What Now?

I’m pretty sure my situation is not unique, so I thought I would reach out to this amazing community to ask, “What now?”

When I first came to DC to pursue my MPP I knew it was going to be a challenge. I had zero experience in government or politics and the closest I had ever been to the Hill was watching C-SPAN. Nevertheless, I worked hard in class, networked with professionals (insert shameless plug for AABPA here) and graduated with honors this past May. Through a stroke of luck I landed a SCEP internship with one of the best agencies to work for in the Federal government. In fact, this isn’t merely a highly regarded agency, it is the dream job I had been working towards.

But, not unlike most other agencies, budgets are tight and that makes hiring difficult for agencies while operating under CR. This week, I was forced to confront a truth I’d been wishing would turn out differently–my agency will likely not have the funds to convert me upon completion of my internship.

So, what do I do now?

I know most successful people took a winding road to get to where they are today, but I find myself struggling with all sorts of questions: From the broad, “How do I find a job that I’m equally excited about?” to the practical, “Who is going to even have money to hire people like me?” to the technical, “What does it mean to have Schedule A/non-competitive conversion status, and how can I make it work for me?”… I know everything will work out, but I feel as though I’m lost in one of the particularly dark portions of the scribbled line above and I don’t know how to get out again.

Can you help answer any of my questions–broad or technical? Are you/have you been in this boat before? What are your words of wisdom?

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Profile Photo GovLoop

Been there before right after graduate school and also when was moving to Tampa 3 years ago.

There’s no easy answer other than cliches – it will all work out.

My only different version of “it will all work out” is “it will all work out if you work hard every day networking, applying for jobs”

Other suggestions – keep on networking. AABPA but also go to YGL events, our own GovUps. Apply to other jobs at USAJOBS. I’d look at acquisition job openings as while other series may slow hiring acquisition continues to be a huge need for young govs. And tell your plight to folks – share your story and people often are willing to help.

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Profile Photo Allison Primack

Hey Amanda! I know exactly where you are coming from – I am pursuing my MPP in DC as well, and have some of the same post-graduation fears. An interesting idea that some of my professors told me was to look in the state/local government for positions – they are often searching for policy people, and sometimes they are looking to hire in their DC offices :) Good luck on your job hunt!

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Profile Photo Amanda Parker

Thanks T. Jay! I love that picture too. I wish I knew who to give credit to, but I came across it on a friend’s Facebook page. I’m trying to keep the perspective, so thank you for sharing!

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Profile Photo Mark Hammer

Looks like something Demitri Martin would draw, though any of the New Yorker cartoonists might also be a likely culprit..

As for words of wisdom, the world of careers is vast, and people your age and in your circumstance are often looking at it through the cardboard from the middle of the roll of paper towels or aluminum foil, scanning the horizon for something that dovetails perfectly with your program.

Give it all a chance, and keep asking yourself what your objectives and motives might translate to. Sometimes jobs surprise you in providing counter-intuitive ways to express what’s important to you. Besides, your motives may change over your working life and there may well be career paths that don’t appeal now but which will appeal later. Be open.

BTW, nice hat!

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Profile Photo Julie Chase

Well Amanda, I know where you are coming from. My son graduated in May and still no job. Hiring freeze is the order of the day. Like you, he was in the STEP a few years ago, when our agency laid off all the STEP’s in the fall of 2008 due to budget cuts, about 30 or so college kids were out of a part time worthwhile learning experience while going to college.

SCEP and STEP have been scrapped and a new program for recent grads and those who are still in college is called Pathways. I will say also, that there are vet groups who are actively trying to stop this program even before it gets off the ground. Also, more bad news, I don’t see that program getting anywhere in this area until the end of 2012 and students loans are due now.

Schedule A is for folks with disabilities. My son is qualified for Schedule A, unfortunately it is subject to the MARADMIN/hiring freeze too. Our parent agency DoN is hiring, but very sparsely.

http://www.opm.gov/disability/mngr_3-13.asp

Quoting from this link:

Schedule A appointments, a person must meet the definition for being disabled. The person must have a severe physical, cognitive, or emotional disability; have a history of having such disability; or be perceived as having such disability. In addition, the person must obtain a certification letter from a State Vocational Rehabilitation Office or the Department of Veterans Affairs to be eligible for appointment under these special authorities.

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Profile Photo Stefany M. Mercer

Don’t be afraid to TRY. Try a new path; pursue a new job/career; etc. You really will never know WHAT your next step is unless you start trying new things and moving forward. If you find that you don’t like a new path/position, change it. In our era of quick communications and transport, there is no reason to be stuck on the straight arrows path.

Besides, the confusingly scribble path is MUCH more fun! :-D

Still trying to figure it all out,

Stefany

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Profile Photo Amanda Parker

@Stefany–You offer a very different perspective than my generally type-A self is used to. It’s hard for me to see the scribble path as fun, but you’re right that I need to not be afraid to try something new. Thanks for the comments and fresh perspective :)

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Profile Photo Jorge Aponte

Get out of the box… Most close-end scenarios can be “beat” by approaching them “thinking un-traditional”. Turn to view-scenario the hiring/organization, and find that nitche which can only be fit by you. Discover that exclusive skill of yours that the organization need, and market it broadly and insistently.

