How do I get my foot in the door?
November 3, 2008 11:48 AM   Subscribe

The old conundrum: How do you get experience without a job, how do you get job without experience? (Public sector variant.)

I'm trying to get into the public sector. I graduated from a state university with a bachelor's degree in Public Administration. I graduated near the top of my class, a member of Pi Sigma Alpha, have excellent references. Unfortunately, I was not able to work an internship. Most of the entry level positions I'm coming across are still asking for a year of relevant experience. I'm about at the end of my rope; how the hell do I get my foot in the door?
posted by entropicamericana to Work & Money (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of public sector job?

Volunteering in any kind of local campaign is a good way to get to know people who might set you up later or provide good references.

This is a traditional way to get into both politics and government, as newly elected officials need to hire staff.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:57 AM on November 3, 2008

"Entry level" may not mean the same to you as it does to them.

Fresh out of college with a degree in Computer Science, I had to take an entry-level position in data entry and phone interviewing to get a chance at a real CS entry-level job down the line. Sometimes internal opportunities do not have the same requirements as external ones.
posted by splice at 12:03 PM on November 3, 2008

Response by poster: Our program specialized in policy analysis, but I'm also interested and trained in planning and redevelopment. At this point, I'd be happy with almost any professional-type position with any agency.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:04 PM on November 3, 2008

A couple of thoughts:

1. You say 'most' are asking for experience. If there are a few positions that don't have this requirement, you may still have a chance - it'll just take a bit longer.

2. You may just have to lower your expectations for your first position. Going for something beneath your qualification level would least get you that year's experience you need to get into your desired position.

3. Apply for those jobs anyway, communicating the fact that although you don't have the year of experience, you're still a damn fine candidate with a lot going for you.

4. Be more proactive than just looking at the ads. Call some people up, send out some emails, maker appointments to go and see people and talk about what you and they have to offer each other; write speculative applications, do voluntary work, that kind of thing.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:06 PM on November 3, 2008

You're fighting an uphill battle, my friend. I got my masters in Public Administration, and I know your troubles.

Without going into a lot of detail, here are your options:

- Keep an eye on postings at the state capital if you want a policy analysis job. You're going to be a staffer for a state senator if you pursue this route and your job will be reading ~200pp proposals and condensing them to a single page for the boss to read. The pay sucks and you will be competing with people with masters degrees for them, but there are a lot of opportunities later on down the line. A couple of buddies in my program did this and they're movin' on up.

- Go into grant writing for a city or county government. The pay is okay, and they're easy jobs to get. Boring as all getout though, and surprisingly stressful (constant application deadlines, department heads thinking you can magically conjure any money they want out of thin air)

- Look into working the administration end of nonprofits (this is what I did). The experience is extremely similar to an actual government job, so a lateral move into one would be very doable in one or two years.

- Become a cop. Yeah, it sounds strange, but it's a public sector job and it will get your foot in the door for local governments.

- Search for internships even though you graduated. Yeah, you might have to work for cheap or free for a while, but if you can swing it your opportunities will be a lot better.
posted by Willie0248 at 12:23 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you looked into any of the public administration fellowship/training programs? There is one in Miami and one here in Phoenix.

I know there are quite a few others across the country. There usually one to two years in length and will get you that experience you need in a variety of different departments. This way you get to decide which area you like best, and as a bonus, you get a paycheck!

Good luck.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:25 PM on November 3, 2008

I have a Master's in sociology and a BS in political science (Pi Sigma Alpha still on my résumés, too), and have been searching for jobs for about three months while temping. If I had read this question a week ago, I would have joined in your despair - today, I have three interviews for really good jobs from people who are eager to talk to me.

Everything that le morte says is valuable advice - seriously. They are all lessons I've had to learn. For #3, I would add that a rocking cover letter can definitely get you interviews.

Is there anything you might be leaving off your résumé? Do you know how to use Microsoft Access? Do you know SQL? Take any noteworthy stats classes? Those are skills that I see coming up over and over.

Be persistent. A lot of state and municipal governments have explicit hiring freezes right now, and others are being cautious.
posted by McBearclaw at 12:26 PM on November 3, 2008

I'd say that volunteering for an organization is going to be the best way to acquire the skills you need to get paid work in the public sector. I think any organization would be happy to have someone with your credentials.
posted by reenum at 12:26 PM on November 3, 2008

Ahem. They are usually one to two years in length and will get you that experience you need in a variety of different departments.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:29 PM on November 3, 2008

If they post an ad with no experience required, they get flooded with applications from people who are not even remotely qualified. So, it is worth checking in to these jobs despite the fact you don't technically meet their criteria. You always have to learn the details on the job anyway, and I think you might find them more receptive than you expect. It sounds like you have a lot to offer, I would just use the experience requirement as an opportunity to talk about what else you bring to the table instead.
posted by sophist at 12:31 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Check federal government jobs as well. The budget isn't nearly as tight there.
posted by waylaid at 12:41 PM on November 3, 2008

It never hurts to apply for jobs that you don't quite make the grade for on paper. Make sure you are ready to defend what knowledge/skills you have that substitute for the experience they are seeking. Applying for jobs is a selling process - a "sure, I don't have formal experience in this job, but x, y and z more than make up for that and I also have experience in a and b, so I'm the ideal candidate for this position" kind of thing.
posted by dg at 12:52 PM on November 3, 2008

Get your commission in the Air Force or Coast Guard? That takes care of your experience and job networking right there.
posted by crapmatic at 12:57 PM on November 3, 2008

1) Internships in your industry are a great way to get experience... just because you graduated without one doesn't mean you still can't get internship experience. For my internship program I had many applicants that would apply after they graduated, but California law stipulates that an unpaid intern MUST receive credit.... Turns out that MANY community colleges allow you to enroll in their internship program as long as you are taking just one other class at the school... it could even be a fitness class! This was a useful solution for the many applicants I talked to that had already graduated. Largely in my industry an internship is the number 1 way to get that foot in the door experience you need to get hired.

2) Network like crazy. Send your resume and interests and skills out to EVERYONE you know, or have ever worked with, and let them know what you are interested in, and what kind of job you see yourself in. Let them know that if they hear of any openings you'd love them to let you know, or pass your resume on.

3) Get the latest version of "What Color is Your Parachute". It is an invaluable job hunt guide.
posted by veronicacorningstone at 1:02 PM on November 3, 2008

I have a government job in Canada. It can be hard to get into a position here. Many people take jobs below their level to be eligible for internally advertised jobs.

A way to get experience is to work as a contractor or agency employee. Is there an agency in your area that specializes in Public Admin? Often employers use agency staff to avoid having to go through the process of hiring, and there are often lower requirements.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:04 PM on November 3, 2008

When any organization posts a job listing they usually describe the ideal candidate. That person may not materialize, so apply for any job you think you are qualified for. Also, the term "experience" can mean many things. Have you been blogging about public policy issues for 3 years? Boom - experience. Think creatively, the only point of a resume or application is to get the interview, so leave nothing out that may help your case.
posted by COD at 1:12 PM on November 3, 2008

One thing students should be on the look out for any program is that to improve the possibilities in their field they should get involved with internships, volunteer positions, student organizations, etc while they are in school. Even working in a student government would be considered experience in your field. If you have any experience that could be stretched to fit the basic qualifications then put that on the resume. Sometimes a senior project could be used as experience
posted by JJ86 at 1:32 PM on November 3, 2008

« Older What are the best liquors for the money?   |   Why oh why won't my Macbook Pro connect to the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.