Government Jobs and Public Service Careers, with Kirsten Wyatt

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:

This is “Find Your Dream Job”, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host, and publisher of Mac’s List. Our show is brought to you by Mac’s List and by our book, “Land Your Dream Job in Portland and Beyond”. We have a new edition of the book. It’s coming out in February and you can learn more about it by visiting macslist.org/ebook.

Thanks for joining us today. This week on “Find Your Dream Job”, we’re talking about government work, how to get it, and how to manage a public service career. If you want a job that lets you make a difference in the world, you’re likely to consider a career in public service. A government job can offer you the opportunity to address issues that matter such as education, the environment, and homelessness.

You can also find positions suited to every interest and skill from art history to zoology and the work itself can be very gratifying. Getting your first government job, however, can be challenging. The application process usually requires patience and persistence and managing a career in public service requires thoughtful planning. If you’re thinking about applying for a federal job, Ben Forstag has a website that you’ll want to check out.

It uses employee surveys to tell you which agencies are the best places to work for different groups, including veterans and women and others. Not sure how to get started pursuing a career in public service? Cecilia Bianco has a set of steps you can follow to get clear about what you need to do next. Then, we’ll turn to this week’s expert, Kirsten Wyatt. She’s the co-founder of a national association for government professionals.

Kirsten will share her advice about how to navigate the government application process and she’ll tell you what you need to do to have a successful public sector career. Before we get started, I want to give a big shout out to Cecilia, who last night wowed a crowd here in Portland that was interested in finding work in the nonprofit world. Cecilia, what were some of the … Did you have a good experience?

Cecilia Bianco:

I did. Yeah. It was a great experience and it was a good crowd. I think they were really engaged with learning about how Portland is different and how you can get a nonprofit job specifically in Portland, which as you know, is mostly through networking and informational interviews.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Any other key takeaways you want to share? Either from your presentation or your conversations with people afterwards?

Cecilia Bianco:

Yeah. I think the biggest takeaway for me is that people know they need to network, but they don’t know how to get started. I think talking about that with them and giving them practical advice was the most important part of the night.

Mac Prichard:

Good. Ben, I know you and Cecilia organize these events throughout the course of the year. Can you tell our listeners more about them and how they can learn more about it?

Ben Forstag:

Sure. Each year, Mac’s List organize four different events on our own. They’re quarterly based. These tend to be focused around specific topic areas. How to get a job in communications, for example. We also partner with the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and a local incubator group called Hatch Oregon to put on a series of presentations called “Career Pathways to Doing Good in Oregon”. That’s what Cecilia was speaking at last night and that also happens four times a year.

Mac Prichard:

Good. Well, visit the website if you’d like to learn more about those events and let’s turn to this week’s regular segments. Every week, Ben is out there exploring the internet looking for blogs, tools, and podcasts that you can use to help in your job search. Ben, what have you discovered for us this week?

Ben Forstag:

Mac, I am so excited to share the resource this week. This is a website I found about three months ago, but I’ve been holding onto it just for today’s podcast. I’m super excited to share it.

Mac Prichard:

I can see you vibrating in the seat.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah. This combines two of my favorite things. One is public service jobs and the other one is data. As you and Cecilia know, I love data. I love looking at spreadsheets and all that kind of stuff.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. You’re definitely a number cruncher.

Ben Forstag:

The resource this week is a website called bestplacestowork.org. This is like a Glassdoor website specifically for federal government agencies. If you are interested in working for the federal government, this is a website you can go to to learn about the internal culture of the government agencies.

Mac Prichard:

Great. For the benefit of our listeners who might not know about Glassdoor, it’s a website that has information from employees of companies who share insights into supervisors’ styles … Good bosses, bad bosses, basically, as well as information about salaries.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, and so this is specifically just the federal government. Each year, the Office of Personnel Management, which essentially manages the entire federal workforce, conducts this survey of all federal workers across three hundred and eighty nine different federal organizations. I mean, they ask a series of questions related to employee satisfaction, employee commitment, and other topics that would measure how good of a workplace this is.

The questions they ask are things like, “Do you recommend your organization as a good place to work? Are creativity and innovation rewarded in your agency? How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?” These are really kind of getting at what is the day to day experience for workers in these agencies. From these responses, they assign employee satisfaction scores to each federal agency and then, rank the agencies against each other.

