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How To Become A Program or Management Analyst: Crowdsourcing An Answer.

As a Federal employee and a Walden University Alumni I receive a number of emails from graduate students wanting to obtain a government job.  A consistent question is how do you get a job as a program or management analyst.  I give some general advice on handling the application process and showcasing your skills in your resume but I would like to give more specific advice.  So I thought I would try crowdsourcing the community of experts on Govloop.

 

1)  What is the best way to prepare for a career as a management or program analyst?

2)  How do I showcase my skills on my resume?  What are the right buzzwords to use?

3)  How do I get the right kind of assignments to develop my analyst skills?

4)  Does experience outside of government count?  Could I use experiences in volunteer organizations to qualify?

5)  Could I count my dissertation as experience?

Tags: analyst, crowdsourcing, management, program

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Couple ideas:

 

-Buzzwords - use the buzzwords in the announcement.  While the title may be program analyst, in the job description it describes what the job actually is - which can range from writing budget plans to statistics and more. 

 

-Other key is to try to meet people in person whether they are coming to your campus, go to career fairs, go to networking events

 

-You can use experience from dissertation to volunteer to others.  You just have to make it really clear and sell it

1) Know the organization.  Everything they taught you in grad school is relevant to a very different context.  Government is a different universe.

2) Know the organization.  If they have some sort of Annual Report or similar, find it, get it, mine it for buzzwords relevant to the organizational challenges highlighted, and know what they mean.

3) Pure luck, and knowing what the buzzwords mean.

4) In my brief (3 weeks) experience assessing candidates for a management training program, I found that folks with more experience in different organizations (including volunteer, academic, etc.) tended to be more "nimble" when addressing organizational issues, and less likely to default to what the rules are.  Having said that, the same way that having the world's greatest romance provides precious little preparation for what one feels towards one's children, experience outside of government does not provide all that much of relevance, sad to say.  I have a nasty habit of corresponding with academics that write what I feel are outstanding papers in public administration, and I am constantly surprised by how blown away they are by what us folks know.  Not that we're smarter than them. but rather, there is simply a whole lot about public service that is essentially viewed through a telescope from Mars by many academics.

5)  Likely not, unless you did your dissertation on some public sector organizational exercise or intervention that you were "embedded" in.

 

I have a Ph.D., and access to more privileged information about the functioning of my entire government than a great many at levels far above me, that has leveraged my understanding about big picture issues in organizational functioning, change management, and effective/ineffective leadership.  In thirteen and a half years, nobody really asks me for my opinion, except in passing, and I watch people who are clueless, amoral, and negligibly loyal, climb up into positions of influence, where occasionally they ask for advice, and then ignore it.  I wish there was a formula I could pass on that says "study this, master that, and look there", but from where I stand it's luck, luck, luck, timing, timing, timing, and location, location, location.

When I first entered government, I had to write a knowledge test about a field I knew nothing about.  In preparation, I found the top 10 academic journals in the field, downloaded the last 10 year's worth of abstracts from them, and read all the abstracts.  Many papers have lousy abstracts, but enough have informative synopses that you can learn a lot.  In about a week or so, I became familiar with all the buzzwords, big thinkers, hot concepts, and zeitgeist of the field, and aced the knowledge test, apparently in very convincing fashion.

Having said that, there was an ENORMOUS amount to learn once I got in, and my quickie education in no way prepared me for the job, only for getting the job.

Thanks for sharing your experience. For a public service hopeful like myself the emphasis on "luck" is a little scary but feels quite true. Otherwise, I greatly appreciate the suggestion to look at annual reports of agencies to understand their current challenges. It is amazing what can be learned from these documents (I used the Human Capital Strategic Plan for GAO for a class assignment--very interesting) and I think I'll look into these documents from other agencies as I continue my job hunt.
2) The main thing grad students need to understand is that the federal hiring process and resume is radically different from private sector and they need a whole new resume version. Plus they need to look into the new Recent Graduates program and internship conversion. Wanting a job and understanding the complex hiring process are 2 different things. Also, they should look for jobs where there is less competition with veterans. 

Do you have any good resources for resume and hiring process quirks for a grad student like myself? I have seen many resources on resume writing, most of it is not straight forward. Certainly waiting on news re: Recent Graduates program though....

