Master of Public Policy Students’ Top 10 Lessons from Career Day
On November 9, the Master of Public Policy Program welcomed professionals, several of them College of Liberal Arts alumni, on campus for its Careers in Public Service Workshop. The workshop gave students an idea of what different government, nonprofit and private careers are like while sharing advice on how they can launch their own careers after graduation. Continue reading for 10 lessons learned by four of the graduate students who attended the workshop.
Communication Is Key
While the skills you’ll learn in the MPP Program (like how to read a budget) will be beneficial, there are other equally important skills that are essential to working in public service. Both oral and written communication skills are essential. In your career, you’ll need to communicate with your boss, colleagues, subordinates, the press, the general public, etc. It’s important to be able to present your audience with the facts and just enough information to make an informed decision.
Teamwork and People Skills Are Essential
You’ll need to work with people who don’t agree with you, don’t pull their weight or aren’t going to do what you need them to do, even though it’s their job. The classes I’ve taken thus far have included several group projects, which is good practice for the workplace. You’ll also need to learn to trust the people you work with, because, as you advance in your career, you’ll need to trust that the people you work with can handle tasks delegated to them.
Internships Are Important but Not Everything
Ken Lawrence started as an intern in Montgomery County politics and is now the vice chair of the Board of Commissioners of Montgomery County. Internships help you build relationships and gain experience. But for those part-time students like myself who are working full time and balancing school, an internship and a personal life, it’s hard to manage. One point the panelists made was that since I’m currently working, I have the job experience part covered. It’s now just about making the connections to set myself up for an opportunity.
Internships Help Get Your Foot in the Door
Every panelist echoed the sentiment that they would not be where they are now if they had not interned. Whether they were currently working in the government, nonprofit, or private sector, each panelist agreed that internships are like auditions where you can prove your worth and land a full-time job offer post-graduation. Many panelists shared a story of personally acquiring a job offer because of their internship with an organization or hiring an intern after a job position opened up in their own organization. Even if an internship turns out to not be your cup of tea, the experience can help you narrow down your focus on what type of job you really want.
Informational Interviews Can Help You Network and Land Jobs
I’ve never considered conducting informational interviews as a networking avenue. However, the panelists agreed that informational interviews are an important tool for networking and job hunting. They explained that it’s a casual way of inviting an influential person to coffee or lunch and discussing the aspects of their job and their organization. It’s a great way of gaining name recognition and helping you figure out if the organization is right for you. In the end, it will help you stand out as a serious candidate and leave a positive impression with the prospective organization.
You Need to Have Patience
We all know that plans will never go exactly as we planned. The same is true for any career plans we make for ourselves. The panelists urged us to have patience and remain determined even in the face of multiple rejections. They told us that whatever career path we choose, we will most likely have to start somewhere towards the bottom and work our way up. Many of the panelists worked in the private sector with government clients before transitioning to the public sector or vice versa. They also recommended that private consulting firms with government clients may be a great place for someone who doesn’t quite know what career path to take because the firm will expose you to several different types of organizations, projects, government leaders and policy issues.
Networking Is Important
You’ve probably heard this before, but networking is essential for anyone who hopes to build a career in the public sector. A strong network is perhaps the best way to land internships and jobs, especially with the government. Networking isn’t as hard as it’s made out to be, either. When you find someone you want to stay in contact with, simply introduce yourself and ask a few questions about their career–people love talking about themselves. Because it really is not just what you know but who you know, Ken Lawrence, vice chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners told us, “If you don’t have a network…build a network.”
Your Skills Should Always Be Developing
To be successful in the public sector, you also must develop a broad set of skills. You should be personable and able to work with others, of course, but it’s also useful to have a bit of background knowledge in statistics, economics and finance. Perhaps most importantly, however, you also must be a clear, concise writer. No one wants to read your 12-page report–trim it down to a few pages and make it convincing. Translate that “legalese” into something more palatable, something anyone can understand. These are all skills you can learn with a bachelor’s of arts, but a graduate degree, such as a master of public policy, will show you how to master these skills and excel at building your career in the public sector.
Networking Is Real
I learned much of value at the Careers in Public Service Workshop, but if one theme predominated across multiple panels, it’s that networking is extremely important, perhaps the most important factor in landing a job. Public servants stressed that you should keep in touch with your classmates–you never know what meaningful and exciting work they will do in the future, and most people are more than willing to extend an opportunity. The panelists, too, were eager to offer themselves up as potential connections. We’ve all heard it countless times, of course, but there truly is no such thing as a stupid question, and panelists hung back between discussions to field all of them, creating an open and welcoming atmosphere. So, don’t be shy!
Your Path Isn’t Set in Stone
Whether private or public, and at all levels of government, many of the panelists had rather winding career paths. They hadn’t imagined they would end up in the positions they did when they first started. While they recommended that MPP students focus on one or two areas of interest, students should also be receptive to different types of work, new skillsets and unique opportunities. One public servant on the state level summed it up best: don’t wait for the most perfect or highest-paying job–simply see where your path will take you. You will likely leave the program with more interests and ambitions than when you began.