ELGL has assembled an “A” team of Assistant To’s willing to provide insight into their transition from MPA Candidate to gainfully employed local government professional. In between other duties as assigned, council meetings, and a bewildering assortment of public inquiries, Nathan Mosley, Ryan Adams, Clay Curtin, and Ben McCready have collaborated to identify essential advice for the MPA student with aspirations of one day having a job.
Nathan Mosley currently serves as Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Mosley’s local government career is rooted in Parks and Recreation. It was during his time with the Town of Silverthorne that he began to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Colorado-Denver and consider a career in local government. Upon completing his degree he accepted new responsibilities at the City of Wheat Ridge where he serves today. As Assistant to the City Manager he is involved with a variety of projects including the citizens academy, priority based budgeting, and collaborating with other organizations to develop a model franchise agreement.
Last concert you attended:
I worked for a cowboy boot store in Tennessee. During the summer the store would set up a giant tent and I worked stocking the shelves and helping customers find what they were looking for. I was only 15 at the time so I would ride my bike to and from work every day. I used the money I made to purchase my first car (1985 Nissan pickup).
Books that you are currently reading:
Desired Paths and If Mayors Ruled the World
Favorite restaurant in your community?
We recently had a new micro-brewery open up in our community, Colorado Plus Brewery. They have a great food menu and only serve Colorado beer.
What are three projects you are currently working on?
Right now we are in the midst of budget meetings with department directors. I serve as the assistant budget manager and work closely with the Administrative Services Director in facilitating the budget process and presenting it to the City Manager for his consideration. Once we are done meeting with all department heads to go over their budgets and any new requests they might have we will begin making final decisions on funding those requests that are the highest priority and help support the organizations overall strategic goals. Once we have a balanced budget we will work to prepare the proposed budget document and the city manager will present that to city council by the end of September.
The city’s current cable franchise agreement expires at the end of 2014. The City is part of a collaborative organization called the Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance that works on behalf of its member organizations regarding utility and communication issues. I am the city staff liaison to that group and one of the major initiatives the group worked on was the creation of a model franchise agreement the member organizations can use to make the negotiation process easier. I provided the current franchise as well as the model agreement to staff and the city attorney and we will be providing a red-line draft of the document to Comcast in the next month. Once Comcast has reviewed the agreement we will meet with their representatives to iron out the final details. The agreement will be good for the next 10 years.
Parks and Recreation Accreditation
I am serving as the manager of the Parks and Recreations department (PR) accreditation process. Our PR has several staff that have worked for the organization for more than 30 years and they felt that the accreditation process would help ensure that organizational knowledge was captured and converted into standardized policies and procedures to help guide the organization when they retire.
The accreditation process requires organization to meet more than 140 best practice standards.
Working with the management staff of the PR I have developed a project timeline and I facilitate accreditation team meetings every other week to keep the team on track. I also follow up with other entities when staff has questions about the type of proof needed to show compliance with a particular standard.
We are working to ensure compliance with all standards and have our onsite accreditation visit next summer.
This process has been a great way for me to learn the ins and outs of a particular department that I have a specific passion for. This project was also seen as a career development opportunity to provide me with more tools so that when a department director position comes along with our organization or in another organization that I am ready for that next step.
Where does your position fall on the organizational chart?
I report to the Administrative Services Director. I am part of the organizations executive management team that includes the City Manager and all department directors.
How do you interact with City Departments?
This is one of the things that I enjoy the most about my job. I get to interact with every department and every level of staff all the way from the director down to the line level staff. This provides me with many learning opportunities and has helped with my interpersonal skills because every department and every person communicates in different ways.
I also enjoy that my job allows me to interact with city council members, state and national elected officials and community organizations. Much of my work requires building collaborative groups among churches, community non-profits, other governmental entities and our city staff. Working to bring all those different interests around the table to address needs in the community provides me with a lot of personal satisfaction.
Aside from a city manager, who are three professionals or peers you connect with on a regular basis?
- Matt Cohrs, Assistant to the City Manager, Greenwood Village, CO
- Ben Goldstein, Senior Management Analyst, Westminster, CO
- Joanne Cook, Parks and Recreation Director, Silverthorne, CO
Did you attend any conferences as a student? Do you attend any now?
While I was a student I was already working in local government. During that time I attended the Colorado parks and recreation conference.
