A Get-Up-and-Go

Approach to Kick-Starting a Federal Agency Career

The Determination of a Wombat: Landing a job in National Parks & U.S. Forests

Do you have the determination of a wombat?

Are you considering a career in one of the four federal land management agencies: National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? Good for you! What a great opportunity to get involved and make a difference.

But it's going to take a little dogged determination and careful thinking to get where you want to go. Briefly put, I believe that the federal agencies will always find a way to hire good people. The leaders of these agencies know that long-term effectiveness depends on the creativity and enthusiasm of its personnel. True leadership requires constantly energizing and reinventing the agency. And this requires younger, competent people with the drive to provide true public service and stewardship of the national estate.

However, you will still have to work hard to blast off your career. You may also need to shift some of your expectations and change your sights as to what you can achieve in the short term. For instance, you may have to reconsider the hope of immediately working in your favorite state. Instead, you may have to go somewhere new, such as Georgia, which does have some wonderful wilderness areas! Similarly, you might not get to live in the size of town that you prefer. Instead, you might have to consider living in Washington, D.C., or Sacramento, California, or Glendive, Montana. You might also have to work on projects that are not your obvious choice. But the more you learn about the agency and all of its missions, the more effective you become. You may even get to work for a different agency (for instance, the Bureau of Land Management). In each case, you should view each of these as stepping stones, learning opportunities, and necessary experiences. And, you never know, you might like what you see!

You guys and gals are training for careers that will require different skills than what many current employees have. You have new perspectives, new experiences, and new ideas. This can be threatening to older employees, and one of their strategies for coping with this is to discourage or disparage you. But you will be the ones guiding the agency in the future—with your abilities, knowledge, and get-up-and-go. Those who succeed in the future, I believe, will be those who learn how to make wonderful things happen, regardless of what the naysayers are suggesting. A can-do attitude will win in the long run.

Part of what I think older employees are communicating to you is that some of the old assumptions within the agencies no longer hold. For instance, it could be said that you no longer have a job for life. Others will tell you that it is no longer who you know that matters. And it is no longer reasonable to expect the government to look after your career. In short, you now have much more responsibility for your career. It's no longer an automatic rise through the levels. This is unsettling for people who still believe in the old ways, and one way of communicating that is to warn new people not to enter into the organization.

But, if you really, really want to work for a particular agency, then I say go out and work for them! Don't let anybody tell you that you can't! If you believe that what you should be doing is working for the government—and that is the best use of your skills and enthusiasm—then you are a good prospect to hire. And managers worth their salary will go out of their way to find a way to help you. They will give you a chance to show your worth, and if they like what they see, they will want to keep you on. The decision they face is how many chips to spend on your behalf. How much are you worth? So, work hard, be reliable and energetic, and show how much the public lands and public service mean to you.

Maybe I should be recommending that you think like a wombat!? (Wombats are stocky Australian marsupials.) Once there was a young wombat that was being raised by a park ranger after its mom got hit by a car. Well, as it grew to be a solid adult wombat, the critter didn't quite understand the human concept of doors. As a result, the walls of the house it lived in (which were made of thin cement sheets) had little wombat-shaped holes in them! You just can't stop a determined wombat from getting where he or she wants to go!

So, set your sights high and work hard toward getting there. These are magnificent places to manage and important benefits to be providing to the American public. You should be honored to have the opportunity to serve but also congratulated on your decision to do so. Be proud of the small contributions you can make—those contributions will grow.

Article contributed by Dr. Bill Borrie

Bill Borrie
Bill Borrie in the "outback" of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Montana

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