Government positions are renowned for their great benefits and career stability. If you want to enter an exciting career field that will help you build useful occupational skills while shielding you from structural unemployment, then you can’t go wrong by looking for employment in the public sector. Job openings are limited, so you need the right qualifications, skills, and experience to stand out from the crowd. A relevant degree is integral to your employment prospects in the public sector, so make sure that you check out this guide on the 10 best degrees for government jobs before settling on a program.
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Useful Skills and Traits for Government Jobs
An Inclusive Mindset
In any role at a government agency, you can expect to interact with co-workers and members of the public from all kinds of social groups. People hold public departments to an extremely high standard when it comes to diversity and inclusion. A cultural faux pas or an insensitive statement can ruin someone’s day, undermine your department’s reputation, and put your job at risk.
With that in mind, you should be able to engage with individuals of other cultural groups, sexual minorities, ethnicities, nationalities, and protected classes as sensitively as possible. To prepare for a government job, it’s a good idea to research the needs and customs of the suppliers, clientele, and other people whom you’ll likely encounter while performing your day-to-day duties. You should also not be afraid to ask your co-workers and supervisors questions about culturally sensitive subjects if they pertain to your work.
Strong Written and Verbal Communication Skills
Government jobs often involve a lot of phone calls, emails, in-depth reports, and collaboration. Thus, if you struggle to express ideas clearly and concisely in person, on the phone, over email, or in written documents, then you may not be a good fit for most government jobs. Your degree program may not require you to take the classes necessary to develop the competencies that your ideal job position requires. For this reason, you should plan ahead and free up time in your academic schedule for relevant courses that will build these vital skills.
New legislation, fresh leadership, emerging geopolitical situations, and other unpredictable factors can significantly affect your department’s goals, purposes, and day-to-day operations. Because of this, you need to be ready to take on new roles and tweak your existing workflows at a moment’s notice. A candidate with a high tolerance for change and a wide berth of skills is more suitable for a government job than someone who feels a lot of stress when their routines change.
Many government agencies use an eclectic mix of new and old technologies. Even a single agency can use vastly differing equipment and systems at different offices. Using smartphone-based apps to record information that you’ll later enter into a 30-year-old database management system isn’t uncommon in the public sector. On top of that, many government employees still have to work with paper filing systems and other pre-digital technologies as their departments migrate old records to digital media. As a government employee, you must be able to embrace the newest technologies without being intimidated by the systems of yesteryear.
Competence in a Foreign Language
The U.S. sees millions of immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, visitors, and other foreign nationals every year. Moreover, American agencies often work closely with other countries’ institutions around the world. Although English is a popular foreign language in many countries, the majority of people around the globe don’t understand it well enough to conduct business. Thus, English simply isn’t going to cut it for many government roles. An extra language or two can greatly boost your salary prospects and career potential in the U.S. and almost anywhere else in the world.
While popular foreign languages such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, and Mandarin are incredibly valuable in the public sector, you shouldn’t discount languages with fewer speakers or languages that aren’t in the limelight in the American public education system. For example, there is a huge shortage of Americans who proficiently speak less popular foreign languages such as Georgian, Turkish, Farsi, Urdu, Swahili, and Punjabi. Some government agencies provide generous scholarships to students of these critical languages, so you may want to look into these opportunities if you’re linguistically talented.
If you list a language on your resume, then you should have test results or some other kind of credential to prove your competence in the language. For roles that require proficiency in more popular languages, your interviewer may conduct the interview partially or entirely in that language. With that in mind, you should really make sure that you’re honest about your proficiency in a language when applying for a government job.
Clean Criminal Record
Government departments rely on the public’s faith to accomplish their goals. Furthermore, government workers tend to have access to citizens’ private information. As a result, government positions are almost universally limited to applicants with a clean criminal record and a high standard of moral conduct. Even if you pass a criminal record check, law enforcement agencies and some other government organizations make applicants take a polygraph and complete other tests to learn more about their history and measure their lawfulness. If you’ve engaged in criminal activities of any sort, then applying to a government position will likely be a waste of time.
Confidentiality is key in the government sector. Information leaks put innocent people in danger, and workers who break government confidentiality agreements typically face severe legal and financial penalties. Individuals who like to gossip or can’t uphold strict standards of information privacy should not apply for government positions.
