Dos and Don’ts for Millennials in Civil Service

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One of my biggest hurdles when I joined the federal service was the lack of information on transitioning from “College Kid” to “Working Professional.” I did a lot of research on it, but there wasn’t much. After a while, my Googling turned into “Career Advice for Millennials”…and there was even less! So while I was armed with common sense knowledge (Do your time sheets! Respect the chain of command!), I had nothing on millennial-focused lessons learned to make my transition to “Working Professional” less terrifying. Since GovLoop is all about sharing knowledge and experiences to help others, I thought I’d share some dos and don’ts for millennials transitioning to, or improving their position in, civil service based on my aha! moments.

DO

  • Be patient. You’re going to hear this a lot and it is going to frustrate you to no end – believe me, I spent my first three years in civil service hearing “be patient” more than anything else and at one point, I was hearing it weekly. Channel the frustration you’re going to have into something productive, like learning and honing a new skill that will turn you into a powerful in-demand asset. For me, it was learning Scrum Methodology and becoming a Scrum Master.
  • Use your lunch break. You don’t have to use it every day, but you should at least use an equivalent amount of time each day to step away from work, whether it’s to take a walk around the building or sit in the sun outside for a bit. You’ll clear your head, which will make it easier to take on new perspectives that just might help you find a new solution to your problem.
  • Be flexible. Flexibility is key to civil service and it goes hand-in-hand with being patient. Learning and becoming flexibility takes time and skill, but you’ll become a stronger team player when you can adapt on the spot.
  • Keep having, and sharing, innovative ideas. Especially ones that benefit your organization as a whole. Can’t get anyone to listen? Create or build a demo and pitch it. Management responds better to what they can see and touch themselves.
  • Have at least one hobby. Whether its a hobby or stress-relieving leisure activity, make sure you are doing something that has nothing to do with work and the things you do at work. It’s going to be hard to turn off your brain, but getting involved in something that has nothing to do with work or business is a good way to disengage and disconnect.
  • Monitor and track your official forms and documents. – everything from pay stubs to performance evaluations, training requests to SF forms. Always double-check everything for accuracy and always keep personal hard copies of SF-50s in a safe place at home.
  • Trust your colleagues and your supervisors. They’ll pick up the pieces when you can’t and they’ll help you put the pieces back together when you ask. They’ve got your back. They won’t let you fail. You’re in this together.

DON’T

  • See things only in black and white. There’s a lot of gray in the working world and it’s not always about right or wrong. More often than not, there’s always more than one way to solve a problem. Work with your team or your colleagues to find the best solution.
  • Put your name everywhere. Remember how, in school, we had to write our names on everything to get credit? That doesn’t fly in government. Depending on your field, your agency, or your department, personal credit isn’t likely because it’s not about what you accomplished anymore. It’s about what your agency or your department accomplished for the government, the country (state, region, county, city, etc.), and the citizens.
  • Put work at the center of your life. No one ever wishes they had worked more, right? So take your vacations. Go to your doctor appointments. Take personal days and mental health days. And on that note…
  • Come to work when you’re not feeling well. Whether it’s a cold or an upset stomach or cramps or jet lag or plain ol’ winter blues. You’ll feel worse at the end of the day (if you can make it) and everyone will know you’re not feeling your best, no matter how much medication or caffeine you take. Like on airplanes, put your own mask on before helping others.
  • Worry too much about the budget stuff. Sequestration, furloughs, RIFs (Reduction in Force), budget freezes, hiring freezes, attrition, continuing resolution, government shutdown, debt ceiling—they’re scary words and they’re words to pay attention to, but don’t let the worry and the anxiety over the uncertainty in these words scare you. Be prepared with a plan in case these things happen, but don’t worry. (Yes, I know the irony of saying this with a government shutdown threat looming overhead!)
  • Skimp out on saving for retirement. The best advice I got? Get the maximum for matching TSP contributions; invest in a Roth TSP so you’re paying taxes on it now while you’re saving, not later when you’re using; and take a FERS Retirement seminar now. You’ll be the youngest person in the class and none of the information will apply when you’re eligible for retirement, but you’ll learn how to plan, and protect those plans, for when you do retire.

Meganne Lemon 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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Profile Photo Danielle Metzinger

Love this, Meganne! I can absolutely relate — I started in state government right after college and felt like I had stepped on to another planet! These are excellent points for folks to consider. Thank you for writing this.

Tammy Seleski

I relate to this article on a different level-I am a baby boomer, who started my career in my late 40’s! Believe me when I say that this advice is spot-on, and if I may add a Don’t: Don’t take it personally. I had to learn this the hard way, but learned it well! We can all take away positive things from this article–thank you Meganne!

Ernie Butler

I take exception to the “Don’t put your name everywhere”. As stated, “Depending on your field, agency, or department…” Some organizations reward their superstars, financially or with leave. Unfortunately you may encounter those who will take the credit for your work and you will need to seek support to get your due-justice. Keep your eyes open to the character of your colleagues and supervisor. (There may be wolves among the sheep.)