It’s no secret that there are government departments where careers go to die. This isn’t the case with every department at every entity, but it does happen. Some people even use their government jobs as their retirement plan, and I’m not talking about the TSP.
“I got bored being retired,” one of my former colleagues told me. “I thought this would be a great way to spend my retirement.”
In 2011, Jason Kay offered great advice about getting ahead in a government job, including adding to your skillset via education.
Having been there myself, I can say that getting an advanced degree is a rewarding experience. However, if you work for a government entity and want to get one, plan carefully. Picking a degree to pursue on a whim is how you end up with a government career that dies.
Check the Mirror
Before you decide on which degree to pursue, take stock of yourself. As suggested by Kay, look at your strengths and weaknesses. You can take a personal SWOT Analysis. If you happen to work in a technical department, you’ve likely completed these analyses on software or hardware. I had to complete one on my city’s entire IT department when I was in grad school.
Performing a personal SWOT Analysis can be eye-opening. However, we aren’t always the most objective when assessing ourselves. It could behoove you to ask a colleague or even your manager to fill out your SWOT.
Pinpointing some possible gaps in your skillset may point you in the direction of an area of study that will fill them. At the same time, identifying your strengths might also take you in a completely different direction. During a leadership course, I took the Gallup Strengths assessment. I was working as a records analyst and document manager. My assessed strengths pointed to a continued career in records management.
If I wanted to focus on the technical side of RM, there are degrees in Data Analytics that could help me understand the back-end of the databases I managed. The longer I remained in that position, the more I wanted to be able to do the day-to-day maintenance of those databases, but I didn’t have the skills to do so. A more technical education would have helped.
Another option, one that I did pursue early in my government career, was Information Sciences. As I’ve written previously, RM is a bigger undertaking than many entities think, and the better prepared you are, the better served your employer will be. If you’re more interested in the curation of your entity’s records, look into a Master of Library and Information Science program. It’s not just about library books, though many a librarian, from the Library of Congress to your local library has an MLIS.
Check the Landscape
My strengths and weaknesses assessment was very eye-opening for me. I planned to stay with my employer, but I wanted to move up in the proverbial world. As Kay suggested, I started following the listings in our Human Resources department to see what was available and how I could leverage my skillset.
There are times when even a lateral move within your organization will require a graduate degree. A planner in my division had earned his Master of Public Administration online in order to qualify for his position.
They are the norm in education, becoming necessary in some states if you even want to break into the profession. In most cases, you must possess a masters if you want to increase your salary beyond base pay.
For Federal positions, you must hold a masters degree, such as ASU Online’s MA in Emergency Management and Homeland Security, in order to qualify for GS-9 level jobs or higher. It’s been five years since Kay pointed out that online education options were increasing. They’ve gotten even greater, allowing members of the military to finish bachelors and masters programs while overseas, preparing for life after combat.
Make a Change
There are times when your department or division just won’t fit your career goals. That doesn’t mean you have to leave your government entity. It could just mean you set your sights in a different direction, from science to art or vice versa. Thinking outside the box educationally is a great way to up your governmental career game.