Best Places to Work is where the public can go to review all of these scores. Agency rankings are sortable by multiple demographic groups. For example, you can look for the best federal workplaces for women or the best agencies for veterans or the best places for younger workers versus those for more seasoned employees. All these rankings come from the employees themselves saying what their experience there is.

Mac Prichard:

Were there any surprises when you looked at the data or agencies that stood out, Ben?

Ben Forstag:

Well, I was actually going to ask you and Cecilia here what you thought of all the federal agencies out there, do you want to take a guess at which agency had the highest employee satisfaction score?

Cecilia Bianco:

Oh, that’s tough. I think I’m going to pivot to Mac on this one. I have no idea.

Ben Forstag:

Okay, Mr. Government Work.

Mac Prichard:

I’m guessing it’s not the Veterans Administration.

Ben Forstag:

It is not the Veterans Administration.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Okay. I give up.

Ben Forstag:

Top ranked for the last three years is NASA, which is awesome.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

They’re loving sending people up into space. That’s good.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know we may be dating ourselves here because these podcasts will live on for a long time, but if you’ve seen “The Martian”, that is like a love letter to NASA. It’s one of the few movies coming out of a Hollywood studio I’ve seen in recent years that shows government doing a good job, government actually working.

Ben Forstag:

Hmm. Interesting. I’ll have to check that out.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

Do you want to take a guess at what the worst ranked agency is? Major agency?

Cecilia Bianco:

Mac, any ideas?

Mac Prichard:

I don’t want to disparage any agency, but-

Cecilia Bianco:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Guessing and that not being correct.

Ben Forstag:

Well, I’ll go out there. I thought it was going to be the IRS.

Mac Prichard:

Oh.

Ben Forstag:

It’s not. It’s actually the Department of Homeland Security.

Cecilia Bianco:

Hmm.

Ben Forstag:

Again, this is all from the employees themselves voting on their own experience. One of the interesting things here is they rank all these different organizations, the large agencies, the mid-size agencies, and the small agencies. One of the things I really liked about this website because I am a dork like that is all of the small little sub-agencies that exist out there.
For example, the top ranked small agency, or sub-component, was the Surface Transportation Board, which I’ve never heard of. The worst rated government agency of all the categories for every demographic group? This one scares me a little bit. The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board.

Cecilia Bianco:

Yikes.

Ben Forstag:

The folks who are working there are not happy.

Cecilia Bianco:

That’s not good.

Ben Forstag:

No, it isn’t.

Mac Prichard:

What’s scary too is I’ve actually heard of the Surface Transportation Board. I’ve worked for three transportation projects in my career, so I’m familiar with that one.

Ben Forstag:

Okay. If you’re interested in working in the federal government, you should definitely check out bestplacestowork.org to get a feel for the culture in each agency. Even if you’re not planning on working for Uncle Sam, I think you can find some good value on this site. Check out the methodology section and the questions included in the employee survey.
I talked about some of those questions earlier. There’s about fifty four of them that they ask. These are the kind of questions you should be thinking about when you’re evaluating your own work situation or perhaps, a prospective employer. It really gives you a sense of what the culture might be in those organizations.

Mac Prichard:

Good. Well, thank you, Ben. Do you have an idea for Ben? You can reach him at his email address ben@macslist.org. He’s waiting to hear from you and he may share your idea on the show. Now, it’s time to hear from you, our listeners. Cecilia Bianco, our community manager, is here to answer one of your questions. Cecilia, what’s your question of the week?
Cecilia Bianco:

The question today is, “What’s the best way to start my job search?” This week, I know we’re talking about government jobs, but I’m going to give you some basic and important tips to get your job search started that will be applicable to whatever field you’re interested in. Because I speak with so many people who are looking for work, I pick up the most common problems that they’re dealing with.

What I’ve been hearing a lot lately is people are starting their job search before they actually know what they really want to focus on and what job they really want to be in. This is making it a much longer and more painful process for them. Mac, I know you talk to a lot of people as well. Have you noticed this?

Mac Prichard:

I have. I see it not only in conversations I have with people who tell me about their job search, but frankly, I’ve experienced it myself. Early in my career, I struggled with goal setting and being clear about what I wanted and probably spent far more time than I needed to on different searches as a result. I’m glad you’re bringing this up.

Cecilia Bianco:

Yeah. It can make it really hard. My first suggestion to people having this problem is, before you even start your job search, take some inventory of yourself and what you really want from a career. The easiest way to start thinking about this is to really figure out your main strengths and your main goals for what job you want right now.

