Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Looking to move up? Become a fellow

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Want to gain experience, learn about timely policy issues, hone your leadership credentials, network, earn qualifications to enter the Senior Executive Service — or just climb out of a professional rut?

If so, consider applying to one of the fellowship, training or education programs for feds. Costs are usually covered by participants’ agencies.

Some programs:

American Council of Technology and Industry Advisory Council leadership development programs. The Partners Program is for GS-15s or advanced GS-14s who are involved with business transformation, information technology management, program implementation, development or acquisition, and are considered promotable to the SES within the next three to five years. The Voyagers Program is for GS-14s and below.

Participants dedicate two to three days per month for nine months to development activities, which include lectures, coaching and workshops while working their federal jobs. Find details by clicking here.

American Political Science Association fellowships. Federal executives learn about legislative processes by serving on congressional staffs and participating in seminars and other enrichment activities. They may participate in an eight-week seminar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Click here to learn more.

Brookings Institution programs. Participants in the Legis Fellowship Program, GS-13s and above, receive their federal salaries while working for either seven or 12 months on congressional staffs to prepare them to more effectively lead their agencies’ legislative objectives. Brookings also offers several certificate programs and a master’s in the science of leadership. Click here to learn more.

Capitol Hill Fellowship Program of Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute. GS-13s and above receive their federal salaries while working on congressional staffs and participating in training. Fellows may enroll in GAI’s advanced courses at no cost. Fellows may thereby complete up to two-thirds of the requirements for Georgetown’s Certificate in Legislative Studies. Click here for details.

Department of Homeland Security Fellows Program. DHS GS-13s and -14s complete a 10-month curriculum that includes site visits, residential sessions in key DHS locations, instruction and a 60-to-90 day rotational assignment. Click here to learn more.

Excellence in Government Fellows Program. During the year-long program, GS-14s and GS-15s remain in their federal jobs, but meet every six weeks for a total of approximately 20 days of full-day activities and up to five hours per week on project work. Fellows collaborate with public, private-sector and nonprofit leaders and apply to their jobs leading management principles — including qualifications required for SES entry. Click here for details.

Office of Management and Budget Regulatory Exchange and Training Program. Participants analyze regulatory policies to ensure they are consistent with economic principles, public policy and the president’s goals. Employees seeking details for SES candidate programs or rotations for the Presidential Management Fellows Program may apply. Click here to learn more.

MITRE Federal Employee Fellowship Program. The MITRE Corp. is a not-for-profit organization that manages federally funded research and development centers. While working between two and 12 months at MITRE, each fellow completes project work and research, and receives leadership instruction and mentoring. Click here for details.

Sustainability in Procurement Fellows Program. Sponsored by the General Services Administration, this six-month program provides training on sustainability, including regulatory requirements, industry trends, and project experience. Fellows devote at least 20 hours per week to fellowship activities. Click here for details.

Make your headquarters, field office experience known to hiring managers

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Each agency’s success hinges, to a significant degree, on how much its headquarters and field offices cooperate. As one GS-15 headquarters manager who has previously worked in the field said, “The field offices are where the rubber hits the road. So if you don’t understand how these offices work, it’s tough to get anything substantive done. I wouldn’t have traded my field experience for anything.”

Still, relationships between headquarters and field offices can be strained. That is because of geographic distances, cultural differences, differences in the pressures faced by field and headquarters offices, and because of the limited opportunities for headquarters and field employees to share meaningful face time. Headquarters and field offices frequently do not really understand what each other does, why they don’t do it better, and the limitations and constraints confronting one another.

Therefore, feds who have held jobs, fellowships or detail assignments in a particular location may be able to offer new perspectives to feds working in other locations that would help improve understanding and cooperation between their offices. So if you’re a fed seeking a job in a new location, mention in your cover letter, résumé and interviews how your experience in another location has helped prepare you to promote interoffice cooperation — even if you’re not asked to do so.

For example, if you’re a headquarters employee applying for a field job, emphasize how, as appropriate, your headquarters experience would enable you to:

• Help demystify the personalities of headquarters managers and interpret their actions for field staffers.

• Promote exchanges between headquarters and field contacts.

• Explain to field staffers how political pressures confronting headquarters may affect decision-making from headquarters on certain issues, slow the development by headquarters of new regulations, and stall responses from headquarters to various types of requests from field offices.

• Promote the enforcement of regulations by identifying and explaining to field staffers how to avoid traps that may inadvertently have been written into regulations issued by headquarters.

• Generate positive coverage of field activities in the national media by informing national media contacts of relevant but overlooked local achievements that have national implications.

Alternatively, if you’re a field employee applying for a headquarters job, emphasize how, as appropriate, your field experience would enable you to:

• Share your knowledge of field operations with field staffers to provide guidance from headquarters during emergencies that must frequently be managed from the bottom up — but still require headquarters oversight.

• Enlighten headquarters staffers about budgetary and staffing constraints, as well as challenges and cultural mores, in field offices, and explain to headquarters managers achievements by field offices that have been overlooked.

• Advise staffers on how to craft programs that realistically accommodate field conditions and minimize ambiguity.

• Obtain additional information from field contacts, as necessary, that may help headquarters offices improve the efficiency and effectiveness of field offices.

• Apply skills that you gained in field offices to your management of headquarters issues.

• Generate positive coverage of headquarters activities in the local media by informing contacts of headquarters achievements that will affect field activities.

Also, if you’re applying for jobs that would require you to relocate, explain in your application why you would want to move. Base your application primarily on opportunities provided by your target job — even if your willingness to move is based on other considerations. Also, consider mentioning reasons why you would personally thrive in your new environment.