Category: Career

Path to Public Service Profile featuring Matthew Smith

Path to Public Service Profile featuring Matthew Smith

Name: Matthew Smith

Job Title: Business Continuity Coordinator

Recommended Reading:  How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Song stuck in your head right now: “Free (with Drew Love)” by Louis The Child


What was your path into public service?

If I’m being honest, I actually kind of stumbled upon public service. I went to college at UC San Diego and when I graduated I truly had no intention of pursuing a career in the public sector. I planned to work as a sports reporter at a San Diego news station. All of my plans changed when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I had a choice: stay in San Diego and pursue my career or return home to Sacramento and spend as much time with my father while I still could. To me it was a no-brainer. I was driving up Interstate-80 the next week. I was able to spend several quality months with my father before he passed, and I’ll never once regret making the choice that I did. 

With that being said, I still needed a job! Sacramento is home to many California state agencies and it only made sense to pursue a job with one. Week after week I sent out applications in the mail. At the time it was paper only, and let me just say that I’m so happy the state chose to allow online applications. I had a great process down: print out all the jobs I qualified for, fill out the applications all week, and send out a mass of papers on Friday. My local post office soon began to greet me by name when I walked in. I had a few interviews here and there, but not much luck until I had an interview at the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS. I interviewed for two positions at CalSTRS, and although I didn’t get the first one, I made enough of an impression to get the second one.  

That was five years ago in April, and I’ve grown to love working for the State. What keeps me motivated is the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. I’ve been blessed to have truly caring and inspirational people around me. At CalSTRS, our mission to serve California’s teachers is integral to everything we do and I love working for an agency with such defined, meaningful goals. Through NxtGov I’ve met people outside my agency that are just as caring and inspirational, and I’ve come to realize that people are naturally passionate when they have a clear goal in sight and are working to achieve it. Working with such great people and the ability to develop myself both professionally and personally will keep me in public service for a long time. 

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now? 

At CalSTRS I work in a very small field, Business Continuity. It’s not well known or advertised, but state agencies are mandated to have plans in place for emergencies that may occur. Business Continuity is the ability for an organization to continue critical business processes during or immediately following an emergency incident of any kind. CalSTRS’ ability to function is critical to the lives of California’s teachers and if even a day is missed there are severe consequences. It’s my job to make sure an event doesn’t disrupt business by identifying and developing plans for CalSTRS’ most critical business functions. 

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state service? 

I would say don’t get discouraged during the whole process.  Being rejected for a position or denied an opportunity to interview can be so difficult and destructive for one’s confidence. It can make one jaded or even discourage them from continuing to apply. I think landing the job is a combination of skill and timing. Continuously work to improve your skill set and the timing will take care of itself. Whatever you do, don’t lose hope! Once you get that interview, make sure you’re connecting on a personal level with those you’re interviewing with. Sometimes the connection a hiring manager feels to you will overcome your lack of technical knowledge. 

How do you get the most out of working in public service?

Just like in life, it’s all about how much you put in it. You should be looking to develop yourself every day. Never settle or get too relaxed! Keep challenging yourself to take on new projects, develop new skills, and learn new techniques. Take as many training classes as possible. Listen to podcasts or read books to gain more knowledge of areas you want to improve in. Build as large a social network as you can, and provide value to others rather than just yourself. Have mentors and friends in other business areas to give you knowledge of the work they do. Volunteer in your community helping out in areas you’re passionate about. In general: be the best version of yourself you can be and make sure to enjoy life along the way! 


Check out our other Paths to Public Service Profiles!

Interested in sharing your story? Let us know!

Path to Public Service Profile Featuring Gloria Earl

Path to Public Service Profile Featuring Gloria Earl

Name: Gloria Earl

Job Title: Regional Support Manager (Staff Services Manager I – Specialist)

Recommended Reading:
People Are Never the Problem – Dr. Robert Watts
We Do Not Make Widgets Ken Miller
Extreme Government Makeover – Ken Miller

Song stuck in your head right now:  “I Smile” by Kirk Franklin


What was your path into public service?

