Advise the Advisor! Share Your Tips for New MPP/MPA Graduates

My full time job is advising Duke students who are interested in public service careers, and I’ve been here for 16 years. Since 2008, my job has become exponentially more challenging. The expected retirement wave hasn’t materialized, or positions haven’t been re-filled. The large number of military personnel returning from a 10-year war has clogged up the federal hiring system for non-veteran young people who want to start federal careers. The Presidential Management Fellowship program has changed from a program requiring nomination to a chaotic free-for-all. Most state and local governments have their own budget crises that have reduced hiring opportunities.

Even with these tough circumstances, students keep choosing to attend graduate programs in public policy and public administration. They are often fresh from experiences in Peace Corps, Americorps or Teach for America, and they want to influence change in their communities, their countries, or the world. Both idealistic and realistic, our students want to find meaningful work that also provides job security and adequate compensation.

I’m lucky to work at a university with a national reputation that attracts the interest of top applicants and employers. But helping our students find public sector jobs is more challenging than ever before. More and more students are choosing positions with consulting firms and government contractors. Some find this work satisfying, and others feel too removed from decision makers and real change. In advising meetings, I encourage them to evaluate their own needs, values and motivations to make sure they are making good decisions.

Now I need advice from the GovLoop community! Although I worked in the public sector before coming to Duke, the environment has changed substantially since I left in 1997. If you were in my shoes—a career counselor for public policy or public administration students—what helpful career advice would you offer students who are motivated to change the world, to influence policy, and to apply good analysis to important problems? Could you share:

  • good decisions regarding your career that could be generalized to today’s graduates?
  • happy accidents that you made possible through your hard work or good timing?
  • missed opportunities that could have changed your (or others’) career trajectory?
  • behaviors that you have observed that either enhanced or damaged a new staff member’s reputation?

An open question like this could elicit lots of meme-worthy responses–please save those for Facebook or Twitter. But if you have some interesting analysis or observations, share what you’ve learned. I promise to pass it along to the next group of world-changers.

Donna Dyer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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