Tricky Career Scenario: Jump Ship or Ask for More?

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This topic contains 28 replies, has 16 voices, and was last updated by  Mark Hammer 7 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #171094

    For the GovLoop Mentors Program, we asked applicants to share their top 3 goals with us. One of the most common responses was “taking on leadership roles.” Below is a scenario we created to address this challenge.

    Michael is a GS-13 who has been in his role for 18 months.

    He had a fast start, supporting several projects that were relatively high profile when he came on board. In the last 6 months, those projects are finished and he finds himself doing more “menial” or “mundane” tasks.

    He sees projects happening in other units within the same agency and would like to be part of those opportunities, but isn’t sure if it’s appropriate to ask for a detail or special assignment.

    He doesn’t want to let his current supervisor knows that he’s bored / disappointed, but he also thinks it would be better than trying to find a new job in a different agency.

    What should he do – jump ship or ask for more / different responsibilities?

    Please also comment on this related scenario:

    Navigating Your Career Path: Another Tricky Scenario

  • #171150

    Mark Hammer

    Most folks in the movie business will tell you that the lion’s share of the job consists of waiting in the trailer or in makeup, and very little of it is actually acting.

    Precious few in government spend the brunt of their time doing meaningful things. Most spend their time waiting, frequently waiting for others to make decisions. Even those who seem to be actively running from important meeting to meeting are undoubtedly in those meetings waiting for them to be over, rather than engaging in deep thought and strategic planning.

    Marriage/relationships is not all hot sex. Parenthood is not all father’s/mother’s day cards. Going to college away from home is not all keggers. Car ownership is not all moonlight drives with the wind in your hair and the audio system cranked. Home ownership is not all kicking back on the deck with your friends and a brewski. And government work is not all high-profile projects. Sometimes you gotta say “Yes dear, we’ll go visit your aunt”, sometimes you gotta pick up the kids’ dirty socks, sometimes you gotta buy your own toilet paper or look for a new room-mate, sometimes you gotta replace the head gasket, sometimes you gotta spend good money for someone to clean the furnace, and sometimes you gotta stuff envelopes and proof-read something for the upteenth time in the public interest.

    That said, if the individual possesses special skill sets that are being woefully under-utilized and the public interest could be better served by connecting that person with other tasks, the responsible thing to do is ask whether they could serve the organization better by being connected to those tasks. Go where you’re needed, but don’t leave because you’re bored.

  • #171148

    Brilliant! I mean that. Excellent response, Mark. Thank you.

  • #171146

    Steve Ressler

    +1 for Mark.

    And of the choices – Ask for more/different responsibilities. Every time you switch agencies you have to build a new network, build up institutional knowledge, and trust. In business, they say it’s much better to focus on getting a current customer to come back more or buy more stuff than get a new customer. I’d say the same in job searching – much better to spend your time on how do I get more out of where I am than just to hop to a new place (obviously there are times when you’ve exhausted all options but few do that)

  • #171144

    Deb Green

    Spot on Mark and Steve. I think it’s important for Michael to tell his Boss he wants a bigger challenge. In fact, find a challenge that his boss is wrestling with and offer to help on those tasks.

    Silence never helps get you where you want to go. Talk before you even look to leap.

  • #171142

    Tracey Harriot

    More kudos for Mark. He siad what I was thinking!

    I come from the “old school” mentality that you stick around and pay your dues. Don’t stay in a dead end job forever, but 18 months at the GS-13 level is nothing, IMO. Learn everything you can (good and bad) and ask for more challenging work. If you’ve tried and tried, then move on, but I fear that too many folks jump the gun these days and run as soon as they’re the slightest bit unsatisfied.

    On a similar note: Is job-hopping still seen as a negative trait? With the different mentalities among the various generations in the workforce, I’ve wondered about this. I used to be a hiring manager and was taught that anyone that has had multiple jobs in a relatively short time fram is a big red flag. (Basically less than 2 years at multiple jobs/careers.) I still tend to side with this view, but I could also come up with some good reasons as to why this is not necessary a bad thing. Just curious…

  • #171140

    I like this approach – asking the boss:

    – Where are you stuck on something or what’s been lagging and is there any way I can help on that?

    – What are your headaches and is there anything I can do to take a shot at alleviating the problem?

    – Is there something you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t had the time? I’d be happy to mock up something.

  • #171138

    Tracey – For me, it depends on your state in life. If you’re younger and closer to college, I understand that you’ve probably had short jobs – thats just part of that time in life.

    If you’ve got a few more years of experience and you’re jumping job to job with less than a year at a place, that’s a red flag for me. A person ought to stick something out for at least 18 months and preferably more than 2 years.

    Someone who has a much longer history of quick job jumping and gaps in their gainful employment = no way.

