Building a Professional Career in Public Service
There is no magic formula for having a successful career in any field. Persons interested in building a career in public service can help themselves first and foremost by making sure that their aspirations are in line with the demands of the field and its likely rewards. Here are some useful general recommendations in that regard. Other pages within this area of the website offer recent articles from various publications that offer additional advice and link to important resources on the Internet.
Identify the type of work you really want to do.
All too often, persons launching a career in public service focus on specific subjects such as health care policy or environmental policy. Over the long run, however, what matters most is whether the nature of the daily work in a career is satisfying or not. For example, is it rewarding and motivating to spend a considerable amount of the workday at a computer, gathering and analyzing information, and preparing reports for other decision makers? If yes, policy analysis may be how you can make a valuable contribution that also proves to be personally rewarding. In contrast, is it rewarding to spend much of the day in meetings, marshalling human and financial resources behind complex projects? If yes, management and administration may be the best work for you. Or do you really enjoy something akin to sales — contacting persons and motivating them to support specific policies and programs? If so, a career in advocacy might be an excellent choice. What is not going to be sustainable over the longer term is engaging in a type of work fits poorly with personality and individual skill.
Get appropriate education and training.
There is no substitute for preparing for a career through education. PublicServiceCareers includes detailed information about degrees in public service.
Be flexible about moving among the sectors.
The new public sector is about linkages between governments, nonprofits, NGOs, universities and the private sector. All have a role to play in responding to today’s pressing issues. Professionals now move among the sectors in their careers, shifting jobs when opportunities present themselves. Such flexibility often results in greater leverage within organizations to make a personal difference. Moving among the sectors also requires mastering the quite varied human resources environments within them. As rapidly as possible, it is important to learn the processes organizations in each sector use to hire and promote their employees.
Be flexible about geographic location.
In today’s economy, successful professionals are willing to relocate to where the exciting jobs are. As the world becomes “flatter” — more interconnected — this may mean moving to take on new employment in other countries. Flexibility in location is strongly connected to career advancement and increased opportunities.
Demonstrate a strong commitment to service.
Perhaps the most important “fuel” for launching and sustaining a career in public service is a strong commitment to service. Others in the field want to see that commitment evident in the resume and in personal interactions. Education, community involvement, internships, and employment history are all vital components of that commitment.
Ask for, and get, proper compensation.
There is nothing wrong about being paid a fair market salary based on abilities and performance. Professional careers in public service may involve managing considerable resources, and the persons in those careers deserve equitable compensation that acknowledges the responsibilities and performance requirements. It is difficult to sustain any professional career if the compensation is too low.
Network, network, network.
Perhaps more than in other similar professional careers, making new contacts and frequently interacting with other persons in the field are absolutely vital to success in public service. If you are not naturally a “people person” it is a very good idea to find a way to develop those skills. Arranging informational interviews with persons in career positions that you admire is an excellent way to learn more about the pathways for achieving your goals. The Share Your Story profiles of public service careers is an excellent resource on this site to help you learn more about specific careers options and network with professionals in the field.