4 Things to Consider When Trying for Your First Local Government Job

For many, May and June represent graduation season. This is a time when undergraduates and graduate students look forward to their first job.

BLOG POST | May 30, 2018
By Niles Anderegg

by Niles Anderegg, research and content development associate, ICMA  

For those interested in local government as a profession, ICMA has collected some of its resources to help people land their first job. These resources focus on how to both get a job in local government and what to do once you have your first position in local government. 

1. Breaking into local government.

The first step in getting a job in local government is breaking into the profession. This involves taking what you have learned in class and applying it to an actual local government setting. For example, in a PM magazine article from 2015 called Breaking Into the Public Sector Job Market, author Phillip Messina argues that students should spend time researching in detail the community where they want to work and the department they are potentially going to be working for.

2. Job Search.

For a lot of students, their priority is the job search. The search process involves looking for jobs like those listed in ICMA’s Job Center. Another important aspect of the job search is working on your resume. In an article that is part of Dr. Frank Benest’s Career Compass series, he explains the do’s and don’ts of resume writing.

3. Interviews.

One of the great challenges that a lot of undergraduates and graduate students have is dealing with their first interview for a local government position. A way to prepare for these interviews is to think about potential questions you might be asked. With that in mind, ICMA created the checklist 12 of the Best Job Interview Questions to Ask Local Government Candidates, which will help you prepare answers in advance. As Dr. Benest points out in another of his Career Compass articles, you should practice your answers to classic questions and make sure that your answers are concise; however, you want to fully answer any question.

4. Once you get your first job.

After you have been hired for your first local government position, it is important to make the most of your position. In the Your First Five Years in Local Government Checklist, it states that new professionals should try to take advantage of as many learning opportunities as possible. By being active in your first few years in local government you can set your self up for future success. 

Related Resources 

6 Resources to Help You Get Your First Local Government Job. This blog post from 2014 provides some more resources to help you with getting into the local government profession. 

Breaking into Local Government. This guidebook is for those who are coming from other sectors like the military and private employment and want to go into local government work. 

Navigating the Job Search Process. This PM magazine article from 2014 looks at how to navigate the job search process for those at the executive level. 


I have been in the local

I have been in the local government sector for many years now and have been in a position to be on the other side of the interview table for over ten years.  The suggestions mentioned here are good and, when taken to heart, will serve anyone well.  It also made me think of how I look for qualified applicants to hire.  Two very effective ways I have found to tell me which applicants stand out are (1) to require a cover letter to be submitted with the resume and (2) have a short unscheduled phone interview. 

The cover letter tells me immediately who knows how to write well and can present their thoughts in an orderly and meaningful manner.  My suggestion, therefore, is to make sure you know how to write well.  If you're not sure, write a few mock cover letters and ask a few people whom you respect to review them.  If there is some room for improvement - practice, practice, practice, and maybe take a few English or business writing classes to brush up.

The unscheduled phone interview tells me how the applicant presents him/herself unscripted.  This is always enlightening.  I am less concerned about WHAT is said as I am about HOW they present themselves.  Is he articulate?  Does she listen to the question?  Is he a non-stop talker?  Does he come across as professional?  Does she come across as meek?   What attitude is demonstrated?  I recognize these are very subjective, but if a person cannot present well audibly, how can he/she do well when talking on the phone with coworkers, customers, or Council members?  One way to improve how one presents oneself is take a public speaking class, or join a Toastmasters club.  I have found that the more confident a person is, the better they tend to present themselves - on the phone and in person.

I have found, as I look for qualified applicants, that I derive great satisfaction from an applicant that has shown him/herself to write well and present well - and THAT'S the person with whom I want to have an hour (or longer) interview.


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