Five Public Service Career Myths

Back when I was an undergrad in the ’80s at Cornell, the opportunities to participate in public service were scattered throughout the campus in some postings at the Career Center, internships through the social work and Human Development and Family Studies programs, fundraising through the Greek system and service programs centered in Annabel Taylor Hall. You had to be assertive and creative in finding these opportunities. Fast forward to the present: Many universities now have public service centers where students can access service learning opportunities and alumni can find positions in public service. However, many myths still abound in the field of public service, and you will need to research these careers to find the best fit for you.

Myth#1: Public service=government jobs. Public service is so much more than government jobs. Opportunities exist in the arts, law, consulting, environmental preservation and so many other non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Consultants are also hired by NGOs to assist with funding, technology and other needs.

Myth #2: You cannot survive on a public service salary. While you may not get rich in public service, if you do your research and choose wisely, you can find a public service job that can pay the bills. Completing a Masters in Public Administration or Public Policy will also help you in finding a job with a higher salary. Employers may also pay more for an employee who comes from the private sector with valuable skills such as fundraising or project management.

Myth #3: You will become “stuck” in public service because private sector businesses will not hire you. Again, do your research. If your career plan is to “give back” by working in a public service job for a few years, then moving to the private sector, you will need to choose positions that allow you to develop transferable skills. These skills may include foreign languages and cultural understanding that allow you to do business in other countries. They can also include fundraising, project and people management, understanding of diseases, policy administration and problem-solving just to name a few.

Myth #4: Public service is woefully behind in technology. It depends on the organization. Some NGOs are incredibly savvy when it comes to technology and consultant use. These consultants are hired to find public and private sector funding for technology needs. They are also hired to advise on the best use of technology in these organizations.

Myth #5: Public service careers are the only ones in which you can make a difference. Oftentimes, organizations and companies in the private sector will partner with government and NGOs to give aid to these organizations and to provide public service opportunities for their employees.