can you do? Are you a good organizer? Do you know how to handle tough customers? Do you know how to resolve workplace conflict? Do you have any stories about how you took initiative?
Tell stories in your interview. Draw on all your experience in your interview and tell a story or two about when something went sideways and you pulled through. These are not stories of vulnerability, but of your strength in seeing when you go wrong and your willingness, and effort, to get things back on track. Be specific. It shows your employer that you know where you have room to improve.
Pick your boss. Is s/he going to invest in your development as a planner? Not just the money your employer may have to send you to conferences, or other professional development, but is s/he going to invest time in you as you learn how to do the work of planning? You want to do well, and if s/he is uncomfortable with the question, or can’t answer, the job might not be a right fit, but…
Learn from every job. You might not get your dream job when you start out, but it will have a lot to teach you. If you don’t get to pick your boss, that’s ok. Show up for work and care about what you do and it will be noticed. You will find other work, or it will find you. You’ll be alright.