Transcripts

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Joe Supervielle:

Welcome to Voices in Local Government, an ICMA podcast. My name is Joe Supervielle with Jeannetta Maxena, Assistant to the City Manager of Mary Esther, Florida, to discuss how to get your first job in local government. Including how to solve that mind numbing frustration of entry level positions with that little bullet point, that say two to three years’ experience required. I think something we can all relate to, whether it's first job or climbing up the ladder. Sometimes that one bullet gets you. So Jeannetta, thanks for joining us today.

Jeannetta Maxena:

Hi. So again, I'm Jeannetta Maxena, Assistant to the City Manager over at the City of Mary Ester. We're on the panhandle near Destin, and I'm so happy to be here today. Thanks, Joe.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah, thanks for joining us. Right off the top, what takeaways do you want the listeners to get today? We have two groups. There's that group that are close or similar to the shoes you were just in, searching for that first job. Whether it's straight out of grad school or transitioning from a different career, like we'll get into your story. Early career professionals, they can learn a lot from your story.

              But we also have the city managers, department heads, mid-career people and local government that are interested and realize, "Hey, we're in a crunch for talent. I need to hire on my team. This is more difficult than I thought it was going to be. Can we make this more flexible? How do we attract people like you?" So I think both of those audiences will learn a lot today. But you tell me, what do you want to share for each of those groups?

Jeannetta Maxena:

Well, I'm hoping that I can motivate folks who have graduated either last December or May, they still haven't found a job and they're getting anxious. So hopefully I can motivate and inspire people to not give up and to hold true to themselves, be a little patient. And just know that job opportunity is coming, but you still have to work towards it, be patient and it'll come. And to the people who are in a position of power, city managers, HR directors, to be open to someone who is new to local government, someone who has recently graduated. And also people who may come outside of the industry, they may have some transferable skills that could be really useful in local government.

Joe Supervielle:

Okay. So we're going to cover at the same time, we're going to talk about some of the frustrations you went during your story. But also some potential solutions and what you think both sides can do better, the job seekers and the hiring authorities. Give us your story, tell us what happened. You were a teacher, you transitioned into local government. Take us through it and you can mention a few of the roadblocks and challenges and also how you overcame it.

Jeannetta Maxena:

Well, I was a teacher, I taught 10th grade World History. My students came from communities that needed a lot of help, needed policy implementation and change, needed programs that just made things accessible to them. It was hard to get resources. They come home from school, it would be a dark road that they would have to walk on because there were no street lights.

              So I just really wanted to get into local government, so I could be able to help people like my students and help the community and do the groundwork. And so I researched different programs, found the master in public administration program at Alma Mater, which is the University of Central Florida. After teaching, I did that. I completely stopped teaching, I went to graduate school full time. Two years and in my final year, I started looking for jobs.

              And my last semester, I started applying, wasn't really getting a lot of feedback, barely got an interview and I started getting scared. There was an opportunity for different fellowships throughout the country. There's something called PMF, Presidential Management Fellowship. I also saw the ICMA Local Government Management Fellowship. I thought that fit in and matched my career goals and what I wanted to do. I learned that it could have a competitive salary, that it had great benefits and mentorship. And I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for someone like me who would be a recent graduate of an NPA program. And I wanted to do it. So I applied, became a finalist. And of course, again, it was the interview process all over. But I did things to really learn about myself and what I'm doing wrong in interviews. So I video myself and I recorded myself to hear all the ums, uhs, the pauses.

Joe Supervielle:

I'm trying not to do that right now, it's hard to interrupt. But I'll say, you said what you're doing wrong, I don't think ... I'll pause you there. Because it's not that you or other people were doing anything wrong. It's about learning how to get a little bit better. But before we even get to the interview, let's back up a little bit. You mentioned the application process and that was one of the subtopics of frustration. How many applications were you sending out? Weekly or just over the span of X number of months. What do you think, ballpark, like what was the response rate to get something more than just the generic, we've received your application, blah, blah, blah. How many times did you actually get to talk to a real person?

