By Lily Whiteman
July 11th, 2014 | Hiring
When you’re job hunting, you should target your application to each opening you aim for as assiduously as a dart player aims his darts at the bull’s-eye.
Put another way: Hiring managers will probably reject a generic, untargeted application about as fast as you reject your junk mail — and for many of the same reasons. But they will probably give about as much attention to a targeted application — an extremely rare and valued commodity — as you would to a long-awaited letter that personally addresses you.
Your application should describe credentials that are required by your target job — not credentials you wish were required. No matter how many irrelevant credentials your application describes — impressive though they may be — they won’t compensate for missing required credentials. For example, an application for a speechwriting job that merely mentions speechwriting but waxes on about other types of communications will almost certainly fail.
Your cover letter and resume should describe your academic and professional experiences that address the duties, qualification factors and credentials identified in your target job’s vacancy announcement and short-answer application question. Warning: to access your target job’s application questions, you must enter its online application; don’t rely on questions from “application previews,” which frequently differ from actual application questions.
Format each job summary in your resume as a series of fast-read, achievement-oriented bullets that sends the reader’s eye flying down the page. Begin each bullet with an action verb. Bullets should include specifics that match the substantive requirements of your target job.
For example, if you’re applying for a speechwriting job that addresses environmental issues, your application should identify the environmental topics covered by your speeches, the presenters and audiences for those speeches and related praise.
Create bullets in USAJOBS with asterisks.
Cover in your resume prestigious acting positions you held — even if you “acted” for only short periods.
Include headings in the job summary for your current and recent jobs that match your target job’s evaluation factors. For example, if these factors include “leadership,” “communication” and “strategic planning,” use those terms as headings in your job summaries. List relevant bullets under each heading.
Order your bullets under each heading according to their relevance to your target job, even if they accounted for a relatively small proportion of your time. Likewise, provide the most details about your most relevant bullets, regardless of the amount of time the associated activities consumed.
Give yourself the highest rating for each self-assessment short-answer application question you can without lying; grade yourself liberally and leniently on these questions.
Upload with your application a concise, one-page cover letter that features a table that has two columns: “your needs,” and “my credentials.” Draw the “your needs” column from your target job’s vacancy announcement, and your credentials from your academic and work experiences.
If substantive knowledge of topics covered by your target job is not explicitly required and you lack that knowledge, but you have the necessary skills for the job, consider stating in your cover letter, “I am confident that my skills would easily transfer to your organization because of my reputation for adaptability, quickly mastering new material and going the extra mile.”
Prominently identify your veteran’s preference and security clearance in cover letters and resumes.
Update your LinkedIn profile and add to it annotated hyperlinks to relevant documents and multimedia products and online praise of your work. Alternatively, hyperlink your profile to a Dropbox that showcases work products, like images, maps and PDFs.
Identify your LinkedIn address under “Additional information” in USAJOBS resumes and in a “career overview” or “highlights” section of hard-copy resumes, and state that it contains relevant hyperlinks.
Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Email your career questions to email@example.com and view her blog at blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-careers.
June 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized
Suppose you suspect that a manager or colleague is holding a grudge against you for no explicable reason. Perhaps this person seems to, for example, behave coldly or chronically irritated with you, avoid you and/or does not assign you desirable projects. How can you improve the relationship?
First, re-evaluate: Consider whether your manager/colleague is really snubbing you, or is indiscriminately cranky, aloof or social inept with everyone, is shy, or is coping with personal problems. Also, consider whether you may have inadvertently harmed your relationship with him by, for example, being standoffish because you’re consciously or unconsciously intimated or you’re shy.
But if your re-evaluation does confirm your suspicions about a grudge, try to improve your relationship by being friendly without mentioning your grudge suspicions: Engage him in chitchat, occasionally sincerely compliment him, or ask him to coffee or lunch.
If that approach fails, consider — if appropriate — gently and gingerly directly addressing the problem by initiating a calm, diplomatic conversation about it with your manager/colleague. Some tips:
- If after contemplation, you’ve identified a specific way you may have alienated your manager/colleague, prepare a compelling, nonoffensive explanation and/or apology that you can, if necessary, deliver when you later meet with him.
