Published On : August 18, 2010
The Riley Guide: Sites with Job Listings
If you dream of tackling social problems – whether at the local or global level – then a career in public service may be for you. Public service workers handle all kinds of responsibilities that are vital to society's stability, from fighting crime and maintaining water supplies to developing urban areas and solving energy crises. These careers require certain skills and personality traits that many corporate jobs don't, such as a sense of social responsibility and a willingness to work through red tape over the very long term. But if you think a career in this line might be for you, read on to find out what your options are, and how to get started.
Work in the public sector can involve a surprising variety of fields and professions, from engineering to IT to administration to public relations – and beyond. Almost any job found in the private sector has at least a rough equivalent in public service, and many public service jobs don't have direct equivalents in private-sector work. For example, many law enforcement agencies are on constant lookout for promising candidates to be police officers, state troopers and federal agents; and government agencies often need policy experts and nonprofit liaisons to keep communication flowing internally, as well as among the organizations with which they work.
Public-sector work can take the form of a position with a local agency, such as a police department or an urban development department; with a state agency, such as a department of parks and recreation or a correctional administrator; or with a federal agency such as a political think tank, the Internal Revenue Service or even the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. Many philanthropic agencies also fall under public-sector work, as do foreign policy organizations and state departments. In short, public-sector work reaches from the local to the international level, and from every area of society from local law enforcement to international policy-making. Whatever your field of expertise, and whatever level you aim to reach, you can likely find something up your alley in the public sector.
The sheer variety of public-sector work available can make the choice of a career in public service a little dizzying – so it's crucial to start with some idea of the type of work you'd like to end up doing. It's easy enough to start with an ideal of what you'd like to accomplish – say, environmental policy change or an improvement in law enforcement in your local area – but what's even more important is to develop a clear concept of what you'd like to be doing in your day-to-day work. Does the idea of spending all day out in the field appeal to you? What about spending all day at a computer, analyzing data and producing reports? These can each be rewarding in their own ways, but your choice of which route to take depends on the kind of work environment that's most appealing to you.
Once you've figured out what kind of work you'd like to be involved in, spend a little time Googling the kind of training you'll need to work in those areas. Some public-service fields, such as law enforcement, provide most of the training necessary to get started – while others, such as law and environmental policy, often require years of specialized schooling. Some schools even offer degrees specifically for public-service work.
Though you'll want to enter your public-sector career with a clear idea of the kind of work you'd like to do, it's also helpful to be flexible about moving between work areas and geographical regions. Many public-sector jobs can dead-end at the local level, but you can still use the leverage of that experience to attain higher-ranking jobs at the state or federal level, or with another agency that'll allow you to move up. And many public-sector jobs are specific to a geographical area, so it'll help your career prospects if you're willing to relocate to an area where the career field is fertile. And of course, keep networking – both online and in person – with people an groups who share your passion. Public service careers are built on relationships, and you never know when someone you meet may be able to give you a leg up on the type of position you're angling for.
If you're looking to apply for a job with a local or state agency, you'll likely need to develop personal relationships with people working in your state or local government, as this will give you the inside track on which jobs are currently open, and what kinds of positions tend to need to be filled at each level. You can also supplement that personal-level search with some Googling for terms like, "[name of your city or state] + careers" – or for more spefici terms like "[name of your city or state] + parks department careers," to make sure you don't miss any openings that get posted.
These days, few entry-level jobs tend to be available in local and state agencies – but that doesn't mean the entire sector is bone-dry. It pays to stay up-to-date on the kinds of positions that need to be filled in your area of expertise, and in the geographical region that interests you – which you can also often find out on the job websites of local and state governments, and by talking with people who work at these levels. IT and law enforcement, for example, tend to steadily hand out jobs, because these services are continually in demand. Again, talking with people who actually work in your local and state governments can give you a clearer idea about what's needed.
Working on Capitol Hill doesn't just mean working directly for the federal government – it can also mean working in the offices of members of Congress, with other organizations on the Hill, such as lobbying groups; or even slightly "off the Hill" but close to it. All these avenues can help you build connections with people in government agencies, which will come in handy as you move closer to your high-level career goals in the public sector.
The good news is that a variety of websites exist to connect you with job opportunities on and around the Hill. BradTraverse.com, for example, operates a fee-based subscription service offering an excellent source of job leads for jobs on and off Capital Hill in government affairs, public affairs, and communications. Publicaffairs.blogspot.com lists D.C.-area jobs and internships in public affairs, communications, public relations, media, web development, lobbying and other fields. HillZoo.com also posts jobs on and off the Hill, along with gossip and events. And Jobwonk.com lists jobs and internships in public affairs, advocacy, and research in the DC area.
Other sites, meanwhile, focus on specific areas of Hill-related work. LobbyingJobs.com helps recruit staff for federal and state lobbyists, lobbying support, lobbying firms, advocacy and government relations. NewOrganizing.com supports those who want to work in online organizing techniques, political technology, and field leadership. PoliTemps.com is a staffing service for Washington consultants, PR firms, nonprofits and lobbying firms. And Senate.gov and House.gov – the official pages of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, both offer pages with lists of employment opportunities.
Some of the more exciting areas of public-sector work are those that deal with international relations. Though top-level positions in these fields can be extremely sensitive and thus require years of experience, it's easier than you might think to get your foot in the door of an organization like this. Take a few minutes to browse the job boards of leading organizations and publications in this area, and you may find a job opening that lines up with your experience – or with the type of training you're interested in acquiring.
FPA.org, the official website of the Foreign Policy Association, offers a job board with postings for internships, full-time and contract jobs, and volunteer opportunities with nonprofits, NGOs, and think tanks with positions in the US and abroad. ForeignPolicy.com, the website of Foreign Policy Magazine, provides a job board that's open to all users of the site. Some listings on this site link back to the hiring organization's website for you to submit your application, but others open a form on the FP website you can use to submit your application. No registration necessary.
State.gov, the website of the U.S. Department of State, also offers recruiting and career information source for jobs with the State Department – including foreign service officers who service in D.C. and form the "front line" in our embassies abroad, Foreign Service Specialists who support these people, information on Student Programs, as well as other civil service opportunities with the State department.
PublicServiceCareers.org — Job listings for careers in publi service, along with articles and tips for public-sector careers.
The Brad Traverse Group — A highly regarded fee-based resource among public-sector employees, offering job listings in and around the Hill.
RCJobs from Roll Call — Free employment service for all careers inside the Beltway.