Ben McCready, Rock Island, IL assistant to the city manager, reflects on professional input gathered in 2014.
Last week’s column explored how ELGL members “bring it into focus”, turning networking opportunities and outlets into substantive relationships within the local government arena. As a follow up, I’ve prepared ten takeaways garnered from conversations with an array of local government professionals throughout the nation. This list is far from comprehensive, but you may find it useful starting your own conversations, finding a mentor, or providing guidance to another emerging local government leader.
Tangled Career Ladder
There is no one path to your dream job and your perspective will change along the way. From a generation that is hungry to directly connect our passion to a job, it may be difficult to advance vertically in one organization. Gaining experience from outside an organization is not a detriment, it provides a plurality of experiences including new successes and failures that allow us to develop as professionals.
There are indeed generational differences in expectations. A simple internet search will collaborate the belief millennials are expected to work several jobs in their lifetime, perhaps more so than their parents. This assumption contrasts with the stereotypical model of local government service. Regardless of generational stereotypes, the organizations hiring you expect you to remain committed and spend at least two years in a position.
Vote for Yourself
You have to be your own advocate. Speak up and voice your willingness to serve as an interim in the absence of a department or division director. Will you still cringe when you add a big goose egg to the question on the application asking how many people you supervise? These experiences provide you actual talking points for the next time that you are asked how many people have you supervised.
Advocating for yourself will mitigate some of the frustration experienced in transitioning from graduate school to City Hall. This is a challenge that established professionals have to cooperatively address – identifying meaningful opportunities to test aspiring professionals and building supervisory competencies. As an “Assistant To” you find yourself uniquely familiar with the City’s leadership and in a prime position to serve in an interim role.
Read the Fine Print
Balance your career motivation with your interest in progressing. Great positions may be disguised as an unfamiliar title. Rushing to obtain a title may leave you pigeon holed and unable to transition to your ideal job. Find a path that works for you, one that builds proficiencies applicable to the type of work you find fulfilling.
Competing requires more than submitting a resume. Apply for the jobs you care about and compete for them. This compliments advice Ron Holifield shared at ELGL14, “if you’re plastering the world with resumes you may miss the job you want” and “don’t let the job you want be the first one you apply for.” Does this sound contradictory? Perhaps, but it reflects the fact that we can’t learn it all from Top 5 lists. This is one area where an aspiring professional may have to learn from personal experience.
When it comes to an interview, show up with more than a can do attitude and fresh copy of your resume. If you want the job this is your opportunity to demonstrate it. Take notes, research, use social media, talk to colleagues, become familiar with recent City Council meetings and challenges facing the community. Ask a trusted source to assist with a mock interview or a set of friendly eyes to review your resume. Most important, listen to the feedback. There is a gap between how you perceive yourself and how your potential employer does. Preparation closes this gap and allows you to present an authentic version of yourself.
It’s ok to say “no” and it’s not a bad skill to demonstrate. If a career opportunity doesn’t feel right, learn from the experience. Not only does this apply to our career goals but day to day activities. Another piece of Ron Holifield’s ELGL14 wisdom is applicable here, “manage your impact not your career”. What does this mean to the aspiring professional thrust into an environment where we are encouraged to raise our hand and take on new challenges? By making a positive impact to our organizations we build a foundation for success. Filling a resume with lack luster bullet points is by no means an ideal way to progress professionally.
Don’t Have to Do It All, Be It All.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. You are part of a team, trust that you are surrounded by others who share similar motivations for serving the community. Listening skills are valuable and patience is a virtue. Focus on being great at what is assigned to you, create stretch goals, stay focused, but most of all trust that others are here to contribute as well.
#ELGL14 attendees may recall Leah Treat’s perspective on this topic. While it is no secret many of us will work for multiple organizations, it is no excuse not to focus your current surroundings and commitments. You should be able to define where you want to go and why you want to get there, but that should not detract from your contribution to the goals of your current community. Interact with others, represent the organization, and complete assignments knowing that they will have a lasting impact and define your legacy regardless of where your career path leads.
Focus on Substance
In closing, I’ll reference something said at #ELGL14 one final time, “Ask for wisdom not for favors”. Don’t just ask someone to review a resume, go beyond the ascetics and format. Engage in a substantive dialogue with someone you trust, rely on your listening skills and hear what they have to say about your true strengths. You may be surprised to find that you learn more from hearing the stories of others than by asking them to comment on yours. Look for similarities in their experience with yours and delve deeper into those areas.