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How To Get A Government Job

Updated on December 13, 2008
California State Capitol
California State Capitol

Have you ever sought employment with the state only to be disappointed by the amount of time and energy it would take to even be placed on a consideration list? After the resumes, the examinations, the many interviews, and the polite rejection letters isn’t it time to stop the hemorrhaging and find a better way? What you have to realize first is that no matter what state agency you want to work for and whether you have the right experience or not, everyone competing for these jobs is unceremonially dumped into the same pool of applicants. So the real question is how to avoid being cast into this barrage of job seekers; and the answer is to sidestep it entirely.

I have worked for the state of California for nearly a decade, and I can tell you that it’s not who you know in this system – it’s how you use what you know. I have never sat for a state examination or received a rejection letter from a state office. However, I have worked on a political campaign, interned in a state office, and worked for a lobbying group. Let’s take these one by one.


There are always local campaigns that are being organized and run. Whether they are at the local, state, or federal level, they are always looking for volunteers and individuals who are cheap to hire. Specifically on state-run campaigns, what many people don’t know is that they are usually run by off-time government workers that already enjoy the benefits of being employed by either the State Assembly or the State Senate. Offer your services during a campaign and find out who these people are and get to know them. Let them see and know that you are a hard worker who is interested in working in the capitol office after the election. I can tell you that the number of individuals hired from campaigns to work in the capitol after the election continues to go up every year. If you are willing to bite the bullet and work long hours, for little pay, it can pay off big in the end.


If you or someone you know are either in college and soon to graduate or have recently graduated, I would highly recommend interning at a capitol office. Nine times out of ten I would say that office will hire the intern they train. This is a great way to get your foot in the door early and learn from the bottom up. In addition, most state capitols offer Fellowship Programs that are not highly advertised – so not many recent graduates know about them. These programs do provide a small salary for a one year placement in a state capitol office to learn the ropes of developing and passing legislation. Again, these individuals are usually hired as soon as the fellowship ends.


Another avenue for gaining a state job is in working for a lobbying firm. This is what government employees entitle “the third house” (the Legislature being the first, and the courts being the second). Suck it up and work as a receptionist, a legislative aid, or a researcher for a year – the contacts you make will be well worth it. To find a list of the most affluent lobbying groups that influence your state's Legislature, go to the Secretary of State’s webpage and look up lobbying activity and finance. Follow the money and you’ll know who’s influencing the legislature the most.


From either your newfound position as a campaign rookie, intern or fellow, or employee at a top-notch lobbying firm you can also receive private – but well circulated job rags – known only to capitol insiders. In california this is called the “Morning Report.” In it you will find information on upcoming events, political repartee, and FPPC information; but you will also find recent job listings within the capitol building. Rarely – if ever – will these postings find their way into a classified ad, or onto a job board.


As an insider, I can tell you that if you get a job working in a state capitol it means that you also work with every department and state agency there is. So, if your heart bends towards the environment – the best way to get a job for the Air Resources Board or the Department of Transportation will be through the contacts you make while you work at the state capitol. Side-step the applicant-traffic and get the job you want, not the one you settle for.


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