Picture an urgent meeting in the Oval Office. A vigorous conversation is underway, and it includes this cast of characters:
The Chief of Staff (responsible for ensuring that the president’s decisions are delegated to the right people and executed skillfully)
A Senior Counselor/Strategist (someone who knows the president well and can offer personal support and serve as a sounding board)
Senior Policy Advisers (offering expertise on the policy area under discussion)
The Secretary of State (able to explain how the president’s decision will affect the country’s foreign relations)
Communications Staff (tasked with sharing the president’s decision with the media and the public)
Now ask yourself…
If you were in this room, who would you be?
Take your time, and write down your thoughts. If you’re keen on several of these roles, rank them by preference. Then ask: why this role? What about it appeals to me? Which aspects of my personality would fit well here? Which of my values and/or goals would this job allow me to pursue?
Of course, it’s possible that none of these roles are right for you. Maybe you’re more interested in working in state or local government, or in an international setting, or in a non-profit environment (if so, try adjusting the details of the scenario above).
By now, you may have guessed the point of this thought experiment. Lots of people consider careers in public service, but many of them enter the field with only the fuzziest ideas of what they hope to do.
That’s okay, of course; there’s nothing wrong with following your gut. But if you’re thinking about applying to an MPP program, it will help to start introspecting early in the process. After all, top policy schools want more than enthusiasm and a service mentality – they want students who have a sense of themselves, of what they care about and how they might make their contribution.
That’s what’s so helpful about the scenario above: it forces you to imagine yourself in a public service role and then take your own temperature. What do you like about what you see? What don’t you like? And which aspects of yourself – or the world of public service – do you want to learn more about?