With your strengths, I don’t mean thinking about a mental list of your skills, which we see people do all the time. I mean knowing how to talk about your strengths to a potential employer before you start applying to jobs, so being prepared with examples and past evidence that show your strengths rather than listing them off.

As you guys know, almost every job on our list is asking for writing and communication skills, but employers don’t want to see a resume or cover letter or hear you in a interview just say, “I’m a strong communicator.” They want you to show them rather than tell them. If you’re prepared and you know your strengths and you know how you can prove them, that’s the best way to nail down what type of job you’re going to be good at.

For this example specifically, you want to really think about any past awards you’ve received, successful campaigns you’ve been a part of, if you’ve increased an online following or even revenue through communications work that you’ve done. That’s one main way to narrow down what your real strengths are is by being able to prove them.

Another reason it’s important to know your strengths this well is because you want to find a job that you’re going to be good at. Ben, you’ve touched on this in past episodes. Can you reiterate your thoughts on why people should be in jobs that really fit their strengths?

Ben Forstag:

Yes, Cecilia. I think no one likes going to work and being unsuccessful day in and day out at their job. Any time you can get a job where you’re exercising your strengths, you’re always going to end up being more productive and probably happier at the end of the day. I talked about the strengths finder test several weeks ago on the podcast and I think what’s so great about that is it helps people reframe some of their personality types around strengths and gives them tips on operationalizing how they could use those strengths in the workplace.

Cecilia Bianco:

Yeah, definitely. I’ve found that to be true in my current job. I know my strengths are the skills that I need to excel at it, so it makes me happier throughout the day as I’m getting things done.

Mac Prichard:

I’d like to add, Cecilia. I so agree with your point about the importance of showing rather than telling because when people do that, they have a terrific advantage, particularly in the interview process. One thing I’ve seen candidates do when I’ve been on interview panels that allows them to show rather than tell is they ask questions about the needs of the employer.
They say, “What are your biggest problems?” What happens when that the employer responds is that you get an opportunity to think and reflect about how you have approached that problem before and to tell a story. Not to say, “I’ve got great communication skills”, for example, but “I had an experience like that earlier in my career. Let me tell you how we approached it and how we solved that problem.” That’s a very unique thing to be able to do and helps you distinguish yourself from the other candidates in the process. It’s to your point about the importance of showing rather than telling.

Cecilia Bianco:

Yeah. I think the way to get good at that is by knowing your strengths really well. That’s really the starting point.

Mac Prichard:

Absolutely.

Cecilia Bianco:

The next thing I want to talk about is really knowing your goals because that is really, really crucial. I don’t mean long-term where you want to be in ten years. I mean your goals for your career right now and what type of job you want to be in. You want to think about the company culture that you’re going to enjoy the most, the impact you want to be making, and what your day to day responsibilities are going to be that you really want to be in charge of and you’re going to enjoy day in and day out.

If you think about these things and you have them nailed down, when you go to look at a list of three hundred jobs, it really makes it easier to focus in on the ones that are a right fit for you. When you go into an interview or write your application for a job you know you’re the right fit for, we’ve found that you appear more genuine and you’re more likely to get the job because the employers can pick up on that.

It’s important to be authentic and show you really are the right fit. You’re not just saying you’re good at this, you’re good at that. You really are good at this and you really are good at that and you really want to be at a company that supports a certain type of environment. Those are my main tips for how you can get started. Mac and Ben, anything to add?

Ben Forstag:

I just want to reiterate your focus on being focused and knowing what you want to be doing for a career. We talk to a lot of job seekers and I completely understand the mentality of “I don’t want to close off any options, so I’ll do anything” or “I’m open to any opportunity”. I understand that. I’ve been there.
At the end of the day, I think employers really want someone who’s focused and committed to certain types of work instead of the person who’ll do anything or the jack of all trades. It really does shorten the job search process when you do find focus and passion behind that focus.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. I think that’s a very important point you’re making, Cecilia. This idea that you really do need to be clear about what you want because employers will pick up on that. They’ll pick up on your energy, as you say. You just make it easier for employers to say yes to you when you focus on your strengths and what you’re good at and what your passionate about.

