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5 Things You Should Know Before Joining The Federal Government

Culture, culture, culture - it's all about culture.

1. You never know who you're talking to. Quiet and unassuming people are routinely very powerful people. (It's bad form to be showy and self promotional.) So be extra careful to show everybody the same amount of respect.

2. You never know who is married to who, or in a relationship with who, or who has an archenemy where. Across four different agencies in ten years, I have learned to watch my step. Feds work in agencies for many years, find their partners there, get divorced there, and form bitter rivalries. Again, be careful what you say about who. 

3. Everybody is confused by the amount of red tape. On a snow day like yesterday, we're all reading fifteen different guidances to make sure we know what to do. Never feel dumb about this. If you thought you knew the answers, we would be laughing at you.

4. Problems are usually worked out quietly, not in town halls. It's important to have events and send out corporate communications for the sake of making clear what priorities are. But real progress happens in small meetings where the microphones are off.

5. Every agency has its own culture, traditions and history and you need to know what you don't know. At one agency, you show up ten minutes late to a meeting and that's starting time. At another, attendance means coming five minutes early. Typically there are issues around field versus headquarters, or component versus headquarters, or division versus division. If you don't understand the sensitivities you can easily sound foolish.

* All opinions my own.

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Tags: communications, leadership


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Comment by Dale M. Posthumus on December 14, 2013 at 1:47pm

These concepts apply to any workplace. They may happen to a greater or lesser degree or in a different way, but these are issues everywhere.

On the other hand these are "cautions" which seem to suggest "keep your head down and your mouth shut". I hope that was not your intent. I would also hope people coming into Govt or moving among agencies would, instead, stand up and speak out. This must be done with respect and with an understanding of the above 5 cautions, but must be done to make our Govt work better.

Comment by Rita Vaz on December 12, 2013 at 9:21am

The listed criteria are great words of wisdom and apply not just to people considering joining the federal government but also for those moving from one agency to another. Use it like a refresher specially if you have been in the culture of your agency for way too long.

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