  • #171136

    Bradley D.Olin

    This is an excellent analogy! So illuminating for many.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • #171134

    Candace Riddle

    Fantastic response! Enlightening for me.

  • #171132

    Rhonda Cooper

    I would like to say that I also think it’s important to know if you just want a job with more money or are you truly trying to have a career. Do YOU truly realize what your strengths are? People that have come to work for the government in more recent years may not have started in a position that’s a good fit. When you Need a job sometimes it’s about getting in an organization because you need a paycheck and then working to find the best fit for yourself.

    I am thankful for Gov Loop. I was working for the Treasury department in a position that would have made me happy 15 years ago however, today it did not truly fit my strengths and desires. I utilized the Resume review service and thankfully I took the advice was given. I am happy today that I now have a position in a government agency that works to my strengths and provides me with a career path that I can be happy with until I am ready to retire at the Railroad Retirement Board.

  • #171130

    Rhonda! You just made my day with your account of how Rock Your Resume helped you!

    It’s not (always) about the money, is it? Sometimes it’s about the meaning.

  • #171128

    Roy Bacon

    Michael is a great situation! Why? Because change always brings about opportunity. I see at least two changes which have occurred: (a) Michael’s projects are finished (b) Michael is bored. I think going to the boss and asking for more responsibility is a great idea. It’s an opportunity to manage up. Any supervisor that’s worth his/her salt should appreciate a subordinate who aspires to do more. Second, asking for more responsibility will give Michael the opportunity to test the waters. He may very well discover that there are new horizons no one has bothered or dared to attack…management might be waiting for someone to ask. And, if there’s nothing; he (Michael) might get a better idea about whether or not it’s time to start looking elsewhere.

  • #171126

    Mark Hammer

    And while it isn’t always the case, sometimes managers can be running around from meeting to meeting, or buried under year-end stuff or budget stuff, lose track of who is assigned to what, and not realize that you’re sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs.

    Roy is right. Management may well be waiting for someone to ask, and appreciate it when that happens. And if there is nothing to assign, not only can Michael start looking elsewhere, but he won’t have to feel guilty about it, or like he is abandoning ship. Heck, it may even be that management would like to have one less permanent FTE on the books, but can’t lay anyone off.

  • #171124

    Peter Sperry

    Michael may also want to have a confidential talk with a mentor or peer regarding how well he performed on those early high profile assignments. His manager may have assessed Michael’s capabilities and determined less challenging assignments might provide him time to grow before being put back into rotation for the high profile tasks.

  • #171122

    Bill Brantley

    A few miscellaneous observations:

    1) Flavor of the month syndrome: there is the tendency for managers to become excited about new hires and assign them to great projects at the start. This can be a good point for your career but the new employee often doesn’t have the institutional knowledge to be fully successful in the projects. They could also face resistance from other employees because of the “new kid” fear. The person in your scenario could be last month’s flavor and there is a new hire that is the focus.

    2) Outside projects – There are plenty of professional associations and non-profits that could use help with projects. Your person could spend time (not work time though) serving in a leadership capacity in their professional organization or leading a critical project for a group. Your manager may not realize that you have those skills and capabilities until you actually demonstrate them.

    3) Self-training – There is no excuse for sitting in your office with nothing to do. If you have some free time, spend it refining your skills or acquiring new skills. For $25 a month, you have access to thousands of video tutorials on or you can find plenty of free tutorials on YouTube. There are free university courses online and plenty of resources at your public library. Determine the job you want to eventually have and then find the position description for it (or competency model). The Office of Personnel Management classification guidance can be very helpful in your process of determining what skills you need for your dream job.

  • #171120


    I have a similar problem. I’ve tried asking for more work repeatedly. I’ve tried asking for a detail. I spend most of my day perusing the Internet, yet those around me have even less to do and do not complain.

    On paper, this is my dream job. I got a quality step increase my second year here and continue to do more work than most of my colleagues. I even got accepted into the finals of a management training program this summer. The program was cancelled less than a month later.

    I’ve been employed here for eight years. I have been searching for a job for six. I recently found out I should have been converted from Schedule A to career six years ago. It’s been close to impossible to transfer to another agency or get a government job as an employed Schedule A. I was recently converted and I continue to look for another job.

    Any suggestions would be welcome.

  • #171118


    I do some self training. But it’s not enough to keep me busy.

  • #171116


    Thanks for your response.

  • #171114

    Rita Vaz

    I like what my agency is currently doing to initiate and encourage creative change and contributions within the office. This was next to impossible in the past. We have something called HUDConnect which is very much like FaceBook. Recently they changed our critical elements for our performance appraisal. I have pasted it below. Through HUDConnect and HUD Ideas in Action I am able to express myself, contribute ideas, join a team whose idea gets selected on HUDIdeas in Action to work in a team to change policy. If this is not enough the additional leverage is that because it is one of the Critical Elements on which I am being assessed, I can use my participation productively in my self-assessment! So if Michael were in my agency, he would have numerous opportunities to be proactive and productive with or without the support of his manager.