Thanks for your insights, Heather

Understand that few managers like staffing.  It is something they conceive of as having to do on top of their regular job.  I know because my job involves reading manager comments on our federal staffing surveys, and believe me when I say they view it as a burden, and resent anything that extends that burden.  They want clear choices, so that they aren't stuck at the end trying to decipher which of 11 people on the short list is right for the job.

So, your mission is not to impress them with how wonderful you are.  Your mission is to make it a no-brainer for them to identify whether you are a good fit for whatever roles their may be available, now or in the near future, in their little corner of the organization.

List the experience and training you have that is relevant to their context, the achievements you have made that are relevant to their context, and the skills you have that are relevant to their business lines and responsibilities.  If the relevant stuff catches their eye easily enough, then all your other fine qualities and many-splendoured skills can come out during an interview.

In effect, it is no different that what you look for when browsing through a journal in your area of specialization.  You're going to look at the authors, the abstract and the keywords, and you're going to decide if it warrants more of your time based on the clarity of the abstract, he presence of certain buzzwords relevant to your search interests, the conclusions or main points listed in the abstract, and the pertinence of the title.  Same thing with respect to resumés.  They're going to look for quick and easy signs of good fit to their operational needs.

Make sense?

Makes perfect sense, and I particularly like the journal/abstract analogy! Thanks!
This is a question I've asked many times, I certainly appreciate the question and all of the answers!
Thanks to everyone who answered this question!  I greatly appreciate honest and substantive answers. I have passed on your advice and even took advantage of it myself.  This is also a great demonstration of GovLoop's value.

Getting into government is tough.  Competition for entry level positions is tough with hundreds of candidates for every postion.  I have experienced this at both the federal and local levels.  My advice is look for temporary programs, career internships programs, research fellowships, etc. if you can while still in school.  You will become more familiar with government organizations and gain relevant experience.  Work in the not-for-profit sector also is a great opportunity for gaining relevant experience as is a position for any organization that provides government functions under contract, agreement or grant award. 

In showcasing your experience talk about what you accomplished and why it mattered.  For example, I handled 50 cases in one year and decreased the number of cases waiting for review by 20 percent.  Or as a result I was cited for providing great customer service and here is what I did for Ms. T.  Be specific but do not expect the person to know program details or acronyms.  You need to make the story compelling with limited explanation.  It is an art.  Practice and be satisfied knowing the more experience with preparing applications and being interviewed the more comfortable and prepared you will be the next time.   

Finally, I would agree with Mark, that timing or luck plays an important role.  You can not control who else is applying or who is making the hiring decision.  For my first government job, the first time I applied I did not get an interview.  The agency ended up not liking anyone they interviewed and re-opened the position.  I then got an interview and was hired.  At the same time I had three interviews for another local agency and was ranked second against three seperate canditates.  Rather than getting frustrated I tried to concentrate on each application and interview as a learning experience. 

Keep in mind that federal government hiring is a 3 stage process -- Rating, Ranking and Selection

 

1. Examine all applicants to determine who does and does not meet the minimum qualifications of the position. (Rating)

 

2. Assign a value to qualified applicants which allows them to be listed from most to least qualified. (Ranking)

 

3. Interview and hire (Selection)

 

Over 50% of applications are eliminated in the first step.  Often these are people who strongly believe they are super qualified but miss the deadline for application, fail to answer all the questions, or fail to properly document their answers.  Following directions is critical to most jobs and people who believe their education, experience or general all around excellence excuses them from getting the application in on time, answering everyone of the often trivial questions or fully documenting their answers are unlikely to make it past this step.

Hi all, I am a 24 year old water resource analyst at a water utility in the Coachella Valley.  I got my BA from Pomona College in Claremont, CA and double majored in Environmental Policy Analysis and American Politics.  This is my first "real" job that I am wholly committed to i.e. not hoping to get out of tech sales into the water industry.

 

We are an enterprise JPA between the municipal government and the city's redevelopment agency.  I mainly handle policy analysis, whether it's preparing for new drinking water regulations, helping facilitate regional watershed management, acquiring and managing grants, or administering local programs like landscape rebates.  I interface with everyone ranging from city government, to local developers, to ratepayers at large, to other water agencies, to statewide and national groups like ACWA.  Salary and perks are unbelievable, but getting increasing responsibility to implement policy with tangible consequences is the best part.  I love my job and hope that my experience will help guide other young ambitious public servants to gainful employment!

