Advice from PennDesign Peers

Advice from your Peers

The following advice was offered by School of Design students on their career plans surveys shortly after their graduation. Next to each quote is the degree that the student recieved.

Ready to act on this advice, but unsure how to start? Review Career Services' guide to networking, update your resume and other materials, and make an appointment to discuss your job search with an advisor!

Applying for Jobs      


Use Career Services as much as possible, particularly in refining your resume and cover letter and performing mock interviews. They are exceedingly helpful processes. QuakerNet is also a spectacular resource for finding alumni in relevant fields and relevant locations. (MCP 14)

I built my online portfolio and used it as my application material to apply for product designer jobs. I had a list of potential employers and I found all job vacancies from their official website. I also got some part-time offers from because I posted my professional works and self-started works there. (MArch 14)

I probably spent the most effort looking at the multiple jobs boards that are likely to offer listings for Planning students. These include Planetizen,, and, all of which have a frequently-used jobs section. In addition, I was happy to attend the Design School career fairs - but I made sure to be selective, and make the firms make their pitch to me as much as I was pitching myself to them. You must carve out time and motivation to send out applications. Treat it as a job, one that you schedule on your calendar. Also, try to apply to some "safety" positions first - ones that might be good but not your most tantalizing ones. This helps you work out some kinks and get overall practice honing your resume, letter-writing, and even interview skills. Talk to other students! They can always give you new ideas on where to look and who to talk to. (MCP 14)

I had a spreadsheet with offices I've been interested in since my 500 year. I used this sheet to organize my internship applications, and I kept coming back to this spreadsheet to keep myself focused on a specific type and location of office. As I attended events and met friends of friends, I would naturally expand my network, often into some of the firms that I had listed. By the time I was ready to graduate, I feel I had a strong enough network that allowed me to cut through a lot of the process and really speed up the path from making a phone call to interviewing to receiving an offer. (MArch 14)

Be selective about the number of firms you're applying for and send out specific work samples and cover letters tailored to the firm.  Also, don't be intimidated or afraid of online postings.  I wanted to work for a small firm and ended up connecting with a previous undergraduate alum with a PennDesign employee and a wife who graduated from PennDesign from an ad posting on Archinect.  Also, don't be afraid to use professors as a resource.  From my experience, they are always willing to help. (MArch 14)

My advice is to stay active by interning, volunteering or freelancing until you find the right fit. Use all of your resources and apply even if you don't think you'll meet all of the qualifications but know it's a job you are willing to do extra work for to make up for some skills you may be lacking. (MUSA  14)      

Work during school breaks; experience is the only way to make up for whatever your portfolio may lack. Learn to use as many design software products as possible; sometimes being familiar with a specific software can be the difference between you and another prospective hire. Graduating from PennDesign helps, as you will often encounter alumni working at the firm you're applying to, but be humble about it, as this is not always the case. Before applying to a firm be certain that, should you receive an offer from that firm, you would be willing to work there; this will help you get motivated and have the appropriate attitude during your interview. (MArch 13)

Constantly research and edit resume/portfolio/work samples. Create a spreadsheet with all the various firms' contacts, design theory/sensibilities, and whether they are hiring or not. Research before and after a job fair/interviews and follow up diligently. (MEBD 13)

I made lots of contacts to Penn and undergrad alumni, conducted informational interviews, applied to a lot of positions, prepped a lot for interviews. In the end my job came from applying to a position posted online to a company I had no personal connections with. (MCP 10)

It may take a while, and you may not get the job you really thought you wanted, but a job will come along.  Be persistent, keep sending out more and more job applications but be sure to tailor each and every cover letter to the specific place you are applying.  Email or call to check up on each one.  Use your contacts and references to put in good words for you - don't try to do it completely on your own; a large part of it is who you know! (MSHP 10)

Cast a wide net, work all of your contacts no matter how distant.  Look outside the places that you feel most comfortable living in.  Be patient and look for other opportunities to strengthen your credentials in the meantime. (MARCH 09)

