NBC’s Parks and Recreation just wrapped its 7th season with a star-studded finale that makes living in fictional Pawnee, Indiana seem like a blast. In fact, every episode has a similar effect thanks to the show’s star, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), whose passion for her town and its parks department is off the charts. She is stoked to work for the city and her enthusiasm is infectious.
Wouldn’t it be nice to love your job that much? Could your dream job be a local government job?
According to Clayton Scrivner, a marketing and communications specialist for the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City, if you share Leslie’s incredible passion for making a difference, you’re on the right track.
“Despite what some may think, I believe passion is essential to government work,” he says. “In the public sector, you obviously aren’t motivated by profit, so for me, it’s doing good work on behalf of the people of Salt Lake City that gets me fired up.”
Think you have what it takes to serve your city in a local government job? Here’s how to get started.
Be all you that can be—as an intern
Internships are a great way to gain experience and get your foot in the door, but not if you treat it as an after-thought. This goes for interns in any field, but as Scrivner notes, government jobs are highly competitive. If you want to move ahead, do more than just fetch coffee.
“Don’t approach your internship as an item to cross off your list—this is the best opportunity to practically apply everything you learned in school, to build relationships – which I believe is the most important ingredient in career building – and really hone in on the type of job you see yourself being passionate about.”
Pick up the phone
Part of government transparency is making open positions available for anyone to see online. That means you can expect hundreds of applicants to compete for the same job, at the same time.
Scrivner says that to stand out, you need to “proactively investigate what type of candidates an organization is seeking for a particular position. If there is a contact provided, call and have a conversation about the nature of the job. Often times this is far more informative than an online job description. Also, it’s an opportunity to make a positive impression on the person that may be doing the hiring.”
When you get an interview make sure you’re aware of the organization’s culture before walking through the door. This will help you decide whether you want to work there in the first place. It’s a win-win.
Finally, Scrivner says, “if you’re offered a job, remember that this will definitely be one of the few opportunities to negotiate your salary, as government jobs tend to have rigid pay structures. If you are truly the first-choice candidate, use this as an opportunity to move the needle on their initial offering.”
Is Your Pulse Racing Yet?
In one episode of Parks and Recreation, Pawnee’s bankrupt government shuts down for the summer. Leslie Knope describes the period of inactivity as, “three months of no work, no meetings, no memos, no late nights, nothing. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
Leslie hates waiting to make things happen! She’d rather roll up her sleeves and dig in. Save for the occasional bureaucratic roadblock, she’s lucky enough to get things done her way on a daily basis.
While government work isn’t often described as exciting, Scrivner says working for the public sector can be incredibly rewarding. If you’re lucky enough to work on community and economic development issues, the payoff can be downright thrilling.
“Cities are changing. The exodus to suburbia is over. Decades of flight from urban centers have given way to a generation that values the lifestyle that city centers provide. It’s exciting to be a part of an organization that recognizes this change as a positive, and is working toward a future of more community connection, more transportation options, and more amenities for urban dwellers.”
Although it’s helpful to start early, securing a job in local government doesn’t require that you major in political science and intern at the capitol. Scrivner started his career path in print journalism working for a newspaper that folded, forcing him to look for other options. He heard about an opening with Utah Office of Tourism and the rest is history. Scrivner does recommend planning on adding to your skill set for continued professional development. He got a Masters in Public Administration and soon after graduating joined the RDA.
The takeaway: follow your bliss but be strategic and never stop networking.
About the Author
Jamie Gadette is a freelance writer and Lead Content Strategist at JobDash, a startup building software solutions for job seekers and career services professionals. She loves talking about all things pop culture via @JamieSLC.