Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

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.

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