- Meet when he isn’t stressed or hurried. Before starting the discussion, double-check with him that it’s a good time to talk.
- Keep the meeting cordial. Maintain eye contact and a friendly face. Stay unresentful and nonhostile.
- Consider opening your discussion by saying, “I sense there may be some tension between us. I’d like to improve things. Can we discuss this situation so we may resolve it?” Or, “Perhaps we’ve had a misunderstanding. Is there a problem that I’m unaware of? If so, can we talk to clear it up?” Mention that by doing so, you’ll be able to work together more efficiently.
- Your manager/colleague may ask you what you mean. Consider elaborating by saying, “I get the feeling that you don’t feel as comfortable with me as you might. Is there any truth to this? Have I inadvertently done something that bothered you?”
- If your manager/colleague responds by accusing you of making a mistake you didn’t make, reply by calmly stating your case. Also say, “I hope that this clears the air so we can put this behind us and work together in a positive way.”
- Alternatively, if your manager/colleague responds by citing a mistake you did make, explain that it was an inadvertent, one-off situation; apologize; offer solutions; identify extenuating circumstances; and pledge to work to regain his trust. If the cited mistake surprises you and you’re unprepared to discuss it impromptu, consider saying so and suggest discussing it later, after you’ve gathered your thoughts and reviewed your notes.
- Don’t interrupt your manager/colleague; let him tell his side of the story before you tell yours — and, if necessary, ask for the same courtesy. Also, don’t respond to accusations with accusations.
- If your manager/colleague denies that there is any tension between you, express relief and say that you would like to continue working together on a positive note. Also, mention that you would invite any follow-up discussions in the future.
And heed the trite but true saying, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” You are sure to improve relationships with coworkers by helping them — even if necessary tasks are menial — when they’re in a bind.
Also, you may obtain free, confidential trouble-shooting advice from a mental health professional from your agency’s Employee Assistance
Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Email your career questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and view her blog at blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-careers.
May 5th, 2014 | Hiring
Consider every job interview a “bring your own success portfolio” event. What is a success portfolio? A package of materials proving that you’re eminently qualified for your target job.
Success portfolios are compelling because applicants who provide hard, irrefutable evidence of their success are generally more impressive than those who only provide unsubstantiated, potentially self-serving claims.
So when you’re called for an interview, ask how many interviewers will interview you. Then, if possible, before your interview, prepare one success portfolio to give to each interviewer to keep. Package your portfolio in a neatly labeled, annotated portfolio.
Your portfolio should include your resume; never assume that your interviewers have read, can remember or even find your resume. You may also include:
Several of your best work products that parallel the demands of your target job. Get ideas for which products to include by reviewing your annual reviews and your lists of accomplishments. Identify your contributions to group projects.
An excellent recent performance evaluation.
For recent grads: academic papers that cover issues addressed by your target job and/or your transcripts, if they’re impressive.
Another must for your portfolio: Materials that will help you ace your answer to the virtually inevitable interview question: “Provide an example of a successful project … or a project you’re most proud of.”
These materials should include a concise summary of your best, most relevant success. Under a page title, explain your case study with fast-read bullets logically distributed under the following headings: project description, goals, obstacles, my actions and results. Ruthlessly edit unnecessary details from your case study. More tips:
Support your case study summary with evidence of your results, such as printouts of relevant websites, social media campaigns, publications, diagrams, photographs, maps, praise from managers or stakeholders, media or newsletter coverage of your work, survey results or audience feedback from trainings or presentations you gave.
Practice explaining to trusted advisers your case study in two minutes or less, and walking interviewers through the rest of your portfolio in a minute. Speak with confidence and animation without cockiness.
If, by chance, your interviewers don’t pop the “give me an example” question, here’s how to segue into your case study: When your interviewers ask you if you have any questions about your target job, say, “Yes, I do. But first, if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a moment to show you some examples of my work.”
