BLOG: Transitioning From Academia to Government

IPAC Chat is a monthly series prepared by members of the board of the Manitoba regional group of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.

This month’s post is prepared by IPAC Manitoba Communications Chair Emmet Collins.  Emmet is a policy analyst and French Language Services Coordinator with Manitoba Families as well as an Adjunct Professor of Political Studies at the University of Manitoba. 

In a recent post, Jared Wesley discusses the challenges facing university students looking to enter government and provides helpful tips on how to get your foot in the door.  Having recently gone through the process, this felt like a good opportunity to reflect on my experience transitioning from academia to government.

A bit of background is in order.  In 2016 I completed a PhD in Political Science from Carleton University and, in the process, 12 straight years of university.  I had worked other jobs for most of that time, but never in government.

It took well over a year of looking to find the job I’m currently in.  Given the difficult fiscal situation faced by all governments, hiring opportunities are rarer than they once were.  That makes for a difficult situation for any applicant, but in retrospect there are a few things I could have done to make my life easier.

  • Breaking down my skill-set: A PhD gives you a lot of skills, but outside of academia it can be difficult to communicate exactly what those skills are.  Example: I showed a friend my resume to get advice, only to be told that no one understands what’s involved with “preparing a syllabus.”  What a human resources person screening a resume does understand is “reviewing and synthesizing academic literature,” “designing various types of assignments,” and “preparing an assessment rubric,” all of which are part of preparing a syllabus.  I had to spend some time really breaking down the previous work I had done to figure out what parts I could demonstrate were relevant to the job at hand.

 

  • Previous experience in government: although internships and placement co-op opportunities for students were sometimes paid, I never felt like I could afford to leave my then job. This meant that I made it through three political science degrees without so much as a day as a civil servant.  That situation is not necessarily uncommon, but I now encourage my students to take advantage of hiring opportunities for students.  When you’ve been in government before, it’s easier to demonstrate how your experience make you a good fit.

 

  • Asking for more detail: Towards the end of my search, I had a conversation with someone from the Manitoba Civil Service Commission who had been on the hiring committee of a job for which I applied.  It was only then, after several months of looking, that I learned that I could get feedback even for positions I applied but didn’t interview for.  It’s common enough to get feedback after you interview, but asking after applying (and not interviewing) was something that had never occurred to me.  That step can give you that extra bit of information you need to improve your resume, or improve how you interview.  Talking to human resources experts who have actually looked at your resume is one of the best ways of getting good feedback on where you might be able to improve.

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