Cecilia Bianco:

Yeah. That’s definitely true. Also to Ben’s point, when you’re focusing really hard on a specific type of job, it makes your next steps easier, which the next steps when you’re starting a job search is to target organizations and people you need to talk to that can help you. Really overall, just get some focus before you start.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well, that’s very good advice. Thanks, Cecilia. If you have a question for Cecilia, please email her. Her address is cecilia@macslist.org. The segments by Ben and Cecilia are sponsored by the 2016 edition of “Land Your Dream Job in Portland and Beyond”. We’re making the complete Mac’s List guide even better by adding new content and making the book available on multiple platforms.

When we launch the new version in February, you’ll be able to access “Land Your Dream Job in Portland and Beyond” on your Kindle, Nook, iPad, and other digital devices. You’ll also be able to get a paperback edition for the first time. Whatever the format though, our goal is the same. To give you the tools and tips you need to get meaningful work. To learn more, visit macslist.org/ebook and sign up for our ebook newsletter. You’ll get updates, exclusive book content, and we’ll provide you with special pre-sale prices.

Let’s turn to our expert this week, Kirsten Wyatt. She is the co-founder of ELGL, an acronym that stands for Emerging Local Government Leaders. ELGL is a national organization with chapters across the country that connects, communicates, and educates about public service. Now, Kirsten writes frequently about government for the ELGL blog. She also hosts the GovLove podcast and serves as the assistant city manager in West Linn, Oregon. She studied politics at Willamette University and earned a master’s in public administration from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Kirsten, thanks for coming to the Mac’s List studio and joining us today.

Kirsten Wyatt:

Thanks. It’s great to be here.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Let’s start with some broad questions. Why should somebody consider a career in government?

Kirsten Wyatt:

Well, I think the thing that’s amazing about a career in government, especially local government, is that no matter your interest or no matter your passion area, you can find a job. As I was getting ready for this podcast, I was poking around on the county website. They’re hiring dentists, they’re hiring engineers, they’re hiring levy experts, they’re hiring budget analysts. Really whatever your passion is, government has a place for you. I think that’s really exciting because then you get to have a career where you’re exploring your passion, but you’re also doing something to benefit the greater good. To me, a local government career is tremendously rewarding. You have a lot of abilities to learn new things and grow your career and grow your personal self. To me, that’s why I’ve pursued a career in local government and why I always encourage other people to look to local government.

Mac Prichard:

Good. If someone is at the start of their career or they’re thinking about entering into public service, what are some of the issues they should think about as they lay the foundation for a career in state or local or the federal government?

Kirsten Wyatt:

Well, I think it’s important to remember that sometimes you don’t just get to walk into a job. This is true in all industry sectors, but in government, often there are going to be minimum requirements related to getting a job. It’s important to make sure as you are finishing your college career or building out your resume that you find some ways to get your foot in the door and get some of that relevant experience that government wants you to have when they’re hiring.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s get tactical for a moment. What are some steps that people can take to get that foot in the door?

Kirsten Wyatt:

One of my favorite stories is of people who decide they want to make that jump into government and so they take time on their own and volunteer at the local level, be it on a city budget committee, on a local planning commission. Using that, their free time, to get that experience that local government wants to see on a resume. You may be coming out of undergrad and you maybe have a lot of really theoretical or philosophical perspectives, but you don’t have that kind of boots on the ground perspective.

Taking some time, your own time, to get those relevant skills is really important. I love hearing the stories about someone who dedicated a year of Tuesday nights volunteering on a historic resources board because they really wanted to become a historic planner or something like that. I think that those types of things take a little bit of effort, but it really pays off in the end.

Mac Prichard:

I’ve seen that happen in the world of politics, too, where people who are active in their neighborhood volunteer for a committee and then, end up working for an elected official at city hall.

Kirsten Wyatt:

Absolutely. That’s a great example, too.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. What advice would you have for somebody who wants to get their foot in the door and maybe they want to make a mid-career change?

Kirsten Wyatt:

That’s a tough one. I think one thing we’ve found from ELGL is finding a way to build a network in local government or in government is a really critical way to make sure you’re building out those connections, so people can start to realize that the skills that you have built up over the years in the private sector are transferable to local government. That may mean building a network where the city manager of a certain city knows that you are a top notch communications expert.

Maybe you’ve only worked for a consulting firm or a private company, but you’re able to take those skills and make that transfer over to government. That’s what we really try to promote through ELGL is making those sincere real connections regardless of what industry you’re in. If you have an interest in public service, we want to help you make those relationships.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about the hiring process. When I talk to people who are interested in breaking into government whether they’re coming out of college or graduate school or they want to make a mid-career switch, they tell me that they’re intimidated. The process seems opaque, hard to understand. Break it down for our listeners. How do government agencies hire and what should people keep in mind when they’re starting that application process?

