How to Make a Career in Public Service
As a college senior graduating 15 years ago,
Today she's the director of service and graduate education programs for Idealist, one of several nonprofits that have sprung up in the past decade to help demystify paths to public service, a sector broadly defined as government, nonprofits/NGOs, international development, and education, plus consulting in any of these categories. Why is entry into this world such a mystery in the first place? "There's not one single right path," says Potthast, 37. "It's not like if you want to become a
One approach is to start by looking at what most energizes you: an unsolved problem or an unmet need, for example. (If you're having trouble even getting that far, try www.self-directed-search.com, which has a
The environment has always been the passion of
Should you need further help brainstorming, try the
Or you can be like
Of course, the federal government, which employs more than 2 million civilians, not including the
A lot of government jobs are filled by "the unsung heroes that keep society great," says
Keep in mind that working for the U.S. government does not automatically mean a move to
For help in choosing promising opportunities, you can check out Bestplacestowork.org, which is based on the Partnership for Public Service's analysis of federal employee surveys. "You may not have heard of the
You can read postings and apply for multiple government jobs at USAjobs. Though the website has recently been overhauled to make it more user friendly, "it's probably best not to approach it out of the gate without doing some reading first," Stier says. A good starting place: the Partnership's Web site, Makingthedifference.org, which lays out in plain English (as opposed to government-ese) how to explore federal job opportunities.
Wherever in the public sector you think you may be headed, the advice is the same: Network, network, and then network some more. Ask friends and relatives about people they know who volunteer, work for nonprofits, or serve on nonprofit boards. Connect with alumni from your school working in fields that interest you.
If you want to work for the federal government, people inside the various agencies can tell you the key words you'll need to have in your résumé (some agencies use automated screening processes to identify candidates) and where in the process your application is. The Obama administration's goal is to trim waiting times to 80 days, but for some jobs the figure is still "many, many multiples of that," says Stier.
Krasna suggests using LinkedIn and
Another tip for getting a job in the sector is to volunteer and show your commitment to the issue or to the general idea of public service. Krasna recommends trying to do something substantial. "Everyone thinks about a soup kitchen and that's great. But you also want to build skills you'll need in your future career," she says.
When her aunt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (
Think you can write a grant proposal? "Small nonprofits always need help with that and it's a marketable skill if you write a successful one," Krasna says.
Internships can also help.
And don't be discouraged if you don't get your dream position the first time you apply.
If you're still not sure where you want to settle, or you've discovered you're missing a crucial skill for the job you want, consider national service options such as Teach for America or the
For people considering public service abroad,
Finally, the key advice CIVIC's Holewinski offers public sector job-seekers is to make yourself "as informed, well-rounded, and observant of the world as possible." This is important "because what you're setting out to do is not about business or technology or money or fame; it's about taking stock of where we are as a society and making it better in some way."
And in doing so, chances are you won't just change other people's lives -- you'll change your own.
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How to Make a Career in Public Service
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