Whether you’re fresh out of undergrad or switching over from the private sector, starting out in government is hard. Even more challenging is doing it as a millennial. A lot of older workers already have some pretty skewed views of millennials’ work ethic and it’s often difficult to manage government’s bureaucracy and red tape like a more seasoned professional. However, starting out in government is not impossible. In order to make it a little easier, First 5 is launching its monthly spotlight series to feature advice and stories from millennials that work for the government.
We recently sat down with Patrick Adams, Special Advisor for Digital Strategy at the Department of Energy (DOE), to talk about his experience as a young govie.
Behind the Social Media Man
Adams has worked on the Digital Team in the Office of Public Affairs at DOE for almost two years. In his own words, his job is “to tell the American people what we do at the DOE, why it is interesting, and why it is important and really try to show that your taxpayer dollars are being put to good use.” This means maintaining a strong digital presence on the Department’s website and social media accounts, as well as the Secretary’s social media accounts.
Adams added, “we use all of these platforms to tell stories about how the Department is investing in clean energy, how science and technology are improving peoples lives, and how the DOE is developing polices that enable companies to drive the clean energy revolution forward.”
Before starting his government career, Adams worked at a consulting firm. In comparing his experiences in the private and public sector Adams said, “I find the work more meaningful at DOE because the organization is clearly driven by mission.”
Adams works with and tells the stories of DOE employees in the field who are working on a variety innovative projects from mapping the human genome to 3D printing cars. “It is really humbling being able to work with these people and tell the stories about all of these important resources we have,” he explained.
Pros and Cons of the Public Sector
In addition to underscoring how passionate he is about his work, Adams also offered some more general pros to counter some of the often-cited cons of working for the government.
Con: Processes in government are tied up in red tape and are unmanageable.
Pro: “In government we can solve a lot of really big problems and answer important research questions with resources that are unimaginable to the private sector or academia,” Adams said. For him, this reinforced his belief that the government exists to solve big problems no one else can.
Con: Office culture is traditional and bureaucratic.
Pro: Many offices are breaking out of this conventional culture. Adams said in his office they “have a dartboard and a scooter and we are constantly challenging the status quo of office norms and what is considered professional. In our work, we try and strip away the jargon and just tell a clear and compelling story and that has definitely transferred to our workplace environment.”
Workplace innovation, however, does not happen over night so millennials looking to transition into the government workforce have to be prepared to tackle some of the institutional hurdles. Adams advice is to stop thinking about yourself as a student and start talking about yourself as a professional. He explained, “I’ve learned that lack of professional work experience does not invalidate how your experiences, whatever they may be, can be translated to pubic service.” These experiences are what make each millennial unique and ultimately can be what helps innovate the culture of the public sector.
Adams continued that this reshaping of the workplace is a good step forward in attracting more millennials to the public sector. “Making people feel like they don’t necessarily have to fit into a box and that they can bring their creativity, problem solving skills, and personalities to work is important to me and other younger people,” he explained. Adams has been fortunate enough to find an office that allows that and he is optimistic that other government offices will work to adopt such policies in order to pick up some of the untapped millennial talent.
Want more millennials stories straight from the source? Be sure to check back the first Thursday of every month for a new inside perspective from young govies. If you want to be our next featured millennial, email us here.
This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.