My path into public service began in 2001 with State Compensation Insurance Fund in Fresno, California. My initial title with the state was as a Workers Compensation Insurance Technician (WCIT). I became a Lead WCIT after my first year and received awards for streamlining processes and assisting workers so they could get back to work sooner than anticipated. Although I did not know that I was going into public service, I did know that as a mother of two at the time I was ready for an enhanced income. I also knew that I wanted to stay in an industry that will allow me to help people and I was willing to work hard to support my family. I realized early on the importance of remaining humble, being true to myself by being of service to others, being a lifelong learner, and having a mentor. 

In 2006, I had the opportunity to move my family to Chicago, Illinois where I worked as an Underwriting Assistant for Chubb Insurance and Zurich North America. It was my education, prior insurance experience and state service that helped me meet the qualifications needed to get these positions. Upon returning to California in 2008, I was blessed with the opportunity to get reinstated with the state as a Disability Insurance Program Representative with the Employment Development Department (EDD) in Fresno, California.

It was with EDD that I learned that there were multiple career paths I could follow within the state. I learned of promotional opportunities by volunteering with a non-profit organization very similar to NxtGov, and realized that it was simply a matter of putting forth the time and effort to reach my career goals. I returned to school part-time in late 2010 to obtain a second degree and graduated on May 17, 2013. I was blessed to receive a promotion to an Associate Governmental Program Analyst (AGPA) with the EDD Veteran’s Unit and relocated to Sacramento, California in 2013.

From there, I accepted a position and transferred within EDD to become a Project Manager within the Workforce Services Branch. In 2016, I promoted to an EDD Regional Advisor (Staff Services Manager I -SSM I Specialist). To further enhance my Project Management and Technical Assistant experience, I accepted a position, and lateral transferred to the California Workforce Development Board (CWDB), which is where I work currently as their Regional Support Manager (SSM I – Specialist). 

I have remained in public service for the past 16 years because the state has many opportunities for lifetime learners that have the passion and drive to be of service to others. I remain in public service because I can stay true to passion, inspire and empower others by sharing knowledge, skills, while meeting great people and growing along the way. 

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now? 

Currently, as the Regional Support Manager with CWDB, I am blessed to work collaboratively with consultants and other technical assistance providers to provide workforce technical assistance to all 45 Local Workforce Development Boards throughout the state. I was fortunate to take lead on the Governors first workforce initiative that focused on regionalism after the passing of the 2014 Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA). I also have had the opportunity to spearhead the development of innovative tools and resources to help transfer knowledge to regional staff, Executive Leadership and my fellow teammates. I enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with other state agencies to learn from one another, and partner to accomplish workforce system change goals. 

Right now, I work two additional jobs. To constantly remind myself of the importance of customer service, I am a part-time Ticket Taker with the Sacramento Kings. As a lifetime learner, I desired to learn more about the importance of organized labor and workforce laws, so my third job is as the Secretary/Treasurer of the International Alliance Theatrical Stage Employees union. Within the next few years, if not sooner, I aspire to continue enhancing my skills by promoting to a SSM II or SSM III with a state agency that is looking for innovative ways to enhance their business processes/procedures, customer service, succession planning efforts, grant/project management, and staff empowerment. Throughout my career, whether private or public, it has been imperative to work under or surround myself with true leaders and work alongside a team to accomplish goals. I desire to be in a position where I can share my knowledge, experience and passion to help others to help the organization succeed and accomplish their goals, mission, and fulfill its vision.  

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state service? 

BE PATIENT, obtain a mentor/coach that may already be in state service, and understand it is a job trying to get a state job. 

I am not particularly a fan of the process to apply for a state job as a current employee of the state. I have heard nothing nice about the process from individuals desiring to work for the state. The process is way too time-consuming and can be very overwhelming to the average layman. The theory behind the application process seriously needs to be re-evaluated and streamlined in ways to find qualified individuals without taking up weeks of their time to apply for a job. It should be mandatory that hiring managers provide feedback to everyone who is provided an in-person interview. 

What was your strategy for applying to public service positions? In hindsight, would you change your approach?

