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12 Golden Rules

Written by Chuck Hale

If you find yourself looking for a new position in local government, or are considering a lateral transfer between agencies, here are a few suggestions. Looking for a new position in local government can be traumatic, exciting, challenging and frustrating. How you feel about the experience is usually tempered by the outcome. Trying to advance your career in the public sector is a task that some people become quite good at, while others never quite seem to master.

Rule One

Never quit one job before landing a new position. Prospective employers often look at breaks in service with a jaundiced eye. It usually means that you were forced out or left your previous position before you wanted to, and this is always a warning sign to anyone looking at your work history.

Rule Two

Always check out the position you are applying for. Find out all you can about the community, the organization, the history of the agency, why the last person left the job and, most important of all, what the employer is looking for in this position. Speak with employers, recruiters and other persons who may be “in the know” about the position. The more you know about the position, the better you can emphasize your own qualifications.

Rule Three

Write a good cover letter that specifically addresses the issues surrounding the position as you know them. Try to find things in your own background that match up with what they are seeking. Keep the cover letter brief—no more than one page—but stress your own qualifications and strengths. Remember that the cover letter is often the one thing that sets you apart from the other candidates in the mind of the recruiter or employer.

Rule Four

Remember that finding a job is a two-way street. You (and your family) must want the position as much as the employer wants to hire you. Never take a position unless you are absolutely certain that it is the right move for you and your family. Too many good executives had short-circuited their careers by taking a position in haste and then regretting the decision nearly as soon as it was made.

Rule Five

Keep your resume brief, in other words no more than four pages and keep it up to date. Make sure to include both daytime and nighttime telephone numbers, your cell phone number and current email addresses. Nothing is more frustrating to a potential employer than to make countless calls, or send emails that get returned, trying to track you down.

Rule Six

Avoid using facsimile machines when submitting an application. These provide poor-quality and unimpressive-looking resumes and cover letters, and should be avoided at all costs unless there is no other way of making a deadline, in which case you probably have not adequately done your homework about the position anyway.

Rule Seven

Don’t send “blind” letters of recommendation. These are absolutely meaningless and most recruiters will ignore them and will find their own sources when checking you out. In many cases, they may ask for references simply to see whom you do not list, and then call that person about you.

Rule Eight

Don’t expect confidentiality in your application. Most employers cannot guarantee that your application will remain confidential. Besides, they are going to want to call people about you and if they can’t do that, they can’t really give you a fair and impartial evaluation. If you are afraid to let your present employer know you are looking around, it may mean that you have problems in your present position.

Rule Nine

Don’t clutter up your resume with copies of every certificate you ever received and a list of every training course you ever attended. These are rarely impressive and are generally ignored. Instead, try to distinguish yourself from all the other applicants. Concentrate on your unique qualities.

Rule Ten

Be selective in your application process. Don’t apply for every job that looks interesting just to see what happens. Don’t waste your own time and someone else’s time in applying for a position that you do not really care about or for which you are not qualified. It is easy to tell whether a cover letter is a generic one or was written for the specific position for which you have applied. A generic one attracts the wrong kind of attention and rarely gets satisfactory results.

Rule Eleven

Be realistic in your expectations. It is a waste of time and effort to apply for a position for which you are obviously not qualified and only results in a bitter experience when you receive a letter of rejection. Be realistic in assessing your qualifications and set your sights on something for which you have a legitimate chance to succeed.

Rule Twelve

Don’t be afraid to call the potential employer and ask them about the position. Most will be glad to discuss the position with you and may let you know right up front if your background is what they are seeking. If the person handling the application process is not willing to share this information with you, it probably means that someone else has the inside track for the job. Save your time and energy for another one!

There is one last piece of advice I can offer to anyone interested in advancing their career in local government, and this transcends all else in importance. Never give up! Only a fraction of job-seekers in the public sector land gets a job the first time they try. The vast majority of applicants experience a fair number of setbacks and rejections before finally succeeding. Instead of getting discouraged, treat each failure as a lesson and learn from it. Become more polished, get better at writing your cover letter and researching the job, and become more adept at marketing yourself.

Charles D. Hale is the president of Resource Management Associates, an organization that specializes in designing and administering customized written examinations and assessment centers for police and fire personnel. Charles is the author of Police Patrol, and The Assessment Center Handbook for Police and Fire Personnel. He may be reached at RMA2500@aol.com.


Published in Law and Order, Jun 2005

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