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How to Thrive as a New Graduate in the Public Sector

Congrats grad! You did it—graduating college is a huge accomplishment. However, it can be a little daunting to go from term papers and group projects to eight hours a day in an office. This is especially true for those graduates going into public service because the government work environment is significantly different from the everyday workplace.

Fortunately, you are not alone in making the leap to the public sector and there is plenty of advice out there on how to make the transition as seamless and effective as possible. Here are five tips that we found most valuable for post-graduates starting out in government:

  1. Don’t shy away from innovation. It can be easy to listen to the stereotypes about government and believe that you can’t make a difference because all change is tied up in red tape. However, this may not be the case. Don’t be afraid to offer new ideas about your work and how to improve processes. If you feel like no one is listening, try changing up how you package ideas. Management often responds better to organized pitches that include metrics and rate on return information.
  1. Leverage breaks. Even if you are not eating lunch every day, use this time to step away from what you are working on and take a breather. Even if you think you don’t have time, stepping away from a project to grab a snack or take a lap around the building can allow you to clear your head and be more productive in the long run. Lunch breaks are also useful to network with your colleagues and those working in other departments at your agency. Whether it’s a walking meeting or a lunch date in the cafeteria, use your time off the clock to build your network and your knowledge.
  1. Avoid rooting your identity in your job. Work-life balance is key for all sectors but especially in the government. Public servants are inherently ready to give their all to service but you can’t let yourself get lost along the way. While your own values are probably intertwined with your agency’s mission, try disaggregating yourself from the job. Make sure you have at least one hobby that helps you relieve stress and relax after you leave the office. Additionally, while it is important to build relationships at work, avoid neglecting the ones in your personal life. These people are critical to helping you maintain your life outside of the office.
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re like me, it can be hard to admit that you need help at work, especially if you are coming from college where you are used to working independently towards a final grade. However, the public sector is a little different than college and is largely a collaborative environment where you are encouraged to ask for help even if you are working on a project independently. In addition to gaining a better understanding about your tasks and roles, asking for help is a great way to avoid making mistakes and building on success.
  1. Pay attention to the news but don’t let it rule your life. No matter who is in office or what is going on in government leadership, it seems like there is always something in the news that is a cause for concern for government employees. While you should stay cognizant of what is going on in your department and the government as a whole, don’t let fear of the unknown paralyze you. With phrases like budget freezes, hiring freezes or government shutdowns getting thrown around, it can be easy to be anxious about what the future holds for you as a public servant. Rather than succumbing to anxiety, be prepared with a plan for all possible outcomes in case these things do happen but avoid worrying too much.

Have a tip for new govies that we didn’t mention? Add your comments below!

This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.

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Bill McFadden

This is excellent advice, particularly #3 and #5. Another item I would add is, don’t stay in something for too long if you don’t think it is something you are planning to stay in. Although my next thought could appear to contradict my previous one, one should stay in their first entry level job long enough to develop some credibility. Although generally younger workers change jobs more frequently than in the past there is still a stigma attached to a “job hopper”. If one changes too often employers may wonder if that individual is taking themselves or their jobs seriously.

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