I did not have a strategy when I applied for a position in public service. When I originally applied, I used the skills I learned in high school on how to properly complete an application and resume. The exam was taken at a physical location with an exam booklet and a scantron. It felt like I was taking the SATs.  The skills gained while in high school and through prior employment helped me get my foot in the door. I truly wish I had exposure to the career opportunities available in public service while I was in high school.  

My advice to anyone looking to begin their career in public service with the state is to be patient and humble. Let the reason you want to work in public service be your motivation. Gain access to mentors/coaches, particularly one that is in state service. Volunteer to gain skills, knowledge, and obtain the fundamentals needed to gain the position you want.  


Check out our other Paths to Public Service Profiles!

Interested in sharing your story? Let us know!

How can you mobilize across generations to transform public service?

How can you mobilize across generations to transform public service?

A beginning…

(1 of 3)  Four years ago NxtGov was an ambition. It was born out of a government improvement initiative and the need for a space for public servants to feel like they belong.

Over the years, I have seen several iterations of this movement. These iterations include a few name changes and failed experiments, but most importantly, they have included the names and faces of the people that have each contributed to the growth of NxtGov.

As the national political environment has questioned the role and efficacy of the public sector, we have been inspired and determined to uplift our public sector ethic and make permanent important spaces like NxtGov. Today, NxtGov is a reality that continues to grow, with the dedication of our members and brave leaders that step up when opportunity calls. 

Opportunity is calling:

We are recruiting leaders that will help us lead NxtGov through its next chapter- NxtGov as a non-profit!  

We are looking for leadership in the following open roles:

  • Board Position
  • Council Positions:

Timeline:

  • 10/11: Nominations Opened!
  • 11/4 @ lunch and 11/5 after work: info sessions!
  • 11/8: Nominations Closed
  • 11/19: Board Member Announced & Endorsements for Director Positions Close
  • 12/1:  Directors Announced

Process:

  1. Full description of the roles and timeline can be found here: http://bit.ly/NxtGovExecElectionPositions
  2. The Nomination form can be found here. (CLOSED) http://bit.ly/2019NxtGovNominations
  3. RSVP for Election Event: RSVP
  4. Meet the Candidates and Vote! 

READ ON… How did we get here? [2 of 3]; What is next? [3 of 3]

For any questions about the upcoming opportunities and changes, don’t hesitate to contact us at collaborate@nxtgov.org


Path to Public Service Profile Featuring Andrew Kehoe

Path to Public Service Profile Featuring Andrew Kehoe

Andrew found his way into public service through political campaigns where he has been able to work with elected leaders on policy development, community engagement, and programming in several portfolios. 

Name: Andrew Kehoe

Job Title: Civic Engagement Liaison & Thousand Strong Program Manager, City of Sacramento

Recommended Reading: Wow, way too many books that I will just talk your ear off about. 

Non-Fiction: Anything by Hunter S. Thompson or Jon Krakauer, 

Fiction: Cormac McCarthy and Philip K Dick.

Song stuck in your head right now OR Song you wish you didn’t like: I always have the Teddybears remix of Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees stuck in my head when I am walking around town. It may actually be a medical condition. 9/10, would recommend. 

What was your path into public service?

My path to public service was through political campaigns. I worked as an intern in political offices and then on various campaigns for issues and elected leaders. Political offices are by nature a little different than much of the public service positions out there. Working for them, I got to work with elected leaders on policy development, community engagement, and programming in several portfolios. 

Before I got into public service, I worked for a Fortune 500 company and the end result of all my work was really just a stock price. I enjoyed the people I worked with but never felt totally fulfilled by the goal of my job. I decided I would restart my career and became a 31-year-old intern in the legislature. 

I have stayed in public service for two big reasons: For one, I want to affect change in a positive way in the place where I grew up. At the City I am able to do that in a way that moves fast and has the latitude to try things that may only work in a unique place like Sacramento. I also enjoy the diversity of work. On any given day I could be working on a newsletter, typing a brief for the Mayor, hosting a stakeholder engagement session on a new program, and writing some policy recommendations. It never gets old. 

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now? 

