Career Advice: Why Initiative Beats Inertia

Originally posted by Lily Whiteman on thegovgurus.com:

Even if you have the best boss in the world, you will never be more than your boss’s second most important priority. Indeed, no matter how kind and caring your boss is, how much camaraderie you share with your colleagues and how loving your family is, you’re the only person in the world who has true pride of ownership over your career; it is your career.

Sure: managers, colleagues and members of your inner circle may provide you with guidance and support. But whether you’re in government or the private sector, you can’t expect anyone else to vigilantly look out for your career, ensure that you get the recognition you deserve, and devote themselves to your advancement.

What’s more, even if you have the perfect job now, perfection is usually only a temporary state. So now matter how happy you are in your current job, you will probably eventually have to find another one.

Nevertheless, opportunities to improve your skills, land career-boosting assignments, generate key contacts and advance probably won’t just drop into your lap. You must aggressively find and pursue them by showing initiative and applying enterprising, savvy strategies. Here are some ways to do so:

* Stay current in your field: Every field continually changes and evolves. So if you don’t continually improve your skills and knowledge, you will fall behind the curve. In order to stay ahead of the curve, ask your boss to send you to relevant trainings offered by your agency, the Federal Executive Institute and Management Training Centers at leadership.opm.gov, the USDA Graduate School at www.grad.usda.gov, and the Federal Executive Boards at feb.gov. Also, peruse the Catalogue of Federal Leadership Development Programs at opm.gov/fedldp/index.aspx, and classes for feds inventoried at govleaders.org. And, if appropriate, ask your boss if your office will pay for your tuition for relevant university classes or degrees.

* Follow the power: Seize any and all opportunities to interact with the front offices of your agency and department. Why? Because those front offices are loaded with high-graded positions, big budgets and senior managers who have the power to promote. So it’s usually easier to move up in front offices than backwater offices. What’s more, if you hitch your wagon to one of your front office’s rising stars, you may rise with him/her. Remember: success is often more about who knows what you can do rather than just who you know.

* Follow the controversy: If possible, volunteer to contribute to your organization’s high-profile, high-priority projects. Your contributions to such projects will be more appreciated and will provide more exposure to high-level officials that will your contributions to back-burner projects.

* Develop a useful, high-demand specialty: This technique helped a young financial planner and all-around go-getter catapult into the senior executive service. He explains, “I volunteered to distill complex data and trends into bite-sized descriptions and easy-to-understand graphs for managers. I thereby helped them find good answers to hard problems. Soon I was getting invited to high-level meetings where these conceptual skills were useful. And those meeting provided a good vantage point for me to spot opportunities for advancement.”

* Be available and helpful: When your office is short staffed tell your office director that you’re available to help. For example, several years ago, a Policy Analyst at the Department of Housing and Urban Development did just that on July 3, after most of her colleagues had already left for the holiday. The result: By the end of that July, the Policy Analyst had been hand-picked by the Assistant Secretary to become her Special Assistant. Also, be the unflappable troube-shooter during crises.

* Stay in touch: Keep in contact with as many of your current colleagues as possible. And whenever you change jobs, send out a global email with your new contact info to your contacts. Why? Because as you move up the career ladder, so will your current colleagues and supervisors. So even if they can’t hire you now, they may be able to do so in the future. What’s more, as your contacts move from agency to agency, they will provide you with pipelines into other organizations.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Nice article, Steve. Thanks for the Graduate School shout out. A mentor of mine recently urged me to follow #5 (Be available and helpful), especially during a time of transition in an organization. Also, you are really good at #6. Curious to know what tools you use to manage your impressive contact list.