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Public Service Careers in Focus—Public Sector Careers: What You Should Know

This was a great session at the conference and I will work hard to try to get ASPA to offer something similar at the 2013 Annual Conference in New Orleans. This session was also difficult for me (although many may not have noticed). My stage fright kicked into high gear and there were times where I did not even know if I was speaking clearly or making sense. Thankfully, it was a great audience and I was on a panel with great people so everything turned out better than I had hoped. My fellow panelists were: James H. Svara, Cheryle A. Broom, Donnell Scott and Stacy Mungo.

It is because of this that I wanted to post some notes here for those that may have missed the session and just in case I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be.

Key Highlights from the Panel (in no particular order):

  • Understand the environment in which you are working.
  • In addition to understanding the environment in which you are working you must also understand the politics of the environment in which you are working. And if you want to advance, you must make sure that you understand basic budgeting/public financial management, master the science of interpersonal relationships, and know how to back up your opinions with facts.
  • Know the specific tasks you have to complete at your job and know how they fit into the larger scheme of things in your organization. This will help you understand your environment and help you be more prepared for things to come. And when this connection is not clear, then seek it out so that you know the impact of your work.
  • Be prepared.
  • To help you prepare for your career, identify your interests. Especially in a field a diverse as Public Administration, identifying your interests is key to advancing since we can’t all be generalists. Technical specialists with general knowledge of other things, good interpersonal skills and networking skills will get ahead (deduction from the stories shared on the panel). You should also identify your areas of improvement.
  • On the panel, listening to Stacy Mungo (I believe it was her speaking at the time—inviting others to let her know where she can improve on LinkedIn or via email, etc…) I realized that I need to make a more concerted effort at identifying my areas of improvement and encouraging those around me to be totally honest with me so that I can get the best feedback to make improvements. And the number one item on my list of areas needing improvement is PUBLIC SPEAKING (a key component of most public sector jobs). This is going to be hard but I am going to do it. Although most people do not believe I have stage fright, I need to get over it (and not get hung up on counting the people in the room. BAD IDEA FOR THOSE WITH STAGE FRIGHT).
  • In this larger category I would also add be courteous and professional. Dr. Scott mentioned not ignoring emails and I completely agree with him. Realistically speaking, people expect a prompt response to emails. Some people I have met expect an immediate response to emails. (ALTHOUGH I did not get to specifically mention this on the panel, I would recommend that one responds to emails within 24-48 hours (or 72 hours on the weekend). I usually caution people when giving them my number that I do not check voicemail regularly to let them know that they can reach me quicker by email or text. When I give out my email address, I caution people to put specific things in the subject lines, provide a number where they can be reached if they need an immediate response, and to make sure their name appears on the email because sometimes the information (to, from, date, etc….) from the email does not appear on my cell when I check emails. Oh and I usually get to emails within 48 hours if not sooner, lol.).
  • Network.
  • Make your own connections. People are no longer hired just for what they can do. People are also hired for how well they get along, their dedication, values, and potential and most importantly, the people that they know and resources that they can access to help the organization achieve its goals.
  • Explore New Ventures/Get Involved.
  • Be kind to current workers.
  • Be versatile but smart enough to know when you’re in over your head.
  • You should have a desire to serve.
  • You should have passion. (And when you have passion, most of the things you do won’t seem like work).
  • Be willing to start out small and to take on those projects others don’t want. Do them well and you will get noticed.
  • Always ask yourself, “if not you, then who?”
  • Be careful with the Internet and Social Media
      • I shared a story on the panel of a friend of mine and her Facebook page. She had things on her Facebook page that a potential employer found and brought up during her interview. Afterwards she did not want to work there because of the image the employer had of her because of what she thought was on her “personal” Facebook page. NOTHING IS PERSONAL OR PRIVATE on the internet so be careful what you post on these sites and be mindful of the things your friends post on your pages since these things will also be available to a skillful potential employer (or anyone who enters your name in Google).
      • The internet can also be a great tool. Look a site like LinkedIn (or now WordPress). This site allows individuals to post their “virtual resumes” online. Almost making it unnecessary for us to use paper resumes for interviews. Keep this in mind for several reasons. First, as a tool to provide information you can use this to supplement information provided to a potential employer. I initially used my LinkedIn page for this particular purpose (as a homepage). I did not want to provide too much information to the employer initially but I knew that if they google-ed me they would see this, so I tailored this page with additional professional information and I requested recommendations that would be available to the potential employers that were interested in looking. Finally (although there are a number of other reasons to be mindful of the internet and social networking) be careful what you post on these sites as well since others can see if you misrepresent yourself or if you share private/confidential information about your employment which would not be good. This is a problem a colleague pointed out to me (she works for the Federal EEOC in NY) that she sees a lot when reviewing applications.
  • The internet never deletes anything. Keep this in mind as you conduct your electronic business. I mentioned on the panel an experience I had years after serving as President of the MPA Student Association at John Jay College of Criminal Justice—City University of New York (CUNY). About two years after graduating from my MPA I applied for a job and it turns out that while I was still in school I had reached out to this particular employee in one of my club outreach efforts. The person interviewing me recognized my name and an entry on my resume and began to search her email. She found an old email flyer I sent to her and the rest of the interview was spent talking about my experience with putting together the event mentioned in the flyer. I pointed this story out to highlight how small the world really is and how easy it is to make an impression even when you think you are doing something so small such as serving on a club’s executive board/committee and completing a simple project. So get involved and be flexible and versatile to do what you can. Do your work well and you will get noticed. It will pay off.

I hope these notes have been helpful to you.

Please let me know what you think of my notes and feel free to add on to these notes (by submitting your comments below).


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