Managing your planning career in uncertain times


Planned Resources recruit across the niche markets of planning, engineering, architecture and design, property, and government support. We operate across private and public sectors in Melbourne, Victoria, and Australia. Here, our Director  Russell Locke discusses the experiences of Planners who have first-hand experience managing their careers during uncertain times. 

I must admit to feeling like a bit of a fraud when being asked to present recently to the Young Planning Cohort on “Searching for Work in Strange Times”. 

I certainly do not fit into the “young” category anymore, but more than that I’ve been very fortunate in my career to not have been forced to search for work in a downturn.  So, in preparing for the presentation I reached out to 4 (not so young now) planners who were unfortunate enough to be searching for work post the GFC to ask them how they navigated the jump into the employment world…

Melissa: Created a narrative

Melissa was transitioning from another career into planning and having looked for roles for several months she was beginning to question the wisdom of trying to transfer careers.  As part of her passion for planning though she had been volunteering for a community action group related to a proposed local development.  She was able to highlight this when a short-term contract role came up at a local council doing the community engagement work around a strategic planning project.  This initial experience got her involved in the overall strategic project and led to a contract extension, followed by a maternity leave contract, and finally into a permanent strategic planning role with the council.

Melissa talked about using her previous experience to create a narrative of not only what she had done, but also how that experience ties into the role you are applying for.  She also talked about starting on contract, and how it was the key to opening up more opportunities within the council when you proactively seek them out.

Melissa is now a manager in state government.

Farzana: Stepping stones

Originally a planner overseas, Farzana updated her qualifications through the local University which also involved some short-term work experience.  She managed to get some more experience writing reports for her PIA Mentor, followed by a short-term (6 week) planning admin job for a regional council (located 90 minutes away from home). This was followed by a short-term contract as a junior planner in a neighbouring council and then a slightly longer role as a statutory planner in another council in the region.  All these roles were over an hour away from where she lived and her family, but she completed the assignment, before looking for the next role. Utilising her experience from the previous role as a steppingstone to a slightly better, slightly longer, or slightly closer role before finally securing a permanent role.

Dealing with Farz at the time, it was noticeable that whilst she was stressed (which was understandable being in short-term roles 90 minutes away from home), she was never interested in taking another role mid-contract just for the sake of a couple of dollars more, or a commute that was 5 minutes closer to home.  Personally, I think that this loyalty was one of the things that enabled her to quickly grab new contracts once her existing one finished, especially as she was focused on working in one region in Victoria.

She is now a senior planner with a state government agency.

Lachlan: Regional opportunities – Open to risk while young

Lachlan was originally from regional NSW but struggling to find planning work locally he sat down with his partner and identified places that he felt there were more work opportunities (for both of them) and that would be of interest to them from a lifestyle point of view.  Aware that roles in the Metropolitan centres were likely to be highly sought after they focused on more rural opportunities so when a 3 month contract for a regional council presented itself he quit the store manager role he had been working in since a student, found a cheap/loose rent agreement for accommodation and moved down in 2 weeks with only a carful of possessions.   By making himself known to management, constantly seeking feedback he was able to extend his contract into a permanent role.

Lachlan talked about being open to risk whilst young.  Without a mortgage to worry about, kids’ schools to consider, or roomfuls of worldly possessions, he was able to move quickly with less risk or things to consider than he would have had to do later in life.

He is still employed by as a senior planner by the same council he started at to this day.

Danai: Active in the Planning Industry

Danai spent a frustrating 6 months looking for a role but made sure that he was active in industry related events during this time, (both through university and organisations) as a way of networking and raising his profile in the industry.  Eventually this helped him get noticed by an employer when they were seeking to appoint a GIS savvy planner.  Able to draw upon him being a known quantity, (as well as having done a GIS elective in University) he was able to secure a role ahead of other candidates.

Danai remembers having to be “persistent and consistent” in his job search, setting himself daily/weekly goals around his job search so that at least he felt like he was progressing, even when at times it didn’t seem that way.

Up until relatively recently he was still with his original organisation as a Principal Planner before moving to the UK where he is now working as a senior planner with a consultancy.

Whilst all the planners above are now successful planners with good careers, that initial step wasn’t easy and they all shared similar frustrations and learnings.  A couple of common themes that came up:

  • All talked about the mental effort it took to be “persistent and consistent” in setting specific time aside to their job search, learning from (but not taking to heart), any application rejections they received and taking time to ensure they crafted the best application they could for the next one.
  • All talk about taking non-ideal roles initially and having to widen their mind-set about what roles they would consider. All now have successful careers, with most have now transitioned back onto their original trajectory, and a couple of them saying that by taking an alternate role initially it opened their mind to new alternate career options.
  • Most started on contract, whilst it is not ideal for a young planner to start out on contract or something Planned Resources would promote as a first option (typically you don’t get trained as well as a permanent employee), it helped them engage with the industry and got that initial break they needed to set themselves up.
  • Most were open to regional locations, with both Lachlan and Farzana finding that rural opportunities had less competition and increased their opportunities for securing a role.
  • Most talk about having supportive partners/networks, and working early through the potential logistics and negatives of roles – from partners being required to do before/after school duties (Farzana/Melissa) through to having a long-distance relationship in the short-term (Lachlan).

Hopefully, young planners commencing their job search will be able to relate to and find some solace from the experiences of the planners above.  Feel free to reach out to myself or a member of my team if you are searching for a role/want some advice and good luck in your job search.

Written by: Russell LockeDirector

0407 111 364


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