Jeannetta Maxena:

Okay. Well that's a very good question. So I graduated in December. By December, 2020, I had applied to something like 50 jobs. I had heard back to three and I may have had one interview.

Joe Supervielle:

So, that is discouraging, not surprising necessarily. People from different departments might have different opinions on that. It is eventually there is somewhat of a number game and people out there listening, shouldn't expect to get a reply rate anywhere near 50%. I guess what you said was just closer to 5%, that is maybe the norm. That's just the nature, but there are a lot of people applying and the workload and volume on the other end, they're not necessarily going to be able to get back to anyone. But what in that process or that step, do you think could be improved or done differently on their end?

Jeannetta Maxena:

Let me mention that I initially started applying for positions like management analysts or neighborhood services coordinator. After talking with a professor, he said, "Jeannetta, you just need your foot in the door." So I applied to administrative assistant positions as a person with a master's degree and I still got no's. So my concern with city managers and HR directors are, we're sending no's to people who have a master in public administration for a job who only requires an AA degree. So what are we doing wrong?

              Especially to organizations who have a long list of vacancies. So the master in public administration programs across the country, as well as the local government management fellowship presents an opportunity to fill these vacancies and the void that is in local government of like having to find talent. Which I'm sort of responsible for now in my HR role. Yeah, definitely look, and I know that city managers are super busy. But look and see the people that are being denied the jobs. I think it will be quite surprising, we're denying jobs of people who have master level degrees. Then they would say, "Oh, you don't have experience." I'm like, "Well, I've been a teacher. I think I can handle an admin assistant role."

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah, that goes back to the somewhat sarcastic note up top, like two, three years experience in this role specific to this role in this kind of industry, even though it's theoretically an entry level role. Going back to takeaways though, I think one of the takeaways for the job seeker out there ... and we'll get to this part of your story soon is narrowing down or getting a better focus on the appropriate ... or I shouldn't say appropriate. But the best match of the type of job you want to do and that you can successfully get.

              Because you might, as you said, maybe at first we're shooting too high and it's not that you couldn't do those jobs. But on paper, it might be a quick no. Or it might not even be a person, the bot might be saying no. Then as you said, on the other end, it could potentially be too low. If you have this master's degree and you're applying for certain level ... and this is case by case. I know some people might disagree with this, but it might be the situation that they say, "Well, we're not going to hire this person with this degree for this job. Because they're not going to last in it, they almost are overqualified. So it's still a no."

              And if you focus on both ends, maybe you can get that sweet spot that eventually you get some more traction, which was part of your story that you actually wrote about in the PM magazine article recently. So not to jump too far ahead, but can you lead into that on the advice you got and how you not reimagined, but better focus what you were looking for?

Jeannetta Maxena:

So you're right, there are a lot of factors that prevent people from getting the job that they've applied for, including being overqualified. I think that we still have to keep in mind the need for a pipeline to city manager, local government management, as a whole.

              I did have a professor, I told him my frustrations that I'm getting near graduation, I wasn't getting a job, barely getting any interviews. He said, "Just get your foot in a door. What do you need to get your foot in a door?" That's why I applied for the admin assistant positions. Then eventually, becoming a local government management finalist and getting a job as a local government management fellow. I would say, getting the next job as an assistant too, took me narrowing what I wanted to do, being true to myself and finding what I wanted. I wanted to work directly with a city manager. I wanted that experience to know what it takes to be a city manager. That's why I started looking for those roles instead of applying for so many different positions and neighbor support coordinator or management analysts and some assistant, too. Because what happens is when you get those callbacks and people are like, "Hey, you apply for the job." Then you have to remember, "Oh, which job is this?"

Joe Supervielle:

Which job? Yeah.

Jeannetta Maxena:

I applied to so many different ones. So I believe that it's really important to focus in and to narrow in on what you really want to do. Once I did that, I started getting responses, I started getting interviews. I got an interview with a really amazing city manager who is smart, loves people, just really great opportunity for me. That is here with the City of Mary Esther. But it took me changing some things.

