Neither been there, nor done that – that’s my caveat for all advice from older people to young job seekers today. We haven’t been here before. You’ve heard the comparisons, right? Not since the Great Depression … If you were an 18-year-old job seeker in 1930, you would be 99 years old now. 99 year olds might have some good advice for young people today. With the caveat, I am going to dispense advice anyway – to Ryan, who is working in a seafood warehouse one year after graduation, who still has a passion for landscape architecture and is very eager to set off on a career path. I have highlighted some lucky young LAs in previous posts (here, here, and here), but I know that there are a lot of people like Ryan too. They need a source of optimism and inspiration. But first, some sobering reality. One of the best charts I’ve seen on where we stand comes from the blog Calculated Risk. The chart is current through May 2011.
The good news? A slight uptick in that red line. OK, it’s the kind of image that makes you want to bury your head in the sand, but that’s not an option. And waiting it out isn’t one either. Ryan needs a job that will launch his career. Where should he start?
Here are my thoughts. If you have advice for Ryan, please send them (in the Comments, or praxislandarch (at) gmail (dot) com).
You have sent out over 90 resumes and portfolio samples in the past year, have had two interviews, but you’ve had no luck getting a job. You do have an income now, and that’s a good thing, but you know that you don’t want to stay where you are. You are thinking about graduate school, which is fine, but only if you are interested in conducting some kind of research (that you’ve already identified) or diversifying your knowledge and skills. It is not fine if you are hoping that things will be better in the job market two years from now. Unfortunately, there is no reason to think that it will. Japan has suffered through a notorious lost decade, and there is no reason to think that we will not. When things get tough, the tough get going (cliché watch) – and you’re tough and resourceful. You can find your way out of the seafood warehouse, but it will take patience and tenacity.
First, you have proven what does not work: mass distribution of resumes. In a previous post, the shoe leather approach is recommended, and you might try that. Networking is always recommended, but what if you do not have a network? I just tapped my network for you, but I got no results. You need 20 other people with landscape architecture connections doing the same thing for you. But what if you are on your own, trying to build a network for yourself? No easy answers. I think the best bet is on volunteering, but not volunteering at a firm. That arrangement is sometimes recommended, but I think it is unlikely to be successful and unseemly for all involved. Instead, I think you need to find a community organization that has energy and needs the skills you have.
Save your city. I think it has potential as a network builder. And you’d be doing good work, building your sense of accomplishment, and keeping up your chops. Most American cities, significant parts of them anyway, are silently begging for our attention. You have knowledge, skills, and abilities that are needed in the revitalization of cities. Perhaps Reading has some great energy towards this, or perhaps it doesn’t. You need to find an energetic group to add your energy to, for best results. Reading may be too small to help build the kind of network you need. And what kind of network is that? A network of energetic, can-do people is important, but also a network of elites with philanthropic interests – the kind of people who may be able to employ you in the future or network for you. Philadelphia may be a better place for that. Scope out organizations that relate to the landscape in some way – find out what they have done lately and try to judge if they have momentum (this in itself is a bit of an art). Volunteer where the collective impact is likely to be greatest.
Juggling your current employment with some civic volunteerism is not easy, especially if you are driving an hour to Philadelphia, but it can be done. And results from this approach would take time, but you have time as long as you stay focused and optimistic in the process. Who knows what doors may open? You may find that graduate school is in your future, and you would go there with a keen sense of purpose if the impetus comes from positive work experiences. You might also get a great job without the need for grad school. Be bold, be visionary, and get moving. Staying put poses the greatest risk. Wishing you the best! Good luck. Keep me posted.