From Private Sector to Govie: Taking Charge of Your Government Career


Transitioning to a new job is always challenging. There are so many unknowns on that first day, like: Are my new coworkers nice? Will my new boss be a micro-manager? Will I like the projects I am assigned to? Will I fit in well in this new environment? The list of questions goes on. These are the same concerns you’ll experience when transitioning from the private sector to the government, only you will probably have a few more questions and unknowns. For example, you may wonder: will I have someone to be my champion? Will I be able to move up quickly? Will I be able to take my career to the next level? These are all valid concerns and you SHOULD be asking yourself these things when transitioning to a government job. The key is finding answers to these questions sooner rather than later. Whether you recently transitioned to a government job from the private sector or you are simply considering it, here are a few things you can do to ensure a smooth transition:

  1. Adjust your expectations: Notice that I am not saying lower your expectations, but rather adjust them. Why? Because there are things that will inevitably be handled differently in the government and you just need to fine-tune your hopes in order to succeed. For example, from personal experience, when I worked for the private sector, I had a least 4 people championing me and helping me out with my career. I had my boss, a career manager, two mentors and a colleague who provided sound advice and opportunities for my professional growth. When I transitioned to the government, I quickly realized that things would be very different. Instead of being disillusioned, I decided to take action. My boss was providing good guidance and would point me to great training opportunities, but I knew that if I wanted to take my career to the next level and ensure rapid growth, I would have to do a lot more. So, I adjusted my expectations and came up with a plan to fill in the gaps.  The two tips below are part of that plan.
  2. Find a career-support buddy: In order to get the extra support and guidance I knew I needed, I searched for a career support-buddy. A career-support buddy can be a colleague, a mentor, a boss, or even a friend. Ideally this person can serve as your sounding board and can provide advice on how to effectively navigate the government culture while advancing your career. I would recommend you start your search within your organization. If you can’t find your support buddy in your organization, search outside, which is what I had to do. Because of the nature of my work, I was barely in the office so finding my support buddy there was difficult. My first step was getting involved in outside organizations like Young Government Leaders (YGL) and joining communities like Govloop, where I could meet and network with other govies. I also got involved in other similar groups outside of work and this is where I found all sorts of career-support buddies. My relationships with them haven’t been very formal, but they have been highly effective. You don’t have to meet with them every month in order to make it work. Sometimes a quick call, a short coffee break conversation or a meet up at a networking event is all you need to make the most out of your career-support buddy relationship.
  3. Don’t expect opportunities to find you: I had to learn this one the hard way. As I mentioned before, when I worked in the private sector I had a lot of people backing my career and sending all sorts of opportunities my way. This created a sort of accountability system that put pressure on me to do more and exceed expectations. As a result, I was able to move up quickly. The story was very different on the government side. I didn’t have an accountability system so I had to learn how to be accountable to myself. I didn’t have anyone pushing me to do more or to point out additional tasks or projects that could put me in high visibility roles. I had to learn how to push myself to do all these things. I asked to be part of other projects, I volunteered to help my boss with different tasks and I looked for ways to expand my knowledge and skills through trainings. I was also very proactive with my Individual Development Plan (IDP). I revisited it regularly and made sure I was meeting the goals that I set out for myself. This required a high level of discipline and self-drive, which most of the time does not come naturally to me. But I have reaped the benefits of doing this, and it is all worth it in the end!

Having to come up with my own accountability system has helped me become more self-sufficient, more determined and more strategic about professional relationships. Take control of your government career and make things happen. Don’t sit around waiting for things to magically come to you. You’ll thank yourself later!

Michelle Rosa 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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