Careers in State and Local Government

Description of the Field

State and local governments oversee the provision of public services and manage many of the laws that affect citizens. Their work is personal—every project or task they oversee has immediate costs or benefits to their neighbors, friends and their own families. 

State governments are responsible for the property they own, education, implementing welfare and other benefits programs, maintaining a justice system, maintaining state highways, and regulating industry. In order to spend citizens' money wisely, governments need employees to manage budgets, forecast future economic trends, and spur development.

Local governments also provide services which directly affect the lives of their residents. Local governments administer police and fire services; provide water, transportation systems, and some utilities; construct and maintain streets; look after health, recreational, and social needs; and oversee land use that is compatible with community economic, environmental, and cultural goals. Many of these governments have finance professionals on staff. Economic work in local government service helps build and improve communities. City or county planners help envision and shape future growth, for example, and city management considers the aspirations of residents and the policy goals of the elected governing board when putting policy into practice.

Because they operate at the local level, states and communities can find creative, innovative solutions for issues and problems in a way that is tailored to the needs of their residents. While the federal government has more resources and further reach, state and local governments may respond more quickly and progressively to problems. This serves as a model for other communities, states, and, sometimes, even the federal government. 

On the Job

States and municipalities have similar structures, in terms of organization, to the federal government. Below are sample economics-related jobs that exist in many state or local departments and agencies:

Accountants and auditors prepare and examine financial records. They ensure that records are accurate and that city taxes are paid properly and on time. They also assess financial operations and work to help ensure that organizations run efficiently.

Economic development managers develop and implement plans to support the area’s economy. They work to ensure that communities are business-friendly, while advancing healthy community planning policies and practices.

Financial analysts guide cities and state governments in making investment decisions. They prepare queries and reports and gather financial data about business and technical resource needs for complex system development projects. This may involve analyzing legislation or business documentation to determine the necessary changes in information technology or business processes to meet the objectives of an agency initiative and determine the cost.

International trade specialists respond to requests for information on market conditions, seek out trade opportunities, and cope with problems affecting trade in a region; this is especially important for border and coastal communities. They develop and maintain appropriate contacts with the industry, government agencies, and international organizations involved in international trade.

Loan officers/specialists evaluate, authorize, or recommend approval or rejection of loan applications for the government.

Purchasing agents plan, develop, and implement policy and procedures for negotiating and entering into contracts to procure services and equipment for city departments. They supervise purchasing, preparing, reviewing, and evaluating complex bid specifications and proposals, and they administer contracts for materials, supplies and/or services. They also manage and maintain inventories, and perform general bookkeeping duties associated with acquisition and transfer of supplies and equipment.

Risk managers analyze, plan, and implement methods for handling a city’s exposure to various types of risk. They coordinate area insurance claims, loss prevention and reduction, training, safety inspections and safety committees. They are responsible for securing the area’s general liability and property insurance coverage.

Career Paths

Many cities and states offer local government internships for high school and college students. Volunteer opportunities also abound at the local level, giving students a chance to form early connections. State and local governments value internships and past experience. See “Local Resources” for opportunities available in Virginia.

Because the field is broad and opportunities vary, there is no single path by which to enter a career in government. Starting in local government provides an excellent opportunity to build important communication and leadership skills, especially if you wish to seek state positions in the future. However, many government employees start work in the private sector, then move to government positions after gaining experience and expertise.

Alternatively, you may decide that you want to run for an elected office. An elected office can be a rewarding way to serve and influence your community, whether you’re running for county treasurer or state attorney general. Political campaigns require a huge amount of dedication and energy. You must find sponsors to help finance your campaign, build a support base, and prepare speeches and written statements to persuade voters to cast their ballots for you.


Governments recruit differently from firms or corporations – they usually will not recruit on campus, and most have only one opening at any given time. Openings can occur at any time during the year. 

Applicants can search for jobs on government websites or directly contact the department to which they want to apply. Government employers also recruit through college job fairs and networking.

Most government jobs require a lengthy application and resume, and many agencies require a provided resume template. Resumes are screened for specific key words and phrases before they are passed on to a hiring manager, so it is important to mirror the content of your resume with the job description. Applicants will also be subject to a background check

Many government jobs will require you to complete a Knowledge, Skills and Abilities Assessment (KSA). They provide a series of questions that require you to write a couple of paragraphs illustrating how you meet certain job requirements. Applications may also require you to complete tests and questionnaires relevant to the job, and you may also be required to provide additional documentation like college transcripts, writing samples, or job-related certificates.

At the interview, the best candidates will reflect their knowledge of the government agency and be able to highlight knowledge and past experiences that make them competitive for the job. Interview candidates should remember to bring a photo ID to the interview.

States, counties, towns, and cities that continue to grow will have a steady demand for public services.  While local governments may cut programs from time to time because tax or other revenues decline, the demand for services is quite steady, and the decline of one sector can make room for growth in another.

A growing number of states are establishing venture capital funds, revolving loan and loan guarantee programs, and other financing strategies. Legislatures are also hiring financial analysts. Some states that are in close proximity to national borders, are involved in export and import policy. And many states are involved in exporting their goods. State development agencies, departments of commerce, and other departments within state governments often provide important assistance to trade groups with export relationships with the state. They may assist with market development, marketing assistance, export education, trade missions, and trade shows. In addition, other programs promote foreign direct investment (FDI) in the state or particular locality. Area economic development agencies and chambers of commerce, including some public utilities, are very active in this area. 

Qualifications Necessary to Enter the Field

Government workers in the United States generally must be U.S. citizens, with few exceptions. Government applicants will often be required to submit to a background check. In addition, state and local government jobs may require that applicants have a current residence in the state or municipality for which they are pursuing work.  This is because prior knowledge of an area’s environment, from its laws and policies to its geography and colloquialisms, help state and local employees serve the area better. 

Besides great academic credentials, governments want employees who are dependable, consistent, good problem solvers and communicators, and who have a keen understanding of and interest in bettering their communities. 

Top candidates will also have previous experience in their field (whether inside or outside of government) as well as extracurricular involvement in public service. Different agencies may require technical skills and specialized experience, such as information technology or agricultural knowledge.

Selected U.Va. Organizations/CIOS

For a full list of organizations at UVA, please see:

            College Council

            Legislators of Tomorrow

            Net Impact


            Rotaract Club

            Student Council

Sample UVA Career Programs        

Government Careers Conference

Public Service and Government Career Office Hours

Resources for Additional Information

Internet Resources

Local Resources

Other Resources

LinkedIn Groups