There has been a noticeable increase in the number of graduates emerging from planning related courses across UK universities and, thankfully, an increase in the number of opportunities for graduate / assistant planners across the public and private sectors. However, despite the increase in your chances of being employed, the best way to set you apart from your fellow applicants is by gaining varied work experience.
Why is work experience so important? Essentially, it affords you the opportunity to have witnessed ‘planning in practice’, become familiar with a professional working environment and provides you with plenty to talk about during interviews. Many planners even receive offers to join the companies they initially had their work experience with.
The obvious method of gaining work experience is to email a relevant planning director/team leader and simply ask – “can I come and spend a few days at the office?” It’s a direct and, sometimes, effective method but often these emails land in extremely busy mailboxes and make little impression. My advice is to start with a phone call and ALWAYS follow-up with an email to reaffirm your interest in the business, your background and your reasons for approaching the consultancy/local authority. But how do you find who to contact? Fortunately, there is a ready made list of the consultancies in your local area - www.rtpiconsultants.co.uk - with the search providing names of relevant contacts, phone numbers and email addresses. My useful tip – don’t always target the lead director, pick up the phone to an associate director, as it wasn’t so long ago that they were in your shoes, many are willing to offer help where they can.
Securing one stint of work experience can be tough but there is much to be gained from pushing yourself to attain experience at different consultancies, as well as stints within the public sector. Planning is a diverse environment with teams offering work experience within planning consultancies, multi-disciplinary consultancies and developers. Gaining exposure to how different teams work will allow you to make better informed decisions when applying for jobs and answering the standard interview question – ‘Why do you want to work for us?’.
One day, one week, or even one month of experience will benefit you significantly in terms of exposure to planning practice, preparing you for interviews and allowing you to form an idea of your career pathway. Don’t be disheartened by the inevitable “no, thank you” responses that you will receive, it only takes one “yes!” to get you going.
Jason Moore is associate consultant at Kingsley Recruitment