Use initial job offer to put pressure on other firms to make an offer. I stayed in very close contact with former employers from internships.  This means emailing, calling, or meeting them for lunch on a monthly or bimonthly basis.  Started portfolio in February when most people are just starting now (June). Take career fair seriously, dress in a suit, have portfolio completed and printed professionally at that time. (MARCH 09)


You have to go all in.  Go to the city where you'd like to work if you can, attend events, meet people.  Meeting people is key.  The only major opportunities I've had so far for interviews were connections made in-person, by happenstance. (MArch 15)

Ask a lot of peoples' advice.  Let your professor know your interests. (MLArch 15)

I used resources offered on sites like AIA and Archinect as well as Penn Career Services but the most significant thing I found to be was networking. (MEBD 15)

Network! Network! Network!  Stay in touch with your professors and let them know your career interest.  They know a lot more people and can help with introductions.  Follow up. (MCP 15)

Networking is essential to job placement.  Penn Planners need to find a career focus and seek out networking opportunities.  Don't be afraid of being persistent with networking, research the company you want to work for, look at their team, and reach out for an informational interview. (MCP 15)

To not underestimate the power of networking within your own class year and recently graduated class years, particularly for small, specialized fields such as the architectural conservation subtrack within the Historic Preservation program.  (MSHP 15)

I contacted former professors, colleagues from internships, and Penn alums. I also looked for job postings through the ASLA and Land8. The job I ultimately got was through a contact with a Penn alum who I have known since before graduate school. (MLARC 14)

I accepted a temporary position for a project that really excites me and hope to use it as a launching point for a long-term position in the same area. My typical job search strategy involves talking to as many people as possible, using and other list serves, and inviting people out for informational lunches. I have found that the best way to get an interview is through personal connections or relationships rather than applying to a listed position. I have also been hired after cold emailing - the firm was actually looking for something even though they hadn't posted an official position yet. (MCP 14)

Networking is the key in finding a job. (MUSA 14)

Keep a well maintained and regular relationship with past employers/contacts whom you respect and see or desire a future employment opportunity with. (MArch 13)

Constantly network. Those of my peers who were in contact with specialists in the field are those that are having the most success finding employment. (MSHP 13)

Network, network, network. Getting a job is due in large part to who you know at that firm. (MCP 13)

Network! Use any connections you have to get yourself introduced to a few helpful people, make a good impression on them in informational interviews, and then keep making connections through each person you meet with. (MCP 13)

Do not be afraid to reach out to any contacts or previous supervisors that you know. Establish a connection in December if you are graduating in May and reach out every month and a half to express your continued interest and to ask if they are hiring. Be persistent. (MArch 13)

Start early. Follow every lead. Always follow up. "Thank you" means a ton.  Informational interviews are key. Be sure to wrap up phone calls or meetings with two sentences of what you're looking for so they have a "sound bite" to remember you by. Always close by asking if your interviewee can refer you to other people.  Be open to possibilities you did not consider initially.  The only thing that's certain, is that things will not work out just as you planned.  Be persistent and take a break when you've reached your limit. (MCP 09)

Let everyone know what type of employment you are seeking. Your best contacts may be someone outside of your field whom you did not know has ties to hiring firms.  I was often surprised by the individual and their very active responses when I mentioned my job search.  Do not discount any direction you're given. (MARCH 10)


One of the pieces of advice that I found useful was to go to all possible career fairs and talk to the potential employers, it built my confidence and I also got some of the best advice from them. My advice is to have a good relationship with the faculty since a lot of opportunities come through them- having some amount of part time experience also helps during the interview. (MUSA 14)

Try to meet a lot of people in school, and be nice to teachers and critics and guests and jury members.  Do your best and be proud of the work you produce.  You are surrounded by an incredible network that almost definitely will tie you in some way to the firm at which you'd like to work.  Be persistent and push the skills that set you apart from the crowd.  Find a job that you like, not one that seems to be the "right" place to work. (MLA 09)

