Career Paths of Local Government Finance Professionals: A Recent Survey of GFOA Members Shed Light on a Relatively Unexplored Topic-The Career Development and Job Satisfaction of Local Government Finance Officers

Article excerpt

As faculty training pre-service, in-service, and executive students for opportunities in public service, we are often asked for career advice. We suspect this is a common occurrence for faculty members, as well as for many senior managers who are informally asked to advise younger associates. Specific questions often focus on which classes students should take and on which job makes the most sense to achieve professional and personal goals.

In our role as faculty, the questions are often even more specific. We frequently train students who are looking for careers as finance professionals. The questions we are asked are important for personal reasons, but they are also important because of the significant responsibilities local financial leaders have been assigned. Local government finance professionals, for example, oversee $1 trillion in revenues each year. (1) Unfortunately, we are often at a loss on the advice we should give. There is actually little known or reported about successful careers in local financial management. We thus engaged in a long-term study to help us understand and focus the advice we hope to offer current and future students. This article reports the preliminary findings from an initial survey of local government finance professionals.

To explore issues surrounding the career paths of local government finance professionals, we sent a detailed survey to GFOA members who self-identify as local government finance professionals. To date we have received responses from 323 respondents. Respondents come from 45 different states and work in a wide range of local governments. Half of are employed by governments with populations of 50,000 or less (Exhibit 1).


Over half of all respondents (54 percent) are females. Thirty-two percent are in their 30s, 35 percent are in their 40s, 21 percent are in their 50s, and only 2 percent are older than 60. The vast majority of finance professionals are well-educated: Seventy-seven percent have completed a bachelor's degree and 51 percent of those with bachelor's degrees have also completed a graduate degree. The most common graduate degrees are in public administration and business administration (each claimed 38 percent of all master's degrees).

Each respondent completed a survey about his or career goals, mentors, training and development needs, career satisfaction, and career paths. This brief article presents highlights of our findings that should be of interest to students, finance professionals, and academics preparing students for careers in local government finance.


Respondents were, asked to identify their career goals. Nearly 63 percent indicated that their career goal was to become a chief financial officer--to continue in their current career path. Thirteen percent indicated that their career goal was to make a career shift and enter city or county management as either the top manager or assistant manager. Eight percent reported that they wanted to be either an accountant or an auditor. Seven percent desired a position as a department head. Nearly 2 percent indicated that their goal was directed at retirement. The remaining respondents had some other career goal.

The two dominant career goals among local government finance professionals are to become a chief financial officer or to shift into general local government management. Notably, about one-third of the respondents do not see their current position as a stepping stone to becoming a chief financial officer. This finding suggests that while at least some students should consider general management classes, the remaining two-thirds would benefit from additional training in financial management.


An important question is how do you become a government finance professional. Finance officers have followed a wide range of career paths to get where they are now. Some professionals start in entry-level tracks in large governments and methodically advance up the organization. …


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