My role in the Sacramento Mayor’s office is a bit of a swiss army knife type job. I do some program administration, some policy analysis, some communications and “other duties as assigned,” like planning community office hours or helping a constituent navigate our permitting department. 

Right now, I am very proud of the college savings account program I have been working on with my community partners at United Way. We are giving kindergarteners at select schools $25 in a Scholarshare account just for being enrolled in the school. Their parents can add money to this and we will match it up to a certain amount, and there are additional incentives for parents as well. We hope to ensure that, regardless of what a child does after they graduate, they have some money saved up for college, a technical certificate, or special vocational training.

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state public service? 

Campaigns are hard work. It is some of the hardest work you will ever do. It is also one of the best ways to get connected to an elected official if that is the route you want to take in public service. You will work harder than you ever have in your life. When you win, it is the best feeling in the world. When you lose, it is soul crushing, but you learn a lot. Go join a campaign!!

Final Thoughts

There is no right way into public service. Find the job that really speaks to you and don’t be reluctant to apply for something that might stretch your skills and abilities in new ways.

Civil Service in Five Years

Civil Service in Five Years

Civil Service Promotional Opportunities Expected to See Increases in Near Future.

By Lusine Sarkisyan, NxtGov Ambassador

The CalHR’s Statewide Workforce Planning and Recruitment Unit annually analyzes state workforce demographic data and has come to the conclusion that based on December 2018 data, approximately 47 percent of managers and supervisors of state civil service are ready to retire in the next five years. 

Civil Service Permanent Managers and Supervisors Chart

CalHR Statewide Workforce Planning and Recruitment Unit, December 2018 Data 

What does this mean for rank-and-file employees? That in the next five years, there is opportunity for promotions and development, potentially if all 47 percent retire in the next five years there will be 15,371 vacancies at the manager/supervisor level within the State of California. 

Additionally, based on data from December 2018, approximately 36 percent of rank-and-file employees will be ready for retirement in the next five years. Which means that there will be 62,658 potential vacancies. These vacancies would allow rank-and-file employees to promote up, but it would also open opportunities for individuals to enter civil service.

Civil Service Permanent Rank-and-File Chart

CalHR Statewide Workforce Planning and Recruitment Unit, December 2018 Data 

With all these potential vacancies in the next five years, there is going to be more desire by rank-and-file staff to pursue avenues for gaining knowledge of programs, professional development, counseling by upper management which will ultimately lead to various forms of mentorship. In fact, CalHR has recognized this need and has issued a policy for state entities to take a proactive and strategic approach to recruiting, developing, and retraining a skilled and diverse workforce to meet current and future organizational needs. As of August 2018, there are 34 state entities who have developed some sort of succession plan to address future organizational needs. Departments similar to CalPERS, Department of Consumer Affairs, CalSTRS, and others have some form of mentorship program to help develop their staff. 

It is important to identify that mentorship is not just about getting promoted and developing one’s career, but mentorship is a great tool that results in improved relationships with colleagues, increased motivation, and most importantly improved job satisfaction.

Additionally, with these vacancies whether rank-and-file level or manager and supervisor levels, individuals seeking to enter civil service will be looking towards programs and workshops to provide tools and information in applying and entering civil service. This means, NxtGov is going to be very busy in the next five years reaching out and engaging with the local communities and partnering with various entities to help increase the workforce. Are you ready to give a helping hand?


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Path to Public Service Featuring Megan Miller

Path to Public Service Featuring Megan Miller

Megan Miller has been able to find meaning in public service as a Grants Manager, where she will be in charge of issuing awards to grantees and program oversight from the grants management perspective for the Emergency Solutions Grants Program and the California Emergency Solutions and Housing Program.

Name: Megan M. Miller

Job Title: Grants Manager (SSMI), Division of Financial Services, CA Department of Housing & Community Development

Recommended Reading: 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (not necessarily to literally strive towards a 4 hour workweek but for the efficiencies & lifestyle balance it promotes)

What was your path into public service?

