Are You Undermining Your Career?

Let’s make a bet. If you are at your same job 10 years from now, I’ll give you $10, but if you have switched jobs, you have to give me $5. Sound like a fair bet? It’s not. On average, people are now switching jobs every 5 years and for the newest generations in the workforce, it is closer to 3 years per job. So besides losing a bet to me, are you doing everything you need to do to prepare for a career that means finding a new job every couple of years? Here are some helpful pieces of advice I have learned (or been told, I still have a lot to learn) along the way:

Advice #1: Network, Network, and Network

I actually wrote Network three times for a reason. I could probably write about networking for an entire article (which I’ll probably end up doing), but this is one I’ve learned from personal experience.

  • The first networking goal is within your agency. It is extremely important to create a network across your agency that can increase your visibility and opportunities.
  • The second networking goal is across government. There are so many cool things going on across government that you may be interested in and the only way you’re going to find out about them is getting involved. Go to Young Government Leader and GovLoop events (GovLoop, you can pay me commission later) to meet government employees at other agencies.
  • The third networking goal is getting involved in shared interest groups. If you’re in communications like me, that means joining communication professional associations and getting to know other communication professionals in every field. We get to share ideas, best practices, and network within a shared community.

Advice #2: Get a mentor

Let me correct myself, don’t just get one mentor, get multiple mentors. Find people that have experiences, skill sets, and personalities that care about YOU. Thinking about a career change or debating a new job? Mentors are great to bounce ideas off of. Finding a mentor can be a challenge, and keeping one is even tougher.

Don’t be afraid to formally ask someone to mentor you and come to a formal mentor arrangement. Structure can help both of you understand expectations and create a long lasting, mutually beneficial relationship

Don’t have anyone to be your mentor? Try networking! Get yourself out there and always keep an eye open for a possible mentor. There are also programs that can help you get started. I’m actually participating in the GovLoop mentor program which has been fantastic (that is now twice GovLoop, I hope the check is in the mail).

Advice #3: Manage your brand

I talked about this in my blog about Gordon Ramsey, but your brand represents you when you’re not there. I haven’t come across a leader yet that says “I have enough really smart, energetic people.” Many times, it isn’t your connections that open doors, but rather the network of your connections.

Are you ready for a switch?

If you play the odds, you’re going to get the itch to change things up at least a couple of times in your career. When you get that itch, how easy will it be to scratch it? Don’t undermine your career by only focusing on your current job and responsibilities.

Relatively speaking, jobs are easy to find, but fulfilling careers are an endless endeavor with twists and turns that can take you anywhere. Be prepared for the journey and set yourself up for success by working at your network, having mentors, and understanding how to manage your brand.

Three pieces of advice is not exactly comprehensive and I’m sure everyone reading this has received some valuable advice for how to help their careers. What advice do you have? How are you seeing people undermine their careers and how can it be prevented?

Kevin Richman is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!).

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Hannah Moss

Advice #1 is spot-on! One thing I would add: Even if you’re looking to stay in government long-term, networking outside of government-focused environments shouldn’t be discounted. Often times, making connections outside of the government can still really support your role and your prospects. After all, you may meet someone volunteering for the Sierra Club, for example, that later on joins the Department of the Interior. And in the meantime, that person may provide good resources or contacts for your job, even if they do come from outside the government sphere.

Lorin Meeks-Harris

To Whom It May Concern,

Thank you for the article concerning career topics. The challenge I am finding is I have many connections. Due to life circumstances I am finding that standard career advancement strategy may differ for me. If possible may I request assistance offline.

Thank You,

Lorin Meeks-Harris

Lorin Meeks-Harris

Hi Consequi- Thank you for the offer of assistance. As a college graduate and newly reinstated federal government employee within the past four years I unable to afford your services. Most importantly thank you for the offer to help.

