Why You Should Get a Local Government Job and How to Do It, with Anna Morgan

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 375:

Why You Should Get a Local Government Job and How to Do It, with Anna Morgan

Airdate: November 23, 2022

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 your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

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Some job seekers never consider working in the public sector. 

 

But the opportunities a government career offers can make it a good choice.

Anna Morgan is here to talk about why you should get a local government job and how to do it. 

She’s a senior recruiter at the City of Portland. 

Anna began her HR career at the Oregon Health & Science University after working in the entertainment industry, including a stint at The Walt Disney Studios. 

She joins us from Portland, Oregon. 

Well, let’s get going, Anna. We’re talking about why you should work for local government and how to do it. 

What misconceptions do you see among candidates about working in local government? 

Anna Morgan:

I believe that there’s a misconception out there about working for government, in general. Perhaps, they’ve heard that government is bureaucratic, and it’s slow-moving, and it’s not a very exciting career, and I’m here to say just the opposite. 

I think local government is a great way for folks to give back to their community. Coming out of the Great Resignation, Great Reflection, I personally like to call it the Great Reckoning, I think people’s values have changed, especially in how they perceive their work and how they want to live their life, and I think working for your local government provides not only opportunity for growth but also some flexibility, and some enhanced benefits, in terms of medical, dental, vision. Just, you know, things that you need in your life. I think government, especially local governments, have that advantage of providing someone to thrive, both professionally and personally. 

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned the opportunity working in government offers to give back to the community, as well as the benefits and the opportunities for career growth. What are some of the other ways that make working in local government, Anna, different from other careers? 

Anna Morgan:

I believe that with local government, there is a level of transparency that other types of settings and environments might not necessarily offer. The policies, and frankly, the setting, everything related to the job on a government level, is out there for the people. Right? Because we, as government employees, we’re working for you, the people and everything’s out there. So, if there is, for instance, you know, a requirement that we all have to participate and take part in, then it is known to everyone. 

I think local government is also the great equalizer. So, in case a person may not have a degree- I work for the City of Portland, and a lot of our jobs, in fact, most of our jobs at the City of Portland, do not require a college degree. We at the City of Portland offer our opportunities, and we would like to extend the lowest barriers as possible. We don’t want there to be barriers. 

So, for instance, if you are experienced in something like volunteering for an organization or if you’ve just had internships or other types of non-professional experience working in a particular field, you are still considered qualified. We’re still going to consider that experience as much as the professional realm.

Mac Prichard:

I think your point about the proportion of jobs that don’t require a college degree will pleasantly surprise many of our listeners, and I’m glad you brought up the value of volunteer experience and how that can be transferable when you’re considering applications for local government. 

What about private sector experience, Anna? I often hear from people, well, I’ve never worked in government. I’m not sure how I’m gonna break in because I just haven’t had a government job. 

What advice do you have for someone who has worked only in the private sector who wants to break into local government? 

Anna Morgan:

I say, come on over. Your experience is transferable, like you mentioned, Mac. Our recruitments are based on minimum qualifications. So, if you happen to not have exactly that type of experience we’re looking for, but it’s applicable to what you’ve done in the private sector, then it is most likely transferable to the public sector. 

So, also, in terms of looking at that experience, we don’t look at when you obtained that experience. We look at if you have that particular experience. So, for example, let’s say there’s a job that requires cash handling experience, and you’re thinking, wow, I haven’t handled cash or worked with money, you know, directly with the customer since, I don’t know, high school, working over the summer. Well, that’s great. That means you have that experience. 

So, it doesn’t matter if that was a decade ago or a couple of decades ago. But you have that experience. That means you’re qualified. As long as you can show in your answers to the questions we ask, or if there’s a cover letter required, as long as you mention that and it’s reflected in your resume, that’s great. 

Mac Prichard:

Sometimes, when I talk to candidates applying to local government or government in general, it can appear like a black box. They’re not quite sure how the process works, largely because they had no experience. Do you need to do something differently when you apply for a local government job, Anna? What are your best tips there? 

Anna Morgan:

Yeah, so, I think it is really surprising for many applicants who come from the private sector that in the government or public sector, especially for us here at the City of Portland, there is no page limit when it comes to submitting your resume or your cover letter if the cover letter is required. 

I think most people have heard, oh, you shouldn’t have your resume more than two pages, or you shouldn’t have your cover letter more than one page. That may apply in the private sector, but that does not apply here in the public sector. 

You can write a more lengthy cover letter if you wish. You can really fully develop your resume in a way you want to. In fact, we encourage that, so we can offer the proper or the adequate amount of the salary offer that’s indicative of the applicant’s wonderful experience, skills, and knowledge. 

