Post MPA Dilemma

Scott Schaefer

Like many MPA graduates, I've found it particularly difficult to establish a suitable fit in the public sector. I feel this is especially true in the sense that most intro-level positions are often so distinguished from higher-level administrator jobs. My question is; should recent graduates expand their job search to all available positions, or should we narrow the search primarily to intro-level vacancies?


Thomas Quist


This is a good question - I'm glad you posted it. Hopefully you'll get some good feedback.

I think you'd be wise to be flexible at this juncture - go ahead and expand your job search to all available positions (within reason, anyways). Even if you end up in a position that wasn't your first choice, it would be a good way to get your foot in the door somewhere and begin developing some of your professional skills. However, if you do accept a position, I think you should plan to stick around for at least a year or two, probably the latter, as this will demonstrate loyalty and commitment. Wherever you end up, you should be clear that you are willing to try different things, but that you have your sights set on a specific goal (for example, you may be shooting for an analyst position, or an Assistant to position). That way, if the opportunity does present itself, you will be more likely to be considered.

Good luck!


John Granger

My first job, in 1975, was in a small community and was a glorified clerk's job, an administrative assistant. What the job provided me was tenure in local government, access to a well respected manager, access to a network of managers, learning how a small community really works. 16 months after that appointment, I was a borough manager, at age 25, with a paid fire dept, two sewer plants and a water plant. You cannot get that kind of hands on experience in any other type of community (smaller is better, less is more, etc). All too often, I see younger professionals thinking that they can get the best jobs right out of school, working in the best communities. It took me nearly 15 years before I felt confident enough to get that right job, one where I could put all my training and experience to work in a community that was looking for someone to help it redefine itself. During those 15 years, I worked in the borough (pop. 6,000), as an assistant manager in a community of 60,000, as a finance director in a community of 65,000 that underwent a change in the form of government. The cumulative experience in these diverse communities gave me the opportunity to acquire my dream job.

Put your time in, broaden your experience and skills, be flexible. Good luck.

Robert Nanni

Scott, you would serve yourself best by accepting anything close to your interests at this point in economic times. When you have joined an agency you can volunteer to do assignments outside of your job description; you will show initiative and a willigness to help etc. Things will get better and you will have some experience, don't forget to network, whether we like it or not, not everyone is hired on merit.

April Jaeger

Scott, The kicker for anyone seeking an upper level position is the combination of education with experience. One without the other rarely leads to success unless you have established your network. I would recommend that you sign up with one of the ICMA Coaches to help mentor you, as everyone's situation is a little different, and how they proceed should be tailored to the individual.

Obi(Ovi) Ghosh

Obi(Ovi) Ghosh

Good point, I lead a real estate business, pursued my MBA completed it and now a semester away from getting my MPA. My department has gone through some changes, the former great experienced chairman resigned, and before resigning, it was my understanding that I just have to take advanced statistics; since I had basic statistics, it was waived for me by having to provide a syllabus. My mind was prepared to take just the budgeting and the internship class for graduation. Anyways, beside leading stressful business, MBA and MPA, I do not have any other job related experience. I am totally trying to transfer my skills from leading/ running this business to my resume. I hope it works. I would love to do budgeting job since I have good analytical skills from doing some finances and accouting claclasses. Any clue where I should start?

Michael McClanahan

Hey Scott, recent MPA grad here and went through the same issues over the summer. I had a pretty broad professional background, and new I wanted to work in a Manager's office. I found myself applying to a bunch of analyst jobs, and ultimately accepted one in budget. It's a great job and you might consider looking into budget, especially if you don't have one specific area that you're strong in.

Also fyi..., not alot of local gov opportunities in Kentucky. KY native here, trust me, I've looked. Good Luck!

Barry Crook

nothing wrong with starting as a budget analyst in a central budget shop -- in fact, I consider it a prerequisite to everything else you might want to do . . . being grounded in budget making and budget administration is central to everything that is done in local government -- it is often the only process by which management decision-making takes place, but at the very least it is the main mechanism for engaging the community and the elected officials in choice-making . . . it will allow you to learn about the entire service menu of a local government -- which will serve you well as you move up the ladder . . . finally it will allow you to learn a bit about finance and accounting of your business.