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Profile Photo Pat Stevens

Hi Amanda,

Great comments all. From personal long experience, don’t be afraid to try new things. But, if this is your dream agency, one that doesn’t have a record of RIFs, do all you can to find a position there before venturing out.

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Profile Photo Charles J. "Jerry" Butts

ARe there any “foot in the door” type psoitions (entry Level) in the agency.

a Friend of mine wanted to be an HR in anohter government agency but at that time there were no vacancies for that psoition. He took a job a s a clerk…in the dining faclity there and wound up four years later as the HR for Recruitment and staffing.

Jerry Butts

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Profile Photo Deb Green

Amanda, you may not see the answer yet, but you will. You’ll see it when the time arises. Until then, keep your mind open to new things, your eyes watching for opportunities, and your ears peeled for potential positions.

Opportunity favors those who are best prepared, and it sounds like you’re pretty prepared professionally… just make yourself prepared mentally and emotionally if you should need to shift. Sometimes that jumbled line means a step sideways, sometimes backwards, before you move forwards. Just keep swimming and there will be forward progress, even if it’s not in the fashion you expected to see it.

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Profile Photo Will Saunders

First, ask some the managers you have worked with if they would be willing to give you a written recommendation. For those who say yes, offer to write it for them, and all they will have to do is read and sign it. Don’t open your folder and give it to them the minute they say yes. Wail till the next day.

Second, it’s good that you did some networking, however, networking isn’t just about the people you got to know during your internship. Networking also is about getting to know the people who know the people that you have gotten to know, and the people that those people know, and so on. Even in this tight budgetary time, there are still plenty of people being hired. There are always exceptions to the rules and alternative hiring options that hiring managers can use. So, even if you cannot have your dream job now, it may be better to have a non-dream job rather than having no job at all. Use this network of colleagues to ‘snake’ your way around, if nothing else, to find out who is who and who can help you to best leverage your contacts,,,,and THEIR contact. It may not get you far just calling people cold on your own. But if you call someone and can say “Mrs. Mary Smith” gave me your name,” then that may get you a whole lot further. Even if you still don’t find a position, you’ll have done some more networking and will have learned some things that you may be able to use to further help you.

Third, ask each person that you call if they would be willing to spend about 30 minutes (or however long they can meet) during lunch one day to talk about careers in the federal government and how to get your foot in the door to a permanent position. Truth be told, the things they tell you are less important than fostering the contact. If there is something non-work related that you can connect with them on, use it to your advantage (i.e., like if they mention a sorority you belong to or a hobby that is also your hobby, etc). The point of having lunch with them is to help them remember you later, so that if/when a position does become available, you become much more than someone that Mrs. Mary Smith recommended. They will have formed a personal opinion of you. So, you’ll want to make your lunch date as impressionable as possible. Go to lunch in appropriate business attire with the best attitude, as if you were going to a job interview.

Finally, if people you contact tell you that they do not have any vacancies now, ask them when they think they might have something. Then, follow up in a couple of days with a nice letter thanking them for their precious time and summarize your conversation with them and how you plan to employ any of the recommendations they have given you. Do not use a form letter for this. You will want to make this thank you letter as personal as possible, specific to the individual.

And one last thing: look for federal job/career fairs particularly on college campuses. Keep visiting the website of the agency where you want to work. If you have good rapport with someone in the HR dept of that agency, call or email them periodically but not so much that you become bothersome to them. Good luck and try to have patience.

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Profile Photo Carol Davison

Dear Amanda, I was poor and wanted to college and see the world. I joined the USAF at 17, saw the world, earned a BS, broke my feet (it still hurts to even stand) and tried to get a government job. I finally found one with the State of MD making less money. I was poor, poor, poor. However the learning experience couldn’t be topped. State Of MD was poor and I managed the training nickel until the buffalo hollered. I became a certified performance technologist, a certified MD State Police Instructor and ran their in-service training at no cost. Many State Agencies copied my products. Even though I was poor, poor, poor I found cheapo U and earned an MS using the information system I implemented to demonstrate the cost benefit/return on investment analysis of my program. DON offered me a job at 150% of my salary. My boss wanted to keep me but couldn’t match the salary. 10 years later I make three times as much as MD paid me. I was able to do this because I implement results only environments and set up systems to reduce unnecessary work so I can produce results with minimal work. I doubled and tripled training budgets. I wrote my thesis to demonstrate cost benefit/return on investment analysis and proved my program developed RNs most cost effectively. My certification levels exceeded DON averages in 80% of career fields. My leadership schools cost 40% than sending students to vendors. I repaired my organization’s broken relationship with the Admiral after it misused his resources. I doubled giviing to the charity campaign and lead the DON giving the following year and won two leaderhsip awards from the Navy Secretary and he shook my hand at a Pentagon ceremony. At Commerce, I implemented performance management systems that increased performance so much it was copied by the Brits, Canadians, Dutch, Ethiopians, and South Koreans. I trained international organizations at their request, and won the Chief Learning Officers’ Gold Business Impact Medal, was published in their magazine and won the Training Officers Conference Strategic Human Capital Award. I published 13 competency models, one on leadership. EXTREMELY CHALLENGING RHETORICAL QUESTIONS: Do you have a mentor holding you accountable? Are you working or producing? Show me. Why should anyone hire you rather than Joe Blow? Steve gave you the attention of 45,000 government employees. (WOW!! How incredibly kind of him!) Show Govloop what you have produced and we will know what you can do for us. I would bet that somebody would refer you to a hiring manager or at least another internship. I would forget about a dream job. I believe that you want to work where someone will pay you.