Joe Supervielle:

So you mentioned the fellowship, which was the foot in the door, which we will get to in just a minute on our list of to-dos for job seekers. But one more thing I wanted to touch on, on this portion is, you said transferable skills. You were a teacher, you talked about what you were doing at that job, but also why you cared so much. But teacher or not, there are a lot of different people coming from other industries, other jobs, or just straight out of school. But that goes back to, it's tough to really prove that on a piece of paper earlier in your career. But what are some transferable skills that are out there, that job seekers can focus on developing? And the hiring authorities can look a little harder, even if it's not so clear in that first, just piece of resume, the piece of paper that comes in the door. What are the transferable skills that helped you?

Jeannetta Maxena:

I think the main transferable skill was communication. Even interpersonal communication skills, your ability to talk with anyone, your ability to engage community or a classroom or a boardroom. Those sort of skills transfer over into local government, because those are the things that you will need to do. Especially in talking with community, community partners or citizens. So that is definitely a transferable skill. I mean, there's so many. If you are doing data analysis at your current job, that can be transferred over to local government. If you are doing IT at your current job, then that can be transferred over. Web administration, I mean, there's so many hard and soft skills that could be transferred over. But I think having a love of people and just loving to be around people and talking and making the world a better place, that's needed. And I think that will take you far, especially in local government.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah. And on the resume itself, it's hard to make a bullet list of skills or I'm a good communicator, that's such a generic thing. The job seeker can tie it into an accomplishment, I think that's helpful. It's not just, I'm a good communicator, but give a specific example of you displaying that skill and then the result that happened. You said you taught high school, if you're in the class, it's not just, "Oh, I was communicating with students." But it's, this was the problem, this is the plan I put in place, this is how I communicated it to them. Then this is the results, whether it was the behavior getting better or the test scores going up. I think showing a result on any resume is also what job seekers can focus on a little bit more. Don't just list out what you theoretically can or do in your work, but show the person you want to go work for how it can help them. I think that's good step.

              Let's keep going on the to-dos for these job seekers. Well, actually one of the big umbrella notes we had was just stay visible. So let's start there, give us some examples on how a job seeker can stay visible for the hiring authorities.

Jeannetta Maxena:

I love LinkedIn because it connects people and it definitely connects you with other professionals in the industry, in which you would like to be a part of. I learned how to communicate well on it, I learned how to market myself and it's not-

Joe Supervielle:

That's a huge phrase, sorry again for the interruption. For job seekers, you have to market yourself. Self promotion doesn't come easy to everyone. Sometimes it can be awkward, but you just said it. So sorry to interrupt, keep going. That was a perfect phrase right there, market yourself.

Jeannetta Maxena:

No, no, no. You're you're good. So another thing, well self-promotion, there are people in the local government industry that are very against you self-promoting yourself. You are a part of this organization, you are not supposed to self promote yourself. You're not supposed to da, da, da, da, da.

              Just being honest, as an early career professional, you want to be able to tell your story on your own. And a wonderful opportunity to do that is through social media and maybe even creating your own website. So marketing yourself, showing your skills, what you're good at, projects that you are working on. That is very important. And to be able to showcase, like show the pictures of you actively working, of you actively engaging the crowd, of maybe your writing skills and all of those abilities. That's important.

Joe Supervielle:

It's your contribution to the bigger picture, to the project, to the team, to the local government. It's not a, "Hey, I did this all by myself." That's crazy. No one-

Jeannetta Maxena:

Yeah, I agree.

Joe Supervielle:

No real person's going to do that. So self-promotion, it's a complicated phrase. It's not always just about you. It's, here's how I contributed to the team and job well done. And ultimately, here's how we positively impacted our community.

Jeannetta Maxena:

I agree.

Joe Supervielle:

So there's that fine line to walk. You want to take the credit that's due and put yourself out there on here's how I helped. But it's also about the bigger success story.

Jeannetta Maxena:

Yeah, definitely.

