5 great tips to help you navigate your own career.
By Megan Roach, Marketing & Sustainability Manager – Beverly Hills, CA
While pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at Chapman University, I applied for a graduate level internship with the City Manager’s Office for the City of Laguna Niguel. I drove to the interview thinking the internship would either define my career path or push me in a completely different direction.
At the time I was undecided on government or non-profit work and if government, at what level? Federal and state government seemed too bureaucratic and I had little exposure to local government. The non-profit sector was the logical choice in order to fulfill my career goals of helping people and making a difference.
During the interview I was in awe of then City Manager Tim Casey’s enthusiasm as he described the City of Laguna Niguel, its demographics and current projects. I answered his questions regarding my background and goals and at the end of the interview Tim said “I want to show you something exciting.”
On that rainy day in 2001, I followed Tim outside and across the street to the City’s first synthetic turf soccer field (in heels no less). I listened as he explained the durability of synthetic turf and the benefits for the community youth sports organizations. I was inspired by Tim’s passion for the project and in that moment realized I wanted to learn from him and feel that same passion about my work. Thankfully Tim saw something in me that day and offered me the internship and so began my career in local government.
Thirteen years later I am now the Marketing & Economic Sustainability Manager for the City of Beverly Hills. Over the years I have been asked by interns for tips on how to navigate a successful career path in local government. My answer usually includes one or all of these five tips, which I hope provide helpful insight to those starting their careers, whether in local government or another field.
Have the wherewithal to know that your work ethic, work quality and ultimate work product are not just a reflection of you, but of your City Manager and ultimately the City Council. Rosanne Badowski, co-author of Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship With Those Above You says “When someone tells you that you need to “manage up,” what he or she is really saying is that you need to stretch yourself. You need to go above and beyond the tasks assigned to you so that you can enhance your manager’s work.”
Develop Your Leadership Style
American businesswoman Sheryl Sandberg has spearheaded a campaign to ‘Ban Bossy’ and I couldn’t agree more. In our society, for women in particular, speaking up for oneself and voicing your opinion is considered by many to be bossy, but in actuality it’s being assertive. As an intern I wanted my colleagues to like me and consider me a team player so I was kind and empathetic. Those two qualities are still important to me, but equally important has been developing my personal leadership style: smart, strategic and assertive.
- Smart – do your homework on a project; know the history, the major players, and the budget/fiscal impact.
- Strategic – analyze the project from all angles. What are the benefits to the organization and community? What are the drawbacks? Put yourself in the shoes of the City Manager and City Council and think of the questions they would ask.
- Assertive – speak up when you have something to contribute, but be respectful of the opinions of colleagues, community members and others.
Learn To Not Take Things Personally
I recall my first few months as a manager and a large-scale marketing project I was assigned to oversee. I spent a considerable amount of time and energy working on the project and was devastated when ultimately it did not move forward. I viewed the decision as a reflection of my work, when in actuality there were timing and funding constraints that could not be overcome. My current boss (a smart, strategic and assertive woman) said to me: “Megan, you need to learn to not take things personally otherwise you’re going to drown.” At the time her words were hard to hear, but it’s some of the best professional advice I have received.
Celebrate Your Successes
Remember that no one person is successful on their own. Each individual is part of a team – a division, a department and an organization. So, when your team hits it out of the park, celebrate those moments because when they happen it’s magical.
Take on projects that no one else wants; attend City Council meetings to learn the hot topics even if you don’t have something on the agenda; volunteer for a community event. While these may not be requirements for your job, they show your willingness to expand your skill set and become invested in the organization and the community.
Working in local government is exciting and challenging. No one day is the same and there will always be a need for savvy professionals to take on innovative projects as communities evolve. These five tips provide early career professionals with insight on how to navigate a successful career path in local government.
Megan Roach is the Marketing & Sustainability Manager for the City of Beverly Hills, CA.