After almost ten years of corporate work in the private sector and on the outside having a “successful” career, my work often left me personally unfulfilled. I wanted to do work that mattered to the community around me to be able to have a greater impact in the Sacramento community that has become so dear to me and in my broader home state of California.

When brainstorming career opportunities that would be most meaningful to me, I immediately thought of the homeless population and the need for affordable housing for all Californians. From both angles – for the purpose of providing every human being in the Sacramento community with a place to sleep and for the purpose of providing safe, clean communities for all residents – the issues that we’re trying to solve truly resonate with me. I am excited to see the increased focus and spending on providing homeless assistance and affordable housing and I am honored to now be a part of the solution in Grants Management.

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now?

I just started in my position this past week and will be in charge of issuing awards to grantees and program oversight from the grants management perspective for the Emergency Solutions Grants Program and the California Emergency Solutions and Housing Program.

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state service?

Have patience and plan to spend 2-4 months or more in the application process from your first application to your start date in your new state position. There is a lot of hiring going on right now, especially within my department, which is great, but that also means the HR teams have a lot on their plates and the process from application through interview and hiring can take some time. Also, take as many exams as you’re qualified for and apply to a couple of positions a day until you land your job.

What resource/advice/practice did you find most helpful when applying for jobs in public service?

The email notifications feature in the job posting sites, especially CalCareers and governmentjobs.com were great in notifying me as soon as a position that fit my search criteria. Also I found it invaluable to connect with the people currently working in public service, especially via LinkedIn, NxtGov and those working at CalHR to learn about their career path – both from the perspective of learning about individual positions and about how those individuals obtained their current positions in state service. Everyone I had a chance to speak with was incredibly open to sharing their experiences. 

What was your strategy for applying to public service positions? In hindsight, would you change your approach?

Luckily, early on I got the advice to apply to lots and lots of positions and to expect maybe one interview per ten applications, so my approach was to find and apply to as many positions as I was interested and qualified for which really helped me set my expectations accordingly. The one thing I would have changed was to confirm and ask for an above minimum starting salary prior to accepting.


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Path to Service Profile Featuring Maximilian Zepf

Path to Service Profile Featuring Maximilian Zepf

Maximilian is a Staff Services Analyst at the Employment Development Department who has found meaning and fulfillment in his work within the Workforce Services Branch.

Name:  Maximilian Zepf

Job Title: Staff Services Analyst

Recommended Reading: Why Elephants Have Big Ears by Chris Lavers

Song in my head right now: Man On the Moon by R.E.M.

What was your path into public service?

A four-year political science academy called CIVITAS was what set me on the path to public service. It may sound strange, but I have always enjoyed the nitty-gritty side of politics – the how of government. The administration of laws and enforcement of regulations seemed to me like the most interesting side of politics; where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. In college, I gained a deeper understanding of the theories of public administration, eventually graduating with a bachelor’s degree and a hankering for real-world experience. I wanted to work for the government, so I moved to a government town, Sacramento, which also happened to be my home town. A neighbor suggested that I try applying for a Staff Services Analyst position at various state agencies. A few months later, I got an interview at the EDD, and after a few months I can confidently say that it was exactly what I was looking for.

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now? 

From the get-go, the EDD prepared me for public service by training me and fellow new employees on the major policies that we deal with every day. This training helped me appreciate the vast scope of the EDD’s responsibilities. I work in the Workforce Services Branch, helping administer EDD programs that help people find work. Programs are administered by field offices, which enter data into the CalJOBS.ca.gov website. Our job is to ensure that this data is accurate, which is important because your tax dollars (and mine) help pay for these programs. Data integrity is a huge responsibility, and it makes my work all the more fulfilling. If we do not do our jobs, funding could be reduced and real people could lose economic opportunities to better their lives. There are days where the complexity of data validation makes me want to stare at a blank wall for hours, but I have always left work knowing that good work was done that day.

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state service? 

There is no sugar-coating the state application process: it is as cold and unfeeling as the deep, dark vacuum of space. You will apply to many, many jobs, with nary an email reply. It may feel like you are going nowhere, but the more applications you do, the more likely someone will notice you. It’s a numbers game, pure and simple. Also, try to illustrate your skills as a problem-solver during an interview. I found this generated good feedback in multiple state job interviews.

