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Professional Success Requires Self-Awareness and Focus

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Christine Springer
July 17, 2015

When we graduate with an MPA, MPP or a Ph.D., we often assume that the future is ours to enjoy – at least professionally. However, after more than 30 years of living that life and working with students who have graduated, I must admit that the most important skill that helps us deliver on our wishes is self-awareness and focus.

Climbing Stairs - Springer

I recommend to students that they take one or two days to get to know their new selves so that they are aware of what is important to them when making a decision, where their mental energy comes from, how and when they get distracted. What is their mind-body connection (positive and negative) and how does the place where they work affect their productivity?

To do so, they need to update what has happened to them in the last few years so that they are able tell who they are, why they are the way they are, what their vision of the future is and how they have put their core values like honesty or good management into action. This is important because getting a job and being successful is not only based upon a resume or emails; it is also based on connecting with people making the hiring decisions. Stories for the interview can be developed by thinking about a moment when they shined at work, also when they failed to do the job correctly, and how it could have been made right. Stories can also be developed and used successfully regarding when a mentor helped them achieve their goal and how that worked as well as a story from a book, movie or current event that exemplifies their core values and message about how they would be useful to the organization.

Once they have an updated understanding of who they are and can articulate that verbally and in writing, successful graduates start collecting information on what jobs are available based upon what has been identified as a priority to them. That should not only include salary, but also location and their core values. That means doing searches on websites relevant to the government or the nonprofit of interest such as Governmentjobs.com or USAjobs.gov (federal) or GovCentral.com (federal, state and local) or statelocalgov.net (state and local) or SNPO.org or nonprofit-jobs.org (nonprofits). It also means considering where the job is located, who they know in the agency or the profession and how long they are willing to wait to be hired.

There are also a number of programs to help new graduates get in to government. Executive Order 13562, signed Dec. 27, 2010, the president revamped the Pathway Programs, which is used to recruit and hire students and recent graduates. The 2015 REDI (Recruitment, Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion) strategy was created by the Office of Personnel Management to create a more diverse and engaged federal workforce. A report published by Government Executive in January 2015, noted that 63 percent of federal employees (464 spread out among 30 agencies) said that the length of the hiring process is the most significant impediment to hiring qualified candidates to the federal government.

In addition, 41 percent said the length of the application process was the most significant impediment. Many of the problems with the federal hiring process are self-inflicted because either the people involved in running the process do not truly understand what they are doing and or increased automation substitutes for human judgment. One of the biggest barriers to getting jobs filled is hiring managers, according to Jeffrey Neal, a federal personnel expert.

State and local government jobs usually require a shorter application process. They are also predicted to increase by over 1.4 million or 7.4 percent within the next 10 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, federal government employment is expected to decrease by 3.7 percent by 2016.

Today, state and local governments employ more than 8 million people. With over 1 million new jobs created in 2014, state and local government is one of the largest employers in the United States. The article goes on to recommend five perfect steps to finding the right job and five reasons why state and local jobs make sense. In my opinion, those steps also apply to federal jobs.

Five Reasons State and Local Jobs Make Sense 

  1. Diverse profile of in-demand jobs.
  2. Approximately 1.4 million jobs created in 2014.
  3. Jobs pay well.
  4. More flexibility and job security.
  5. Finding jobs is fast and easy. 

Five Steps to Finding the Perfect State or Local Government Job 

  1. Decide the municipality/state where you want to work.
  2. Learn more about state/local job titles that interest you.
  3. Search for state jobs.
  4. Learn more about the department/division where you are applying.
  5. Apply for the job.

Finally, I have repeatedly told students that knowing yourself and your core values are most important when doing a job search or considering a job change. Then, you can decide what jobs and agencies fit your definition and your abilities so that personal and professional success is achievable.


Author: Christine Gibbs Springer is the director of the Executive Masters Degree in Emergency and Crisis Management at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas. She is founder and CEO of a strategic management and communications firm, Red Tape Limited. To contact Springer, email [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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