There are many myths that are prevalent about working in government, whether it is at the federal, provincial or municipal level. These myths, as you will see, are often not true at all – this is important to understand, because you might be missing out an opportunity you haven’t given enough consideration to. In addition to demystifying these myths, things to keep in mind when exploring career options in government will also be highlighted.
The most important myth – and certainly the least true – is that finding a government job with an arts degree is next to impossible. Of course some positions do require certifications in trades, or a specialization in accounting, etc. but there are a number of opportunities that focus on core leadership competencies, values and ethics, and how to effectively carry out the duties required. With your arts degree, you can demonstrate the ability to work either individually or as part of a team, present information, communicate well with others – all traits that all levels of government place an importance on in their various career options. If you’re looking for experience outside of school, check out the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP), which “ provides full-time students valuable, hands-on work experience related to their field of study and allows for a wealth of learning opportunities.” Remember, it’s not about the job, but rather the career possibilities that you can explore.
Another common myth is that – even if you do possess an arts degree – you need an established connection in a governmental position in order to secure a job. While it is no doubt advantageous to have ‘someone on the inside’, it is not a requirement. Fair hiring practices and a number of checks and balances in the interview process (usually comprised of an interview, a written test and oral presentation, generally at all levels of government) ensure that an individual is not given preference due to knowing someone who works there. For this reason, it’s important to make certain that you make a good first impression, as this may be the first time the interviewer is meeting you. If you want to get a feel for what types of jobs are available in government and see if something fits with you, check out Civic Jobs (municipal), BC Public Service (provincial), and the Government of Canada’s online jobs hub (federal).
Attached to this myth of connections is that, once you do get the job, you’re stuck in that role for an indeterminable amount of time. This, again, is far from true. While you most likely will be in a position for at least one to two years, things change quickly. Since governmental departments are almost always working for citizens, their methods of interaction need to change as the world around them progresses. For example, while social media was not very big four years ago, all levels of government today are on many different platforms – a decision that was most likely made in an effort to connect with citizens in a more interactive manner, but may have also resulted in a new career opportunity for an individual previously in the communications department. Positions evolve does as the public service. It’s important to remember to welcome new opportunities as they come along, and look into possible careers.
Why is it important to keep an open mind? Well, it’s because certain careers in government will require being bilingual, but it’s not always a prerequisite. Though positions in the federal government will most likely require being bilingual, positions at the municipal and provincial level will vary depending on location (you’d obviously need to be bilingual in Quebec for example, but other regions may have a secondary language that is not French). Furthermore, if you really want to work for the federal government but don’t have the best competency with French, you will always have the opportunity to learn more, as you will be tested based on your proficiency and told what to improve on. The job isn’t always in Ottawa either – in fact, of all public service employees working in government, 39% work in the nation’s capital, while the remaining 61% work across the country. So the next time you see an advertisement for working in government, read it carefully so that you don’t overlook it, assuming it will be in Ottawa.
Finally, if any of this has intrigued your curiosity, you might want to check out Arts Co-op and Career Services’ joint event, ‘What Can I Do In Government’. You’ll have the opportunity to connect with federal, provincial, and municipal government representatives and discuss career paths, how to get your foot in the door, the work environment, and the public sector as a career choice. You'll also have the opportunity to network. Hope to see you there!