Use your alumni from undergrad or graduate school for information. Make sure to update your resume and have it reviewed by someone experienced. Have all the documents ready and up-to-date: portfolio, work sample, cover letter, resume. Know your words: be sure to prepare yourself for interview questions.  Know your employer; be prepared to be asked of your works and presentations, etc. Be confident: the most important thing if you are not American/an international employee. Being confident is more important than English-language skills. Be in good shape for the interview. Everything matters on the interview (smell of your breath, style of clothes, eye contact, etc.  The first impression is the most important thing for the interview). Make sure you know what you are and who you are. You are marketing yourself. (MARCH 09)   


Send out work samples to as many firms as possible, talk to people at career fairs and follow up with emails. (MLARC 14)

Attend all career fairs, scoping out companies that you know are going to be there and target your approach.  Connect with past students that pursued similar studies to see if they know of any opportunities that might be a good fit for you. (MS in Historic Preservation 14)

I received two offers for employment this year. One came from the PennDesign Career Fair. The other was the result of making a contact at a Real Estate Lunch hosted by the Zell-Lurie Center. This is the job I ended up taking. I feel strongly that without the opportunity to meet on a personal level with a senior member of the firm through the lunch series, I would not have gotten this job. Had I simply sent my materials to the firm's HR department, I likely would not have heard back from them - few of my colleagues at Penn did. So, the lesson learned from my search was to work your opportunities to meet with people that do what you want to be doing - Penn offers plenty of ways to do this. Second, talk to these people because you want to learn from them about what they do. I took that approach, and decided before the meeting that I would not ask for a job or offer a resume at the meeting. By the end of the meeting, the employer invited me to submit my materials. (MARCH 08)


I feel blessed and fortunate to have landed both a posdoctoral fellowship as well as a tenure-track position.  UPenn Career Services has been very helpful throughout the PhD and job placement process, and I especially appreciate the workshops on the early academic career management (job talks; tenure track; etc.). (MCP 15)

Thank you (Career Services) for all your work and kind advice during these past two years.  I found your advice on how to write a resume and a cover letter very useful. (MCP 15)                                                                 

Practice interviews and resume reviews are very important if this is your first time looking for a full time job. (MCP 13)

Post a resume and portfolio on a website of a professional organization that relates to your field.  The more exposure you have the easier it will be to secure a job.  (MLA 13)

The best place to look for landscape architecture/urban design jobs is on and indeed.comSearch daily, because jobs pop up all the time.  It is best to apply to a job early so that recruiters will actually look at your resume and work samples.  (MLA 09)

Internships/Summer Experience

Philadelphia can be a very small city, so making connections is important.  Use your graduate school experience to get an internship (work study is especially helpful) as places that you'd like to work or that interface with other places that you'd like to work.  Building connections and knowing the players in your field, especially in Philadelphia, is key. (MCP 15)

While in the Historic Preservation program, I applied for and received three wonderful traveling fellowships to attend conferences related to my field, which included wood conservation and lighting design. It is from the connections I made as a student at these conferences that I was offered a summer internship and post-Penn job opportunities while still in the program. Taking advantage of these types of networking opportunities not only opens doors for you but further immerses you into the field that exists apart from the academic realm. (MSHP 13)

Get as much relevant experience as you can over summers during school and be sure to balance that with related volunteering for your community.  Believe in what you are doing. (MARCH 09)

My job search started the very first day of graduate school.  I joined professional organizations, attended public meetings in my career area, created and exchanged business cards, offered to work for a member of City Council, used contacts through that job to find additional internship opportunities and networked, networked, networked. (MCP 09)

Get an internship during school and cultivate working relationships you can draw upon during the job search.  Make appointments with professors who know you and are involved in your concentration or area of study to get advice on firms and job opportunities. (MCP 08)

Target employers you are interested in early.  Try to get an internship experience that builds upon your career interest.  (MCP 07)

Build a strong network, intern with companies that are similar to the one you want to work for later, join trade organizations. Research and go on informational interviews and decide on a strategy as soon as possible.  (MCP 05)