Don’t leave preparation of your success portfolio to the last minute. Selecting appropriate examples of your work (be discriminating; don’t overpack!); finding supporting documents; editing your case study into quick, compelling written and verbal explanations; and neatly packaging and labeling your portfolio will be time-consuming.
If appropriate, consider alternate ways to package your portfolio. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a webmaster, you may showcase your work to interviewers on a tablet with bookmarked pages or on your online portfolio. But if you do so, check beforehand that your interview room will be wired. And while quickly describing your case summary, provide your interviewers with your hard-copy summary document.
But even if you’re assured of Internet access, always have a Plan B, such as a quick PowerPoint presentation that displays screen shots of your work. And if your interview includes software demonstrations, bring extra software and hardware copies.
A complementary approach: Post links to your work products on your LinkedIn profile; include its address on your resume; and tell interviewers that it provides a panorama of your work.
Lily Whiteman is federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Email your career questions to email@example.com and view her blog at blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-careers.
Tags: job interview
April 7th, 2014 | Uncategorized
It’s that time of year again, when birds start singing, buds start sprouting, the days lengthen … and staffers in many federal agencies receive their annual evaluations.
So it’s also time to review techniques for earning great annual reviews:
Update: Throughout the year, update your boss on your projects every couple of weeks via emails or brief meetings. If you anticipate possibly missing deadlines or encountering other show-stopping problems, tell your boss about them when there is still enough time for trouble-shooting.
Also, inform your boss about praise you receive from other managers, partners, stakeholders, instructors, clients, or other important individuals. Do so by forwarding relevant emails to him, and by asking those who verbally praise you to email their praise to your boss and to c.c. you on such emails. Save copies of such emails and other forms of positive feedback, such as enthusiastic evaluations from attendees of your trainings or the counts of large turn-outs for events you organized.
Request Recognition: If you successfully complete a detail, ask your detail boss to give you a written evaluation when your detail ends. If your boss is “too busy” to do so, offer to write your evaluation yourself for his signature. Then, submit your signed evaluation to your boss on your regular job.
Take note: I know a fed who, justifiably, wrote an excellent evaluation for herself at the end of a detail. Soon after, when she was job-hunting, she included on her resume glowing quotes from that signed evaluation (which she had written) — which helped her land her next job.
Document: Keep a running list of all of your achievements, trainings you took, presentations you gave, conferences you attended, ways that you went the extra mile, and other noteworthy successes. Update your list after finishing each project, and immediately preserve evidence of your results and positive feedback. Why? Because your boss is more likely to remember what he achieved in the 11th grade than to, without your help, remember what you achieved 11 months ago. And how can he possibly give you full credit for achievements that he doesn’t remember?
And no matter how thrilled you were by previous projects, and associated results and praise, your memory of some successes probably faded as your attention turned to new projects and evidence of your success vanished as, for example, websites you created changed, documents you wrote went out of print, managers who witnessed your achievements departed, and praising emails got lost in the shuffle.
So the only way you can definitely capture all of your successes is to continually update your achievements list and save written and oral praise and evidence of your results. Perhaps, for example, you should save screen shots of relevant websites.
If you didn’t keep a running list of your successes this year, inventory them now. Then, remind yourself of other salient, potentially forgotten activities by scrolling through your emails and other electronic documents and by asking your close colleagues, spouse and/or other advisers to help jog your memory.
Once you have completed your list, organize it logically. For example, consider prefacing your list with a summary that explains what your main focuses this year were and why, and identifies challenges you conquered. Also, chunk similar types of achievements under headings on your list; your headings may, for example, correspond to categories of responsibilities identified in your position description.
Even if your boss doesn’t request your achievements list before he writes your evaluation, offer it to him. (You may also use your list to support your request for a Quality Step Increase or grade increase, and to help you write your resume and answer interview questions.)
If you receive an excellent annual evaluation, say so and quote selected praise from recent evaluations on your resume in a bullet that introduces this information with the phrase: “Excellent reputation.”
If your boss doesn’t incorporate your list or its gist into your evaluation, ask him during your review meeting to attach it to your review so that it will become part of your formal record.