Kirsten Wyatt:

Government hiring processes are horrible, but they are getting better. It was just as recently as two years ago that my own city, we created our first fillable form for our job application. Now, I’m proud to say that our local government as well as many others in the region are adapting a standardized application aggregator called NEOGOV. You can just fill in all of your information and then, use it to apply for many government level jobs.

I was listening to your earlier podcasts and I am also a font snob. What I have found in local government that’s hard is that they want you to put your application materials into a standardized format. That doesn’t give you a lot of room for creativity or to show your flair. It’s also aggravating because you may fill out an application for one city and then, you have to go in and fill out a whole other application for another city, typing in the exact same information.

You don’t get to go and pass out a resume. There’s a different process and approach and that’s just because government wants to be standardized across all of our hiring processes. It can seem more tedious, I think, than just uploading or submitting a resume.

Mac Prichard:

Once people … If they’re fortunate enough to live in a community where you can actually apply online or whether they print out a form and fill it out by hand, what are some strategies and tactics they should keep in mind when they do that?

Kirsten Wyatt:

Well, my number one advice is to understand the form of government that you’re applying to. I have seen so many people contact the mayor about a job that they’re interested in in a council manager form of government, which is just entirely inappropriate because the elected officials have no role in hiring. Same thing with really wanting a job, but not looking at the hierarchy or the way the organization is structured.

When you’re making that call to say, “Hey, I’d love to learn more. I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee and talk about this job”, you’re calling the entirely wrong person. I think that sometimes just having that really basic self awareness of the job that you’re applying for and then, how you go about building that connection or that … Show your involvement with that organization, you really need to be aware of what you’re doing because you can just shoot yourself in the foot right off the bat.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so don’t call the mayor.

Kirsten Wyatt:

Don’t call the mayor.

Mac Prichard:

Don’t call the city counselor.

Kirsten Wyatt:

No.

Mac Prichard:

Who might you call? Who would it be appropriate to reach out to? Say you see a job at the local parks department and you’re very excited about it. You’re Leslie Knope. You want to be there.

Kirsten Wyatt:

Well, I think, first and foremost, you reach out to your network.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Kirsten Wyatt:

You reach out to that network you’ve already established and maybe there’s someone that works in the adjacent city parks department. You reach out to them first and you say, “Give me the scoop on this job.” Then, once you’ve realized that it’s a really healthy and stable environment, then you potentially reach out if your person in your network advises you to to the hiring manager and just say, “I’d love to pick your brain. Learn more.”

You also need to be careful and make sure you don’t overstep and seem like you’re trying to sidestep the actual process that’s going on, which again, gets back to why having that network is so important. A great example. In Tualatin recently … Which is a really well run organization. They have one of the best city managers in the nation. It’s one of those places where you want to work. They recently had two jobs come open in a very short span of time. It became really widely known in the local government community before they even advertised those positions. A lot of that is because Tualatin has put themselves into the center of a network where they’re sharing information constantly about the work they’re doing and the opportunities they have. Once you’re able to insert yourself into that network, you’re going to find out about things before they’re even posted or advertised.

Mac Prichard:

Networking matters. We had another guest on the show, Kirsten. Jenny Foss talked about applicant tracking systems that are very common in the private sector. These are automated processes that look at resumes or other application materials identifying keywords. Is that a practice in government as well?

Kirsten Wyatt:

As we become more sophisticated and we’re using tools like NEOGOV, it’s becoming more possible or more likely that you’re going to see an application screening process that’s going to look for those keywords that were in the job description. Kind of echoing what she had mentioned in the podcast, making sure that you’re tailoring your resume to that job description that’s in that system is key. I mean, but that’s kind of common sense. You don’t want to just blanket the world with resumes.
You want to make sure that if you’re applying for a specific job, that you’re tailoring your skills and abilities to match. Sometimes with the volume of resumes and applications that are coming in, there needs to be a rational nexus between your application and the job that is being advertised. I think that that’s just … That’s not rocket science. I mean, you can go through the job description and find those keywords and make sure that you pull out the talent skills and abilities that you have that match those.

