08 Dec Ben F., Senior Analyst
A Day in the Life of Ben F., Senior analyst in the office of the chief financial officer for a U.S. government agency, Washington, D.C., U.S.
MBA Government Organization (Nonprofit Organizations)
What I Do
I oversee the budget creation and formulation of more than $70 million annually for the office of the chief information officer and inspector general. In addition, my analysis impacts the agency’s entire $500 million budget.
This role is about 50% analysis and 50% people interaction—including one-on-one interviews with points of contact in the various offices, collecting information, and presenting and defending my analyses.
What I Enjoy Most
I have a lot of resources and autonomy, which may be the opposite of what people would expect in government work. I have a high level of responsibility in a very important position for an organization that is both very challenging and extremely important right now for the welfare of U.S. citizens and others we protect. I enjoy being part of a highly intelligent workforce and its underlying, important mission.
At the same time, I have regular work hours so I can have the quality of work/life balance. I know this because I’ve worked in the private sector several times, too. By comparison, I get to do more things here and have a more stable personal life, as well.
Part of the reason I get to do so many things and see such a good future here is the aging workforce currently in the U.S. federal government. This points to good opportunities for new leadership—smart ambitious MBAs and others.
What I Enjoy Least
In a bureaucracy, coworkers can sometimes think small, so I try to help them to think big, and I have tried to coach them about career choices and career mapping—the things I learned in my MBA experience.
I try to help people move from reactive response to powerful action; this is especially important for people in a government role who have been in the same job for many years. Helping them to realize that they aren’t stuck and that they can move to other opportunities is important for overall progress within government agencies.
I have started to see mental shifts in the way people perceive their situations; their belief that they really can make changes and be in control of their careers. Ultimately, you are in charge and can create impact. You have options to make shifts in your roles by assessing what you are good at and what’s important to you and then moving toward it.
Why I Chose This Career
This career-best leveraged my work experience prior to my MBA. I did this analysis while doing my MBA at the University of Maryland part-time. The part-time program had an amazing career counselor. When she sat down with me to assess my values and strengths, I saw a couple of things.
Using a tool called the Butler Method, I picked up on the fact that I had strong human resources (HR) skills—management skills of resources, whether it be people or financial resources. The thought processes are the same. So my first role back in the government was in a human resources capacity.
I examined what I had been doing most recently—my own company in a limited partnership arrangement—and realized that the inherent risk of having my own firm was not a good personal fit for me.
Also, I discovered that I had a very strong desire to advance the public interest. My values were very compatible with working in this government agency.
Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career
You need strong analytical and communication skills and basic project management skills. You need conviction or a fundamental belief in the government agency (or any nonprofit organization) you work for because it is not financially as rewarding as some private-sector MBA options.
However, on balance, when you consider the improved quality of life you might have by spending fewer hours at work or having a generous benefit and vacation package, you might actually live better by working in a government agency. (The same is not true in nonprofits at large, where often human and financial resource constraints create the opposite effect on personal life.)
Being self-driven and results-oriented is important; no one is going to push you in this environment, so it must all come from you. It is more likely that coworkers in government agencies are less ambitious for change and more accepting of the status quo. You have to change that for yourself, for others, for the organization.
Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path
Consider what you value most, consider your strongest skills and core competencies, and align yourself accordingly. All job searches boil down to supply and demand.
Find a good career coach within your MBA school or outside. Mine within the business school was incredible. We met about every three weeks so that I could check in and, at critical junctures, seek counsel and stay focused.
What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)
I was an analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the water program from 2000 to 2009. Then I became an information technology project manager for one year for a leading e-commerce company with $60 million in venture capital funding. This was a home furnishings concern called goodhome.com.
During this time, I also shifted from the part-time to the full-time MBA program and was able to launch my own business with the support of the entrepreneurship program at school. The work involves online assessment and content management systems. My partner has since taken this company over. I discovered my risk tolerance was lower than that of my partner; however, I maintain my adviser/director role.
From there I went back to government work, joining my current agency first in HR and now in a financial analysis role. I have been here since July 2011, and I was promoted within nine months.
Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)
- MBA, University of Maryland, Smith School of Business, 2010
- Bachelor of science, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, foreign service with a science and technology concentration, 2000
- GED SUNY Manhattan EOC, 1997
In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…
Look for a strong network for mentoring. I attended a Smith reception where I met an alumnus who forwarded my resume to 24 chief financial officers. He had also gone back to the public sector after being in the private sector, yet he was at a much higher level of career advancement.
Finding someone who was ahead of me in the field but who was willing to give me mentorship, guidance, and exposure helped to change my life. He helped me understand that, for most people, your values change and your interest in risk versus your interest in family changes as you mature.
Also look for a solid career counselor who will see you through all of your career choices and decisions. Look at the career placement track record, the degree of involvement of alumni and career staff, the reputation of the school among recruiters, and the strength of the program in areas/industries of interest to you.
Examine your financing options for getting the MBA. Consider approaching your employer about helping to pay for your education; don’t assume that they won’t help. If they won’t, consider finding a company or a department that will.
Decide on full-time or part-time. Consider whether, in order to attend an MBA program, you need to negotiate for time off to get to classes or to get the classwork done. Do you need a part-time program as a result of your job demands? Do you need to quit and go full-time?
Do you need to wait and change jobs in order to accommodate an MBA program as well? For me, having a family and continuing to work to support us while attending school was critical.