    Engagement and Collaboration: This performance element measures the extent to which the employee is able to recognize, value, build, and leverage collaborative and constructive networks of diverse coworkers, peers, customers, stakeholders, and teams within an organization and/or across the PIH and the Network to share knowledge and achieve results. In addition, the employee is expected to create an environment that promotes engagement, collaboration, integration, and the sharing of information and knowledge. The Employee builds effective, collegial relationships that facilitate working across boundaries, groups, or organizations. The employee recognizes responsibility to provide information to others and appropriately shares information and knowledge to achieve desired goals. The employee leverages diversity by seeking out and integrating diverse perspectives from subordinates, coworkers, peers, customers, stakeholders, and teams within an organization and/or across the Network. The employee creates an environment that promotes engagement, integration, and knowledge sharing.

  • #171112

    As always, great answers, Bill!

  • #171110

    Good point. Given tasks, didn’t rise to the occasion. Now what?

  • #171108

    This is definitely true, Mark. Employees like Michael shouldn’t wait for their managers to give them new tasks – it’s always best to be proactive in asking for it. What might be hard for an employee to realize (unless they are managers themselves) is that they are each, generally speaking, responsible for their core tasks and think mostly about those 3-4 projects that are on their plates. If a manager has 5 reports, they are thinking not only about the cumulative number of projects (let’s say it’s in the range of 12-15 total projects), but they likely have their own set of of 3-4 management level projects on top of that with meetings and deliverables. So the impetus is really on the employee to speak up and cut through the noise. Most managers will appreciate that proactive, intentional request for more.

  • #171106

    Roy Bacon

    I can only imaginge how frustrating things are for you. I personally know someone in a similar situation and they have struggled for years as you have. Here’s what I’d suggest.
    (1) Never ever quit! Keep fighting for what you want.
    (2) Keep learning; keep adding to your tool kit. Sooner or later someone will notice.
    (3) Search for an area or service that’s needed but not being filled…preferrably one that meets your needs as well as the organization’s needs.
    (4) Don’t be sad get angry. Tell yourself that you’ll show them what their missing by passing over you. Then go out and channel your frustrations into learning another skill.

    I borrowed number 4 from a magazine article I read recently. The woman who wrote the article said that while working to become a successful writer, she received more than 250 rejection slips from various editors. She filed each rejection slip and then told herself, “I’ll show them. I’ll write an even better novel and not send it to that editor.” That woman is now a successful writer.

  • #171104

    David Fletcher

    Ultimately, you have to take control of your own situation. Look for more important things that need to be done and do them. There is almost always room for innovators in government. If you start doing things that lead to major improvements in your agency or business, people will take notice. Those kind of ideas aren’t always easy or immediately apparent. I sometimes don’t come up with my best ideas until 2am or during my hour-long commute to and from work.

  • #171102

    Rita Vaz

    Roy I like what you have said and believe what you recommend applies very well in other scenarios too such as when an employee is being bullied by a manager. Most often the bullying manager in a federal environment does demeaning actions to run off the employee and he/she are often successful. However, if an employee were to follow your recommendations, in the long run though difficult, the ‘victim’ would come out victorious and much stronger and wiser..

  • #171100

    Lindsey Tepe

    One of the themes that emerged from discussion last evening at the Mentors Midpoint Energizer event was, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no”.

    Along the same lines, it’s important to keep lines of communication with your supervisor open. You can always look for a detail or rotational opportunity, and if you communicate your interest to your supervisor, they may even be willing to help.

    Finally, several attendees noted that it’s important to be paying attention to your environment – for instance, is work slowing down throughout the department due to budget cuts? If so, you may want to consider looking other places if things do not look like they’ll pick up.

  • #171098

    Still stuck – super practical advice here from a guy who knows how to ask for more and turn it into more responsibility:

  • #171096

    Carol Davison

    If I were Michael I would ask my supervisor for developmental assignments. Even better, I would watch to see where my supervisors needs help and say I noticed that you need someone to lead the XYZ project. If the supervisor says “Yes!” Respond here is my project plan. If the supervisor says “are you kidding? You can’t get your webt&A in on time.” End the conversation. Come back one month later showing that you now submit WebT&A in a timely manner because you entered it into your Outlook calendar and say now about that XYX project…”

    In the meantime, apply, apply, apply! (but perhaps not where your supervisor may find out. You have to decide if you will be penalized for doing so.) There’s no loyalty any more.

    As long as you are moving up in responsibility, pay, grade etc it is okay to move. .

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