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Profile Photo lionel fernander

It is not unusual in this climate to find yourself in a situation like this, budget cuts and all, but if you want to be successful patience is a great virture. while you wait for the inevitable it is all about the individual not the dream job a job is a part of the process only and not an end result. success is based on how you plan to achieve your goals. while you are on the job be the best you can be.If the job does not work out become a consultant for the job i am sure the net work of people u met in university and the one you work with presently will have noticed your work ethic. the end result depends on the innovation, resourcefulness of the individual.

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Profile Photo Stephen Lambeth

Amanda,

I distinctly remember when I “went over” in my career. The “went over” is when I stopped worrying about that winding road that lies ahead, about the next career move, about who is going to hire me. We all experience what you are going through at times in our life. One of my mentor -role model-motivator authors is Tom Peters. I scour his web page for new leadership ideas constantly. Here is a slide that I hope he won’t mind sharing with you. The slide convey’s what is on the other side. I take great comfort in clinging to this ideal perspective he provides us and have discovered that there is enjoyment in everything we do, most everyone we meet, but most of all there is enjoyment in leaving a part of you with your contemporaries, your service staff, your subordinate staff members and occasionally your leaders. Here it is from Tom Peters a single Power Point slide: “It is the memories that matter” 

-The people you developed who went on to stellar accomplishments inside or outside the compay. (A reputation as “a peerless people developer.”)

-The (no more than) two or three people you developed who went on to create stellar institutions of their own.

-The long shots (people with “a certain something”) you bet on who surprised themselves–and your peers.

-The people of alll stripes who 2/5/10/20 years later say, “You made a difference in my life,” “Your belief in me changed everthing.”

-The sort of /character of people you hired in general. (And the bad apples you chucked out despite some stellar traits.)

-A handful of projects (a half dozen at most) you doggedly pursued that still make you smile and which fundamentally changed the way things are done inside or outside the company/industry.

-The supercharged camaraderie of a handful of Great Teams aiming to “change the world”.

You say “Steve that it’s different with older folks like you with a life time of experiences”. I say “Amanda you’ve already commenced the journey. You just haven’t realized it yet. It started in secondary school, went on with you through college and occurs in your everyday work now. Recognize those opportunities to create memories like Tom Peters points out above and you’ll start having more fun, more opportunities will open up to you. However, I must caution you that once you start, it is very addictive. My best wishes for you.

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Profile Photo Jake DeBower

Amanda~

I totally feel your pain, just from the middle of the country. I graduated in May with my MPP and am in a similar situation. I’m now working at my fourth internship since starting my degree, and I just applied to my fifth for the spring since that full-time job is proving so elusive.

I’ve enjoyed reading the responses to this thread. It’s nice to know there are others out there in a similar boat and that others have made it through. I wish you luck!

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Susan Thomas

@Amanda, Have you asked your office if you will be converted to full-time, permanent status? Your HR department should explain Schedule A status to you. In my experience, offices usually try very hard to keep employees who are high performers. In your work life, you will have many jobs that do not excite you. The key is to recognize the opportunities and possibilities and build on them. Don’t be anxious. Set goals. You sound as if you just want a job. Understandable. We all have to pay bills. But if money is the prime motivator, you will radiate that to potential employers and it will show in your performance. Employers want to know what you can do for them and the organization.

Look at your work life as a journey of continual learning and growth. Create a track record for yourself with reasonable longevity in each job. As Carol pointed out, you have the benefit of this wonderful forum as a resource and sounding board. Heed the advice of those who have been around the block. We do not mean to preach; we just want to give you the benefit of our life experiences.

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Profile Photo Amanda Parker

I just want to thank everyone for taking the time to share their throughts and perspectives. When I wrote this post I was pretty discouraged, but after reading everyone’s personal stories I’m reminded of why I pursued public service in the first place. There are many great places to work in government, many great missions to work for and clearly many awesome people to work with! I’m taking all of your advice to heart and will certainly refer back to these comments to keep me motivated. Thanks!!!

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Profile Photo Amanda Parker

To each of you who provided kind words, encouragement, and their own secrets to success–I just want to say thank you once again! Today I started my new job, as a Management Analyst with the Office of Inspector General at NASA. While not at all planned, I know it will be awesome, just like each of you!

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