After serving York University during the 2020-21 academic year as executive public service in residence, Rory O’Connor has offered insight and advice to students working toward careers in government.
O’Connor joined the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) and the School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA) in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies as public servant in residence from his substantive role in Indigenous Services Canada as associate regional director general, Atlantic region.
Previously, O’Connor held several challenging executive positions, including director of West Bank and Gaza development (Global Affairs Canada), director of strategic planning and operations-development for Eastern Europe, Middle East and Maghreb (Global Affairs Canada), and director of ministerial services (Canadian International Development Agency). Over his career, he has worked for the Treasury Board Secretariat, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, and Veterans Affairs. His experience includes working in regions, headquarters and overseas (including diplomatic roles in Afghanistan and Iraq), in policy, programming and corporate service functions. Prior to joining government, he worked with the United Nations Association in Canada.
Led by the Canada School of Public Service, the Public Servant-in-Residence Initiative is intended to: encourage stronger links and collaboration between academia and the federal government; collaborate on federal public service recruitment opportunities; and provide students with an understanding of how government works.
O’Connor advanced this work by presenting on a wide range of topics to various classes, as well as to alumni and at McLaughlin College events. He also served in the role of co-coach for the SPPA and GSPIA graduate student teams representing the University at the annual Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA) and Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) National Case Competition in February. O’Connor was actively engaged in helping to build students’ professional competencies such as briefing notes, policy proposals, and recruitment and interview tips. Throughout, he enjoyed engaging in both formal and informal mentoring with students and alumni.
To those interested in pursuing careers within the federal government, he shared that there is no bad way to enter government. Knowing many who joined in administrative roles and went on to become senior executives, he said that whether joining as a student, in a term position, a professional level permanent position or through a recruitment program, getting in the door is key. Once in, by doing good work and building a positive professional reputation, mobility and career progress would follow.
He also shared key skills to succeed in government, noting these skills were also relevant outside of government, including:
- Communication: The ability to analyze information is important, but without the ability to clearly articulate ideas and advice orally and in writing, it will be difficult to have an impact. Understanding needs and perspectives is vital, so active listening is also a key to effective communication.
- Interpersonal: The ability to work effectively and respectfully with colleagues and clients is vital to making a contribution to an organization and stakeholders. This is also key to building a positive professional reputation, which opens so many career possibilities.
- Being solution oriented: You want to be known as someone who can not only diagnose issues, but offer practical solutions. People like that are in demand in almost all organizations.
- Learning: The work world is always evolving, so continue learning to keep pace. In charting a course, whether in government or elsewhere, you should be constantly learning. While managers can help in suggesting areas to improve, your own personal reflection, aided by knowledge of your goals, will be key in this area.
- Be open to opportunities: Linked to learning, it can be great to stretch your comfort zone. O’Connor noted how his most rewarding career moments came from contributions outside of his regular job (such as going to Erbil in Northern Iraq to set up a program to support internally displaced people in 2014). Further, it is often at the periphery of your comfort zone that you can develop the most.
“My time as executive public servant in residence with York University was a fantastic experience,” O’Connor said. “Exposure to leading theory and practice has been enriching, and I’ll be able to take many of the ideas back to the federal government. It has been particularly rewarding to interact with such high-calibre students and faculty over the past months as I expanded my professional network. Thanks to all who made for such a welcoming environment.”
O’Connor will stay involved with York University after his return to the federal government, including in his capacity as a Fellow at McLaughlin College.
For more information about O’Connor’s career and additional tips, visit: yorku.ca/laps/sppa/faculty/rory-oconnor.
To see his presentation at McLaughlin College’s Lunch Time Talk Series, visit: mclaughlin.laps.yorku.ca/events/mclaughlin-lunch-talks-videos.