5 Reasons Why a Detail Should be Your Next Professional Development Activity


This week marks my fourth week on detail to the Office of Personnel Management’s Innovation Lab, commonly known as The Lab at OPM. If you’re not familiar with the Lab, it was created as a space to encourage creative problem solving within the government. Modeled after visits to companies known for creativity and innovation in Silicon Valley, the Lab adopted human-centered design as the creative problem solving methodology it uses to inspire innovation. For the next two months, I will be learning how to best apply human-centered design to complex government challenges. (Want to learn more? The Lab, its work and human-centered design will be discussed in my future posts, so stay tuned!)

After four years working in the federal government, this is my first detail experience. There are four main reasons why. First, I only learned what a detail was about a year or so ago. For those of you who may not know what it is, a detail is a temporary assignment to another office or agency. Second, even after learning what a detail was, my limited awareness led me to believe that it was reserved for development program participants, like the Presidential Management Fellows. For quite some time, I was pulling myself out of the running for positions because I did not even think I was eligible. Once I realized that I was eligible, I did not know where to look for the opportunities.  Sometimes details are shared via email.  Other times, they may be posted on agency webpages.  There really is no one place to find them.  (Here’s my tip – If you’re interested in a detail opportunity at an office, just ask!) Then, when I was able to find some detail opportunities that interested me, I was too afraid to ask my supervisor to allow me to go. Our team is small, and we are always busy. Also, often times, details are paid for by your home office. I wasn’t sure how my office would view paying my salary while I worked for someone else. Ultimately, I realized that if I never asked, I would never know. Once I did, my supervisor worked with me to figure out a time and a duration that would enable my team to continue to deliver, while also providing me with a valuable professional development opportunity.

Since leaving for my detail a month ago, I am extremely happy with my decision. I have already learned valuable information about myself and think it was just the challenge that I needed to continue to grow professionally.

Considering a detail? Here are 5 reasons why it should be your next professional development activity.  

  1. Learn about the work of a different agency – The federal government is a big place. In fact, there are hundreds of agencies. Being exposed to the variety of work that exists in the government can help you better understand the big picture of what the government does, and it can also expose you to new opportunities for future positions.
  2. See how other teams across government work – Even if you take a detail in another office within your home agency, you will still be exposed to a different team and, very likely, a different work dynamic. This expands your perspective to consider new and different ways of working, as well as the different roles that can be played on a team. Learning new ways to work with colleagues and playing different roles in a team are valuable experiences to have in the government’s team-based work environment. Developing these skills during a temporary assignment will continue to serve you when you return to your position and in future positions.
  3. Gain flexibility and adaptability skills – The world is constantly changing, which means that we’re going to constantly need to be flexible and to adapt to the world around us. The government of the 1980s is much different than the government of today. Taking a temporary assignment in another office will force you to work on being flexible and adaptable, since you will be dropped into a new environment with a new team. Change is hard, but learning about change and how to deal with it during a temporary assignment will prepare you for the potentially more difficult adjustments you will need to make in the future.
  4. Learn new professional/technical skills – When you’re busy doing your job, it’s hard to find time to build new skills. Even if you get to go to a training, many of us struggle to apply what we learn within the confines of our regular day-to-day. A detail can be an opportunity to learn new skills or the place where you can apply what you have learned. It can also be a chance for you to apply existing skills in a new and different way. Learning new skills will develop you professionally, keeping you marketable and competitive in a constantly changing world.
  5. Space from your existing job allows time for reflection & new ideas – Not many of us have time to step back, reflect on our work, and discover new opportunities during our busy days. The physical separation during a detail can give you that space to be creative and think about things differently. What’s great too is that you’ll be exposed to new ideas and different ways of working that even if you do not intentionally set aside time, your brain will be constantly connecting concepts, flooding your head with new ideas and reflections.

On the look-out for an exciting detail opportunity? The Lab at OPM is always looking for detailees. If you’re interested in learning more about human-centered design, join us for a six-month stint! Contact Arianne Miller, Deputy Director of the Lab, at [email protected] for more information.

Blair Corcoran de Castillo is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Olivia Jefferson

Great post Blair! Going on detail seems like a great opportunity for people to learn from fellow government employees and bring that knowledge back to their own agency.

Thomas Hernandez

Thanks, Blair! Hadn’t considered such a move until now. Would love any additional tips on how to seek out detail opportunities – perhaps in a future blog!

Blair Corcoran de Castillo

Thomas – Glad that you’re considering a detail! Thanks for the great idea about a blog post on where people can find detail opportunities. I really do think that is one of the hardest parts about getting a detail. I’m going to start researching this! Thanks!

Becky Latka

Great post! I agree with all of your points, and have learned a lot from my details in the past, even though they were all within my agency. I think a detail in another agency would be very worthwhile!

Blair Corcoran de Castillo

Hi Becky – Thanks so much for your comments. How did you find out about your detail opportunities? I feel like it’s hard to find them.

Terrence Hill

I recently completed a part-time detail to the Lab @ OPM to learn more about human-centered design. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and just wish that I could continue my engagement with this group! Not all details need to be fulltime. I was able to juggle both jobs while detailed, which made this a much easier sell to management!

Blair Corcoran de Castillo

Hi Terrence – Nice to meet you virtually! I’ve heard so much about you from the folks here at the Lab. Great point about the fact that details do not need to be full-time. I’d love to hear more about how you were able to balance your job and a detail.


I think I will try a detail experience. You answered all the questions I had when I saw e-mails posting opportunities. Thanks