If you receive a grossly unfair annual evaluation, ask your union how you can request reconsideration of your evaluation or how you can formally object to it.
Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Email your career questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 10th, 2014 | Hiring
Almost one-third of Americans say they’ll need to work into their 80s because they can’t afford to retire earlier, according to a recent Harris Institute survey. But in light of the difficulty even younger professionals face to find work, how will large numbers of older professionals — who are vulnerable to age discrimination, unspoken though it may be — be able to land new jobs, promotions or change sectors, if they must?
Even if you’re well into your late 50s or 60s, don’t be defeatist: I have, over the years, seen many professionals from this age group land new and better federal jobs.
My advice to older applicants, which is based on interviews with dozens of federal managers: Show hiring managers why they should hire you over a younger applicant they could probably pay less than you. Demonstrate your breadth of experience and prove to them that you’re enthusiastic, current in your field, eager to learn and relearn, collaborative and flexible. Dash stereotypes of older professionals as rigid, dowdy, outdated and tired. In other words, even if you‘re an older professional, don’t act “old.”
Your application’s purpose is to help you land interviews and avoid being rejected sight-unseen because of age discrimination or other reasons.
Your one-page cover letter should concisely highlight your most relevant credentials — whether or not you earned them via your most recent professional, educational or volunteer experiences.
Also, consider providing a personal anecdote that demonstrates your passion for the subject at hand. This strategy helped a seasoned photographer leap from a box store to a marine-based agency.
The photographer’s cover letter impressed her future boss by stating: “Although I currently work at X, I seek a position that would allow me to contribute my extensive photography experience gained at Y and Z science-based organizations.”
Her letter also mentioned her recent participation in a tourist dive to the Titanic — underscoring her enthusiasm for her target agency’s mission as well as her vigor.
Explain in your letter special circumstances, such as your willingness to relocate or why you have a gap in your work history. As one hiring manager advised, “Don’t let important questions go unanswered.”
Don’t expect hiring managers to find the needle in the haystack — they won’t. Edit your resume ruthlessly.
Show in your resume how you have kept your skills up to date.
In your interview, listen, show energy, confidence and humility, and ask questions — but don’t talk too much.
Your interviewers will probably be checking that you’re adaptable and not stuck in your ways, curious, willing to go the extra mile, and able to take instruction from younger supervisors. Support your claims with specific examples.
If you’re asked about your “five-year plan,” describe your desire to grow in various directions, not towards retirement.
Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Email your career questions to email@example.com and view her blog at blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-careers.
February 10th, 2014 | Insurance
Medical expenses are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S., even among middle-class, well- educated homeowners. Poof! If you’re not independently wealthy, all of the financial fruits of your career may be jeopardized by just one bad illness or injury.
One way to help prevent such financial disaster is to make wise choices about your benefits. But many feds do not fully understand all of their options involving health care coverage — particularly involving Long Term Health Care (LTC) insurance. So here is some practical advice about LTC insurance that I’ve gathered through extensive research of my own options as a fed and via real-world experience.
First, a definition of LTC: It is care needed to complete the Activities of Daily Living (ADL), such as dressing, eating and bathing. It may be needed because of ailments associated with old age or because of accidents or serious illnesses occurring at any age. LTC may be provided in homes, assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Contrary to popular belief, most LTC expenses are covered by personal/family assets — not by standard health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid for people who don’t qualify for welfare.
Most current and retired feds, their spouses and adult children are eligible to apply to the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP). Probably the best kept secret in government: the parents and parents-in-laws and stepparents of eligible feds may also apply.
*FLTCIP screens new feds and new spouses of feds less rigorously than other applicants.
FLTCIP strictly defines ADL’s as bathing; dressing and eating; transferring from a bed, chair or wheelchair; using the bathroom; and dealing with incontinence—without covering any other activities. By contrast, some insurers also cover cooking, house cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, driving to medical appointments and other services needed for functioning.
FLTCIP does not offer indemnity policies, which are offered by some private companies. Under such policies, the claimant receives his entire daily benefit in cash every day— which he can use as he chooses, no matter which services he has used on any day.
