James-Christian Blockwood on Pursuing a Public Service Career

“In the government you can explore the world and nearly every job can be offered to you through federal service.” 

 

With those words, James-Christian Blockwood, Executive Vice President at the Partnership for Public Service explained some of the reasons he was drawn to public service. In his 15 years working for the U.S. government — in the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs as well as in the Government Accountability Office — he “had wonderful teams, empowering bosses, important missions, and literally traveled to almost every region of the world, doing things that one can only do in government.” 

 

As is true for so many, his family was an early inspiration. He saw firsthand through his father’s military service, “how government can provide a world of opportunity.” Through his mother’s work in the community and via her talent for customer service, he learned to appreciate serving others. As he finished college, a mentor helped him decide that the U.S. Department of Defense was the place to begin his career of service.

 

First, ask yourself why you want to serve?

 

Recently, though, he recognized that public service could take many forms. Midway through the interviews for his current job as Executive Vice President at the Partnership for Public Service, Blockwood had an epiphany. First, that what he is passionate about is public service and that public service can happen in different ways. It can be done in the federal government, and it can also be done in a place like the Partnership for Public Service. Second, that he felt called to continue to serve in whatever ways he could. 

 

Blockwood’s career in the federal government, as well as his current role with the Partnership for Public Service, make him an ideal person to provide insights into how to find a job in the U.S. government and what kinds of skills are most needed. 

 

How Do I Get a Job?

 

One of the hardest parts of getting a government job is knowing where to start. Blockwood has some suggestions about how to go about finding your first public service job. 

 

First, ask yourself why you want to serve? Answering that question can help you determine where to focus your attention and your search. 

 

Second, read about people in government. Learn what kinds of jobs they do, which in turn will show you the vast range of jobs and opportunities. Read about the Best Places to Work in the U.S. Government. Keep an open mind while you do this, you never know where it will lead! 

 

Third, prepare yourself by obtaining a tradecraft and/or an additional degree or certificate, or augment your background in some other way.

 

Fourth, remember that government service takes place all around the country and the globe; only 15% of U.S. government jobs are based in Washington, D.C. 

 

Finally, target agencies and positions that match your interests and skill. Then, apply, apply, apply. 

 

If you are looking for additional resources, you can look to organizations such as the Partnership for Public Service. Their Go Government program can help you research federal agencies and government careers as well as offer practical tips for completing employment applications.

 

What Skills Are Most Useful in Public Service?

 

Certainly technical skills such as fluency with computers, data, coding, and artificial intelligence are a growing need, which is why the Partnership for Public Service has partnered with industry and the federal government to create the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative to help people with those skills enter government. 

 

However, as Blockwood has advanced in his career, it is a different set of skills that he has found most helpful. Understanding how to manage through uncertainty is increasingly important. As is, knowing how to “motivate, inspire, empower, meet people halfway, understand with compassion and empathy, see different points of view, and bring people together is really important. So is being able to work across cultures in the broadest terms.

 

“And then quite frankly, being a good person. I think kindness heals and kindness thrives. And so much relies on how you do things, just as much as why you do them or what you want to accomplish and whether you get them accomplished.”

 

I think the future is bright, I think with the right commitment and strategy, we have yet to see the best of what our country can do, and the best workforce that we can have.

 

He is also a proponent on developing skills around strategic foresight. “That’s understanding how to move choices through alternatives, and plan for and move organizations toward a preferred future. Even if you see an inevitable one that is not preferred, it’s how to deal with that in a smart way.”

 

As he looks ahead, Blockwood is “an optimist, I think the future is bright, I think with the right commitment and strategy, we have yet to see the best of what our country can do, and the best workforce that we can have. I think it’s important to promote public service, accountability, and government effectiveness. The more we can do that, and the more we can do that in a positive way, we will help improve the narrative and the perception of public service. And I really believe we have a window of opportunity to do that. There is a thirst or hunger even – people want to know more about their government, want to see their government do good and be successful, and I think people want to help and be a part of government.”

 

Learn more about the Partnership for Public Service and their tools to help those interested in working for the federal government by visiting https://ourpublicservice.org/

 

Read Four Lessons That Shaped My Path to the Senior Executive Service by James-Christian Blockwood for additional insights and advice. 

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