Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Look beyond

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Contrary to popular belief, does not list all federal job opportunities. Some of the types of openings and opportunities you might miss if you restrict your job search to USAJobs:

*Openings in the excepted service. While agencies generally are required to advertise competitive service openings and fill them through open competitions, agencies in the excepted service may fill their openings through their own relatively flexible procedures, which do not necessarily involve posting openings on USAJobs. These agencies include the State Department, CIA and other intelligence agencies, Government Accountability Office and the Federal Reserve Board. How to find openings in excepted service agencies: Network; and find the names of managers of departments that interest you in The Yellow Book or on agency Web sites and make cold calls. Comparable jobs pay more in many excepted service agencies than in other federal agencies.

*Detail assignments. A detail assignment is a temporary assignment outside your home office or agency. While detailed, an employee remains on the payroll of his home organization but works for another organization. You may want to work a detail to broaden your experience, network, work for a more prestigious organization or scope out another organization. Detail assignments — like rent-with-option-to-buy agreements — frequently lead to permanent jobs.

Find detail assignments by using your networking contacts. Also, when you read the newspaper and publications that target feds, look out for discussions of new agencies and temporary governmentwide organizations, such as task forces and commissions, that may need temporary staff. Call the staff directors of organizations that interest you, describe your credentials and inquire about detail possibilities.

*Job fairs. Some federal job fairs are hosted by a single agency, and others draw many agencies as well as private-sector employers that have openings. Some agencies use these events to fill openings through fast-track procedures or even on-the-spot offers. Therefore, you may find openings at career fairs that are not advertised anywhere else.

To find federal career fairs: Check the Sunday classifieds of The Washington Post. “Google” the names of your target agencies along with keywords, such as “job fairs.” Check the Web site of Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., for information about her annual job fairs, which always feature dozens of federal agencies. Check the Web site of the Partnership for Public Service. If you are a member of a minority group, attend conferences sponsored by minority organizations, such as the NAACP, Society of Black Engineers or American Indian Science and Engineering Society; federal agencies frequently recruit at events sponsored by these organizations.

*Jobs in the Foreign Service, the nation’s diplomatic corps. The Foreign Service has branches in four agencies: the State Department, the largest branch; Agency for International Development; Agriculture Department; and Commerce Department. In addition to Foreign Service employees, each Foreign Service agency has significant numbers of civil service employees. Most of these employees are based in the U.S., but some may work overseas on short-term assignments. All four Foreign Service agencies recruit current feds from other agencies, but each has its own hiring procedures, which are listed on its Web site. Note that the State Department is the only Foreign Service agency that requires Foreign Service officers to take the Foreign Service Officer test.

*Fellowships for experienced professionals. Agencies and other organizations offer dozens of well-paying fellowships featuring training, mentoring and career-building seminars for varied types of experienced professionals. Some of these programs exclusively recruit nonfeds, but others are open to current feds as well. Examples you might research include the Commerce Science and Technology Fellowship, the Brookings Institution’s Legis Congressional Fellowship, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Fellows Program, the government’s Information Technology Exchange Program, the International Experience and Technical Assistance Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Voyagers Program sponsored by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council, and the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation Fellowship.

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.

How to land a book contract

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If you’re a fed who has a book inside you, you’re in good company. Since I published my own book, “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job,” many feds have asked me how they can get their books published. My advice:

*Get motivated. You will probably spend several years pursuing a book contract and then writing and promoting your book. You will be able to maintain your fire in the belly through this protracted, time-consuming process only if you’re inspired by solid intellectual reasons for writing a book. Such reasons may, for example, include your desire to educate a large audience about your topic, establish yourself as an expert in your field, or preserve a body of information.

Your reasons for writing a book should not be based on fantasies of earning big bucks. Unfortunately, most books — even informative, well-written and well-reviewed ones — are not money makers. According to my agent, only about 10 percent of authors earn back their advances, which are usually under $10,000 for first-time authors.

*Choose a publishing strategy. If you self-publish, you will earn significantly more money per book than you would earn via a traditional publisher. In addition, the stigma of self-publishing is fading. Nevertheless, self-published books are less likely to be reviewed, carried by bookstores and generally taken as seriously as traditionally published books. What’s more, if you self-publish, you will have to manage the layout, editing and distribution of your book yourself.

*Write a book proposal. This document should be designed to convince an agent to represent you and then convince a publisher to offer you a contract. It should include: an overview of your book; descriptions of competing books and an explanation of why yours will sell better; a table of contents; a sample chapter; a description of your target audience; a description of your credentials; and a marketing plan that describes the venues you will access to promote your book. These promotions include speaking gigs at conferences, media appearances, and publications, newsletters and Web sites that are likely to review your book or publish articles featuring your advice.

Your marketing plan may be your proposal’s most important component because publishers are primarily concerned with a potential book’s sales. Nevertheless, most publishers devote most of their marketing muscle to only a few big-name books. Their other books receive only a brief, half-hearted pulse of marketing attention immediately after they are published. Therefore, one of the best ways to impress publishers is by presenting them with a marketing plan that proves you’re willing and able to aggressively promote your book yourself. Sparing no expense, many authors even hire their own publicists.

Also keep in mind that in addition to helping you land an agent and publisher, your marketing plan may also influence your book’s content. Once you identify your book’s target audiences and describe promotional activities to reach them, you may want to tailor some of your content to better appeal to them.

For more advice on book proposals, find books on the topic by searching on book proposals.

*Get a literary agent. An agent can help you identify publishers that cover your topic and leverage his personal relationships with publishers to ensure your proposal is read rather than blindly discarded because you’re an unknown quantity. The agent can help you identify the best publishing offer if you receive multiple offers; negotiate your book contract, and thereby increase your percentage of royalties and improve its terms in other ways; and troubleshoot problems that may arise with your publisher after you sign your contract.

Find agents who may represent you by using your networking connections, conducting Google searches on literary agents, or consulting books on the topic.

*Review book contracts. Carefully read any contracts that you consider signing, and ask your agent to negotiate terms you consider questionable or disagreeable.

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.