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What an exhilarating time to elevate your career. While the “great resignation” captured everyone’s attention last year, 2022 will be the “great opportunity” for those seeking to advance their career.

The job market is hot and competitive. Local governments are searching for talent from all sectors and career paths. As our more seasoned colleagues move on to their encore careers, the sheer volume and variety of organizations seeking senior-level leaders has not been this vibrant in decades.

Everyone vying for these positions will bring talent, skills, credentials, and experience to the table. All those attributes are critical for career success. So, too, is a commitment to a high ethical standard that is foundational to building a credible and enduring reputation. At times, integrity and high standards may not seem to be valued by decision makers. Taking the long-term perspective on a career in the public sector though, the reputation you build by your commitment to integrity, honesty, and the profession’s standards will serve you well as you advance in your career. The stories shared in the January 2022 issue of PM reinforce the importance of anchoring your professional aspirations and your work in a core set of ethical values.

As you contemplate the opportunity on your horizon, here is some advice designed to ensure that you nurture and sustain a good reputation on your lifelong journey:

Personal and professional are inseparable.

Probably one of the most challenging aspects of public service is that you do relinquish some of your privacy. What you do and say in your personal sphere may have relevancy and impact on your reputation and ability to serve the public. Indeed, the ICMA Code of Ethics in defining integrity calls us to demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships in order to merit the trust and respect of others. To that end, it’s wise to think about your presence on social media—what you post, say, and endorse. Fairly or not, someone looking at the content will make judgments about you and your character.

Facts are facts.

When the details about credentials, education, and experience are not factual, that raises a red flag about your honesty. Future employers and the executive search firms they hire will now be focused on your credibility rather than your suitability for the position. At best, it’s just sloppy to get details wrong. At worse, it’s dishonest. To avoid any issue, double check to ensure that your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other public presentations are accurate and factual. If you had a short tenure because you just took a position in the wrong organization, you are best positioned to include it on your resume and explain why it didn’t work out. If you omit it, it might seem like you were hiding something that is unflattering. To be clear, if you let your ICMA Credential lapse, take it off your resume and online presence until you can reinstate.

Commitment matters.

For the appointed manager, the ICMA Code of Ethics sets a standard for a two-year tenure. To effectuate change, provide leadership to the organization, or even get a budget in place, that is the bare minimum on the commitment spectrum. There are, of course, times when for personal or organizational reasons, a manager should leave before serving two years. The objective, though, is that a professional will fully commit to the position to provide steady leadership that advances the organization’s efforts. Not in the manager’s role? Did you agree to stay for a tenure to ensure that the organization met another goal? Your word to fulfill that obligation means something.

Work the network in your job search.

Assuming you met any commitments you made to your current organization or the two-year tenure guideline if you are a manager, now may be a fortuitous time to make the next big career move. Testing the market may be in order if you haven’t been out there in a while. But be intentional and strategic. Don’t waste a future employer’s time with an interview if you don’t really want the position or are using it as leverage to get more compensation back home.

Before accepting a position do your homework to ensure that it will be a good fit for you professionally and personally. Leverage the network. I promise that if you “cold call” a colleague who works or worked for an organization that you are interested in, they will not only take that call but generously take the time to provide their perspective. You don’t have to make the leap into some great unknown.

Respect your competitors.

Stay in this business long enough and you will experience the thrill of being the finalist and the disappointment one day of not being that person. Along the way you might even become friends with a competitor. The point is that the one who succeeded in getting the position is not your enemy. Be gracious in defeat and kind in victory as we will all see each other down the road at some point. And remember, never enter a recruitment process if no official action has been taken with regard to the incumbent manager.

Keep your word.

If you accept a position, consider that a binding commitment on your end. You can vie for and consider other offers. But once you say yes and give your word that you will take the position, it’s a huge ethical ding on your reputation if you then renege. Consider that your decision may affect other potential offers. An organization interested in you may be turned off to hear that you renege on your commitment.

Bring a friend along for the journey.

In a talk with Women Leading Government in Colorado a few years ago, I referred to our ethical journey in the profession being akin to hiking in the wilderness. Just as you would never hike alone, it’s wise to find and bring along on this professional journey that ethically grounded friend or colleague with whom you can have an honest and direct conversation. The person who is so grounded that they will tell you “no” even when you want to hear “yes.” We all need wise counsel. The wise counsel I heard that day was that many of these women do indeed hike in the wildness alone. They are experienced, confident in their skills, and far braver than I!

Who is your mentor? Whom do you mentor?

Bobby Green’s work to mentor and support others to choose this profession is an inspiring story told in this edition. As Bobby notes in his interview with Randall Reid, the single greatest motivation for considering a career in public service is the exposure to a nurturing professional manager. Mentoring doesn’t have a prescribed hierarchy or approach. Each of us, perched from our spot, can reach out to engage, support, and encourage all who are in the profession.

Consider the Five Leading Principles.

Bob McEvoy, whose story is told through the perspective of those he mentored, served a long tenure as a county manager in New York. Given the politics and culture, that was not easy sailing. Bob then supported the profession by teaching the next cohort of managers. Here are Bob’s five leading principles which are enduring.

  1. Be ethical.
  2. Give to the profession that gives to you.
  3. Pay it forward.
  4. Serve as a mentor.
  5. Build community.

On your professional journey, wherever it may take you, nothing is more important than anchoring your professional aspirations and your work in a core set of ethical values.

MARTHA PEREGO, ICMA-CM, is director of member services and ethics director, ICMA, Washington, D.C. (mperego@icma.org).

Martha Perego

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