Career opportunities in public service are varied and growing and there are many paths you can take to get the public service job of your dreams.
Are you passionate about a problem facing society today and do you have the desire to help find a solution? Are you interested in global climate change? Providing health care to children living in poverty? Economic re-development? If you are committed to a cause such as these, then a non-governmental organization (NGO) might be a great place to start your public service career. NGOs bring together people with similar interests and concerns to work to address a variety of issues. NGOs include nonprofit (tax exempt and other) and voluntary organizations on the local, state, national and international levels. There are many resources to help you search for opportunities with NGOs, and this worldwide directory of NGOs from The World Association of NGOs is a good place to start. If you have something specific in mind already, try this custom search engine. While you’re still in school, try to get as much practical learning experience as possible by getting involved. Volunteer to get your foot in the door, take internships that deal with issues that interest you, and look for summer opportunities. University of Michigan has the Public Service Intern Program, and you can also keep an eye out for non-profit and NGO openings at Idealist.org: a great resource for volunteer, internship, summer program, and job opportunities. And if you are considering a public service legal career, make sure you explore the clinical programs, pro bono requirements and externships at the law schools you are interested in attending. The Equal Justice Works Guide to Law School can help you quickly compare law school offerings.
Working for local, state, federal or tribal government is another public service option that offers tremendous variety. From providing vital daily services to the public, to disaster response, financial management and policy analysis, government employees have the opportunity to assist in an industry that was designed to improve and protect the lives of people locally as well as throughout the country and world. You can find jobs in the federal government by searching USAjobs.gov, and find local and state government jobs on your state’s website. The federal government offers many development programs, such as the Presidential Management Fellows Program and the Pathways Program, to get you started in your government career.
Academia is another important and influential public service career option. Whether your passion is working with youth or lecturing at the collegiate level education is an area where qualified individuals are always needed in many areas of the country and the world. And while a position in academia is often thought of as teaching, a public service career in education does not always mean standing in front of a classroom. Other options are administrative positions in school districts, such as being a Principal or Superintendent, or staff positions in universities and colleges, such as recruitment and financial aid offices, career services or student group centers, and individual college offices. Gain experience in academia by volunteering as a tutor in your community, or seeing if you can work part time in one of your school’s administrative offices. Test the water to see if academia is right for you by applying to programs like Teach for America or local teaching fellowships.
One more note: Public service careers are often lower paying than those in the public sector. If you have educational loans and are concerned that you will be unable to “afford” a public interest career, there are programs that can help. Repayment plans like Income-Based Repayment (IBR) can help lower your monthly payment amounts, Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) can help you make those payments and with Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) you can earn forgiveness after making payments for 10 years. Don’t let the high cost of education stop you from pursuing a career in public service. Visit Equal Justice Works’ online resource center to learn more about IBR, PSLF and LRAPs, how they work and how to qualify, and the steps you can take to ease the burden of student debt. Again, if you are interested in public interest law, The Equal Justice Works Guide to Law Schools has information that can help you explore different schools’ LRAPs, scholarships and grant programs to help you determine affordability BEFORE you go to law school..
Having an interest in a public service career is a great goal, and luckily you have a variety of options to achieve it. There are many online resources that advertise positions in the fields noted above and more. Some of these resources include Public Service Careers, PSJD, Higher Ed Jobs, The Center for Independent Consulting, as well as local and state government and news websites. Best of luck in your job search and we commend you for following you passion into public service.
Nita Mazumder is a program manager of law school relations at Equal Justice Works. She is responsible for cultivating and maintaining relationships with law school professionals and student groups as well as serving as the main point of contact for the organization’s National Advisory Committee. Nita previously worked for Georgetown University Law Center and has practiced in both the private and public sectors.