You Say…STAY (in Government)

Posted on January 29, 2020

Meme with photograph of cat wearing vintage glasses and text overlay reading "Lisa Loeb Kitty Says Stay"

Today’s Buzz is brought to you by Jenny Kosek, Communications Strategist for the City of West Allis. You  can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

What I’m Reading: “The Adding Machine,” Elmer Rice

What I’m Watching: Making It, Season 2

What I’m Listening To: Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend

In November 2016, I was enduring my then-forty-minute commute on a gray, rainy day, and toying with the idea of looking for a new job. At the time, I was director of marketing for a small retail chain but the endless pursuit of sales and profit was wearing thin. I wanted something challenging and new. Out of the blue, a thought occurred to me: “I wonder if government has marketers.”

That was how little I knew about local government at the time.

That same day, 40 minutes later and post-commute, I was opening LinkedIn when I saw a job post right at the top for a Communications Specialist for the City of West Allis, WIS – my own city! I read the job description with growing excitement. It was a step down in title, but a step in the right direction for my career. As a resident, I loved the idea of serving my neighbors in this role. As a marketer, the public sector was one of the few industries I hadn’t yet worked in, and the opportunity to transition to this industry was very attractive.

Photo of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka with text "Happy Work AnniversaryI applied – in person, that was the only way to do it at the time – interviewed three times (receiving letters – LETTERS! – via mail after each interview to update me on my progress in the process) and was hired. On February 6, 2017, I began my career in government. This career change was undoubtedly the best move I’ve made in my professional life.

I joined my city at an incredibly unique time. Our department, and my position in it, were brand new to the organization. We were about to embark on major culture changes as an organization, and a monumental rebranding as a city. I have always had positions in my career that were newly created, often to support major strategic changes, so having this type of role with my city suited me perfectly. I have had amazing opportunities to influence and shape our evolution, and have been unbelievably lucky to collaborate with passionate, positive people who believed in our city’s potential. In the past three years, me, my organization, and our community have become virtually unrecognizable – for the better.

One of the things I have found I love most about working for government is the many opportunities we have for training. At a recent training session, we were discussing the value of Stay Interviews, which managers should conduct with employees to find out why their staff stay at their organization. In reflecting on my three years in public sector, I started to ask myself some of the questions suggested for our stay interviews. In the five years prior to 2017, I changed jobs about every 18 months, yet here I am going on three years with my current organization. I’m telling LinkedIn recruiters on a weekly basis that I am not interested in their opportunities. Why? Here’s my personal stay interview for why I could not imagine leaving this industry I have grown to love:

  1. What do you like best about working in government?

The work we do matters. It’s not always glamorous, it’s often unappreciated, but it matters. Sometimes it’s as vitally important as ensuring a clean water supply and other times it’s as small as licensing a cat, but it matters. Everything we do impacts the quality of life of the people we serve. That’s a pretty good reason to come in to work every day.

Beyond that, as an industry, I have found the public sector to be the most collaborative of any I have worked for. In the private sector, everything is proprietary and closely held. In the public sector, professionals are glad to share what they’ve done and what worked and what hasn’t. This openness of communication across municipalities and departments helps us all improve service delivery and strengthen our communities, and it is very unique to this sector.

  1. How have you grown since working in government?

Well, I now know that many governments have marketers – and communicators, PIOs, and a host of other communications positions. When I joined government in 2017, I freely admitted I didn’t know anything about how the government worked, and I didn’t, but I certainly know more now. Not knowing the difference between a resolution vs. an ordinance but learning over time has given me a greater ability to explain government operations to our citizens. I’ve been continually challenged to make complicated government procedures understandable to the public. This has made me a better writer and a more empathetic person. If I work for the government and I don’t get something, how can I expect the public to? I put myself in our residents’ shoes a lot to try to improve how I’m reaching them, and it’s made me a better communicator and marketing professional.

I’ve also taken on many more responsibilities than my original job description defined. I’ve said “I can do that!” to projects way outside the scope of that original job description and have had numerous opportunities to leverage my professional strengths to serve our organization. In fact, after my first year in the Communications Specialist position, we revised my job description to a Communications Strategist role. So my position has grown along with me!

Meme with photograph of cat wearing vintage glasses and text overlay reading "Lisa Loeb Kitty Says Stay"

  1. Why do you stay in government?

Moreso than any other industry I’ve worked in, government keeps you on your toes. You never know what one day from the next will bring. My particular organization’s willingness to pivot and respond to the changing needs of our community keeps our department hopping with new challenges to tackle. While every job has its moments where you feel like you’re just stuck in the daily grind, those moments never last long in government. Our communities’ needs change by the minute and we never know what residents will ask of us. It always keeps the work interesting.

In retail, at the end of the day, the success of my work was often judged with dollar signs. In government, our work is judged by the satisfaction of our residents. Providing great service in our industry is still unexpected, and has the power to delight those we serve.  That’s incredibly rewarding.

In addition, I have found opportunity at every turn in government – opportunity to learn, to grow, to collaborate; to embark on new trainings or strengthen my skills; to reward others and be rewarded; to connect with others and share my knowledge and experience, and learn from their knowledge and experience. This was not my experience in so many of my private sector roles, and it is so refreshing to be part of an industry that supports and encourages its members to seek and embrace these opportunities.

I had never considered a career in government, and now I can’t imagine leaving this fantastic, challenging, rewarding, exciting, satisfying industry. My organization has come so far since I joined it in 2017 (and we have since digitized our application and hiring process!) and we have so much more work to do. I look forward to the next three years and beyond!

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