Joe Supervielle:

So LinkedIn's a good example. And then even it's not just about the job applications, like every business or local government has their website and their portal and all that. But what other platforms were you able to use to both stay visible, generally, so people could find you. But also the other way, like you more directly proactively putting yourself in front of them or finding applications beyond just a typical website.

Jeannetta Maxena:

So it's important. When I say stay visible, I mean, yeah, definitely join professional memberships. I am heavily involved in ICMA currently on a task force. And I'm going to start a new committee coming in September, The Welcome Ambassadors. Actively involved in FCCMA, which is the Florida City and County Management Association. Where you're talking and you're chatting and you're getting to know city managers within the same state that you are in. That's very important.

              I would also like to talk about NFBPA, the National Forum for Black Public Administrators who worked very hard to promote and to just be there for black public administrators. And I recently wrote an article for ICMA called, How to Get Your First Job in Local Government. It's not just a tool for self-promotion, this is to help up and coming people and people who are nervous and anxious about finding a job. They really want to work in local government and are trying to find a way and ... okay, let me try and help in this sort of way. Let me write an article, let me do a podcast with Joe Supervielle.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah, and also circling back to the ICMA Local Government Management Fellowship. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that seemed to be the stepping stone to get from, I've got no traction here, I can't even get responses for these lower level entry positions. But the fellowship can open that door. So how did that program go?

Jeannetta Maxena:

Yeah, so the Local Government Management Fellowship is certainly a bridge. I am so thankful for that opportunity. There has been hundreds of fellows who have entered the fellowship and have gone on and they still work in local government. Some of them are city managers, assistant city managers, directors. So, it's a wonderful opportunity. You can have a competitive salary, you can have good benefits. You will have dedicated mentorship. It's a wonderful opportunity. I saw it as a graduate student and I still see it today as someone who used to be a fellow. I had a conversation with someone who wants to transition to a career in local government and they said, "I don't want to be an intern. I need to make a certain amount of money."

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah, that's real life. Not everyone can start over and just be an intern. Let's be real about that. People have families and mortgages or rent due. Like that's a whole nother topic. But I want to be clear about that, the foot in the door thing can't always be, "Hey, get an internship." Do that while you're an undergrad college, maybe. Would be my advice.

Jeannetta Maxena:

No, and I completely understand. It's twofold. I will say that the fellowship is not an internship.


And there are fellows who are older than me. I'm a woman, I'm 32. So there are fellows who are older than me, there are fellows who currently have families, there are people who were a fellow or a past fellow who had a family. The fellowship has a diverse body of people. So I don't want people to go, "Oh, it's an internship. I can't do that." It could be a really good opportunity. I can tell you that I made something like $20,000 more, I'm going to tell you the exact amount. Like almost, maybe even more than that than I did as a teacher. So I think it may have been a decent opportunity. So consider it.

              I want to also say that host or organizations considering, or currently have a fellowship. You have to be mindful that people may have a family to take care of. So you have to ensure that ... and they have a master level degree. So they are deserving of a fair wage, a competitive salary and ability to take care of their family and really good benefits.

Joe Supervielle:

Also I'll jump in there too. It's not just about compensation because someone deserves it. It's about what are they contributing? And the value they're bringing to the local government is well worth it. So it should be a good deal for both sides.

Jeannetta Maxena:

Definitely.

Joe Supervielle:

Keep going, though.

Jeannetta Maxena:

No, no, definitely. I love that you mentioned the word, value. I think that we use the word value and worth interchangeably. I think they can be different. I do. I think that just all human beings are worthy of housing, that's just my idea. But I think that fellows bring a certain value to your organization. We're not just a fellow within your organization. We are committed to the ICMA Code of Ethics. You're getting highly principled, highly ethical people, passionate people who are willing to come in and do the groundwork and get the work done for the people. I certainly think that those traits should be of value within any organization. Because if we're creating a pipeline to local government or a pipeline to chief administrative officer, we would have all sorts of opportunities for people who are graduating with the NPA or the NPP to come in and start work and have the opportunity to move up in the management line. Because we have so many vacancies and they need.

