In late April, CIP surveyed employers across Canada about their hiring practices and the impact of COVID-19. In our final question, we asked: Do you have any recommendations for new graduates facing the uncertainty of starting their job search in a pandemic and post-pandemic economy? In the comments, employers included encouraging and insightful advice for students and new graduates on ways to navigate an economic downturn. Here’s what they told us:

Location Flexibility

“There are a lot of opportunities available for new graduates and those with less experience in communities outside of large urban centres. In our recruitment experience, the job applicants who applied to smaller or rural communities have a much better chance of getting the job due to less competition. But the upside of working in a smaller centre is that you can get more broad experience doing a variety of planning.”

“Apply in rural areas. These municipalities have considerable difficulty attracting qualified personnel and are starting to see a majority of their existing workforce retire. They also frequently have large industrial tax bases which results in stable jobs and higher incomes. Due to the smaller departments, you’ll also be exposed to a wide range of planning work, and your professional input will be valued given your education. Before each interview evaluate the local land use bylaw and confidently share amendments you’d make based on the best current evidence. A year or two in a rural municipality will provide you with a good income, good experience and stability while you work towards the RPP title. Don’t be afraid to apply to positions which demand more experience than you have. You’ll hear “no” enough from prospective employers; don’t disqualify yourself before you even apply. Finally, find jobs that aren’t listed on the major job websites. Fewer applicants means better odds and if you’re applying on Indeed, so is your entire class. Mentally, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to apply and to start work. An application a day is enough. There’s 40 more years to work. Whether you get hired in a month or a year doesn’t matter in the long run of your career. Good luck!”

“Stay positive. This will pass. Look for work in northern or small communities. They have a hard time finding planners regardless of the economic condition. A small town can be a great place to learn and cut your teeth as a planner. They offer a wealth of knowledge and exposure to how government works. I worked in a remote northern community in BC, and it was the best decision I made. This experience I gained there was invaluable to my career. I now work for a local government in Metro Vancouver.”

“Be willing to look for jobs and opportunities outside of your comfort zone both in discipline and geographically. Some excellent professional opportunities could exist by looking out of province or country that would contribute to expanding your skill set.”

“I started my Master’s program in the fall of 2008, six weeks before a world market crash. During the summer of 2009, I was able to secure employment; however, it required me to move to a different province. My advice to soon-to-be graduates is to widen your job search in terms of geography and types of jobs.”

Work Experience + Volunteering

“Keep trying and be patient. Organizations are trying to keep existing employees versus hiring new employees. Once the workforce is back to work and positions start to be filed again there will be movement. Offer to volunteer can get you in the door and when a position does come available this individual will be in a good position to get the job.”

“While full-time work in a municipal environment may be hard to find for a while, there may be lots of small contract work opportunities that would help a new graduate get their feet wet in the industry and gain some experience.”

“Get some work experience with an organization that may be planning of hiring soon. A work placement can create great opportunities and get some decent references for their resume.”

“Look for opportunities to volunteer with planning organizations. This will help you get important experience and at least get your foot in the door should economic conditions improve.For our organization, we have a hiring freeze right now but we have not set a particular time frame for this. It will depend on how financially stable we are going into the end of this year and 2021. Normally we hire graduates every year but given the uncertainty in the world, the economy, and our clients, we have held back on this for now. For those students graduating this year, I would encourage them to still contact employers of their choice to #1 express their interest in employment, and #2 provide an introduction to what they are interested in and where. We often will look at interesting and enthusiastic students we have talked to recently before we actually post a position. We seek out students who have proactively taken steps to build a relationship with us and learn more about our practice.”

“Seek (part-time) employment anywhere in the interim to stay busy. I would even look to sharing economy employment (Rover, Skip the Dishes). This will never impact your job prospects once the economy begins to resurface and hiring and demand levels increase. By staying busy, it will reinforce to employers that you remained focused on working and contributing your time and energy. Concurrently, I would recommend volunteering with the many organizations specific to planning (ULI, CIP, PTIAs, local planning or community development initiatives) that will broaden your CV or resume.”

