What to Do If You Don't Have a Job by Graduation

If graduation is approaching and you don’t have a job secured yet, all is not lost. There are a number of things you can do to continue on your search and get that job offer.

There is a saying that looking for a job can be a full-time job in itself. But how will you spend all those hours? Continually writing cover letters and filling out applications may make you feel like you're putting in a lot of effort but it isn’t going to be the answer. Quality time spent on each unique cover letter will get you farther and fortunately, there are a variety of other ways to spend your time, and using every tool is important.

Finally, remember that in an interview an employer may ask what you’ve been doing during the time between graduation and now. The best answer is to be able to say you have been working at an internship, volunteering, or doing your own research.

Consider taking a summer internship

This will give you the opportunity to build your skills and knowledge while you continue to look for a permanent position. It also shows a potential employer that you’re not waiting around for a job offer, but actively working on becoming a better potential employee. An internship after graduation will be one more thing you can add to your resume.

It can be difficult to find internships that will accept applicants who are not current students, but there are some out there that take recent graduates.

Continue to use the SPPA website

You have a much better chance of being hired if you are applying to positions that are not posted on the job search engines all the other new planning graduates in the nation are checking (Indeed, Simply Hired, Planetizen, etc.). Our website has links to nearly 2000 potential employers for planning positions, found in the Student Resources area of our website (at the bottom of that webpage). There is a separate section where you can search consulting firms for job openings.

Get organized

Go through the list of links to potential planning employers on our site and create an Excel document with only the links that interest you. Look under the United States category too. Then, check the links in your spreadsheet every couple days for new job postings.

Improve your LinkedIn page

Create a LinkedIn page or edit the one you have until it's far better than your competition's. The more complete it is, the better.

Create your own website or e-portfolio

This is an excellent way to show an employer what you’re capable of. See details on the E-Portfolio webpage, including samples. Several recent graduates indicated they got their jobs based on having a portfolio.

Network

Networking will be very important. One recent article recommends putting 60% of your job search effort into networking. Here are some ideas:

  1. Contact alums on our website that live in the area you want to work in, or have jobs related to your area of interest. Ask if they have any advice. See if they have specific tips on possible job opportunities that are emerging, as well as key people you should meet.

    Additionally, contacting an alum before you apply for a job where they work may give you an advantage. When employers hire someone, they are taking a risk; they’ve only interacted with you for perhaps a few hours. Employers put weight in the fact that one of their employees/associates knows the potential hire, reducing the employer’s risk. Furthermore, some consulting firms offer their employees a bonus if they recommend an applicant and the applicant gets hired so alums may be motivated to have a conversation with you.
     
  2. Set up informational interviews as a way to learn more about an organization, a person’s job, or that person’s work experience and advice.
     
  3. Go to local APA events. These are listed on the individual state APA sites and include things like tours of renovated buildings, picnics and other opportunities.
     
  4. Send cold call emails. Recommended information to include in your letter, and a sample letter of introduction, are available here.
     
  5. Re-contact your internship supervisor and others you worked with.
Immerse yourself in the local planning community

Attend planning-related events. Become a familiar face. Introduce yourself to others as a recent graduate who is looking for a professional planning position. Take a look at the APA state chapter website for events, conferences, or social activities. Think creatively about which public meetings you could attend to learn about how planning is done in the city and state you want to work in.

As a private citizen in the community in which you seek employment, you have the right to serve on citizen committees whose charge is to address specific planning opportunities and issues. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and competence.

Volunteer

Seek a planning-related volunteer opportunity. Try to find one that will give you experience using the soft skills that many planning employers look for:

  • Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with employees, management and the general public (customer service and/or conflict resolution).
  • Or similarly, the ability to work with and relate to a diverse group of citizens from varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.
  • Ability to work well as part of a team.
  • Ability to communicate technical information to a non-technical audience.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • Public speaking and presentations to various sized groups of people.

You can find some local organizations at the bottom of this page in the online URP Career Services Manual, “Opportunities to Beef Up Your Resume.”  Nonprofits often welcome volunteers and you can potentially gain skills in grant writing, nonprofit organization, running public meetings or using social media to reach organizational goals.

  • If you are thinking of becoming a sustainability coordinator, they often want employees to have experience organizing volunteer groups and teaching/sharing information.
  • If you are interested in transportation, consider approaching Cambus, Iowa City Transit, the Cedar Rapids Airport, the Iowa City Bike Library, etc.
  • Community development is your thing? Check with Shelter House or other homeless shelters where you move to; Habitat for Humanity exists in many cities; assist with organizing a farmer’s market.
  • Contact the SPPA Career Services Coordinator for help brainstorming ideas.
Improve skills or add new ones

Consider auditing a free online college course (MOOC), typically from top universities, that will give you new skills or help you improve on current skills. Or, for a fee, some of these give access to assignments, tests, a final grade and certificates of completion. See sites such as Coursera or edX. Course topic examples: negotiation, modeling climate change, making government work in hard places, writing for social justice, America's poverty & inequality, history, entrepreneurial mindset, leading collaborative teams, Spanish, Java, marine planning process, etc.

There are also many free planning-related webinars and podcasts available to keep you intellectually involved with the planning community. A sample of organizations that offer them: APA, Low Income Housing Coalition, National Association of Environmental Professionals, and Eno Center for Transportation.

Post your resume on the APA site

If you are a member of APA, you may create and maintain an online resume for no cost: https://www.planning.org/careercenter/

Keep checking the URP website for job and internship postings

The number of postings per week will greatly decline after graduation since there are no longer students working on finding them. However, we still post positions and you should check the site a couple times a week in order to not miss any. During the summer, jobs may be posted that close as early as the next day. If you aren’t a full-time student, you should be able to get a quality application and cover letter out by the next day.

You will continue to have access to the job and internship postings until you get your first job, or one year has passed since graduation, whichever comes first.

Conduct your own research

Want to impress a potential employer? Conduct your own research during the time between graduation and finding a job.

One former student took on the task of learning open source GIS products such as GeoDa and Quantum GIS. These both went into the skills section on his resume. He even did a YouTube tutorial using R programing language to create maps. It kept his mind active in planning and it enabled him to demonstrate his verbal communication skills in a way that required little time for a potential employer to examine. Read more about his experience and tips here.  

Additional advice from your peers is found in, How Did Other People Get Their Jobs: Advice and Proven Strategies From Recent Graduates in the Career Services Manual.

Keep in touch with SPPA

You’re eligible to continue to receive job search assistance for up to one year past graduation, or until you get a job, whichever comes first. Ask the urban planning career services coordinator questions about any aspect of the job search. We're happy to help!

Sending the career services coordinator updates every now and then will let us know how things are going and stir ideas of how we can assist you. For example, if you are sending out lots of cover letters, but not being invited for interviews, it’s likely you need to revamp your cover letters and we can help with that. Another possibility is assistance with choosing alums that would be good for you to connect with.

The career services coordinator works the same number of hours during the summer so email, call (319-335-0033) or stop by anytime between 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

Stay connected with your classmates

Keep in touch with your classmates and have others let you know if they hear of anything. Having another set of people keeping their eyes open for you can’t hurt.