So, we actually encourage the resume to be longer than two pages if that is needed to satisfy the minimum qualifications and explaining kind of your experience, and knowledge, and skills. 

Mac Prichard:

We’ve talked about the reasons that you often share about why you should work for local government. You mentioned a chance to give back to the community, the opportunities for career growth. I’m curious, and we’ve also talked about the misconceptions, but I’m curious, Anna, in your experience, what stops people from applying for jobs with local government? 

Anna Morgan:

Sometimes, looking at the actual salary amount may be confusing. Maybe the instructions are a little bit daunting just because it may seem a little bit longer. A little bit more, I don’t know, structured maybe, or too structured, or too wordy. 

But, especially at the City of Portland, we offer workshops twice a month, and that’s free, and currently, it’s virtual to prospective applicants who want to go through and want to learn kind of best practices on how to submit their best application. So, it’s a ninety-minute session we offer, and usually, there’s a session towards the beginning of the month during lunch, and then there is another session towards the end of the month, and that’s more of an evening type session. It starts around five-thirty or so. But it’s ninety minutes worth of information on how to apply for our jobs, and also, we go into a little bit offering some interview tips, as well. 

But, really, it’s kind of about breaking down that job announcement. Where to pay attention. What is the specific language that we’re using? And what does that mean? Because we want successful candidates. 

In July of 2022, just six months ago or so, there was a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and government agencies have 1.085 million job openings, and that’s about a hundred thousand jobs higher than it was a year ago. So, really there’s no better time to get into the public sector, into government, and to make a difference in your community. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, hold that thought because when we come back after the break, Anna, I want to go through a list of tips that you have about once you’ve decided to work in local government, how to do that, and put forward the best application. So stay with us. 

When we return, we’ll continue our conversation with Anna Morgan about why you should work in local government and how to do it. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Anna Morgan. 

She’s a senior recruiter at the City of Portland. 

Anna began her HR career at the Oregon Health & Science University after working in the entertainment industry, including a stint at The Walt Disney Studios. 

She joins us from Portland, Oregon 

Now, Anna, before the break, we were talking about why you should get a local government job and how to do it, and you walked us through some of the major reasons why a candidate might consider working for local government. We talked about the misconceptions out there and some of the barriers that stop people from applying for local government jobs. 

Now, let’s walk through your list of tips to consider when you’re sitting down and filling out that local government application. Number one on your list, and you’ve mentioned this in the first segment, find out about webinars and workshops about how to apply for a local government job. 

Now, you do this at the City of Portland. And so, my question is, why you do this? And how common is it for listeners around the country to find similar workshops and webinars? 

Anna Morgan:

Yeah, so we offer these free virtual workshops for prospective applicants and applicants who may have already applied for the job that they’re interested in but are looking to maybe enhance that application. For our jobs, folks can reapply for a job as long as it’s open and as long as it’s twenty-four hours past their last application. 

So, in these workshops, we talk about a lot of things, but I think, probably, the biggest thing we like to convey to all of our potential applicants is that you really need to set some time to go through that job announcement and really focus on those minimum qualifications. They’re listed, kind of, in the middle of that job posting, and it’s usually numbered. There’s anywhere between, you know, three to five minimum qualifications usually listed for a job. Sometimes a little bit more. But it’s really focusing on the exact wording. 

For instance, the experience of using Microsoft Office Software. When we list those minimum qualifications, we’d like the applicant to really pay attention and answer either the supplemental questions that are part of that application or, if that job opportunity or posting is asking for a cover letter, really spell that out. We’re going to want to know details. Oftentimes, if a person is just submitting maybe a phrase or one sentence about how they used the software, that’s usually not enough detail that we’re looking for. 

We like to know maybe at what point in your life you used this software, you learned this software. Maybe it was in school. Maybe it was in a professional. Maybe it was during your volunteer or internship experience. But we like to just get an idea of how you have either obtained that knowledge, experience, or skillset and how you’ve applied that in your life. 

Mac Prichard:

In your online events or in-person events, when they do happen, do people have an opportunity to ask questions, Anna, to figure out how much is enough? Do they get a chance to get feedback about whether they have done an effective job of describing their skills, for example, or the minimum qualifications? Are you able to take the mystery out of that for others? 

Anna Morgan:

We really break down the, kind of, the finer points of that job announcement, and we really go into detail, and we give examples of what we consider a good solid answer, and we also go into how to present that exactly on your resume. You know, we, at the City of Portland, we do not put the resumes through scanning software like some organizations do. We actually look at each and every resume that comes through. 

So it’s important, for instance, for us to maybe just have bullet points in terms of how your resume looks like. But most importantly, we ask that our potential applicants really kind of design their resumes or organize their resumes in such a way that it’s easy for the reviewer to read. 