Willingness To Relocate
State and county government agencies typically don’t require people to move very far from home. However, if you plan to work for a federal department, then you should be open to moving across the country. While a job might open in your area, opportunities for advancement often come when someone from another branch across the country retires or changes roles. Government workers who are unwilling to relocate aren’t considered for promotions as often, so they may face career stagnation.
Ability To Collaborate
As a government worker, you’ll have to work with your co-workers in your department, nonprofits, private contractors, and members of other government departments to achieve an ever-changing array of goals. Applicants for government jobs should be able to express their ideas effectively, take criticism, and respect others’ opinions. On top of that, government agencies often have tight deadlines for projects, so they want people who understand the latest collaboration technologies and can communicate concisely and in a timely manner.
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The 10 Best Degrees for Government Jobs
1. International Relations
The world is more interconnected than ever before, so governments need professionals who can effectively work across national and cultural barriers and understand complex global situations to make optimal decisions. In your first couple of years in an international relations program, you can expect to take introductory courses in international relations, history, economics, and political science. Further into your program, your coursework will cover foreign policy, international security, and international political economy, and you’ll have space in your schedule to take several free electives within your academic department. You will likely have to complete research courses and a thesis in your final your as part of a capstone project to graduate.
Most international relations programs require students to study abroad for at least a year and attain proficiency in one or more foreign languages. International relations programs tend to have a wide range of concentrations, so you will probably be able to find something that suits your unique interests if you search thoroughly enough. Some of the most popular concentrations in international relations programs include international security, international political economy, foreign policy analysis, and regional studies. Many international relations undergraduates go on to study law, economics, languages, and political science at the graduate level.
2. Civil Engineering
Vital infrastructure is crumbling across the U.S., and many cities are expanding at an unprecedented rate. Consequently, city governments, counties, state departments, and federal agencies are looking for skilled civil engineers across the country. As a civil engineer, you will play a key role in the design and construction of roads, sewage systems, conservation areas, bridges, parking lots, and other public infrastructure projects while staying in line with all relevant government standards and environmental regulations. These projects require an exceptional attention to detail, a ton of collaboration, technical proficiency, and mathematical competence.
You will start your program with courses in calculus, physics, spatial metrics, technical writing, and computer-assisted-design. In your later years in a civil engineering program, you should expect to study advanced physics, soil mechanics, fluid mechanics, statics, project management, materials, project planning and design, and structural analysis. Your capstone project will likely involve producing a mock design for a piece of infrastructure relevant to your concentration or university’s location.
While supply and demand may seem like simple concepts, these two economic factors have massive impacts on communities around the globe. With a strong foundation in economics, you can help government agencies anticipate market changes and optimize their utilization of scarce resources to serve the public as efficiently as possible. Most universities offer B.A and B.S. programs in economics. B.A. programs often focus on the social factors and implications of economic changes, and B.S. programs tend to include coursework in predictive analysis and other arithmetic-heavy concepts.
First-year economics students usually take introductory courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics, statistics, and technical writing. Later in an economics program, you’ll likely take advanced courses in microeconomics and macroeconomics, econometrics, public policy analysis, calculus, and high-level economics electives. Financial economics, industrial organization, international economics, public policy, managerial economics, analytical consulting, management information systems, and supply chain management are all popular concentrations in economics programs.
4. Public Health
As recent events have shown, poor public health practices can have an enormous impact on global health and economic systems. As a public health expert, you’ll learn how to administer healthcare efficiently, find funding for health programs, allocate medical resources, organize healthcare workplaces, and manage healthcare information systems in compliance with government regulations and industry practices. These skills are extremely useful in a variety of government institutions.
Your first-year curriculum will include courses in healthcare writing, psychology, human development, statistics, and medical terminology. In your second and third years, you’ll delve into global health, healthcare law and ethics, health policy and economics, epidemiology, data systems, research designs, functional anatomy and physiology, and healthcare organization and management. Many programs require students to complete an internship in their final year as a component of a capstone experience.