Learn more about the FLTCIP at http://www.ltcfeds.com.
Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job” and a trainer on career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Email your career questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and view her blog at blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-careers.
December 15th, 2013 | Uncategorized
My Oct. 21 column provided tips on successfully completing probation on a new federal job. Here are more tips:
Be aware that the strictness of criteria for passing probation varies among agencies, offices and supervisors. But even if your particular environment has a lenient history, don’t take anything for granted.
When you start your job, ask your new boss who you will be working with most closely, and then find and introduce yourself to those people. Also, obtain the organizational charts of your agency and relevant offices, and familiarize yourself with the names and faces on those charts.
Work to cultivate a good relationship with your boss; he or she will probably be the primary decision-maker on your probationary fate. Make your boss’s goals your goals, and try to suggest new, innovative ways to advance those goals.
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Other officials besides your boss may also help decide your probationary fate. Particularly if your boss leaves his supervisory position for any reason during your probation, his replacement, your boss’s boss or other managers may also help decide your probationary fate. So try to cultivate good relationships with as many managers as possible, as well as with colleagues who may report on your productivity to your boss and other managers. You will thereby generate a favorable reputation throughout your organization.
Earn a good reputation throughout your organization by making yourself as helpful to others as possible. Some ways to do so: If a colleague or manager is obviously overloaded, volunteer to help him, if possible, even if doing so involves assuming menial tasks for a short time. You will thereby burnish your team player credentials. Also, try to cultivate a needed specialty and use it to help advance your organization’s goals. In addition, volunteer for high-profile projects that will provide you with opportunities to impress other mangers besides your boss.
Another strategy: If your office is short-staffed because of attrition, vacations or other reasons, inform the appropriate manager of your availability to support him and handle unstaffed projects.
In addition, always be friendly and engaging to colleagues and managers: Show your social skills.
When managers praise your work, ask them to email such praise to your boss and c.c. you on such emails. Keep a record of any emailed and oral praise you receive from managers, and others, and maintain a running list of your achievements. Submit these documents to your boss before your annual review.
Don’t disparage or criticize your boss or your office or show disgust or displeasure, even with body language, in public or private to anyone in your agency during your probation. If such negativity gets back to your boss, it will be a relationship-killer.
Don’t apply for any new jobs within your agency without first obtaining a blessing from your boss during your probation. If you suspect that your boss would object to such a move, stay in your current job until you finish probation.
Find ways to use your special expertise or knowledge. For example, if you’re the only social media expert on your staff, offer to kick off a social media program for your office and to train colleagues in social media. Alternatively, if you have previously worked at an organization that your current organization would like to forge a closer relationship with, offer to use your key contacts at that organization to advance that effort.
Unless you’re the victim of an egregious injustice, don’t complain to your boss during your initial months. Avoid making an impression as a whiner.
Periodically mention to your boss your positive experiences on your new job: why your projects are interesting and matter; how you are helping to advance them; why you’re enjoying working with your colleagues; new things you are learning; and other benefits of your new job.
November 17th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Treat your federal email account as public property, because it is: Any of your emails can be read by your agency or FOIA’d at any time. So never include potentially incriminating, embarrassing or personally confidential information in work emails.
Check the first and last name of the recipient of each of your emails before sending or forwarding it. A cautionary tale: I previously worked with a federal manager who used his government account to send a friend an email that cruelly disparaged one of his colleagues. But immediately after hitting “send,” the manager realized that he had accidentally sent the offensive email to his disparaged colleague instead of to his friend. Oops!
Frantically attempting to salvage the situation, the manager raced to his colleague’s office, which happened to be empty at the time, trespassed into his colleague’s email account, deleted the disparaging email from her inbox and “Deleted Items,” and breathed a sigh of relief — only to look up to see his colleague standing in the threshold of her office. Caught with his back against the wall, the manager coughed up an implausible excuse for his trespassing and quickly fled his colleague’s office.