Mac Prichard:

So, the headline here is you don’t have to figure this out on your own or send in multiple applications and not hear back. There are opportunities through the webinars and workshops that you offer to understand what recruiters are looking for when they review the applications. 

I’m just curious, Anna, the City of Portland, does this. But is this a common practice around the country? When you talk to HR colleagues in other cities, are they doing similar public events? 

Anna Morgan:

I believe so, and it’s not just us but other agencies across the country, and frankly, I would say every employer in the country, as well, we’ve all been feeling this. We’ve all been feeling like there is just not enough qualified candidates coming our way. It’s not like it used to be when we’re used to getting maybe, you know, fifty applicants after two weeks. It’s not that situation anymore. Everything has changed. So, I do believe there are local governments that offer this type of workshop across the country. 

We at the City of Portland offer these workshops, and yes, absolutely, folks can ask questions in the chat feature, as well as verbally as part of the session. We have regular breaks where we pause for questions, and if the recruiters have enough time in advance, we may be able to offer looking at the actual answers or application materials if it’s scheduled well in advance. 

Depending on the situation and circumstance and the work volume for the recruiter, there may be opportunity for applicants to get some advice on what their application looks like and, at least, answer questions, like what does this question really mean? I’m not quite understanding that question. The recruiter’s email address and sometimes their phone number is listed on each of our job announcements, and they are available if you need them. 

Mac Prichard:

I’m glad you brought that up because, on your list of practical tips for how to apply for a local government job, you mentioned reaching out to recruiters, and we’re almost out of time, so I want to make sure we highlight the other tips on your list, which you’ve touched on in our conversation, and these include making sure your resume reflects the minimum qualifications of a job posting. You talked about that. You also encourage listeners to make sure that you talk about your transferable skills, and you mentioned that both in this and the first segment, and then another tip on your list is to follow application instructions. 

I want to end just with one last question about your advice here, Anna, and that’s about reaching out to recruiters. I think many listeners might be surprised to hear that recruiters in local government are open to hearing from applicants. What’s your best quick advice about how to reach out? Should you just send an email, attend an event? What have you seen be effective? 

Anna Morgan:

I think the best way to reach a recruiter these days, especially for our agency, is through email. Currently, we’re only working eight hours in person a week, and so we’re largely working from home, or we’re at events, or we’re at different types of recruitment activities. I think email is the best way to reach recruiters, at our agency, for certain, and, you know, some of us are on different work schedules, so sometimes you might see a response, you know, later in the evening, for instance, or early in the morning. 

But I would say email is the best way to contact the recruiter, especially since the work setting is rapidly changing. We don’t know what the requirements will be to report in person will be in the future, and I know other government agencies are also having that challenge, as well. So, email is quick and easy, and it’s available. We’re able to access it pretty easily, and then we could possibly schedule something if the applicant wants to have either a phone chat or a video chat session, then we can do that pretty easily. 

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Now, it’s been a great conversation. Anna, tell us, what’s next for you? 

Anna Morgan:

Yes. I am really looking forward to seeing everyone’s applications through our jobs page, which is available at www.portlandoregon.gov/jobs.

I will continue to run our how-to-apply sessions, as well, and there might just might be some videos forthcoming that will be available on our site sometime in the new year and yeah. Look forward to talking to any prospective applicants, especially here at the City of Portland. We’d love to see your application. 

Mac Prichard:

Great, and we’ll be sure to include that URL for the Portland, Oregon city job site in both the show notes and the website article about this episode and I know, Anna, you also invite listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn, and as always if they do so I hope they’ll mention that they heard you on the show. 

Now, Anna, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about why you should get a local government job and how to do it? 

Anna Morgan:

If you care about your community, you know, there is no better way, in my personal experience, than working for local government. It has been absolutely satisfying on so many fronts, from the community standpoint, as well as from a personal standpoint, with all the great benefits that are offered to us. 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Leah Gagliano. 

She’s the human resources director at Community Vision. It’s a nonprofit that provides services, education, and advocacy for people with disabilities. 

Do you think it’s a bad idea to tell employers what you need in your next job? 

Think again, says Leah. 

She says you’ll have more success in your job search and your career by talking about what matters to you.

Join us next Wednesday when Leah Gagliano and I discuss why you should say what you want in a job interview. 

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List. 

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo.  Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week. 

Government jobs are plentiful, but there are fewer candidates than ever before. If you’ve wondered if you should apply for your local government, Find Your Dream Job guest Anna Morgan says the answer is yes. Working for your local government is a fantastic way to get involved in your community, and the opportunities for career growth are high. Local governments usually offer excellent benefits as well, according to Anna. Attending job fairs and networking with recruiters can help you find your next job in your local government.

About Our Guest:

 Anna Morgan is a senior recruiter at the  City of Portland. 

Resources in This Episode: