7 Ways to Gain Career-Boosting Credentials

Are you stuck in a run on your job — eager to reach new goals but lacking opportunities to do so? If so, consider discussing your goals with your supervisor. If your goals align with your organization’s mission, your supervisor will likely support your pursuit of developmental activities that will help you achieve your goals.

Some strategies to enhance your credentials:

  1. Take the initiative on your assignments: Don’t just wait to be assigned dull, ho-hum projects. Instead, suggest to your supervisor projects that would benefit your organization and give you desirable new credentials. I can personally testify to this strategy because I have used it to my own advantage many times.  For example, years ago, I worked as a writer for an agency whose shrinking budget compelled management to start a downsizing effort. I responded to the downsizing by suggesting to my supervisor that I design and lead seminars for the agency’s job-hunting employees on how to write resumes. My supervisor approved my proposal because it jibed with management’s goal of helping employees find jobs in other organizations. This project also gave me my first credentials as a career coach.
  2. Offer to assist managers whose work interests you and strategically volunteer to help cover staffing gaps. I know, for example, a federal accountant who had an itch to switch careers. So with her supervisor’s approval, she volunteered to help the director of her agency’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program manage a few cases. Several months after the accountant started her ADR work, the ADR director went on maternity leave, and so the accountant slid into the ADR’s director’s job as a temporary substitute. Then, when the ADR director finished her maternity leave, she quit. So the accountant was eventually selected as ADR director.
  3. Seek “detail” opportunities — temporary assignments in other offices or agencies. A detail assignment may enable you to contribute to new types of projects, provide networking opportunities and/or potentially lead to a permanent job. Find detail assignments via word of mouth, asking managers about detail opportunities on their staffs, and doing keyword searches on USAJOBS. In addition, several organizations run special programs for feds that involve a detail-like experiences and/or training. These organizations include the American Council of Technology and Industry Advisory Council; the American Political Science Association; the Government Affairs Institute of Georgetown University; MITRE; and the Partnership for Public Service.
  4. Advance your education. I know, for example, a former GS-14 Public Affairs Specialist at EPA whose department covered her entire tuition for a Master’s in Public Administration that she earned at night. That degree helped her land a GS-15 position.  Look for online and in-person classes on govleaders.org. You might be able to cover some or all of your tuition through your office’s training budget or your agency’s student loan repayment program. In addition, feds may receive special scholarship and tuition breaks at the College for America at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU); Drexel University Online; Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies; and the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business. (SNHU and Drexel extended the benefits to the spouses and dependents of feds.) All of these schools offer online programs, and Georgetown and the University of Maryland offer on-campus classes.
  5. Give presentations at professional meetings and publish articles in scholarly journals and popular publications. By doing so, you will generate impressive evidence of your communication skills and help establish yourself as an expert in your field. (Warning: Adhere to your organization’s clearance requirements for publishing articles, and delivering talks that cover your government work and clear your outside professional activities with your agency’s ethics officer.)
  6. Become active in professional organizations. There are dozens of professional organizations for varied federal professions, underrepresented groups, and people at various career levels. These organizations sponsor networking, training and opportunities to give and receive mentoring. In addition, because professional organizations are smaller and more nimble than federal organizations and because they are run by volunteers, they offer great opportunities to gain top management experience.
  7. Volunteer: Yes, volunteer experience counts as much as paid experience on federal job applications. So if your job doesn’t offer you needed experience to move up, try to gain it by volunteering for a nonprofit or another type of organization. For example, suppose you were aiming for the SES but you lacked required financial management experience. You might be able to gain such experience by volunteering as treasurer of your condo board.

By Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job

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