How Do I Start a Career in Municipal Government?

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Austin from Daytona State College asks:

“I am interested in pursuing a career in municipal government.  What general characteristics and skills do municipal governments desire in candidates and how can I get started in government?  I’d appreciate your help!”

Thanks for your question, Austin.  You’ve chosen a sector with lots of opportunity available.  The good news is that local, state, and federal governments operate much like private sector businesses, so there are jobs in virtually any industry area you can imagine from administrative, human resources, IT, planning, management, and much more.

Many working in the government sector report enjoying the stability, flexibility, and benefits generally offered through their employers.  You might like these perks too, of course.  Below are a few things you can do to land your first job in government.

Candidate Characteristics Valued in Government

A 2016 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey of over 200 employers found 3 candidate attributes ranking higher in value with these employers than a candidate’s GPA.  The top 3 ranking candidate attributes include: (1) student major, (2) held leadership position, and (3) involved in extracurricular activities / clubs.  Additionally, this same survey found employers value leadership, teamwork focus, and communication skills as the top 3 candidate attributes on a resume.  Knowing what employers in today’s job market value is powerful information.  While this information is not specific to jobs in municipal government, it is still relevant and valuable as to what employer’s value in candidates.

Additionally, Government Excellence reported seven (7) key characteristics valued in leaders in municipal government including:

  1. Self-Awareness,
  2. Authenticity,
  3. Reputation,
  4. Ethical Behavior,
  5. Willingness to Listen,
  6. Excellent Communication Skills, and
  7. Optimistic Outlook.

Jobs in Government

Jobs in this sector can include positions like firefighters, policemen, and administrative clerks up to leadership/management positions (jobs like Mayor and City Manager at the city level).  As in general industry and business, there are jobs in every field including finance, accounting, administration, parks and recreation, planning, and much more.  If you have an interest in working in government, then there is likely a job that fits your interests, background, experience, and skills.

Complete an Internship

If your degree program allows for it, pursue an internship in municipal government as this will help you gain experience, build your skills, strengthen your resume, and enhance your professional network.  Additionally, your internship could lead to a full-time job upon graduation. If you are finding it hard to find internships, consider volunteering within your field to get your foot in the door.  Volunteer experience can be just as valuable as an internship or paid job experience.

If your academic plan doesn’t allow for any internship electives for credit, then complete a non-traditional “internship” (internship-like experience) by volunteering or working part or full-time within a municipality.  Even without receiving credit, these experiences can help you build important connections, enhance your resume, learn new professional skills, and position you for employment upon graduation.  Obviously, a non-traditional “internship” can offer you the same benefits as a real internship except for course credit.  Additionally, your on-the-job experience will help solidify your career choice and get you more excited about the rest of your college journey.

Build Your Personal and Professional Network

People hire people, not computers.  We need the help of others to succeed both on the job and in life.  Networking (engaging with people) is, was, and will always produce the best results.  Embrace saying hello to others, while reconnecting with people you already know.  One of the first things you should do is let all of your friends, family members, and connections know exactly what you are looking for and that you’d be grateful for any assistance that they can offer to you.  While many may not be able to help with a job lead, these individuals can offer tips, leads, introductions, referrals, and more that can be a stepping stone to landing the job.

Make sure to grow your circle of influence and network by attending community events.  Join professional associations in your field to connect with others in your field.  Utilize LinkedIn to grow your virtual network, find posted jobs, connect with recruiters, further your value proposition through skills endorsements and recommendations, and join industry related groups.

Join Professional Associations

Another way to build your network, reputation, and circle of influence is to join a professional association in your industry.  This is a great way to connect with leaders in your industry (municipal government) and learn of employment opportunity.  Don’t just become a member and do nothing either.  Get involved and volunteer for a board or steering committee.  This will provide you with the opportunity to showcase your skills and ability to produce results.

Contact Your Career Center

Most colleges and universities offer career preparation services to current students at no additional cost.  Simply put, students should leverage their career center as it is a valuable student resource.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  Furthermore, they likely have a job site exclusively for current students featuring jobs and internships posted with the institution. Set up an appointment soon.

Places to Find Municipal Jobs

One of the best places to start searching for jobs in government is the internet.  There are four (4) main types of websites that you should visit to find available opportunities in municipal government.  These include:

  1. Official municipal websites – Select any high interest municipalities and visit the official website to visit their careers/jobs section. Most municipalities have detailed application processes so you’ll be able to get a handle on what information is required along with how to officially apply for suitable jobs.
  2. Municipal league website – Each state has a municipal league that municipalities (cities and towns) can join. The league provides a variety of services including legal, legislative and training services to its members. Also, some leagues may have career centers where members can post job openings. The advantage to searching a municipal league’s career center is that you are not limited to positions within one municipality; rather, you are limited to the positions within that specific state. Visit the National League of Cities website to see if your state’s municipal league has a career center.
  3. Professional association websites – Some municipalities turn to various professional associations to help them find suitable candidates for specific jobs. There are numerous professional associations so look for the ones targeted to your career interests.
  4. Other employment websites – Visit various websites promoting government jobs. These include sites like Govtjobs.com and Governmentjobs.com.

Additional Job Search Methods

Most job seekers mistakenly assume employers post all jobs online through various job boards and company sites.  Jobs won’t always be posted online.  So, I suggest that you reverse this thinking by targeting employers.  Don’t wait for employers to post available jobs.  Develop a list of 25-50 prospective employers in your area that may have opportunity in line with your skills, experience, education, and interests.  Do some additional research and determine a decision maker to whom you’ll address your letter and resume.  This is a great way to get your value proposition into the hands of the person with the power to start a dialogue and ultimately hire you.  Companies are always hiring.  The downside is that they may not always be hiring on your timeline.  Get to the employer before everyone else.

Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for jobs to be posted.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.  Remember, you only need one job.

Consider adding other job search methods including:

  • Networking – Engage your network to build your own marketing army filled with individuals who can potentially provide tips, leads, referrals, introductions, job placement, and more
  • Job Leads Via Job Boards Using Double-Hit – After applying online, most go into hope and pray mode as they hope and pray an employer calls them in for an interview. Be proactive with employers by following up on all your applications.  Additionally, target market your value proposition to the hiring manager as well.  Research to determine who the decision maker is and craft a strong message to this individual highlighting how you can help them.  This is a great way to get your resume into the hands of the person who is making the hiring decision.  The first step is to apply through HR, then target the decision maker / hiring manager – the double-hit.  Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for a response.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.

Putting It All Together

Today’s job market is the best it has been in almost 17 years, so it is a good time to be looking for employment opportunity.  While the government sector may have some different application and eligibility standards, you’ll need to apply the same kind of effort and strategy to land jobs in this sector as you would within the private sector.  Work hard, be creative, network like crazy to move your value proposition forward.  Before you know it, you will have landed your starting point within government.  Good luck and best wishes!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon


About the Author

Robert Nealon

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching college students and professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career. Currently, he is a career coach at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Indiana University, a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional. He is an active member of Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Center for Credentialing and Education, Florida Association of Colleges and Employers, National Association of Colleges and Employers, and National Career Development Association. Connect with Bob via LinkedIn and Twitter.

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