Career Advice for Government Employees at All Levels

If you’ve ever applied for a government job, then you’re all too familiar with the somewhat unrealistic job descriptions. How could one person possibly meet all of those qualifications, right? If you’re new to government or have not amassed all of those skills, how can you compete?

These were a few of the questions posed to a senior panel of speakers at an Aug. 1 Next Generation of Government Training Summit, Understanding Government 101. To get to the heart of pressing questions about government service, attendees heard from:

  • Jonathan Bennet, Chief Enterprise Architect, Department of Agriculture
  • Melody Gonzales, Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of Personnel Management
  • Jim Borland, Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Communications, Social Security Administration
  • Sean Clayton, Chief Human Capital Officer, National Archives and Records Administration

Below are a few of the questions posted to the panelists, along with their answers.

What is the most important skill or competency needed to navigate the structure of government?

The ability to build coalitions, and a desire to be political savvy. Building a brand for yourself as you interact with colleagues, peers and those who have more experience is key. – Sean Clayton

Personal accountability. When you go to work every day do the best you can at what you do. If you commit to personal excellence, people will notice. Early in your career that’s what it’s about. – Jim Borland

Resilience. Within your personal and work life find things that give you resilience. That is the place that is happy and productive for you. – Melody Gonzales

Patience and being persistent. Follow up and take initiative. Call me a nag, but you will get things done. – Jonathan Bennet

How can you be competitive for government positions without having performed specific requirements in the job posting?

Some people automatically eliminate themselves after reading a job announcement. If you meet 60 to 70 percent of the qualifications, I say apply for the job because you can probably pick up the other 30 percent along the way. Some jobs are so typecast they may be for a specific individual, and those are the jobs you should pass. Don’t be so concerned with having all the skills upfront. – Sean Clayton

For those who are early in their career, they typically don’t become a specialist until they are a GS 13 or 14. For now, they are generalists, and the skills they have are transferable. When applying for jobs, identify the skills within the job requirement that you can perform. – Jim Borland

What advice can you offer on making lateral career moves?

Evaluate your passion. It’s not always about taking steps upward. I actually took a down step because I really believed in the mission I would be doing at another agency. If you are passionate about something, there will be plenty of opportunities to advance. Take your time and have fun along the way. – Jonathan Bennet

Ask yourself, what is your “why.” Why are you doing what you’re doing? If you aren’t entirely fulfilled, consider other opportunities. But ask yourself why you want those opportunities. – Melody Gonzales

The right time to start looking for your next job is now. In the D.C area you are in job-hopping nirvana. Jump at opportunities, especially if you are comfortable at your current job. That next job might or might not be the next thing that fulfills your passions. When you find it you will know it. Nobody cares as much about your career as you do. You have to own it. – Jim Borland

Anytime is a good time to lateral. I’m working on my fourth agency now, and they include Agriculture, Energy, Social Security Administration and now with NARA. It’s about building a breadth of experience in all the areas government is involved in. You can practice your skills at different agencies. – Sean Clayton

This blog post is a recap of a session that took place at the recent Next Generation of Government Summit. Want to see more great insights that came out of NextGen? Head here.

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