“Many municipalities are seeking ways to conduct public engagement in light of restrictions on gatherings and the requirement for physical distancing. Offering ways to assist with the means to conduct digital meetings that would allow good public input would be very attractive tight now. Being comfortable with the technology and knowing how to use it would be very useful to all sorts of public and private clients. I would also suggest to look for alternative opportunities that are not directly planning related, but that use the skills that planners have developed in gathering public input, creating good policy, and designing solutions that implement that policy will be in high demand. While this does not solve the immediate problem of employment in the next few months, innovative thinking about the skills that will be needed to help us get back up and running and doing some research / writing will provide a good piece to bring to any interview.”

“Volunteering and getting any type of work experience that demonstrates good work ethic and good relationship skills. Volunteering to start up a new local chapter and organize to host educational sessions.”


“Keep building and maintaining networks. Cold calling employer contacts is fine and should be encouraged to discuss and learn about institutions and employers in the field that will be hiring in the future.”

“The Federal Government has just today, April 23, announced a short term emergency funding program for university students. Keep checking job postings and contact employers to explore the chance for working remotely. Many local gov’ts are well set up to support such activities. Ask employers if they would be willing to setup a virtual reception for planning matters to discuss ideas and receive planning applications. Even if not hiring, ask an employer if there might be opportunity to somehow remotely “shadow” and work with a planner on a volunteer basis. And still apply for Federal funding. Check out NGOs as well. For the same possibilities as above. Who knows, maybe even private sector employers might consider such an arrangement. I acknowledge the above suggestions could only work for a short time, while Federal funding is available. BUT, if successful, getting at least some initial experience is better than nothing.”

“It is important to create a LinkedIn profile and start making as many connections as possible. Also keep an eye out on City websites as once the pandemic is over, there will be many postings going up. Our City website will also have an update on recruitment and when it will commence.”

“Take technical courses to prepare for the future when hiring starts up again. Offer to volunteer with Planning Depts. Many that are working remotely are remaining busy, if not busier than ever. COVID 19 has increased the strain on mgmt staff, so extra help in research, analysis, or visualizations may help. This may be a good time for planning departments to actually plan for the post COVID-19 world.”

“Not give up hope and be flexible with their time. It may be that work terms would be odd months because of the current situation.”


“This is going to be a challenging environment for all people. At this time, we are laying off planners with experience…temporarily. At this stage, we will all have to be flexible in our expectations, keep abreast of new trends, possibly relocate to find a suitable position, and/or consider a related field. After living through the Saskatchewan recession in the 1990’s, the 9/11 economic collapse, the 2008 recession, and Alberta’s recent economic conditions, this seems very familiar. It will pass… but it may take a year or so. But the human species and the economy are resilient, so there will be better days and opportunities ahead.”

“I am sure there will be Federal and Provincial stimulus packages once we are through this initial emergency period and planners will be sought after to ensure these projects happen. Over your career as a planner, I am confident this will be a short period, that you will be able to share with new graduates that you will be mentoring in 20-30 years time.”

Education + Skills

“This is a difficult time for everyone. We do not know what type of future awaits any of us. We don’t know if there will be a job at the end of this pandemic. In order to balance books, many governments or private sector firms may reduce staff because the amount of available work has severely declined not only because of the pandemic but also the absurd decline of oil prices. The best advice to give may be to continue with your studies to a Master’s degree or to an associate degree that complements your planning degree. Having diverse technical abilities may allow you to obtain employment quicker than other graduates with a lesser skill set. Be prepared to take a position in an isolated community or region rather than waiting for an opening in a large urban centre. That’s the route I took to be able to get into community and regional planning when positions in our profession were few and far between. Best of luck.”

“Take technical courses to prepare for the future when hiring starts up again. Offer to volunteer with Planning Depts. Many that are working remotely are remaining busy, if not busier than ever. COVID 19 has increased the strain on mgmt staff, so extra help in research, analysis, or visualizations may help. This may be a good time for planning departments to actually plan for the post COVID-19 world.”

“Recommendation for planning students to keep working on enhancing skills (graphics, GIS, analytics, data visualization). For planning applications, even when not requested should highly consider sending a portfolio of their work on writing ability, projects they’ve worked on etc.”