What do you want to be when you grow up? It was a question you were probably asked a lot as a child, but even today, I often think to myself what job do I want when I grow up, when I mature into a “real adult.”
At the earlier stages of our careers, it’s sometimes tough to picture ourselves at the top of the organization. To be the leader. Nevertheless, planning for your long-term career path is just as essential as putting out the day-to-day fires that you encounter on the job today.
That’s why GovLoop is spending the next month focusing on how to maximize you career – we’re calling it your Career Coach Corner. We will be interviewing government career coaches to answer some of your most pressing questions.
Up first is William Spencer, who has 28 years of Federal service, including at the Department of Justice, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Merit Systems Protection Board, where he’s currently the Clerk of the Board.
1. How do you navigate office politics effectively?
Political savviness is referenced in the ECQ’s as a core competency, something each employee needs to master to get ahead. The best way to navigate the confusing road of office politics is to find a mentor. “If you have a mentor, whether that’s someone that’s in your organization or external to the organization, someone that you can talk to, that’s willing to work with you, that has experience, they can really help you navigate those waters,” said Spencer. “A mentor is someone who has successfully navigated their career, but you also need someone who can act as a sounding board, and give you some advice and guidance in real time as things come up and you’re trying to figure out which way to move.”
2. Listen Before You Talk
Millennials inherently want to jump into situations and offer their opinions and while that is valuable, there is a real art is listening and taking in what others around you are talking about. “Learn to listen. You get a better sense of the different perspectives, the different issues, the different relationships that exist in your organization, so you’re not always at the mercy of the situation,” said Spencer. “By listening you are building better relationships, so that you can better navigate and better know who to go to when a particular question or issue arises.”
3. Find a Mentor
There are two types of mentorship programs, formal and informal. Spencer found informal mentorship programs are really all about making the right connections. “For myself, I first took note of the senior people who for me really represented professionalism, who were well regarded in the organization. I sought them out to pick their brain, ask them questions, maybe have coffee or lunch,” said Spencer. “Once you reach a point in that ongoing conversation, it might be appropriate to then say, you know, it would really be great if I could work with you more formally, in terms of a mentor/mentee relationship.”
Formal programs match a mentor with a mentee; the programs can lessen the burden of cultivating the relationship from scratch. “The formal programs are definitely something that folks should check out, even if they’re more self-confident, and certainly if they’re less confident in their ability to develop those relationships naturally. They can really add structure and resources, and help get things started much quicker than if it’s something that’s more organic.”
4. Don’t Stop Learning
“I think it’s really important for folks to come into government with a sense of wanting to learn. Learn everything that they can regardless of whether they think what they’re asked to do is beneath them and their abilities or their education,” said Spencer. “I think by being humble and being open to the possibilities and being open to new experiences, you will first of all, learn a tremendous amount; second of all, you’ll begin to navigate some of the organizational culture.”
GovLoop Career Resources:
- Tips for Getting the Most of Your Early Years – and Moving Up the Career Ladder
- Getting into Government: A Guide for High Achievers
- 30 Ways to Use Social Media and Advance Your Government Career
- International Jobs Guide