Since taking the position with the City of Wheat Ridge I have had the opportunity to attend several state and national conferences.
- Colorado City and County Management Association (CCCMA)
- Transforming Local Government, Alliance for Innovation
- National League of Cities
- Center for Priority Based Budgeting
I think all professionals should take the opportunity to not only attend learning conferences but also get involved with a planning or sponsorship committee or submit an application to present at a conference.
These opportunities will allow you to interact with many professionals that you might not otherwise get to meet. You will learn a lot and build a larger network with whom you can rely on in the future. This is especially true with your local and state organizations.
How do you recommend reaching out to someone for career advice?
I think attending local and state events are a great way to make the first introduction with many professionals. These events provide an opportunity to meet other local government professionals and managers in a relaxed atmosphere. Once you have made the introduction you can ask to meet for coffee or lunch to “pick their brain.”
Just remember, City Managers were in your position at one point in their career and more than likely they had someone they reached out to for advice.
What three questions to ask when connecting with a city manager?
- What can I be doing now to prepare me for my next career step?
- What is the most difficult challenge you face in your community and what are you doing to address is?
- How do you balance your work demands and your personal life?
Getting the Job
Preparing for an interview, 3 pieces of advice.
- Be prepared. Do some research on the community; what are some challenges they face as well as some of the opportunities within the community. Take time to watch a couple council meetings if they are available online.
- Be prompt. Make sure to arrive ahead of time. Use that extra time to brush up on your notes.
- Stay calm and be yourself. If you are authentic, enthusiastic and a show desire to learn and contribute to their organization you will have a great shot at landing the job.
How many jobs should I be applying for?
How many jobs are out there? Practice, practice, practice. The more you do something the better you will get, so I suggest applying for every job you are interested in.
What job titles should an MPA student be considering?
I don’t think students should discount any opportunity as long as they are interested in it. If you have a passion for a certain area within local government then pursue that. If you are more interested in having a well-rounded, generalist type of career than apply for any and all jobs that you think would interest you and would provide you with new skills and experience. If you do a job well there will certainly be other opportunities in your future.
For me the most difficult thing was not being able to compete, if I did not receive an interview I felt that I was not truly being considered for a position. This however is the nature of getting a job, you will have to put in effort crafting a cover letter and revising your resume to fit the position, with no guaranteed that you will even be interviewed.
Most difficult thing about getting the first job?
Standing out from the crowd. There is so much competition for jobs that you must put the time in to personalize you cover letter and resume to fit the specific job you are applying for. This can be time consuming, but it will help you learn more about yourself and what things you are really looking for in a job. This in turn will help you during the interview process.
One day you’re a student and one day you’re a gainfully employed City employee, what changed?
I had a somewhat different path than most local government students. I went back to school while already working for a local municipality. I had never really thought of a career in local government, but my work in a parks and recreation department opened my eyes to that possibility. The town I worked for helped me cover the costs of school to attain my master’s degree knowing that I would probably leave once I graduated. So for me the biggest change was the professional opportunities that having a master’s degree opened up.
What skills/traits do you think you rely on most to be successful in your job?
- Adaptability – Life is full of change. This is especially true within the workplace. The organization and its needs are constantly changing, so if you can show that you are adaptable and can manage change effectively you will be seen as a valuable team member.
- Patience – One thing I have noticed in local government is that it can take time to get things done. The process of engaging residents, proposing recommendations and having legislative action by the council is not a quick process, so have patience and work to move the process forward every day.
- Accountability – If you make a mistake, but up front and honest. No one expects perfection, but they do expect that you own up to your mistakes and learn from them going forward.
Practical experience vs. Academic experience.
I think the most applicable academic experience I had was my negotiation class. I feel like every day, every issue you face is a type of negotiation. Learning how to create win-win situations as opposed to negotiating from a specific agenda has helped me create better, more effective working relationships.
As far as practical, real-world experience I don’t think there is any specific situation that would be “best.” Every day, every project, every situation presents opportunities to learn and grow. You just have to be open to constructive feedback and sometimes you have to go out of your way to ask for feedback to understand how you might improve as a local government professional. Additionally, take every opportunity to volunteer to take on additional duties. It is rare to have staff that will cheerfully take on new tasks and responsibilities. Showing an organization this type of work ethic will pay dividends in the future.