But it got even worse: Unbeknownst to the manager, all of his colleague’s work emails had been programmed to be delivered to her cellphone in addition to her office computer. Therefore, even after the manager erased the offensive email from his colleague’s work computer, it remained on her phone — where she quickly found it. And so in the end, the fed’s disparaging email and his foolish handling of the situation irreparably damaged his relationship with a colleague, got him in hot water for trespassing and caused him considerable embarrassment.
Address each email after you have finished writing it, instead of when you start writing it. By doing so, you will avoid sending out unfinished emails.
Warning: If you’ve emailed colleagues from your personal email account, their names may automatically populate the “to” lines of emails from your personal account when you start addressing them. If this is the case, be extra careful not to accidentally send personal emails to colleagues.
Craft the subject lines of emails to be substantive in order to help you find them later, if you need to. Also, make them attention-grabbing, so that, like newspaper headlines, they will compel people to keep reading. The more positive and recipient-centered each subject line is, the better.
For example, “Today’s staff meeting is canceled” is a better subject than “The meeting.” And “Meeting about Potential Solutions to Budget Shortfall” is better than “Meeting about Budget Shortfall.” And instead of using the header “quick question,” simply ask the quick question in the header, such as “Have time to review a press release today?” If an email is time-sensitive or urgent, say so in the subject line.
Start each email with a salutation, such as “Dear … ,” instead of immediately launching into your email content. Why? Because no matter how busy and well-meaning you may be, a salutationless email unnecessarily conveys condescension — particularly if your email requests an action from your recipient and if your recipient is a subordinate. By adding a salutation to an email, you will lengthen your work day by a maximum of about two seconds — a small price to pay for an important goodwill gesture.
Email recipients want to know “What’s in it for me?” So whenever possible, answer this question overtly in emails. For example, you could ask your supervisor in an email: “May I attend a lecture about Y at X organization from 3:00 to 5:00 tomorrow? Also, I would like to work at home tomorrow.”
Alternatively, you could strengthen your request by asking, “May I attend a lecture about Y at X organization from 3:00 to 5:00 tomorrow because it would help me do Z better for you? If so, may I please telecommute tomorrow because the lecture will be held near my home, and so I would be able to work a full eight-hour day — which would not otherwise be possible because of my long commute?”
November 3rd, 2013 | Uncategorized
The faster and more easily a document can be read and understood, the more likely it is to be read and understood.
Convey messages with as few words as possible and ruthlessly deleting unnecessary information without cutting essential background information.
Open your first email to a new contact with a concise introduction that quickly conveys context. For example: “Dear Joe: Lily Whiteman here from Federal Times. X suggested that I contact you as part of my search for information about Y.”
Get to the point quickly: Explain what needs to be done, by whom and when within the first few sentences of each email.
Preface a mile-long email string that you are forwarding to another recipient with a quick explanation of the string’s importance and necessary actions.
Use headings to break up text and emphasize your logic in emails that are more than several paragraphs long.
Highlight deadlines and other essential points with bold, underlining or headings. (Color won’t be visible in black-and-white printouts.)
Use numbered lists to convey the sequence of necessary steps or the relative priority of included items, and using bullets to describe related items that are of equal importance.
Eliminate or explaining acronyms that may stump anyone who will receive the email directly or via forwarding.
Include your contact information and title in every email, even if recipients already have this information.
Repeatedly spell-check and proofread.
Not only is an email’s content important, so too is its tone. The more collegial and positive its tone is, the more likely it will be to generate interest and cooperation from its recipients.
Unfortunately, communicating through email is sometimes like talking through a filter that strips words and messages of softening messages and magnifies negativity. It does so because:
Emails are devoid of facial expressions, physical gestures and vocal tone that may otherwise neutralize the sting of criticism or even mild suggestions from superiors.
It’s easier to “flame” a faceless computer than a person in a face-to-face or telephone interaction. This is partly because participants in email conversations are deprived of immediate feedback to their comments that may compel them to suppress their anger and rudeness and modulate their tone, and thereby maintain civility and prevent disagreements from escalating into arguments.
