Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

10 ways to move up the career ladder

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Aside from the obvious — work hard — here are 10 get-ahead tips:

1. Follow the money, power and controversy. Unfair though it may be, employees who work in front offices with senior executives and political appointees almost always climb the career ladder faster than comparably productive employees who work almost anonymously in back offices. Why? Because front offices usually have the power and funding to promote worthy employees. Pick projects that involve interacting with or working in front offices.

2. Be proactive. Don’t wait to be assigned ho-hum projects. Instead, design and ask to complete projects that would advance your office’s goals and offer you the experience you need to get ahead.

3. Use all channels to gain experience. If your current job does not offer you career-boosting management and supervisory experience, consider gaining it by taking leadership roles in volunteer positions with nonprofits, professional organizations, community organizations, volunteer organizations, the PTA or condo boards. Also, publish articles in professional and popular magazines.

4. Start spreading the news. Keep a running list of your achievements. Track all positive feedback drawn by your projects, such as awards; verbal and written praise from supervisors, clients, contractors and other colleagues; and positive evaluations from speaking gigs and training you give. Tell your boss about such successes when you achieve them and before annual reviews, and quote associated praise in your résumé.

5. Request promotions. Most employers don’t feel compelled to pay employees any more than they show they are willing to accept. So if you have excelled or are managing added or higher responsibilities, ask to be rewarded accordingly.

If your request is denied, ask your supervisor what you would have to do to earn a promotion. If you are averse to initiating conversations about deserved promotions, remember: A few minutes of discomfort may be worth tens of thousands of dollars, or even more, to you over the course of your career. If your boss’ words or actions indicate rewards are not forthcoming, consider moving on.

6. Consider the Senior Executive Service. The SES is open to GS-14s and -15s, but it’s never too early to start accumulating relevant credentials. Why? Because SES requirements are demanding, and require considerable time to acquire.

Start determining whether you are SES material and how to gain experience by discussing your prospects with SES members. Also, review these documents on the Office of Personnel Management website: Guide To Senior Executive Service Qualifications and Welcome to the Senior Executive Service.

7. Seek the spotlight. Demonstrate your skills for them by, for example, giving presentations, contributing to meetings and volunteering for projects that will generate interoffice collaboration.

8. Make your boss’ life easier — not harder. Make your boss’ goals for your office your goals.

9. Supervise. Supervisory experience is a prerequisite for management positions. Seize opportunities to mentor anyone you can without exceeding the limits of your position. Start doing so by, if appropriate, volunteering to supervise interns, orienting new employees, leading teams and taking supervisory acting positions.

10. Immediately pounce on opportunities. Even if you are not searching for a job, keep your résumé current so that you can quickly respond to requests for it from hiring managers. You never know when opportunity will knock.

Ways to keep star producers shining

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My Aug. 23 column reviewed some of the formal awards used to reward high-producing feds. Here are some informal, creative and low-cost ways to honor star producers:

• Show them that they have earned your trust by loosening the reins and giving them work-at-home and alternative work schedule options. If appropriate, give them more discretion and less day-to-day supervision.

• Thank them for their contributions in public forums, such as staff meetings, and explain to attendees what was special about their work.

• Invite them to serve in acting positions that would give them more responsibility, broaden their skills and provide grist for their résumés.

• Discuss their long-term professional goals with them. Then, introduce them to appropriate leaders in their fields and, if possible, arrange training and assignments that will help them achieve their goals. For example, if one of your star producers has set his sights on the Senior Executive Service, review SES requirements with him, try to guide him to projects and training that would help him meet those qualifications and introduce him to SES members who would provide insider advice.

• Help your star employees seek professional mentoring, such as the leadership coaching available through the Treasury Department’s Federal Consulting Group,

• Give them choices to attend local and out-of-town meetings, conferences and other relevant events.

• Assign them to special projects that will expose them to the front office, political appointees and other top-level staff, and — if appropriate — to the media.

• Give them first dibs on selecting projects they will work on. Also, invite them to design projects that would advance your office’s goals and give them higher levels of experience.

• Take them with you to top-level meetings and introduce them to high-level attendees.

• Allow them to participate in short-term details that would give them exposure to controversial issues, political appointees and other leaders in their field. You may help arrange such details by discussing possibilities with other managers. Alternatively, consider offering them more formal detail programs, such as those offered by the Office of Management and Budget, which every year selects a group of feds for two- to three-month detail assignments that involve helping to produce the president’s annual budget.

• Ask your star producers to write articles about their work — perhaps a case study, a “how-to” or “lessons learned” — for your office’s or agency’s newsletter or intranet site.

• Encourage them to use government time to attend educational events, such as relevant lectures and brown-bag lunches that are sponsored by your agency, nonprofits and think tanks.

• Send them to prestigious management fellowship programs for feds, such as the Partnership for Public Service’s Excellence in Government Fellows Program, Harvard University’s Senior Executive Fellows Program, Brookings Institution’s Legis Congressional Fellowship or the Voyagers Program of the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council. Also consider federal leadership development programs in the Catalogue of Federal Government Leadership Development Programs (FedLDP) available online at Or search for “federal training programs” on Google.

• Review with them criteria for awards honoring outstanding feds and professionals in their fields. Then, if possible, plan assignments that would increase their eligibility for such awards, and — if they fulfill the appropriate criteria — nominate them for awards.

Organizations that might sponsor relevant awards include ones dedicated to public administration, such as the Partnership for Public Service and the American Society for Public Administration; professional organizations for government professionals, such as the National Association of Government Communicators; and professional organizations devoted to your star producer’s field.

Worried that résumé-stuffing credentials and contacts will send your star producer flying from your office? Remember: A caged bird won’t sing. The more inspiring, enlightening and dynamic your star producer’s job becomes, the more likely he will be to stay.