When you’re a newbie, the wisdom of long-timers can lift the veil on the mysteries of life as a public servant. According to our experts, the most important thing in starting your government job is to embrace the complex and varied environment you’ve entered and explore it.
“Government is an ocean of opportunity,” said G. Nagesh Rao, Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. “But you have to think about what you’d want to achieve, [in order] for your short-term goals to make those long-term goals happen. And make sure you have good political savvy. Administrations change, but as civil servants, we’re not tied to an administration, we’re tied to a mission. Know how to navigate and understand how to operate within different administrations.”
When you start a new role, don’t narrow your vision. “Be curious,” said Dr. Jamie Crews, Senior Manager of Organizational Development for Orange County, California. “Government is so big, and you never know what will happen. So be curious beyond just learning about your role. Learn about other departments and how what you do intersects. Learn as much as you can.
“Say yes,” Crews added. “Especially if you’re early in your career. Get on every committee. You never know where it’s going to lead. When I look at my support system that I have today, it didn’t come from that linear trajectory. It came from saying yes to the outlandish project or challenge.”
Extend that openness to the people you meet. Rather than focusing on formal mentors, cultivate what Maria De Fazio calls “frientors.” “They straddle the line between being your friend from work and your mentor. They’re just a little bit farther ahead of you in their career,” said De Fazio, Executive Director of the Presidential Management Alumni Association. “A lot of the [experiences] that are important to you are still very fresh for them. They can offer you perspective that’s more valuable than [that of ] a 30-year veteran.”
Another essential tool is patience. “Government can be a frustrating place, because things don’t move quickly,” Elizabeth Fischer Laurie said. “There’s a lot of waiting. You need to be patient with your career development in a way you might not in the private sector.”
When you apply for a new position or a transfer, Laurie warned, “it can be three, four, five months, sometimes longer, before you hear anything. Be patient with the process, and with yourself in the process.”
“You’re joining a big ship,” Crews said. “And that ship is hard to turn. It’s not going to happen overnight. Have empathy and patience.”
Find more advice for new hires in GovLoop’s New Hire Playbook.