Gregory Stopka

Being a young professional I can relate. At BIG Ideas, a national conference of city managers and academics, we had a conversation about how to develop talent with less internships and entry level positions. We discussed that many managers today are looking for department heads that have the skill set that an MPA provides. They want someone who can manage people and communicate with council in a way that "closes the gap" between the administrative and the political. I'd encourage you to look at Assistant Public Works, Parks and Rec., Finance, and other positions in addition to the traditional routes of Assistant to and management analyst.

Obi(Ovi) Ghosh

Obi(Ovi) Ghosh

I would love a job in Goverment dealing with finance.

Randy Webster

Having spent a fair amount of time with local government budgets, I can endorse Michael and Barry's recommendations. The one observation I would offer is this: It's very rare, in my experience, to see someone move from budget to program management. A stint in the budget office, at least three budget cycles, is invaluable and can lead to many opportunities. If you're interested in program management, then begin looking for positions working with program delivery. Budget careers often lead to financial management positions, which are good too. Just be mindful and observant of the two, albeit informal, tracks.

Bill Atkinson

One other track you might consider, which is what I did, is to start as a city manager in a smaller community. It is a great opportunity to be involved in all facets of your education and training. I did that 17 years and have since served as a city manager in a small to mid-sized community and now as an assistant city manager in a mid-sized city now.

[Unknown] said

Scott, my recommendation would be to try to find a good local government management fellowship. That is the route I took and it afforded me the opportunity to work in a variety of local government areas including budget, economic development, policy analysis, and operations. It wasn't until I had those experiences that I was able to move into a position in a city manager's office and be truly effective.

Robert Carty

Robert Carty

Scott - You might consider the Local Government Management Fellowship,, if you haven't already.

Julie Steenson

Julie Steenson

Scott- I agree with Robert. Seeking local government fellowship opportunities can be a good way to jump start a career within an organization and help you identify areas of interest. I started as a Cookingham Fellow with the City of Kansas City. I am 4 years out from that experience, and I can tell you, as an Analyst now with the City of Kansas City, it was invaluable. There are many fellowships and internships like the Cookingham-Noll in a wide variety of settings. If you are interested in KC, visit the website and watch for announcements on recruitment.

Scot Simpson

Find either 1) the right position or 2) an acceptable position(all available) in the right organization. If you get into a great organization is a position that is not your first choice, chances are you will have opportunities to develop your skills beyond the narrow bounds of the job description. I rarely have found City Manager's willing to ignore entry level employees who have aspirations beyond the current department they are assigned.

Josh Jones
Josh Jones said

Definitely go for the national internships, but really any entry-level position will get your foot in the door and allow you to start molding and expanding your own job description and duties. Good organizations welcome drive and ambition so you will get the chance to prove yourself. If it's stifling, I'd frankly say to get out sooner than later because it's not likely to change; an organization's culture will outlast most employees' tenure. Lastly, in general employed job seekers are more attractive than someone who has been unemployed for months, so any job is likely better than no job.

Just keep looking and looking - an opportunity will come up even as uncertain as it may seem at times.

Matthew Lawless

That's encouraging. Thank you or sharing your stories!

Alicia Little

That is encouraging. I'm 2 classes and a capstone away from my MPA, and although I work in my local borough government as an Executive Assistant and have learned SO much, I have a feeling I'll have to start in a management capacity in a smaller place in the future.

Darcy Long
Darcy Long said

When I received my MPA I had decided I wanted to work in Public Management in a small community and set forth to get a job right out of school. I did just that in a small community in Texas. Looking back over my career, I am now recommending that MPA graduates look at working smaller organizations under a seasoned Public Manager. Nothing wrong with getting a job out of school but it would be better learn the ropes for a while prior to taking the jump into your first position out of school. Note: It took me about a year to land my first job and over 350+ resumes being sent out all over the U.S. One last recommendation, be prepared to move anywhere in the country. If you limit your options, it will be even harder to find a position in the public sector.

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Oct 18 2011
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