Patrick Fiorenza

I really enjoyed this article, lots of great points. I think it’s a reality that most people will bounce around in their careers – but I think being young there is a lot of benefits to actually sticking it out at your organization, unless you’re dealing with toxic issues in the workplace (bad boss, grossly underpaid, not passionate, etc). In 2-3 years, you are just barely learning how things work, and if you leave, you’re going to miss out on a lot experiences and potential growth opportunities. I think that’s particularly true in the public sector, where it’s more of a marathon than a sprint to make impact. But then again, the key is to have the flexibility and network to jump ship if needed. Nice post!

A.B. (Arnold Baldwin

Great article and great advice. GovLoop is doing a fantastic job featuring articles that deal with career realities. The government is a great place to work and is very large thereby enabling persons to transverse across agencies, etc. However, I would recommend if you are beginning your career, to work at least five (5); to eight (8); or even ten (10) years in a perspective area. Subsequent to those time frames if your desire is to expand your horizons, moving forward into another position is a great thing and encouraged. Those formative years allow persons to establish a foundation and understanding that enables a successful future. The rationale for staying in a particular field for those recommended time spans is to ensure you gain an understanding and are able to contribute in future positions from past experiences. I agree that most people that work for the federal government, especially those that are 20 years or less into their careers will change jobs multiple times during their tenure. It is directly tied to technology and the ever changing world we live in. The days of staying in a particular position for 20 years or more is not reality especially in the technical fields. Overall it also depends on your outlook and career aspirations.

Rachel Niebeling

Great Advice Kevin! I definitely agree with all 3 of your tips… Networking being the main factor in all of them.

I think another good tip for me has been not to underestimate yourself or close doors to opportunities. Everyday, every interaction is an opportunity to show yourself and the world your capabilities.

Believe in yourself!

PS: Thanks for the double GovLoop shoutout!!!!!

Mark Hammer

1) I find most of the interest and perspectives on “careers” come from people who actually haven’t HAD one yet. I’d be interested to know what the folks at the other end of the tenure spectrum have to say. What made them feel like they had one? What did it take to create the feeling of having one? If they feel they didn’t, why not, and was it a disappointment to them, or merely water off a duck’s back?

2) What do people think a “career” IS? Is it an orderly progression of roles that involve high-order thinking and responsibility about something that matters to you? Is it ONLY promotions? Does it involve constant movement (at one of the rates Kevin noted), or is there some particular asymptote or resting point being aimed for, and movement beyond that is moot? Do you measure it in terms of the projects or initiatives or accomplishments? Is it something that simply strives to avoid burnout or boredom? How would you know you’ve HAD one?

3) In the public sector, a great deal of what ails it IS careerism. The relentless movement of the high-flyers, in search of the next whatever, has multiple negative side-effects. I know in our own government employee survey, two of the most predictive survey items (in terms of being correlated with a host of other *seemingly* unrelated things) are questions that ask if the quality of one’s own work suffers due to “constantly changing priorities”, and “instability in the organization”. Both of those factors can obviously come from other sources (e.g., change in government). But they can also come from the constant change in management, from line supervisors on up. New person comes in, and whatever was top of mind Friday is back-burner Monday morning. So much for employee engagement.

Indeed, the careerism of others is often an obstacle to their subordinates’ career progress. When a new manager arrives, they hit the ground running. They have little idea who to invest in, how to invest in them, or even why they should invest in them. It takes time for all of that to gel. Small wonder that employees who report more turnover in their supervisors also report less support for career development.

4) At least some of the career pursuit of younger people is really to find their way from entry-level jobs, they may have taken to get into government, to jobs more connected with their training and what they feel their strengths to be. In our survey of public servants applying for jobs, we ask people about how many other applications they were waiting to hear on. One sees a fairly steady decline, with tenure, in the number of irons people have in the fire. Part of this is people getting choosier about what they apply to, over time. Part of it is contentment with current level. But another part is the frenzied search by recent grads to be in a job that comes close to what they trained for. That’s not so much upward movement, as finding the niche you want, and (hopefully) work best in.

5) Finding the right balance between personal needs, as reflected in career pursuit, and the collectivism required for a properly functioning public administration and public sector, is tricky. The means for advancement have to be there; you can’t nail people’s feel to the floor. But neither can we get done what we are there to do if the singular preoccupation is with upward mobility.