What resource/advice/practice did you find most helpful when applying for jobs in public service? 

Write down one thing you learned from your interview. Don’t view rocky interviews as failures, because it isn’t the end of the road. Each interview will allow you to adjust your answers and how you carry yourself.

What was your strategy for applying to public service positions? In hindsight, would you change your approach?

As I stated earlier, the more applications you complete, the more likely you will find a way into state service. Come up with a weekly goal, and try to stick to it. Daily goals can lead to early burnout.

Final Thoughts

State work is not just about the benefits. The stereotypes come up as soon as you say you are in state service, but being in the state is worth the winks and elbows. I work with a team who cares about making people’s lives better. If you land a job where that is the case, it matters little what other people say. At the end of the day, it’s you who wakes up to go to work every morning.


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Building the Future Public Sector Workforce

Building the Future Public Sector Workforce

NxtGov and Innovative Pathways to Public Service invite you to help inspire students and young adults into public sector careers.

By Danielle Metzinger, NxtGov’s Deputy Director

Did you know more than 20% of all jobs in the six-county Sacramento region are in the public sector? That’s 1 out of every 5 jobs in our region! And with the public sector facing a wave of retirements at all levels, our region has an opportunity to bring in a new generation of skilled public servants.

NxtGov is proud to partner with Innovative Pathways to Public Service (IPPS) in their work to inspire young adults to consider public service and create accessible, inclusive pathways into public sector careers in the Sacramento region.

In support of IPPS, I’d like to invite our NxtGov community to learn more about their work and attend their upcoming leadership summit Building the Future Public Sector Workforce on August 29.

This free, half-day summit will bring together government leaders, educators, and nonprofit/industry partners to reflect on a region-wide study of public sector employment. This study includes the counties of Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, Sutter, Yuba, and Yolo.

During the summit, participants will hear from speakers and panels on the opportunities to mitigate barriers and bring youth and young adults into public sector careers. All levels of government in the region will be represented at this event!

Learn more about the Summit and register today.

NxtGov’s partnership with IPPS has brought about dynamic projects like our Millennials in Public Service video series and ongoing consultation opportunities for our Public Recruitment Committee, and I know even more exciting work is on the horizon. I hope you’ll be part of the effort to build the future public sector workforce and lend your perspective to the workforce challenges government faces every day. Now is the time to come together and help build the future public workforce for our region and beyond.


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Path to Service Profile featuring Laura Carr

Path to Service Profile featuring Laura Carr

Name: Laura Carr

Job Title: Air Pollution Specialist

Recommended Reading: Walkable City by Jeff Speck

What was your path into public service?

Lots of my family have had careers in the public sector, so I grew up with public service in the back of my mind as an option that was not only viable but attractive, presenting an opportunity to help people and leverage the power of government for good. Two environmental studies classes in high school posed big, concerning questions about the state of the planet, and a B.A. in environmental policy provided both a framework to grapple with them and further confirmation for me that policy work in the public sector was the best pressure point to try to address them. I volunteered part-time at a Caltrans district office to get experience working for the State, and then committed fully to that millennial rite of passage, the unpaid internship, at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in Sacramento. The internship evolved into a paid position, which I held for more than a year before opting to go back to school for a brief ten-month stint to earn an M.S. in economics. Four months after completing my Master’s, I got the job I’d been envisioning since college at the California Air Resources Board (CARB). I’m hoping for and planning on a full career in public service. The work is fulfilling, the colleagues are inspiring, and I’m excited to see what lies ahead.

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now?

At CARB, I’m part of the air quality planning staff, focusing on the San Joaquin Valley. The planning effort to clean the air and meet national air quality standards involves putting together usually quite lengthy documents laying out the strategy to cut emissions. Earlier this year, I helped write and compile a thousand-page plan for the Valley that had been in the works for well over two years—longer than I’ve been with the agency. Now that the plan is finished, we’re moving into the implementation phase, making sure everything is progressing as laid out in the plan. It’s a big task with lots of moving parts, but it’s a team effort, which makes it doable and rewarding.