Mac Prichard:

I think that’s very sound advice. When I first started applying for jobs in Oregon government when I came to Portland many years ago, I didn’t have much success. Someone coached me about the importance of including keywords in my application materials and it made all the difference. I found I started getting interviews after I did that.
When people after they’ve done the networking, they’ve gotten the lay of the land, maybe they’ve gotten their name in front of the right people, they’ve filled out the application materials. Now, they’re walking into an interview. What should they expect when applying for a government job? What’s different about this world and how can they prepare for it?

Kirsten Wyatt:

I’m seeing a rapidly changing way of interviewing in local government. I think a lot of this is because we’re seeing more of a community interest, especially in certain level positions, to make sure that it’s not just that that person is going to fit well with the existing staff, but how are they going to interact with their citizen advisory groups or citizen groups that they are expected to work with?

In West Linn, I’ve seen interview panels that have been comprised just mainly of the supervisor and maybe one or two key staff people. When we get to that department head position or higher, I’m seeing panels, two or three panels, that take a good portion of the day. We’re having citizens come in and sit on a panel, we’re having peers that have the same position from other local government agencies sit on another panel, plus the department head team really trying to make sure that that fit is there.

I think local governments are becoming more aware that when you make an investment in an employee, you need to make sure you get it right the first time because it’s a really expensive mistake when you hire a bad fit. I’ve seen local governments become stronger at building out a panel or an assessment center-type situation that really helps identify who’s going to become a key part of the team.

I’ve also started to see for more technical positions, more testing and assessment, which I personally am a big fan of. When I was originally hired as a budget analyst in Virginia, I had to do a pretty extensive Excel test. At the time, I was a little surprised by that. In retrospect, it really helped them weed out people who didn’t have just higher than average Excel skills. I’m a big fan of that, using those types of tests for finance positions and things like that.

Mac Prichard:

Just to go back to interview panels, Kirsten. When you served on those panels or you’ve talked to colleagues who have led them, what kind of candidates stand out? What do they do to break out of the pack and stand out as a candidate?

Kirsten Wyatt:

Well, with local government, it is so intensely unique. Every local government likes to think that they are amazing and the only local government that has the best library in the world or the best parks and rec department. They’re proud of their history or their historic district or their urban renewal district. The candidates that stand out have done a healthy amount of research.
It doesn’t mean that they can sit there and recite every fund balance in every account, but it means that they have a real understanding of the community’s values. Then, they weave that into their answers. If a community has a strong belief in their historic area, trying to make sure that your answers relate back to that value or that principle that that community holds dear, I think is important.

It shows that you’ve done some research. It shows that you understand the audience that you’re talking to. A really easy way for candidates to do that, especially for those higher level positions, is just go to the budget document or the council goal list. Find out what the priorities are for that year and then, really tailor your responses in your interview to what you’re read in those documents.

Mac Prichard:

What kind of role can an online presence play when someone is applying for a job? How can people use online tools to be successful?

Kirsten Wyatt:

This is something I find very fascinating because for a long time, I think those of us in government felt like we shouldn’t have an online presence. That we needed to kind of be these really kind of stiff and boring bureaucrats. Lately, I’m hearing from more and more recruiters that they want to see people who have an online presence that reflects their passion and their interest in public service.

One recruiter even told me that they’ll look through a Twitter profile. If you’re sitting in an interview and you say, “I am passionate about economic development. Economic development is the most important thing and that’s why I want this job.” Then, they look at your Twitter feed and they realize that all you tweet about are the Kardashians and funny cat pictures, they start to question are you really talking the talk when you are applying for this job.

One thing that I’ve seen and that I’ve been very proud of from an ELGL perspective, but just also from seeing how, especially younger people are getting their foot in the door in local government, is using platforms like the Mac’s List blog, like ELGL, to write and share information about their job hunt or about their career interests and then, parlay that into opportunities.

One of my favorite stories, and I know we’ve talked about Josh before, but a young man out of the University of Oregon wanted to work in government, but he had no experience. He had a … I think just a general maybe political science degree. He needed to get his foot in the door and so, he started writing about informational interviews that we set up for him. ELGL would set him up with different people in the region and he would sit down with them and kind of pick their brain about their job.

It was his chance to kind of get some background about all of the different roles that local government can play. In the course of doing that and writing about it, he had an informational interview with the City of Portland. The woman at the City of Portland was very impressed with his writing ability, also his poise and his presence. She offered him a temporary job and then, that temporary job led to a full-time job.