Joe Supervielle:

I guess, a little recap there on the to-do for job seekers and maybe somebody to keep in mind for the people hiring. Is continuously work and self-improve on the resume and cover letters-

Jeannetta Maxena:

Oh yes.

Joe Supervielle:

And the interview process itself. Be proactive staying visible on LinkedIn, other social media and just different job platforms. Maybe being a little bit more aggressive searching for different things, whether it's Google or other state level.

Jeannetta Maxena:

I want to add something.

Joe Supervielle:

Go ahead.

Jeannetta Maxena:

I want to add something. So this has never happened to me, but I know people who have gone to like a networking event with NFBPA or FCCMA, slid over their resume to somebody in a position of power and that person has taken their resume, gone to HR and then a month later that person had a job. So networking and communicating and talking to these people in a position of power may help you. I don't know if that will ever be true for me, that would ever happen. I always had to do it the hard way. If it can be helpful to you or the listener out there, then yeah, you may be able to network with the right person who will help you get your foot in the door.

Joe Supervielle:

Yep. And getting there is not always easy. But state level, even more local level than that. And of course, ICMA annual conference this Fall in Columbus, Ohio.

Jeannetta Maxena:

Oh yeah. Can't wait.

Joe Supervielle:

Pricing available for students and otherwise, check that out, register for that. So those are the to-do checklist on job seekers. Again, whether it's your first level or first official job, or just trying to move up the ladder, so to speak. It's kind of the same strategy, it's just different specifics.

              Shifting a little bit, I wanted to ask you about your experience working on the ICMA job hunting handbook. Which I think will help give a tangible, bigger resource for people interested in this topic when it comes out. But, what was your role in that process?

Jeannetta Maxena:

Oh, so I was a committee member. I was one of the task force members. I was one of the younger members, one of the only ... not the only, but one of a few entry level people and one of the few millennials. So I was able to give a voice to people who needed to get their foot in the door. I mean, we had a really great group, a mixture of city managers, assistant city managers. There were management analysts and there were people like me.

              And for the most part of my time working on the task force to update the job hunting handbook, I was a fellow. So I talked about a lot of these issues and so we made some changes because I think words like facts were a part of that job hunting handbook. That's not really a part of our day to day life anymore. So, we had to make some much needed updates in terms of social media and how we get messaging out. So we definitely did that. We talked about all sorts of things like the need to ensure that people have housing opportunities and maybe even helping folks with relocation assistance. But all those kind of things.

              I was just happy to bring a voice of someone, a millennial and someone new to the local government to just bring some ideas. They were like, "Oh, huh, I didn't think about that." I was like, "We can't focus on all city managers. We have to focus it on people who are just starting out too." And it was like, "Okay, what's your idea?" But everybody was very open and very nice to me. So, I was appreciative to be a part of it.

Joe Supervielle:

Okay. One question, just hearing you talk about that a little bit, a little off topic on our bigger picture today. But as long as I have you, what is your opinion on relocation? Whether it is for that first job where I think young people are flexible typically and are able to make that move. But as you keep going and as new opportunities might arise. And this isn't necessarily speaking for yourself, but in general, the idea of having maybe ... not having to. But more often than not, switching towns or cities for a new opportunity, it's obviously a personal choice in pros and cons. But what do you think about that for, again, the job seeker and also the people doing the hiring on just the fact of the profession that there's some movement?

Jeannetta Maxena:

Well, Joe, I am glad you asked. I'm going to be totally honest and even a bit vulnerable with this. So I'm also the Judy L Kelsey award winner, ICMA award winner. That gave me a stipend and it's still award women, younger women in local government, local government management fellowship women. So without that, and without my new community, the City of Mary Ester providing relocation assistance, I would not have been able to move. I would not have been able to be in the job that I am at because I just don't have the foundation.

