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What are some of the most desirable traits which should be present in a person who is seeking a job in the federal government, specifically within the realms of Public Policy or International Politics?

One of my main goals is to become involved in the political mechanism of the U.S., perhaps out of a naive desire to be influential and to communicate radical ideologies to lawmakers. I would like to know of some of the traits which are prominent in people who are politically successful or are seeking to begin a career within the federal government. #government #politics #federal-government #federal-employment-law #government-contracting

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David’s Answer

Thanks for your question. The single most important trait you could bring to such a job would be the ability to collaborate effectively with other people. Little to nothing is done in the federal government by a single person: If you cannot present your ideas clearly, effectively, persuasively, and in a manner that inclines others to work with you...well, you probably just won't accomplish much. It helps to have great critical thinking skills; "being smart" is always a plus; education (formal and informal) makes everything easier. But, take a few minutes to do a brutally honest self-assessment: How well do you take criticism? Can you recognize a better idea and change your mind? Does your pride tend to get in the way of common sense? Would you be able to distinguish between a person you did not like and their idea -- which might be great?

The next most important traits are pretty obvious -- but also tend to be specific to the actual job (or department) you would be in. For example, I worked at the State Department as a diplomat; foreign language skills are always useful, as is a willingness/ability to live in other nations and cultures. Within the Commerce Department, experience in the private sector might make you a more effective advocate of that sector's interests. In the Interior Department, a grasp of resource extraction technologies or land use management would be terrific. Legal training helps at the Justice Department. More generally, I'd encourage you to bring an openness and a driving curiosity. People often don't appreciate the sheer breadth of activities conducted by the federal government, and I always found my interaction with other agencies and departments to be an ongoing "master class" in subjects I had never studied in school: intellectual property law, the national energy grid, farm subsidies, undersea mining, how to assemble a crude nuclear weapon, the timeline of pandemics and potential responses, and so on...It can be pretty fascinating. If you come willing to listen, and to learn -- and not convinced that you already have all the answers -- you'll be better positioned to contribute meaningfully to some really neat work.

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Kim’s Answer

Hi Zachary!

Trying to effect change within the governmental bureaucracy is a major challenge! Things move verrrrryyyyyy slowwwwwllllly! Having worked both in city and state gov't, what I have observed is that you can have the best ideas in the world, and the most solid research in support of the ideas, but people don't want to listen. They don't like "change," and many are closed-minded. So, if you really want to effect change. . . . what is more important than getting credit for the ideas is that you manage to get them implemented!! This sometimes means that you use other people to advance your ideas. You plant the seeds with them, because you know they can suggest it to others in a way that they might listen.

Other times, change comes from community "grassroots" organizations, or, at least in years past, from media coverage. There are many organizations that might be worth working for, as opposed to going into politics. And it is always good to have at least one "investigative reporter" who you stay in contact with.

Also, in order to make the informal connections that so often are used to advance ideas, one needs to go to social events, parties, etc.

So, as to what traits seem to be successful, it would be very strong people skills. Ability to remember names and faces, and trivia ("Hi John! I haven't seen you since Christmas! Did you manage to give away all those puppies?") People like it when you make them feel good about themselves (Emotional intelligence). You will also need a lot of patience, the ability to not openly show your emotions, to think before you speak, to recognize the various shifting alliances, ability to negotiate and compromise, public speaking skills, debating skills, etc., and, the ability to be open-minded!

And, above all else, the strength to stay loyal to your own personal beliefs. If you are successful, "the other side" will try to recruit you. It starts slowly. They offer you a seat on a committee, that is stacked against you. Then they try to get you to support the decision of the committee. But, being on the committee will also give you access to others, so you go ahead and do it, thinking you will be able to have some influence. Sometimes you can, other times, you can't.

I would recommend you read "Rules for Radicals" by Saul Alinsky. It is from a long time ago, so some things have changed. But it will help you to think and to understand more about the process of social/political change.

I spent the better part of my law enforcement career trying to improve the working conditions and professionalism of the department. I had a seat on the city's first Labor-Management Committee, was pulled off of patrol by the Lieutenant to help him write the budget, successfully fought off an attempt to abolish our department, etc. It's a lot of work. I truly enjoyed it, and hope you do too!


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Shannon R.’s Answer

Proven responsibility, honesty, transparency and fiscal responsibility. These are the basics for background checks and security clearances. Keep a clean record.

Second, take law classes aimed at public policy, State, Local and Policy. Also look at legal writing courses and history.

Third, depending on your level of education, volunteer, intern or look into clerking for a policy maker you admire. You can volunteer for campaigns and events as a supporter at the very least.