The typical third panel at #ELGLInspire events is all about finding a local government job and internship. Recently, we ran out of time at the Virtual #ELGLInspire event at University of Texas – Austin for this panel, so we’ve provided a transcription of the discussion with our speakers:
Introduce yourselves and give us the elevator speech about your education and career path.
Noor Shaikh (NS): My name is Noor Shaikh and I am a local government professional with experience in budgeting. I hold an MPA from Indiana University’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and a B.A. in Political Science from Texas A&M University. My career in local government started with a conversation with a faculty member at my MPA program. Orville Powell, a retired City Manager, was head of the Local Government concentration and guided me towards joining the school’s ICMA chapter, which led to me leading that chapter and getting involved with the national organization(ICMA) and ELGL as a second year MPA student. I was part of the 2016 ICMA Local Government Management Fellowship cohort and matched with the City of Aurora, Colorado. After my fellowships ended, I stayed to work at the City’s Office of Budget and Financial Planning for a few years. In early 2019, I joined the City of Dallas’ budget office (where I am now!)
Jack Daly (JD): My name is Jack Daly and I’ve worked for the City of Georgetown, TX for the past 7.5 years. Prior to serving in my current role, I was the assistant to the city manager. My responsibilities included overseeing the four person Communications and Public Engagement Department, overseeing the city’s intergovernmental relations efforts, and serving as a city’s spokesperson during crisis events.
I began with the City of Georgetown in 2013 as an executive assistant to the assistant city manager and was recognized as employee of the year in 2015. I graduated from the University of Texas and hold a master’s degree in public administration from the University of North Texas. I’m active with the International City Management Association, the Texas City Management Association, and Urban Management Assistants of Central Texas.
Diana Clendenin (DC): Hi there!! My name is Diana Clendenin, and I’m currently serving the folks of College Station as the Senior HR Consultant. I began my career in HR for a savings and loan in Virginia – without realizing that industry was about to disappear! I then took a sidestep adventure to teach English in Tokyo, Japan! That ended up being fantastic for my HR perspective, living abroad and experiencing life as an “alien.” No really, that’s what foreigners are called. I was a card carrying Alien. Anyway, during those 2 ½ years, I realized I wanted to get back to the states and back into HR, so I enrolled in a Master’s Degree program at Georgia State University. I found my calling in Employee Relations and have been there ever since. My only regret is that I didn’t find my home in local government earlier. I joined the City of College Station 5 ½ years ago and absolutely LOVE what I do, and who I do it with and for!!!
Tell us about your current job – what do you do, where do you do it?
NS: I am currently a manager in the City of Dallas’ Office of Budget and Management Services where I lead the team responsible for producing the City’s Capital Improvement Budget. My team and I help produce this section of the budget. We coordinate with departments across the city to understand their needs, get direction from City Management (City Council & the Community) to invest in projects that will meet our city’s infrastructure needs – like bike lanes, ADA compliance for older buildings, sidewalks, etc.). We produce monthly reports for Council to provide updates on spending from Bond Programs, and other information as requested. I (pre-pandemic) work at Dallas City Hall which is a very weird spaceship/inverted pyramid looking building designed by the modernist architect, I.M. Pei. If you ever get a chance, visit the Government District in Dallas and walk around this building.
JD: I am the community services director, overseeing Animal Services, Code Compliance, and Emergency Management. Every day is different, but when I’m not dealing with pandemics or West Nile Virus, I try to focus on connecting my team with the tools and resources they need to be successful, as well as challenging them to make incremental improvements in how they serve our employees and residents. The most significant challenges I face in my work relate to changing organizational culture and implementing strategic plans in a very dynamic, fast-growth environment.
DC: So, as I mentioned, I’m currently the Senior HR Consultant for the City of College Station. I handle Recruiting, Employee Relations and Training & Development. This is all the fun stuff, in my opinion. I get to see people at all phases of their career, and assist with resolving conflict. What fun! I get to talk to people for a living, which is a good thing, because I really enjoy that part!
When you were an undergrad, what job did you think you would have early in your career? How did you make the shift to local government?
NS: I was convinced I was going to law school as an undergrad. I was studying for the LSAT when I took a Polimetrics course. My professor for this course was writing a textbook and his coauthor was teaching at Indiana University’s MPA program. Dr. Li (my professor) suggested I look into Indiana’s MPA program. I applied and the rest is history. It actually took multiple internships for me to figure out where I would be the happiest. I interned in with the National Conference of State Legislatures in D.C.. I found the work interesting, but too far removed from the folks my policy research was serving. During my MPA program, I interned with a private medical device manufacturing company. I loved the policy work I was able to do here as well, but I could not shake the feeling that I would be miserable working for a place that had a singular goal and focus (healthcare). The ICMA Fellowship was my last attempt at figuring out what would make me happy in the ‘real world’ – I fell in love with working at the local level – going to community meetings, helping put together a city’s budget, and realized that this was it for me.
JD: When I was a freshman, my major was mechanical engineering. Then I took a statics class – which is studying all the forces acting on things that are sitting still – and I received such a low grade on my first test that even if I scored 100s on the remaining tests, I would still fail. That’s when I decided to take my first government class…
I became interested in city work through Bob Monaghan, a longtime Parks Director for Lewisville who helped me with my Eagle Scout project, installing a sprinkler system in one of the city’s campgrounds. It solidified for me how meaningful working for a city can be, where a small group of people can make significant impacts on their community through cooperative, concentrated efforts.
DC: As an English major, I had a lot of people assume that I was going into teaching. I didn’t feel called to be in a traditional school setting, and yet, here I am teaching/training adults! The opportunity to join the City of College Station was a case of good timing; I really hadn’t considered working for a local government before and had no context to how wonderful it is!!!