              Let's be honest, some people can ask their parents for a couple thousand dollars. I can't do that. My parents are elderly, my mom's from the old South, my dad is an immigrant, came to this country with nothing. I can't ask my elderly parents for help with relocation because they just don't have ... even though they would probably try. But they just don't have it. So without having something in place, I wouldn't have been able to get the opportunity. And the community would not have been able to receive my talent. And I don't want to toot my own horn, like, "Oh, I'm the best at that."

Joe Supervielle:

No, that's why I'm here. I'll toot it for you. No, I'll jump in right there and say, that goes back to this isn't charity. It's not, "Hey, we're giving a good compensation or salary because we just feel good about it." It's because you're getting the value back. So relocation assistance is just another level of that. It was an investment in you. Other opportunities, other people, other cities out there might have the same chance. Where put in a little bit more upfront to help make it happen. I think more often than not, the payback will be greater. So it's an investment, it's not just cause.

Jeannetta Maxena:

I agree, Joe. Thank you for that.

Joe Supervielle:

I would assume your boss and everyone else on your staff is probably, I think, nodding along. Like, yeah, that was well worth it. We would, of course, do it again to have her here.

              All right. So I appreciate all your insight on job seeking and hopefully a perspective. It's not really, I wouldn't say advice for the people making the hiring decisions. But just the perspective of someone who's gone through it. It's not hypothetical, it's not a report, it's not anything. You just heard it directly from the source. Circling back to the, what do you want people to get out of this that we asked up top? What are your final thoughts or what's your final message? If you can just condense this down to a couple sentences for those two audiences, the job seekers and the hiring authorities. What is the takeaway? What do you want them to learn out of this?

Jeannetta Maxena:

For job seekers, I want you all to know, never give up on your dream. Working in local government, helping others, forming policy, creating new programs. We're all a part of my dream and I'm living it today. So I don't want anyone to ever give up on their dream of working in local government, going to city hall and being a part of the change. You can certainly do it, you will get your foot in the door. It may take some time and I know people who, it took time for them to get there. But you will get there. And your first job may not be the one you've always wanted. But it will be the start of something amazing. I love local government and I really believe that you will, too.

              And to the people who are in a position of power, I would say, be open to those who are coming from a different industry, who have transferable skills. Be open to people who are passionate. Like I told my boss, I don't have a lot of budget experience. But I'm willing to learn and he was like, "Jeannetta. I like that a lot."

Joe Supervielle:

Bosses love hearing, "I'm willing to learn." And helping with projects that they're probably short staffed on. That's what people want to hear.

Jeannetta Maxena:

That's right. So those are certainly my takeaways and my last pieces of advice.

Joe Supervielle:

Okay. Well, some of the resources and to-dos we mentioned today will be linked on the podcast webpage, including the ICMA Fellowship Program. Jeannetta Maxena, thanks for joining us today. I appreciate it.

Jeannetta Maxena:

Thank you so much, Joe. Have a good one.


Episode is sponsored by

Guest Information

Jeannetta Maxena, assistant to the city manager of Mary Esther, Florida. Former ICMA Management Fellow, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Episode Notes

This episode focuses on how to get your first job in local government for job seekers. And how to expand your talent pool for organizations needing to hire. Jeannetta Maxena explains the frustrations experienced and resiliency needed during her job search. Then she shares five tips for job seekers:

  1. Explore the ICMA Local Government Management Fellowship (LGMF) or similar program on a state level. These don't always mean internship or low pay.
  2. Stay visible. Get published, go to events, and more.
  3. Use a variety of digital platforms to search.
  4. Improve (and sometimes customize) your resume/cover letter.
  5. Establish good working relationships. 

Jeannetta then recalls her experience working on ICMA's soon to be released Job Hunting Handbook, and closes the show with final advice to job seekers and decision makers looking to hire them.
 

Resources

ICMA Local Government Management Fellowship. Applications open September, 2022.

FellowsHost Organizations
 

Job Hunting Handbook - updated version coming soon!
 

Career Resource Guides

 

2022 ICMA Annual Conference Content Available On-demand Through December 31!

In-person and digital attendees were emailed credentials for the conference online platform on 9/12/2022. New users can still register for on-demand access.

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