internshipsMany universities require seniors to complete an internship in order to learn more about their proposed career. My major, criminal justice, required one and I was told this would give me experience to put on my resume and make me more attractive to employers. I enjoyed my internship experience and I am happy to say it worked- I got a job in the field! However, once I became a paid employee it was a completely different experience and I quickly realized being a paralegal was not for me.

When I entered my Master of Public Administration (MPA) program I finally found a career that’s perfect for me-local economic/community development. Once again it was recommended that I intern to gain direct work experience but my personal life is markedly different from when I completed my first internship.

Like most Master students I am much older than when I completed my undergraduate degree and can’t afford to quit my full time job. This causes a problem because we often get told “Your degree is great but you don’t have any experience so we can’t hire you”. This is a common frustration many young people have- how am I going to gain experience if nobody will hire me? In my opinion local governments are missing out on amazing talents because of this mindset. No, we have not worked in that exact field but have valuable skills that your average 19-21 year old who has the freedom to complete an internship doesn’t have. For example:

  1. I graduated from an accelerated program with a 4.0 GPA, worked full-time, took care of a family, all while maintaining a hold on my sanity. Many older employees often have similar home responsibilities (or more) while still killing it at work every day and succeeding in school. Local government jobs often require employees to wear many hats and older employees like myself have a proven record of not only wearing many hats but making those hats look good.
  2. Having more family responsibilities also means we are less likely to just quit if the job gets tough. Many 19-22 year olds won’t stay at a job if they don’t like it because they probably don’t need the steady income/benefits. At 30+ that option isn’t on the table for most of us. An effective government agency needs stable employees who are willing to be in it for the long haul-and once hired we’re reluctant to lose those accrued sick and vacation days!
  3. While we don’t have direct experience in that field we do have experience working for the government. We know the intricacies of dealing with elected officials, crazy classified workers who never get fired despite their unprofessional antics, and how to survive when your department head decides they can’t afford to continue providing office essentials such as pens and coffee. Most HR people will tell you that the most important thing when choosing a new employee is determining how well they can fit into the workplace culture. A former intern may have been great while working for a few months but once the shine of the new job wears off you may see a whole other side of their personality!
  4. Did you know that in order to be the President our Founding Fathers decided only one’s birth location and age was important? Many local politicians have never worked in a governmental capacity but were elected because of their passion for their community and have to learn what to do while on the job. The average person can learn their job duties on the job if it’s not a technical, highly specialized job. Besides, isn’t earning a college degree supposed to show that we are trainable?

I’m not expecting to be hired as the director of an economic development department right now just because I earned my MPA. Honestly, I’d be terrified to get such a responsibility without working in that field before. What we’re asking for is a chance to join the staff in the department so we can work and learn from experienced people in our chosen field. Whenever I do get that opportunity and if I ever find myself in the hiring position I hope I remember to be willing to take a chance on another passionate and ambitious person who doesn’t have the typical resume either.

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