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state service?

Know that you might not hear back about a job you’ve applied for; sometimes that courtesy isn’t provided, but don’t let it get you down. Relatedly, be patient, be persistent, and don’t despair if you don’t get the first position, or even the first dozen positions, that you apply for. Applying for jobs with the state is at least partly a numbers game, and finding the right fit is liable to take time on the order of months rather than weeks.

What’s it like living and working in Sacramento?

Great! It lives up beautifully to its City of Trees designation, has an eminently walkable downtown (see recommended reading), and it’s invigorating to be surrounded by so many other people who’ve chosen a path of public service.


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Why Big Brother Should Be the Model for Your Professional Narrative

Why Big Brother Should Be the Model for Your Professional Narrative

Your narrative isn’t some natural story waiting to be discovered — it’s something you develop.

By Arthur Shemitz, NxtGov Member Liaison

The start of summer is the best-worst time of the year: the annual return of Big Brother, the trashy real-time reality-competition show that locks a dozen or so strangers in a house/soundstage for an entire summer to fight, make out, and vote each other out. This season, I’ll be watching with an eye toward my next job interview.

See, I’m concerned by the question that traditionally starts the interview: “tell me about yourself.” It’s classically frustrating: seemingly freeform and inviting, yet in reality vague and confounding. How do I give you the highlights of my 20-odd years of life in a couple minutes? Can’t you ask me something more specific?

Sometimes it feels as if there is a right answer just out of reach. The question invites us to share our professional narrative in some concise and neatly packaged form. Answering it can feel as if we’re trying to gaze into the future towards the Wikipedia page that someone will hopefully write about us someday, screenshot the opening paragraph, and paste it neatly into the interview.

When I’m asked the question, I talk about how I fell in love with public policy in college through student government and my summer internship at my county Board of Supervisors. In my career I’ve worked for two State of California departments where I’ve developed expertise in project management and legislative affairs. I approach every policy problem like a jigsaw puzzle that I’m thrilled to solve, and I am grateful every day to work as a public servant.

The story I tell is neat, linear, and confident. It can produce the illusion that I purposefully set and followed a plan for myself.

But in reality, it is carefully assembled from a history that more closely resembles a jumbled mess of crayon drawings.

What you don’t hear in my narrative is all the things I left out. The primary motivation behind my first student government campaign was that I thought it would be really exciting to design campaign posters. For two years of college, I inexplicably thought I wanted to go into marketing. 

As I grew less interested in marketing and more interested in government, I focused less on poster design and more on my successful track record of policy implementation. When I grew passionate about retirement programs, I emphasized my experience working with budgets and the tax code.

This is where we return to Big Brother.

Big Brother airs in real time, producing three episodes per week based on its contestants’ contemporaneous activities. Unlike peer shows such as Survivor, the show doesn’t have the liberty of crafting the season’s story after all the footage is recorded. Instead, the editors might build up one player as a summer-long villain only to see them voted out halfway through the season, forcing them to pivot and focus on other characters.

This is how our careers work too. You can think one thing is absolutely the path you’ll go down, only to realize it’s something else entirely. You may begin telling a certain story about yourself, but realize after a few years that you don’t want that to be your story any more.

It can be tempting to think of our careers as something more like Westworld or The Good Place, following a master narrative carefully planned out from the first episode. But like Big Brother, our narratives are how we reconstruct a cohesive story from inconsistent plot development. The show adapts the story it’s been telling to match the real-time conditions in the game, and disregards the previous stories that don’t align with its current narrative. 

When you see a job that interests you, even if it doesn’t align fully with the story you’ve been telling yourself so far, you should ask yourself: how do I craft the narrative that will get me there? For me, it was empowering to realize that a narrative is not an objective and natural thing, but rather a selective recounting of my experience. It’s not that there’s one correct version of my story out there just waiting to be discovered. Instead, it’s a tool that I can shape to meet my needs.

Please don’t watch Big Brother this summer — it’s a terrible show and you should resist falling into its clutches — but as you ponder next steps in your career, take a moment to learn from its lessons.


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