by Niles Anderegg, research and content development associate, ICMA

Working in local government is a unique environment, as it often doesn't get the media attention that the federal government does nor does it have the profit and the bottom-line focus that the private sector does. Therefore, the transition from private sector to local government work can be challenging as you have to interact with the public in a much different way than you do in the private sector.

To help those interested in becoming a part of local government, ICMA created the guidebook Breaking into Local Government. This book is specifically for those individuals who are looking to change careers and work for a local government and are from all types of backgrounds, whether it be the private sector, other governments, or the military. In the guidebook are case studies from local government professionals who made that transition. Here you will find advice from three of these professionals: 

1. It's All About Relationships

David Bullock, town manager, Longboat, Key Florida, suggests that the key skill that local government managers need is relationship building, and he says that “If you can't maintain relationships with the diverse people you come in contact with, you will  have trouble.” In connection with this, Bullock also suggested those looking to find a local government position need to have “the service ethic in their heart.” In other words, for Bullock, local government is about the people and the values of public service.

2. A Rewarding Profession

Jan Cooke, finance director, Hillsborough, California, looked at working in local government as something different and as a way to give back to her community, compared to her previous private sector experience. What she found in local government was “a more diverse set of responsibilities,” as well as the ability to directly see the impact of her work on her community, which she has found extremely rewarding.

She also mentioned that working in local government includes a steep learning curve, but she found that unlike the private sector you get the support of your fellow professionals and can openly exchange ideas. She encourages those looking to work for a local government to take full advantage of these professional networks.

3. Open-mindedness Is a Key Attribute for Local Government

Steven Kroeger, city manager, Yuba City, California, said that there are three attributes that he thinks were a part of his successful transition to local government: initiative, open-mindedness, and naivety. These attributes allowed him to take advantage of opportunities that led to innovative practices. His open-mindedness, for example, allowed him to seek out opportunities to cooperate with county government, which led to new solutions for his community.

He also mentioned that his experience as a consultant prepared him for local government work as it gave him the analytical skills that are needed in the profession. Taking the attributes that led to his successful transition to local government and his experience in the private sector, he believes that local governments should look to find and recruit candidates from the private sector.

These are just some of the pieces of advice found in the Breaking into Local Government guidebook. Check out the full e-book to learn more.

Related Resources

First-Time Administrators: Four Tips to Help Transition from Being an Assistant Manager to Manager. This 2018 blog post takes information from the First-time Administrator's Handbook to help assistant administrators make the jump to a CAO position.

My City Manager Left – Now What? In a 2017 blog post, Miranda Lutzow shares her advice for staff when a community’s city manager leaves and a new one comes in.

Building Career Resiliency. Two ICMA members, Pat Martel and Jan Perkins, share advice on how to build resiliency as a professional, as the ability to respond to adversity is an important part of being a local government leader.


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