What was your first local government job?
NS: My first job was with the City of Aurora, Colorado’s Office of Budget and Financial Planning as a Revenue Analyst. I got to look at several of the city’s tax revenue steams to understand how we were funding the cool things we had planned in our budget.
JD: Technically, my first local government job was working on a seasonal maintenance crew in the Parks Department for the City of Lewisville, TX.
But my first job out of grad school was serving as the executive assistant to the assistant city manager for the City of Georgetown.
DC: I’m still in it!!
How did you get that job?
NS: I was in the right place at the right time. While doing the ICMA Fellowship, I was housed in the budget office. I loved the budget team and when a budget analyst was leaving, I took the opportunity to join their team and stay in Aurora to learn from them.
JD: Sheer luck. I applied for dozens of jobs after grad school and went to lots of interviews with no luck. The executive assistant job was originally a temporary position with no benefits. I think sharing that I’d willing to do any tasks offered to me and would take responsibility for the outcomes of my work help the interview panel feel comfortable bringing me on board.
DC: I had been laid off from a job in the private sector, but was very interested in the job description for the position when I found it on the Work In Texas website. I was ecstatic when I was called for an interview and knew when I met the team that I wanted to be a part of their organization. Public service combines my skills, talent and drive to help people in one nice, neat package!
What was the application, interviewing, and onboarding process like?
NS: I applied through GovernmentJobs.com. This is a great website if you’re looking for jobs in local government. My interview was a panel interview with a writing and excel test afterwards. The interview questions were mostly behavioral in nature, while the writing exercise was more analytical. I remember giving a terrible answer for the very common question everyone expects to be asked in an interview: what is your weakness? Since this is in blog form, I can link this video. I think this YouTube channel is a great resource for interview prep in general! Aurora has a unique onboarding process where you take a full day to go on a bus ride with other new hires! You visit places in the city you’d never think of visiting otherwise and learn about the city’s history too! My onboarding was a bit different since I was already working for the city in a different capacity.
JD: The application process was done online. It was a panel interview with the Assistant City Manager, as well as four other employees I’d be working with regularly. Onboarding was very much a sink or swim approach – I was very fortunate to be given projects and asked to lead them early on.
DC: NeoGov, our applicant tracking system, is very easy and intuitive. I was able to submit my information, resume, and certifications online. Super easy. The hiring process took a little longer than I expected; I was on pins and needles waiting for their decision!! As I learned on this side of the recruiting table, things might move a bit slower here. Onboarding was reasonable; first day is like drinking from a fire hose, and New Employee Orientation was a wealth of information that was important but I didn’t understand! It took about six months to get my feet underneath me (there’s SO much to learn) and about a year before I truly felt proficient. Apparently, that’s reasonable. Who knew?!?!
What are the knowledge, skills, and abilities that local governments are most interested in?
NS: Local governments look for folks who are curious and willing to learn, show initiative, and are flexible. While in school, try to take a course to become familiar with excel. If you’re interested in working in a budget office, this skill will be very useful!
JD: I think the most important skills are prioritization, follow-through, and relationship building. But ultimately, people who work in local government need to care about the work their doing. We can teach people the technical skills they need to do their job, but you can’t teach people to care.
DC: While content mastery and experience are definitely important, it’s also essential to have a heart of service. The folks who are most successful in local government are those who truly care about making a difference in their community. Whether it’s working in parks, IT, finance, water utility, or public safety, we all play a part in impacting the lives of the people who live and visit our cities. At the end of each day, I am satisfied that I did something that had a positive impact!!
How can you bolster your resume to showcase these skills if you don’t have them formally yet?
NS: I think organizations like ELGL, ICMA and GFOA – that have university and regional chapters are great resources to get plugged into this world. Join these organizations and find a way to write for their blogs! I would recommend interning with a local government as well to figure out which part of these organizations and their work you find most interesting.
JD: A great way to bolster a resume is to have a complimentary cover letter that doesn’t simply restate your resume but tells a story or two illustrating relevant knowledge and showcases some understanding of the organization you’re applying for. For example, if the job description lists the organization’s values, highlight personal experiences that show you share those same values.
DC: I always encourage candidates to highlight their willingness to learn, be coached, and grow. While I understand that PT positions don’t necessarily lend themselves to long term employment, it’s good to see loyalty in a job, or a reasonable progression of positions. And yes, WRITE the COVER LETTER. We read them to learn more about you than the standard resume of what you’ve done.
What other advice do you have for students who want to pursue a local government career?
NS: I would highly recommend applying for the ICMA and ELGL fellowships! If you are not sure about graduate school – since these fellowships are open to folks with MPA degrees – make sure you at least intern with a local government! Internships are a great way to try on a job and see if it fits! If you have any questions – don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter or via LinkedIn.
JD: When you interview for a job, be prepared to speak about the organization or community. You would be surprised how many people go into interviews with little or no knowledge specific to that city. Most city websites post press releases on their home page. Read a few of those. Flip through the most recent budget. Search Google for recent news stories. And then incorporate what you learned into some of your questions and answers during the interview.
Also, always have a question or two beyond, “So, when will you make a hiring decision?” Good questions are a great way to highlight your preparation and critical thinking skills. For example –
“I noticed Georgetown is hosting COVID-19 testing sites this month, I have some experience promoting public health initiatives during my internship at the City of Ft. Worth. Do you think this position would have a role in helping promote Georgetown’s COVID-19 efforts?”
A question like this shows you took some time to do some research, highlights relevant experience, and then gets the interviewer talking about their expectations for the job. Listen to what they say, and then pivot your responses based on the expectations they highlighted for you.
DC: Be authentic. Be genuine. Don’t give up. Apply for the internships. Follow-up and send the thank you notes. It’s a worthy career!!!