Huge amounts of money and materiel flow into and out of government organizations at every level. The government is accountable to the public, and taxpayers expect government agencies to track all transactions and use their resources as efficiently as possible. Accountants keep detailed records of all transactions, depreciation, and other financial matters in government organizations to ensure that everybody is making honest and productive use of public funds.
Every government agency needs accurate recordkeeping, so skilled accountants with clean backgrounds will have no problem finding gainful employment in public institutions across the country. As students make their way through an accounting program, they will take courses in managerial accounting, financial accounting, tax accounting, fraud examination, and relevant technologies. If you’re serious about pursuing a career as an accountant, then you should make sure that you enroll in a program that will connect you with the best internships so that you can get enough work hours to qualify for the CPA exam.
Networks, computers, and other digital systems play an increasingly important role in government organizations across the world. These systems store private citizens’ data, government secrets, and a wide range of other information that cannot get into the wrong hands. Cybersecurity experts use high-quality code to strengthen computer networks and implement digital security practices and training to ensure that everybody in their organization can handle sensitive data responsibly.
In a cybersecurity program, you will start out with courses in the fundamentals of networking, management information systems, computer troubleshooting, and Linux. As you progress through your program, you’ll take advanced courses in network security, ethical hacking, wireless networking, and cloud technologies. Many programs allow students concentrate in digital forensics, and courses in these concentrations typically include mobile forensics, digital forensics in the criminal justice system, network forensics, and global networking technologies.
7. Business Management
Like any organization, government agencies employ various personnel to complete a variety of specialized tasks. These workers need proper management and organization to properly fulfill their roles. Business management experts have the organizational skills and interpersonal competence necessary to resolve conflicts and make effective use of the department’s human resources.
Business management majors tend to learn a bit about everything that makes a business run. With that in mind, you should expect to take a diverse array of business courses in your first couple of years in a business management program. Such courses may include introductory accounting, business writing, basic finance, principles of business management, and management information systems. In your last two years in a business management program, you will study supply chain management, human resources, international business, marketing, manufacturing management, and other advanced topics.
8. Criminal Justice
Crimes of all manner happen everywhere in the country, and it’s up to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators to justice. Criminal activities never stop, so a job in law enforcement is great for someone who wants long-term career stability. However, criminals always adopt new strategies to evade law enforcement officials, so you must also be willing to constantly learn new skills and adapt to different processes throughout the course of your career in law enforcement.
Degree programs in criminal justice educate students about criminology, social justice, juvenile justice, quantitative analysis, court procedures, policymaking, victim advocacy, corrections, and various other topics that pertain to courts, prisons, and criminal justice organizations. Criminal justice programs often offer concentrations in forensic science, criminal investigation, criminal psychology, rehabilitation, legal studies, and international relations. A second language can significantly boost your job prospects in the field of criminal justice.
9. Public Administration
Employees of government agencies need to know how to optimize their use of resources and respond to new situations on the fly. As a public administration major, you’ll learn how to interact with citizens, work in a team, and use relevant technologies to serve the public effectively. Early coursework will include classes in American government and politics, criminal justice, public service and policy, persuasive writing, sociology, and leadership.
Near the end of your program, you can expect to take courses in applied statistics, public service research methods, current policy challenges, and public service ethics. Your capstone project may involve an internship for a local government organization. Public administration students can choose from concentrations in natural resource administration, nonprofit management, disaster management, urban planning, public health, and public service.
10. Computer Science
Government departments use new computer programs, web functionalities, and mobile apps to simplify their internal processes and provide the public with more intuitive and convenient ways to access public services. Computer science majors must have strong mathematical skills, and they should be willing and able to find novel solutions to unique problems. Your initial coursework in a computer science degree program will cover basic programming languages, computer ethics, computer networks, and computer troubleshooting. In the later stages of your program, you’ll learn about information systems, distribution systems, search engines, web development, algorithms, machine learning, mobile app development, and artificial intelligence.
Enjoy Stable Employment With the Right Degree
Government agencies want applicants with very specific skills to effectively fulfill their roles and make the most out of limited public resources. For this reason, it’s extremely important to start thinking about your desired career path as early as possible and choose a suitable degree program. Your education is a big investment, but it will pay off soon after graduation if you make the right decisions, so you need to put a lot of thought into occupations that interest you and research schools extensively before choosing a degree program.