Job search advice
As a student evaluating future career plans, you may not immediately turn to a career in government finance; however, government finance is an extremely professional and established field. The typical career path in local government finance goes something like this:
A new college graduate with a degree in accounting, finance, economics, public administration, or related field may start out as an Accountant, Financial Analyst or Budget Analyst. Next, he or she moves on to Accounting Supervisor or Senior Analyst. The next step is often Assistant Finance Director. Finally, he or she may reach the post of Finance Director, which is the chief financial officer who is responsible for administering all financial matters of the government. This person may also be the treasurer, and typically reports to the mayor, city manager, village manager, or chief government executive/administrator.
Although you probably will not see government officers recruiting at Universities and job fairs, their absence does not mean that jobs are not available. The IGFOA would like to introduce you to the world of government finance: Letting you know what functions you will perform, where the jobs are, the compensations and benefits you can expect, and where and how to look for jobs. You will also find information about pursuing scholarships and links to college career centers.
Type of Government
Government finance professionals can be found at all levels of government—federal, state and local. In Illinois, there are hundreds of local governments, large and small. These include counties, townships, cities and villages, and special districts. These special districts may be park districts, community college districts, school districts, fire protection districts, sanitary districts, library districts or others. Many of these governments have finance professionals on staff.
The work of government finance professionals is multi-faceted and may vary from government to government. Generally, they work with these areas:
Accounting and Financial Reporting
Routine accounting plus the preparation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (beyond basic financial statements) and interim/special reporting.
Payroll and Pension Administration
Working with three pension funds—Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, Police Pension Fund, Firefighters’ Pension Fund—and perhaps deferred compensation plans as well.
Budgeting, Financial Planning, and Financial Forecasting
Preparation of the budget is a major annual activity for Illinois governments, and many governments prepare multi-year capital improvement plans.
This often includes billing for utilities and other services.
Purchasing and Accounts Payable
This is done following state and local requirements for purchasing.
Cash Management and Investing
This means earning money on funds not needed immediately for bill payment. Governmental investing practices typically emphasize safety and liquidity. Pension fund investing, also often a component of government finance jobs, is more aggressive.
This involves issuing bonds for public improvements, as well as general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, and other debt.
The finance department may be called upon to handle additional responsibilities in those governments which aren’t large enough to warrant separately designated departments or staff. These may include:
This includes property insurance, general liability insurance, safety training and workers compensation insurance.
Information Systems Management
This most often includes accounting systems and a variety of other user applications.
Human Resources Management
This oversight responsibility might include job analysis, job descriptions, compensation analysis, recruiting, training programs, discipline, and collective bargaining.
Compensation, Benefits, & Quality of Life
Salaries are highly competitive. For specific information on compensation, go to IGFOA’s Jobline at www.igfoa.org. When evaluating career opportunities, it is important to consider the overall compensation and benefits package.
Health insurance is a large, important benefit. Governments often provide coverage at a lower cost to employees than businesses do.
There is a defined benefit pension plan for all local government employees except police, fire and school employees, which have separate plans. This pension is portable between many Illinois governments.
Work Close to Home
Most governments do not have residency requirements as a requisite for municipal employment. But many government finance professionals choose to live close to work and enjoy a short commute.
The work week is typically 40 hours at the entry level, with occasional extra hours during audit and budget preparation. More senior positions often put in more time, but this is not usually excessive.
The government finance field is rich with professional development possibilities —indeed, professional development is key to staying on top in this ever-changing field. The Illinois GFOA and related organizations offer seminars, conference and committee work. Visit www.igfoa.org for details.
How to Find a Job in Government Finance
What You’ll Need
A degree in finance, accounting, economics, or public administration is best, and a CPA or CPFO is beneficial. A governmental accounting course can also make a difference, as can prior experience in government, accounting, or finance.
Applicants should have a resume and a list of references. Some governments may also require that an application be completed.
Where the Jobs Are
Governments recruit differently from major accounting firms or corporations—they usually will not recruit on campus, and most have only one opening at a given time. Openings can occur at any time during the year. Government finance job notices can be found in local newspapers and professional publications. Direct contact with governments can also yield leads.
Membership in professional associations can also pay off in the form of newsletter and e-mail job vacancy announcements. Visit www.igfoa.org for details.
Attendance at association training events, seminars and conferences provides opportunities for networking, as do social events like luncheons.
The Government Finance Officers Association is the national association of professional finance officers. The GFOA has several committees with which to get involved, to make contacts and increase knowledge of government finance. You can visit their website at www.gfoa.org.
The Illinois GFOA is the state association of professional finance officers. Several committees offer an opportunity to make contacts and get a closer view of how government finance works in the state.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is the premier national professional association for CPAs in the U.S. You can visit their website at www.aicpa.org. the Illinois CPA Society also offers educational programs and opportunities for networking. You can visit their website at www.icpas.org.
Scholarships are available from the national Government Finance Officers Association. Visit www.gfoa.org for information and applications. Eligibility for scholarships varies. Generally, applicants must be students in finance, accounting, economics, or public administration. The application deadline is usually March 1 of each year.
Goldberg: $10,000 for full time graduate students in public finance
Greathouse: $3500 for full time undergraduate or graduate students in accounting
Minorities in Government Finance: $5000 for full time or part-time undergraduate or graduate minority students with a focus in government finance
The GFOA has internship opportunities available for graduate students in their offices in Chicago. Visit www.gfoa.org for more information.
Career Center Links
The IGFOA has provided a list of links to University career centers for you convenience. These websites will provide more information on how to pursue a career in public finance at your educational institution.
Eastern Illinois University
Government Colleges Relations Council
Illinois Institute of Technology
University of Illinois Chicago
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Illinois State University
University of Notre Dame
Northern Illinois University
Rasmussen College Career Services
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Western Illinois University