, ,

Five Get-Ahead Tips for Feds by Lily Whiteman

Aside from the obvious — to work like the Dickens — here are ten potentially pivotal get-ahead tips.

1. Follow the money, controversy and power: Unfair though it is, employees who work in front offices with SESers and political appointees tend to ascend the career ladder faster than comparably productive employees who toil in out-of-sight, backwater offices. Why? Because managers who run front offices usually have the authority and funding to promote worthy employees. So pick projects, details and jobs that will give you face-time with managers in front offices.

2, Be a problem-solver: If you can, and it is appropriate for you to do so, independently trouble-shoot problems with as minimal help as possible from supervisors. If your boss doesn’t already know about your resulting problem-solving successes, tell him about them. Generally speaking, your boss will be happier to see and hear from you if you tell him about problems you solved rather than problems you created or can’t solve. And if possible, be the unflappable, indefatigable trouble-shooter through office-wide crises.

3. Be proactive: Don’t wait to be assigned dull, ho-hum projects. Instead, take the initiative: Suggest to your boss projects that would advance your boss’s goals and would offer you the career-boosting experience you need to get ahead.

4. Get a broad range of experience: To get into the Senior Executive Service (SES), you will need experience in varied issues — including, to name just a few, budgeting, human resources, contract management, project management, and supervising large numbers of people. This is the kind of diverse, in-depth experience that you can’t earn overnight or fake. So if you aspire to the SES, seek experience/training in all of types of office issues, even those that don’t interest you. Beware: this may require moving between jobs and/or agencies.

Also, if you want to become an SESer, discuss your prospects with current SESers, and,if appropriate your current boss. When you do so, ask them to help you identify gaps in your credentials and help you identify ways to fill them.

If you can’t get career-boosting management and supervisory experience on the job,, consider gaining needed experience by taking leadership roles in volunteer positions with various non-work organizations, including, professional organizations, community organizations, the PTA, condo boards, or non-profits.

Also review these documents on opm.gov: Guide To Senior Executive Service Qualifications and Welcome to the Senior Executive Service. (And remember, you don’t have to be a GS-15 to apply to the SES; GS-14s may apply as well.)

5. Start spreading the news: Unfortunately, many bosses — overworked and untrained in supervising — rarely take the time and trouble to ask their staffers those five little words, “what are you working on?” Unfortunately, what your boss doesn’t know about your successes can hurt you. After all, if your boss is unaware of your achievements, you probably won’t get credit for them on your annual evaluations.

So if you suspect that your boss is unaware of your latest successes, directly tell him about them Accompany your explanations with any relevant work products, such as related web pages, reports, project summaries, videos, diagrams and postings on various forms of new media. Remember, as Walt Whitman said, “If you done it, it aint bragging.”


Lily Whiteman is the author of the critically acclaimed, “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.” Also, she delivers seminars/workshops on career advancement skills. Lily’s career advice has appeared in many national media outlets, including “The Wall Street Journal,” The Washington Post,” and National Public Radio. Lily’s website is IGotTheJob.net.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Martha Garvey

Love this. Didn’t know Walt Whitman said. Another brilliant and talented self-promoter, Muhammad Ali, said, “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.”

I think one of the great takeaways of this post is, “Don’t wait to be discovered.” And for those of us who are shy about sharing our successes, remember–by telling your boss what you’re up to, you are making him or her smarter, too.

Lily’s book is terrific, too. It’s given me a lot of insight not just into the job hunt process, but into the workings of federal government, as well.

Victoria A. Runkle

All of these are great. And, another word that covers many of the noted actions is “be positive.” The times are difficult, no raises, furloughs, etc. etc. Customers are difficult — uh, because they are having difficult times too. As a top manager I gravitate to the people who are positive and have a “can do” attitude. We are not ignoring the fact things are difficult. We just don’t need to wallow there.

Peter Sperry

I would add — Know the rules. Follow the Rules. If promotion to senior grades requires certain educational credentials, go get them. If it requires X number of years in a hardship assignment (common in the military and some agencies), volunteer and get them out of the way. Whatever it takes, do it. Too many people believe managment can make an exception to promote them even without having checked off all the “meaningless” boxes simply because they are consistently recieving outstanding reviews in their current job. Then they become resentful when they find out their boss simply does not have that authority and has little choice but to pass them over for someone who may merely meet expectations but who has checked off all the now very meaningful boxes.

Peter Sperry

@Jennifer — Hardship assignments would include combat zones for the military (old saying=”there is no promotion, this side of the ocean”) or particularly backward third world countries for the State Department. They vary from agency to agency and not all agencies have them. Sometimes the hardship requirment is a cultural requirment, ie. the hiring manager paid their dues and will not choose anyone who has not. In a few agencies, the requirment may be written into the position description ie. even if the hiring manager loves you like a child, you still have to have a hardship assignment on your record or they cannot offer you the higher level job. At one point the military had standing personnel directives requiring at least one hardship assignment to qualify for promotion to E5 or O4. I beleive (not certain) the State Department has similar requirements for Foriegn Service Officers and Interieor likes to see park rangers spend some time in the less than luxurious parks. Go up on USAJOBS and read some of the detailed position descriptions and requirments for the types of jobs you want to have in 14 to 18 years. Use what you learn as a roadmap to plan your own progression.