How to land your first job in planning
Looking for your first job in planning? Matt Fraser, team manager - planning at Penguin Recruitment, offers top tips to help you find your dream planning job.
Whether you’re graduating this summer and looking for your first full-time job, or moving from another sector, a career in town planning can be rewarding, challenging and tough to break into.
Have a look at our top tips to help you take your first steps into a career in planning.
1. Do your research
Before you start applying for jobs, do some research into the different types of town planning roles and consider whether you might be best suited to working for a local authority or a planning consultancy, for example.
As a graduate town planner you will be exposed to a variety of projects which may include residential developments, town centre regeneration, retail, commercial and industrial work. You will typically need to demonstrate a range of core skills to succeed, including excellent communication skills, strong client liaison skills, an ability to use GIS systems and an understanding of the UK planning process.
The best way to find out what it’s like to work in town planning is to gain work experience or internships in the sector. Ideally you would gain some experience in a few different types of planning organisations before you commit to a career in the sector so that you can build a picture of your ideal role - as well as those you would rather not do.
2. Craft a stellar CV
Whilst there are arguments for ‘the death of the CV’, it’s still your best tool to capture the attention of a recruiter, HR or hiring manager in the first instance. A well written CV allows you to demonstrate your skills and experience, as well as get across your personality to an extent.
The purpose of a well crafted CV is to engage the recruiter and convince them to invite you to an interview. Recruiters typically don’t spend more than a few seconds scanning through CVs in the first instance, so make sure it is clear, concise and easy to understand. Proof read it several times to ensure there are no typos or grammatical errors too.
3. Write a strong cover letter
A stellar CV needs a strong cover letter to accompany it. Don’t mistake your cover letter to be a rewrite of your CV but rather, use it to expand on the career overview that your CV should present. Before you start writing the letter, think about why you’re interested in the particular role at hand and how you match the requirements. Find out about what the company does and what the team culture is like. This will help you highlight your skills and abilities appropriately.
Once you’ve done your research, you can start structuring the letter. Make sure you address the correct recipient, which is usually the recruiter or HR manager. If you can’t find a name, try contacting the company to find out as it will make your letter more personable. Otherwise you can write ‘Dear Sir / Madam’.
4. Update your social media accounts
As recruiters, once we’ve seen your CV on a job board such as Planning Jobs and it’s grabbed our attention, we will normally then check out your social media profiles, and hiring managers will be doing the same. If you don’t have a social media presence at all, you could leave recruiters wondering why - are you hiding or just don’t have anything to say?
The first impression we get from your social media activity can make the difference between inviting you to interview or not. If you do nothing else, make sure you have a great LinkedIn profile. Ensure your information is up-to-date and doesn’t conflict with the information on your CV. Write an introduction that sums up your skills, qualities and experience succinctly. You can also ask for recommendations and attach examples of your work.
Twitter is a great platform for staying abreast of industry trends and demonstrating your interest in them. Follow and engage with relevant planning consultancies and local authorities, share interesting articles and voice your views in an intelligent manner, without being overly controversial or political. If you want to express views that you wouldn’t want a recruiter to see then consider having a separate personal account and name it something different to your real name.
5. Seek out relevant work experience to boost your chances
Reaching out to your local councils, consultancies and developers to complete some voluntary work experience adds huge value to your CV. Work placements can range from one week through to a summer placement and these are viewed as invaluable when applying and interviewing for roles. Organising work experience for yourself demonstrates drive and determination to get your planning career going. Not all degrees offer work placements as part of the course so organising work experience for yourself will often elevate your application towards the top of the pile.
6. Prepare for job interviews
Practise makes perfect when it comes to job interviews, so don’t expect your first one to land you the job, although you never know! Make sure you know your CV inside out and are prepared to elaborate on the details you’ve listed. Do your research about the company and practise interviewing with somebody more experienced as they can help you anticipate what questions you might be asked.
One of the most common questions is: ‘What is your biggest weakness?’ A popular way to address this is to state a strength instead of a weakness, such as ‘I work too hard’ but this approach probably won’t impress the interviewer. It’s much better to state a genuine weakness but perhaps one that is not vital for the role. You could tackle this question with something like: ‘I used to struggle to prioritise work but I use time management tools to plan my workload better now.’
You might also be asked about what you know about their clients, what work the company does that you admire, why you think you’d be suited to the role and what your key achievements are to date. Practise answering these kind of questions ahead of your interview and you should go in feeling well prepared and confident.
There is normally scope for you to ask questions of your own too, so be armed with a few in advance. These could be anything from asking what the company’s biggest challenges are, to what success looks like in the role.
It can be tough getting your feet on the career ladder but everyone has to start somewhere, so with the right advice, skills, determination and a positive attitude you should be well on your way.