The New Way to Climb the Federal Career Ladder


A sprinter knows that the only way he can perform at his highest potential is through a rigorous training program. He will not just focus on one area of his body, but he trains every part of his torso. He will even cross-train in other sports so he can have the edge over his competition.

As federal employees we have to do the same. We have to continually add to our Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) and learn other skills not in our job description. We need to cross-train in other departments. And above all, we have to continue to add massive value to our organization. If we want to climb the federal career ladder, we have to think more like an entrepreneur and less like an employee.

This will require some sacrifice, but remember, those who do not keep up are the ones that get left behind. I work in the mailing industry and the habits of the American public are changing. People are no longer using mail as their primary way to contact people.

What does that mean?

It means I have to continue learn new skills if I want to add value to my company in the future. I choose to start adding to my KSAs now.

What will you do?

If you want to stand out from your colleagues, you have to find a way to contribute value every work day. Think of your KSAs as a financial investment in yourself. But remember, investments can either appreciate or depreciate. That’s why, once you’ve learned a subject or skill, you have to continually develop new ones. In order to stay competitive, you have to add to what you already know.

Here are some ideas:

  • Start learning a skill during the evenings and weekends.
  • Start building relationships with people who work in a different department/agency.
  • Apply for a part-time internship.
  • Volunteer at an organization you like.
  • Start a side business.

When you remake yourself, you grow and your identity doesn’t get found, it emerges.

Also, be sure to take advantage of any training that your federal organization provides. But you can also invest in yourself by enrolling in some online courses such as:


In his book, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, LinkedIn Co-Founder Reed Hoffman shares this insight, “In 2009, a billboard sat along the 101 Highway in the Bay Area that said: “1,000,000 people overseas can do your job. What makes you so special?”

While one million people might be an exaggeration, what is not an exaggeration is that there are lots of people who can and want to do your job. So what makes you stand out?

By continually developing your KSAs, you will not only stay in the game, you will stay ahead of it as well.

Imagine what your job and industry will look like five years from today. Will you be doing the exact same job you are doing today? Probably not.

So ask yourself:

  • What parts of my knowledge, skills and abilities are becoming obsolete?
  • What type of work am I performing today that is different from what I was doing just one year ago?
  • How am I currently adding value at work?
  • What more can I do?

If you were asked to state in one sentence or less what you do better than anyone else, could you? If not, now is the time to start preparing that statement.

Decide now on one area in your professional life that you want to be known for. Do everything you can to make yourself stand out from the crowd. If you do this, you will be paid more and promoted faster than all those around you. You will eventually land your dream job, just like me.

Meiko Patton 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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Hannah Moss

Great advice, Meiko! These skills trainings are also a great way to keep you interested in your job, as you’re constantly learning new things!

Roodi Villalpando

Expanding and showcasing one’s increased KSAs is great and only if the interview questions call for them – but then, one must first get the interview.