Career Conversation: Advice for aspiring politicians, lawyers and civil servants

An open discussion about the keys to navigating the competitive job markets of government, politics and law from panelists in each field.

Pictured (L to R): Katie Lamb, Jane Jolley, George Shields, Debbie Sharp, Drew Thurman at the Career Conversation Panel on Jan. 25, 2017.

Universities churn out student after student equipped with tools to succeed but struggling to set themselves apart from other applicants.

Many students with career prospects in government, politics and law face bleak forecasts in a competitive employment environments. As of December 2016, the nationwide unemployment rate rested at 4.7 percent with a labor force participation rate of only 62.7 percent.

Members of the Knoxville community offered tips to University of Tennessee students interested in bureaucracy, politics and the legal profession during a panel discussion at the Center for Career Development Jan. 25.

Attorney Katie Lamb, a UT College of Law graduate, insisted that any law graduate with a tenacious and bold personality would find a career. She asserted internships during her undergraduate study helped her excel. Lamb worked in summer positions ranging from intern for Sen. Bob Corker to secretary for several attorneys. During her tenure at UT Law, she worked as a legal clerk.

“The only guidance that my parents could give me was just to ‘figure it out,’ so that’s what I tried to do,” Lamb said. “When I was an undergrad, I took any type of internship that I thought would help in any way.”

Legal Aid East Tennessee Staff Attorney George Shields also weighed in on legal careers, citing workload as a main, common misconception. Shields encouraged anyone interested in a law degree to seek first-hand experience in a law office.

“If you’re not really clear where along this continuum of different types of jobs you want to go, don’t feel like you have to know that now,” Shields said. “The most important thing is to dip your toe into it somewhere. Just swim around a little bit, and you’ll be navigated by others who are in the field to pin down what your interests are.”

Jane Jolley, Sen. Bob Corker’s Knoxville field director, also stressed gaining experience. She urged students to “live life without blinders on.” Her central idea promoted diversity and involvement in the community in any capacity.

“Whether it’s part of a leadership class or nonprofits, or front lines of events or behind the scenes, being involved and giving back is what we’re all here to do. Don’t be afraid to take chances and get outside of your comfort zone,” Jolley said.

She insisted students must expand their knowledge by seeking out people with different ideas.

Panelist Debbie Sharp, works with people from all walks of life. She credited career and personal success to volunteering and diversity. Her job at Knoxville’s Office of Neighborhoods allows her to operate as a liaison between neighborhoods and the city. She helps neighborhoods organize to voice concerns.

“I got all of my jobs volunteering. I served in the Peace Corps,” Sharp said. “Working with that diversity and channeling it here is great. Challenge yourself to work with lots of different groups of people. That will broaden what you are able to do.”

Drew Thurman, compliance manager for Knox County’s Solid Waste Department, says working for local government is “where the rubber meets the road.” Thurman occasionally hires in the department.

“I don’t care if you worked in the mall at a retail store. I don’t care if you’re an intern in an office. I think any experience is going to be excellent. Not every volunteer effort has to be big. Anything that’s going to give you any type of experience is good,” he said.

Thurman’s biggest disappointment is the number of job applicants unable to operate Microsoft Excel. “Everything is data driven. I’d rather have someone who knows how to use all of Office Suite than has a master’s degree.”

Though many students graduate unsure of their paths, Lamb believes they will get a job though it may not be the one they want right away.

You just have to be present and chase after it,” Lamb said. “Eventually, you will get there.”

Featured image by McKenzie Manning

Edited by Lexie Little

Correction: This story was corrected to remove a reference to Duncan School of Law.

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