Time lags in strained email conversations may magnify tensions. Indeed, emailing criticism without providing quick opportunities for a recipient to respond via phone or face-to-face discussions is the cyber equivalent of lobbing a grenade over a wall and then fleeing. Promote goodwill and avoid generating misunderstandings and inflaming tensions via email by:
Writing emails with a humane tone, even when delivering instructions to subordinates. Remember: There is a person with human emotions on the other side of your computer.
Use everyday conversational language, even when delivering bureaucratic information.
Deliver bad news, significant criticisms or denials of requests, in person or by phone, if possible, even if your decision or criticism is in response to an email.
lf you must deliver criticism or bad news or respond to a negative email via email, craft your email to calmly stick to the facts without sounding angry, offensive or defensive; stay polite. Don’t send your email impulsively; let it go cold, and then edit it with fresh eyes and an open mind. Seek a second opinion.
When you must email feedback, such as a document containing your redline/strikeout edits, preface your suggestions or edits with a word of thanks and praise of the recipient’s work.
October 21st, 2013 | On The Job
Most new hires in competitive service agencies must complete one year of probation and most new hires in excepted service agencies must complete two years of probation. New hires can usually be fired more easily and quickly while on probation than after, and they have fewer appeal rights than post-probationary employees.
The overwhelming majority of new hires complete probation successfully. But because of the high stakes of probation, it’s important for probationers and their supervisors to understand relevant rules. This has not always been the case, according to “The Probationary Period: A Critical Assessment Opportunity” by the Merit Systems Protection Board. And the situation has not significantly improved since this report was published in 2005.
Advice for new hires:
Your supervisor, human resources office and offer letter should inform you of your probation, its length and implications. But they won’t necessarily do so. So, if necessary, research this information and identify the end date of your probation.
Understand that during probation, your job security is more like that of a private-sector employee who can be fired at any time for almost any reason (besides partisan politics, marital status or overt discrimination) than that of a post-probationary employee who benefits from a bevy of protections.
If you make life easier for someone, they’ll probably like you; if you make life harder for them, they probably won’t. Apply this principle to your relationship with your boss, which will probably be pivotal to your probationary success. Win him or her over by working doggedly to solve some of the office’s problems without creating new ones.
It’s easier to make a good first impression than to correct a bad one. Burnish a good first impression into your boss’ brain by taking on an important, accomplishable project and finishing it efficiently during your first few weeks on the job. Go above and beyond the call of duty whenever possible, even if you must slack off after probation. Be punctual, work extra hours if necessary, proofread your work and meet deadlines.
If you anticipate missing a deadline, don’t blindside your boss. Instead, warn him or her of the impending problem and start troubleshooting. And if you’re involved in snags that your boss will inevitably learn about from others, tell him or her about them yourself. Why? For the same reasons that defense attorneys present the weaknesses of their own cases to the jury before the prosecution does: to establish credibility, put bad news in the best possible light, explain mitigating circumstances, and steal the thunder of those who gleefully harp on others’ misfortune.
Give your boss regular updates on your projects, even if he or she doesn’t ask. Use formal reviews to gauge your standing. But understand that, according to the rules, even an excellent annual review will not guarantee your probationary success.
Strictly obey all regulations, such as those addressing timekeeping, travel, federal credit cards and the use of federal
Be agreeable. This is not a strategic time to get in touch with your inner revolutionary and speak truth to power.
Act like you feel privileged to work at your new job, even if you had to forgo a free Hawaiian vacation to take it. Be friendly and courteous to everyone, including subordinates.
Assimilate into your office’s culture. For example, no hissy fits or even grumbling if you must do your own photocopying.
If possible, find trusted advisers who will give you the inside scoop about what works and what doesn’t in your new office and about previous probationary outcomes.
If you sense that you might be fired, consult an attorney who specializes in federal employment law.
Celebrate when you complete your probation. If you stay in the same line of work, you won’t have to do probation for new hires again, even if you switch agencies. But some management and supervisory jobs require probation, and all new senior executive service employees must do one year of probation. But in most cases, wiping out from those types of probations wouldn’t get you fired — only returned to the level of your previous job.
Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job” and a trainer on career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Email your career questions to email@example.com and view her blog at blogs.federaltimes.