Do you have a passion for public service? Maybe you’ve always been the policy wonk in your circle of friends? Or are you perhaps concerned with making the world a better place? From local municipalities to the federal government, there are opportunities for individuals in nearly every industry. Whether your discipline is in the liberal arts or engineering, there are numerous chances to leverage your unique skills.
The Vault Guides offer a sample of careers in public service. Each guide gives, among other valuable information, an overview of the job and entry-level requirements. You’ll notice that some jobs may overlap with a variety of majors or industries.
Numerous opportunities in government and public service exist in Richmond. If you’re considering a government career, it would be wise to try and complete an internship before graduating. As Richmond is the state capital and a medium-sized metropolitan city, VCU students have the unique access to a variety of internships within local and state government agencies. Experience alone won't get you the job, make sure you are building pratical skills alongside these experiences.
Practical skills are an essential part of positioning yourself as a highly-sought after candidate. VCU has a partnership with LinkedIn Learning, formally Lynda.vcu.edu, to provide free skills training. Consider taking some of these recommended courses as a part of your training.
- Google Analytics Essential Training
- Statistics with Excel
- Excel 2016: Pivot Tables in Depth
- The Basics of Data for Analytics
- SPSS Statistics Essential Training
- Up & Running with ArcGIS
- Information Literacy
- Grant Writing for Education
- Management Tips
- Having Difficult Conversations
- Managing Small Projects
- Up & Running With Public Data Sets
- Note-taking for Business Professionals
- Introduction to Data Analysis with Python
- Public Relations Fundamentals
- Speech Writing
- Presentation Fundamentals
While preparing for a career, start considering some of the job titles and career paths that you might be interested in pursuing.
Common career paths
- Campaign Worker
- Congressional Aides
- FBI Agents
- Federal & State Officials
- Intelligence Officers
- Foreign Service Officers
- National Park Service Employees
- Policy Analysts
- Press Secretaries/Political Consultants
- Regional & Local Officials
- Urban and Regional Planners
- Legal Secretaries
- Environmental Lobbyists
- Land Acquisition Professionals
- Political Reporters
- Corrections Officers
- Forensics Experts
- Police Officers
- Crime Analysts
Explore potential opportunities
Most hiring managers are trying to answer the following three questions while reviewing your documents:
- Can you do the job?
- Will you do the job?
- Will you fit in?
Think of the resume and cover letter as your opportunity to answer these questions while showcasing your different skills and talents. These documents are your first impression to an employer and are crucial elements in securing an interview. While varied experiences (i.e. internships, volunteer work, clubs, etc.) are important, it is equally vital that those experiences are formatted in a way that best illustrates your career journey.
Start with the job description
Perhaps the most important tip for making your documents stand out is to use industry lingo. Review the position description, highlight key words or phrases, and reflect that same terminology in your resume or cover letter. This shows you have done your research and are familiar with the culture of the industry.
Highlight courses, group projects, or papers that are related to working in your field. Perhaps your group assignment was consulting with a local organization on a logo rebrand or to develop a communication strategy. Or maybe you’ve completed a course on counseling skills. These aspects of your academic career are valuable and are certainly worth highlighting on a resume or cover letter.
Federal government resumes
If you are interested in working for any federal government agency, creating a federal resume is a crucial first step. Unlike resumes for private companies and organizations, the federal government will want to know some very specific information (most federal resumes are 2-5 pages in length). In order to make sure you have provided all pertinent information, use these tools:
Your cover is meant to achieve two goals:
- To demonstrate your genuine interest in the position
- To explain why you are the MOST qualified person for the job
It’s tempting to fill your cover letter with clichés about work, commitment, etc. This will not help you set yourself apart. Instead, use your personality and tell your own story – honestly. Be specific about your skills and show them in action. Follow these general rules for writing a good cover letter.
- Keep the cover letter short (less than one page) and written in the tone of the organization
- Tell the organization why their mission connects with the work you hope to do
- Explain why you are the right person for the job and support it by discussing why you have some of the skills listed in the position description
- Offer contact information and outline a plan to follow up (if able)
If you are sending your files digitally to an employer, make sure to include your name and the words “cover letter” in the file name, it will make it easy for employers to locate your file (i.e. Last Name, First Name, Cover Letter).
The interview is your opportunity to share how your skills and experiences have prepared you to be successful in this role. Interviews take practice. If you’ve never interviewed before, explore the interviewing page to learn the basics of a successful interview.
Much like the private sector, government interviews come in all different shapes and sizes – one-on-one, phone, skype, group, project-based, etc. Depending on the size of the organization, you can expect one to two interviews before receiving a job offer. However, the hiring timeline for any government position (especially federal vacancies) can be longer than what you’re used to when interviewing in other industries. For example, most federal organizations strive to fill their open positions in 80 days or less. After you apply and the position closes, the agency should make a decision in 6 to 8 weeks. Complete the next steps after applying to help your chances of gaining an interview.
At the interview
Nearly all interviews contain two parts, common questions about your experience and situation-based questions to gauge your fit for the position. Afterward, you’ll be given the opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer.
While you cannot control the interview format or timeline, you can be prepared to speak about your relevant skills and experiences. Take some time to reflect on what you’ve done and how you can fill this organization’s needs. Below are some sample interview questions that you might encounter during the job search:
- In what other government agencies are you interested? In what ways do you prefer this one over the others?
- Assume that you had limited resources. Describe how you would do more with less.
- Describe a project where you used quantitative skills and data analysis to determine and recommend policy options, either in a workplace or school setting.
- Describe in detail a project that you designed, implemented, evaluated and completed. How did you define and measure the success of this project?
- Pick a state. Tell me the 5 most important policy problems in that state. Now pick one of the issues – what is the nature of the problem? What could be done about it? What information would you need to gather?
- Tell me about a time you worked with a large data set. What was the project? What were the challenges?
- What do you consider the most important issue in your policy area of interest and what approach would you take to begin the process of determining a policy direction or solution for the problem?
You’ll feel more comfortable during your interview with a little practice first. Interview Prep is a web-based video interface that allows you to respond to a series of pre-recorded interview questions from your computer. Afterward, you will be able to review your recording to see how you did.
Have an interview coming up? Practice with one of our career advisors. Schedule a one-hour mock interview and we will show you how to answer likely interview questions and offer tips to help you make an excellent impression.