 

1) Pick a field and specialize in it.  I fell in love with water policy and spent my senior year gearing every environmental policy analysis course into policy solutions for regional water resource conflicts in the US Southwest, and I know far, far, far more about it than any other 20something I've met...so far.  Conflicts around Westlands Water District, the Edwards Aquifer, and the CO River Compact viewed through a political economy lens served as excellent case studies.  All of them involve heated contests between business, environmental proponents, politicians on either side, and local stakeholders.  This is where the rubber hits the road - understanding how interactions between different interests play out in the field.  If you're not aimed at a field as specific as water you should still be exposing yourself to people with the job you want, hopefully interning in the field, and trying to understand how to balance divergent interests within conflicts in a given arena.  I focused on companies that successfully navigated the regulatory framework and built out my knowledge from an understanding of their decision processes.  It is extremely helpful that I've worked in both sales and research capacities in the past, so I have a broad range of skills to apply (pitching rate hikes to the public involves a very different skill than auditing stacks of development agreements).  You will distinguish yourself with a comprehensive and multifaceted understanding of a specific industry's current goings-on.

 

2) If you're like most of us millennials you have a long list of short job tenures under your belt, from summer gigs and whatnot.  Pick the ones with transferrable skills.  Technical research is huge.  Any type of deal where you facilitate collaboration between departments (like finance vs engineering) is huge, because it shows that you're an excellent communicator regardless of your audience.  Project management and leading groups are huge.  Finance and budget development are helpful.  Being fluent with Office Suite is to be expected from any young person with a Bachelor's degree.  You want to show that you're an expert at "figuring stuff out" and communicating its significance in clear and unequivocal terms to other leadership elements within your organization.

 

3) Ask!  Pick classes where you can do technical research and presentations on complicated systems (like the regulatory morass for water in CA).  I turned my "soft" liberal arts social science degree into an extremely field-specific vocational qualification by taking the initiative.  Also find work doing research in the field either for free or for crap money.  If you're working, tell your boss you want to take on extra work to develop your research and communication skills.

 

4) Experience outside of government absolutely helps, including volunteering, especially if you're in a leadership capacity.  Here were some of the previous gigs I had that gave me relevant skills.

-Sales: corporate, door to door, vehicle, you name it - forced me to become an excellent listener, to think quickly on my feet, to maintain composure and craft persuasive language on the fly

-Working with kids in summer camps and autism treatment centers: taught me to shore up my charisma and learn how to retain the interest of a broad group with wildly divergent interests...finding common ground

-Working in startups ranging from clean energy to sustainable business to emerging media: delivered a HUGE range of administrative skills and interdisciplinary experience, because the nature of startups is that everyone has to do ten different things.  Any leadership role in a startup is insanely valuable for analyst work and they love students because they're smart and they work for cheap/free.

-Restaurants: composure, performance under pressure, interfacing with unhappy public.

-Contract research for private water resource development project: this one is pretty obvious and was crucial for networking and developing my knowledge base.

 

5) If your dissertation is on classical political theory, nobody is going to care about St Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle unless you can show that those analysis skills translate readily to the field you're aimed at.  If you still have a year or two in school, choose a dissertation topic on a relevant and current development in the field of your interest.  In fact, gear pretty much all of your remaining schoolwork in that direction.  I wrote a 100 page undergrad thesis on implementation theory (turning a directive - like a new law - into actual results on the ground), and through it focused on groundwater contaminant mitigation through CERCLA and other remediation policy alternatives.  Now I work for a department that implements directives in an environment thick with environmental regulations.  The match was perfect.  I don't have a graduate degree but I treated my thesis like an MPP dissertation, did the extra legwork, and it paid off.

 

So there you have it!  In a nutshell, get really really good at understanding a range of people and things, then making yourself clear when communicating your conclusions.  Beyond that specialize in a field of interest then just be dogged and persistent in scraping up relevant experience while you scour job listings on a daily basis.  If you do this in good faith, and push, and push, and push, and push, eventually it will give way.  My water authority initially passed me up for someone with more experience, but I responded to the rejection letter with "I am extremely disappointed, thank you for the opportunity and learning experience, please put me in touch with consultants in the field ASAP."  I followed up on those contacts.  They ended up calling me back a month later with a job offer.

 

Good luck!

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