Now, he’s getting his master’s in accounting and he has a lifetime of local government accounting in front of him, which may not sound that exciting, but I think it’s really exciting for him. It’s exciting for me to think about someone with that talent and that drive putting themselves out there and then, parlaying that into a full-time local government job.

Mac Prichard:

I remember that blog series very well. I think it was two or three years ago now.

Kirsten Wyatt:

It was.

Mac Prichard:

Can you remind me? What was the title? Was it “Josh is Looking for a Job”?

Kirsten Wyatt:

It was “Josh’s Job Search”.

Mac Prichard:

Right. What so impressed me about it was, I mean, he did the informational interviews and he wasn’t afraid to reach out to some high level people. Local mayors and senior people in state government, but then, he went an extra step. He did something I hadn’t seen done before, which was to write about it. By doing so, he just grew his circle of contacts and his network exponentially.

Kirsten Wyatt:

Well, and I think and as you’ve discussed in your podcast series “Writing Skills” … It’s something that we all want our employees to have, but sometimes it’s really hard to measure because when you submit a writing sample, you submit the very best. When you’re doing something where you’re actively blogging or sharing information using some of these platforms that we have regionally, you’re really showing that you can communicate clearly on the fly. That you’re a great communicator.

We had another guy who graduated from one of the top MBA schools in the nation. He moved out to Portland with no job, which many people do. He took a job as a seasonal worker with the parks and rec department in Tigard. Then, by building out his network, by making sure people knew that he had skills and abilities beyond cleaning bathrooms and mowing lawns, he was able to find full-time work using his network that he built through ELGL with the City of Beaverton.

I think, again, it goes to show that sometimes you have to put yourself out there, maybe take a job that you think is beneath you or not exactly what you want. In the process, you’re really showing that you’re willing to work hard, get the experience you need and then, step into that role where you can make the difference.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well, I think that’s a great spot to stop at. Our listeners can find Kirsten online at elgl.org. Also, at Twitter: @elgl50. Again, you’ll be able to find these links in the show notes. Thanks for joining us today, Kirsten.

Kirsten Wyatt:

Wonderful. Thank you for having me.

Mac Prichard:

Take care.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio with Ben and Cecilia. Tell me what do you two think were the most important takeaways that you got from our conversation with Kirsten?

Cecilia Bianco:

I really liked her story about Josh. I think it was a good story to show an example of how someone can show the writing skills that they have and communication skills while building their professional network, which is clearly key no matter what field you’re in.

Mac Prichard:

I like that story, too. I remember reading those blog posts and Josh’s personality really shone through. I found myself looking forward to the next installment in the series as it unfolded. How about you, Ben?

Ben Forstag:

I was excited to hear that governments are modernizing their application systems through the NEOGOV site and other automated tracking systems because I know that government hiring … It’s a really difficult process to navigate if you’re not familiar with it. All that being said, even with the new systems, I know it’s a difficult field to get into and so, I think Cecilia’s point about networking is really important.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. I also appreciated her points not only about networking, but just the picture she drew of the process and the different things you could do in reaching out to people, growing your network, how to manage the technical parts of the application. Again, I think I meet people who are interested in working for government, but getting started and navigating that process can be challenging. I think Kirsten has given our listeners a road map for how to move forward.

Well, thank you all for listening. We’ll be back next week with more tools and tips you can use to find your dream job. In the meantime, visit us at macslist.org. You can sign up there for our free newsletter with more than a hundred new jobs every week. If you like what you hear on our show, you can help us by leaving a review and rating on iTunes. We have almost seventy ratings now and more than fifty comments. That’s helped us stay in the top ten in the iTunes career chart. Thanks for listening.

If you want a job that lets you make a difference in the world you’ll likely consider a career in public service.

Government jobs–at the local, state or federal level–can offer you the opportunity to address issues that matter, such as education,  the environment, and homelessness.  You can find positions suited to every interest and skill, from art history to zoology. And the work itself can be gratifying.

But getting government jobs can be challenging. The application process usually requires patience and persistence. And managing a career in public service requires thoughtful planning.

This week, we talk with Kirsten Wyatt, co-founder and executive director of Emerging Local Government Leaders. Kirsten is passionate about helping talented professionals enter the public service sector and shares her tips for anyone looking to get a job in government.

This Week’s Guest

She is the co-founder and executive director of Emerging Local Government Leaders,  a  national organization that connects, communicates, and educates about public service.  She also hosts the GovLove podcast. She studied politics at Willamette University and earned a master’s in public administration from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Resources from this Episode