Saturday, 2 February 2008

Jean McNulty Talk: Getting a Job in the Public Service

Veteran Public Servant and Communication Researcher Jean McNulty gave a free talk to Communication and Culture Graduate Students on the topic of ways to become employed in the public service on Tuesday, January 22, at Ryerson (11:00 to 12:30, VIC104). There was a good turnout of about 25 people, and McNulty gave personalized advice to each student present, as well as delivering a prepared talk. James Cairns and the Communication and Culture Graduate Student Association were instrumental in organizing the talk. Barbara Crowe, the York Director of the ComCult Programme, facilitated the discussion.

McNulty’s talk focused on five basic skills required for being employed in the public service:

1) Policy Knowledge: She advised that policy knowledge in a specific area is a good start, but not enough to get the job. Students should have knowledge in an upcoming area of need for the government. For example, a lot of environmental policy is being worked on currently at all levels of government, but if you want to work on telecommunication policy, currently there is only work federally in that area.

2) Industry Knowledge: Along with policy knowledge, students should have working knowledge of, or experience working or volunteering with, the groups that the policy will impact. Policy is written with citizens, interest groups, and industry in mind from all sectors, and knowledge is needed of these groups to write informed policy.

3) Proven Expertise in Applied Knowledge: Ways of demonstrating your applied knowledge include published papers, professional reports, conference presentations, or work consulting on research projects (both quantitative and qualitative analysis skills).

4) Administrative Experience: Administrative experience does not mean just secretarial work; administrative work means managing people, budgets, and organizing groups to work effectively. Any experience doing this in terms of conference organization, journal publication, or being an instructor or teaching assistant and leading tutorials are ways of demonstrating administrative experience. Also, non-partisan experience in administration is definitely important for the public service. Administrative experience will also demonstrate that you know how to work with other people, and can understand your role and place working in a hierarchy or bureaucracy.

5) Writing/Language Skills: Communication skills are one of the most important skills to hone to differentiate candidates within a pool of applicants. Writing demonstrates a person’s attention to design, grammar, and detail. Knowledge of the culture of the public service and an understanding of the jargon are also demonstrated through writing, so writing and communication skills are the dominant skill for presenting the above four required skills. If you desire to work federally, French language skills are also needed.

McNulty advised that these five complementary skills will be needed for most Junior Analyst or Internship positions. She said that the main ways to get a foot in the door are through applying to positions such as:

1) The Ontario Two-year Internship Program (due by Jan. 30th each year):

2) Federal Government Policy Leader Program (posted in September/October each year):

3) Apply for Open Positions: Open positions appear throughout the year at the above websites as well.

4) Term or Contract Positions: Summer internships, short term contracts, and student co-op placements are all ways to get a start in the public service. Once you’re hired you will also have access to internal postings which are not opened to the public.

5) Consulting Firms: Decima, Bearing Point, Price Waterhouse, and other major firms also hire in these areas. Junior level positions can be a place to get a foot in the door. Look for communication positions or junior analyst positions.

6) Foreign Service: For those with an eye to traveling, you might want to learn more about writing the Foreign Service Exam. See:

Remember: Make sure to thoroughly review the websites for any of the above places before applying or going for an interview.

Briefing Notes
In most of these positions, writing a briefing note will be a part of the interview. McNulty’s advice for writing the perfect Briefing Note includes:

1. Key Issue: Identify the Key Issue for the Government, and provide a limited number of options for dealing with the issue.

2. Options for Action: Itemize the options for action in detail, and describe each. Usually three or four options will be required at the most. (e.g.) 1) Immediate action items, 2) items that require more time or money, and 3) radical or extreme solutions that might require more investigation.

NOTE: You should check the "culture" and "format" of the place you are working for the options section of your Briefing Note, because some places will use old stand by options such as 1) Do nothing, 2) Wait and see, 3) Respond when action is required, etc. Other places may not use this language based on the work that is done and for stylization purposes. You can think of this as similar to New Journalism's turn away from the inverted pyramid style of writing news articles and press releases.

3. Recommended Option: Identify and explain the main recommendation.

4. Background: Provide background information on this recommendation, the history that has led to this issue arising, the parties affected by it, and sources where more information can be found on the issue.

These basic requirements should not be considered fixed in stone, and their order and structure can change depending on the issue being researched.

Links to McNulty’s Work

1) Mass Communication in Canada:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you pr for posting this (via the comcult listserv)! i was unable to attend and was so disappointed. thank you.