Tips for Moving up the Government Career Ladder

The government career structure can feel limiting and complicated. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’re already working your dream job and don’t have to worry about advancement. If not, how do you land the perfect position? In a recent GovLoop online training, Kirk Borkowski, Director of Operations and Strategic Partnerships for Drexel University Online and Kim Klaskin, Executive Director of the Greater Boston Federal Executive Board, explained how government employees can secure the next step in their careers.

Enhancing Your Skillset

There are a number of skillsets that are critical for government workers to possess, but there are certain skills that are required for advancement into leadership and managerial positions. “While ‘soft skills’ like creativity and adaptability come with experience, hard skills like cybersecurity, compliance, project management and strategic thinking come through training and advanced education,” Borkowski explained.

For people that currently work full or part-time and wish to achieve these skills through further education, schools like Drexel University offer online programs that can help employees advance their skillsets. The program sees enrollment from people that are in different stages of their government careers, making online programs particularly ideal for non-traditional students.

“The average student age is around 30 years old,” Borkowski explained. “Students are either looking for a job or want to advance, but are looking for a way to balance education as well.”

Online universities can help students gain hard skills while also allowing them to maintain a flexible schedule. “Work-life balance varies from student to student,” Borkowski said. “The nice thing about online programs is that you can go to school when it’s convenient for you and take small bites at a time.”

For the government employees that hope to pursue more school or training to get to the next rung of the career ladder, Borkowski advised that they follow their passions to choose a program that works for them. “Advanced education is a way of opening further doors,” he said.

“Focus on finding a program that you’re going to enjoy from a college that will give you pride. If you want it bad enough you have to make it happen. Time is of the essence.”

Moving up: How to Get the Job of your Dreams

If you want to move forward in your career, you can’t just apply for a promotion and hope for the best. Klaskin had a few words of advice for the public servants that have already developed their skillset and are looking to lock down a promotion or new position as soon as possible.

Find a mentor. As someone who was once an intern, Klaskin enjoys mentoring young employees and interns that are looking to advance their careers. While some agencies require professional partnerships, Klaskin explained that her most successful mentorships developed organically. People that mentor voluntarily will be more dedicated to your needs. “It’s about having someone who is willing to make a commitment,” she said. “If you connect organically with your mentor, you’re more likely to feel comfortable with them.”

Keep your eyes open. Don’t wait for your dream job to fall into your lap. If you take a passive approach to finding a new job, a good position might come and go. “You should always be looking for your next-step job,” Klaskin said. “Have your resume polished and ready to go, because you have no idea when the job of your dreams might open.”

One of the best ways to anticipate openings is to pay attention to the budget process to gauge which agencies will be hiring. “If you can see where the President and Congress’ priorities are, you can figure out where the money is.” Agencies with good funding and high goals for the future are more likely to have job openings.

Make your small position count. Just because you are an intern or a part-timer doesn’t mean that you are ineligible for a higher-ranking position. “A lot of the people I know who have a part-time position are really doing a full-time job on a part-time schedule,” Klaskin said. “It’s about being as engaged as you can. Make those four hours count and tell people that you want advancement.” If you work hard, express your wants and make yourself stand out, you can be a competitive applicant even as a part-time employee.

Know what it takes. If you already work in government, you may not be up to date on what it takes to go through the hiring process. But being in tune with the job postings and processes can give you a leg up. “In order to apply for advancement in the federal government, you are going to be required to compete against others in USAJobs,” Klaskin said. “Get familiar with that tool because it is the threshold for the application process, and become familiar with the nuances of the federal government process.”

Spread the word. Just because you’re hoping to get a promotion doesn’t mean that your manager knows that you’re looking to move up. If you haven’t effectively communicated your long-term career goals, your boss might not consider you for a higher-ranking position. Aside from talking to your manager, spread the word to as many people as possible. “Talk to your manager and also initiate conversation outside your circle,” Klaskin advised. “Hosting a lunch and learn at a meeting is a good way to have your wants known so that people can keep you in mind if they have openings at their organizations.”

If you think you’re ready to be promoted or take the next step in your career, you have to challenge yourself. If you push yourself outside of your comfort zone and learn a new skill, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the hiring process.

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Avatar photo Mark Hensch

Nice breakdown of soft vs. hard skills. It’s good to hear that with the right attitude and approach progress is possible.