Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Surviving probation, part 1

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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
computers.

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.

Continue to Part Two

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 lwhiteman@federaltimes.com and view her blog at blogs.federaltimes.
com/federal-careers.

Simplicity, clarity mark effective PowerPoint presentation

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When it comes to public speaking, “less is more.” The simpler a presentation is, the clearer and more memorable it will be — and the more time needed to prepare it.

Unfortunately, this principle is apparently underappreciated. According to a survey quoted in the book “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte, 86 percent of executives say communicating with clarity directly affects their career and income, but only 25 percent of executives devote more than two hours to preparing for high-stakes presentations.

Tips for crafting simple, clear, memorable PowerPoint slides:

Solicit advice on your presentation from people who have addressed your target audience. I benefited from this strategy by consulting a knowledgeable colleague before giving a talk about press coverage of projects sponsored by a new employer shortly after starting the job.

My adviser suggested that I call out program managers from the audience as I discussed their projects in the talk and that I brandish their names on appropriate slides. Although this strategy, which helped me win over my audience, seems obvious in hindsight, it had not occurred to me as a newbie.

Design each slide to convey its message almost instantly, like a billboard. If it would take more than a few seconds to understand a slide, simplify it by conveying its message in fewer words, streamlining/generalizing complicated charts or graphs, or moving information to other slides.

Give each slide a balanced, logical design that guides the viewer from an obvious starting point to an end point; the audience should never “get lost” in a visual three-ring circus and wonder where to look.

Include eye-catching graphics on most slides, if possible. Graphics help make presentations memorable by reinforcing spoken words and by serving as mnemonic devices. Collect ideas on how to graphically convey concepts by doing Google image searches on relevant keywords.

Crop images for maximum impact with the “Crop” button under the “Format” tab.

Don’t confuse simplicity with blandness. A simple, compelling slide can be created solely with an attention-grabbing statistic and an evocative image. I recently witnessed the effectiveness of this principle by a presenter who impressed his audience by the reach of one of his office’s publications, which had been circulated to 5,000 people, by accompanying this statistic with an image of Carnegie Hall, which has a comparable number of seats.

Use consistent color and font schemes throughout your slides, but vary slide layouts. For example, one idea might be best conveyed by an image positioned adjacent to several short bullets, while another might be best conveyed by a quote, fact or hard-hitting phrase superimposed on an image covering an entire slide.

Choose background colors that contrast with one another without creating glare, such as white text against a dark blue or black background.

Save time by using screen shots of websites rather than by hyperlinking to the Internet.

If you must show your audience a page of a document during your talk, convert the page to a PDF and import it into PowerPoint with the “Object” button beneath the “Insert” tab. Also distribute it to your audience in a readable hard-copy handout. Similarly, if your talk must include complicated diagrams or formulas, distribute them in handouts.

Once you’ve finished preparing your slides, ruthlessly eliminate some of them. Time flies during presentations. You probably won’t have enough time to present all of the slides you have prepared at an unhurried pace. And your audience won’t miss what they are not shown. The number of slides you present should be far fewer than the number of minutes you have to present them.

If any viewers squint/strain to view a slide, summarize its contents for your audience. And improve your slides for your next presentation; treat your slides as continual works in progress.

Tell your boss about positive verbal comments and favorable audience surveys generated by your presentation, and include this feedback on your accomplishments list that you submit before your annual review.

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 lwhiteman@federaltimes.com and view her blog at blogs.federaltimes
.com/federal-careers.

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Simplicity, clarity mark effective PowerPoint presentation

Bookmark and Share

When it comes to public speaking, “less is more.” The simpler a presentation is, the clearer and more memorable it will be — and the more time needed to prepare it.

Unfortunately, this principle is apparently underappreciated. According to a survey quoted in the book “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte, 86 percent of executives say communicating with clarity directly affects their career and income, but only 25 percent of executives devote more than two hours to preparing for high-stakes presentations.

Tips for crafting simple, clear, memorable PowerPoint slides:

Solicit advice on your presentation from people who have addressed your target audience. I benefited from this strategy by consulting a knowledgeable colleague before giving a talk about press coverage of projects sponsored by a new employer shortly after starting the job.

My adviser suggested that I call out program managers from the audience as I discussed their projects in the talk and that I brandish their names on appropriate slides. Although this strategy, which helped me win over my audience, seems obvious in hindsight, it had not occurred to me as a newbie.

Design each slide to convey its message almost instantly, like a billboard. If it would take more than a few seconds to understand a slide, simplify it by conveying its message in fewer words, streamlining/generalizing complicated charts or graphs, or moving information to other slides.

Give each slide a balanced, logical design that guides the viewer from an obvious starting point to an end point; the audience should never “get lost” in a visual three-ring circus and wonder where to look.

Include eye-catching graphics on most slides, if possible. Graphics help make presentations memorable by reinforcing spoken words and by serving as mnemonic devices. Collect ideas on how to graphically convey concepts by doing Google image searches on relevant keywords.

Crop images for maximum impact with the “Crop” button under the “Format” tab.

Don’t confuse simplicity with blandness. A simple, compelling slide can be created solely with an attention-grabbing statistic and an evocative image. I recently witnessed the effectiveness of this principle by a presenter who impressed his audience by the reach of one of his office’s publications, which had been circulated to 5,000 people, by accompanying this statistic with an image of Carnegie Hall, which has a comparable number of seats.

Use consistent color and font schemes throughout your slides, but vary slide layouts. For example, one idea might be best conveyed by an image positioned adjacent to several short bullets, while another might be best conveyed by a quote, fact or hard-hitting phrase superimposed on an image covering an entire slide.

Choose background colors that contrast with one another without creating glare, such as white text against a dark blue or black background.

Save time by using screen shots of websites rather than by hyperlinking to the Internet.

If you must show your audience a page of a document during your talk, convert the page to a PDF and import it into PowerPoint with the “Object” button beneath the “Insert” tab. Also distribute it to your audience in a readable hard-copy handout. Similarly, if your talk must include complicated diagrams or formulas, distribute them in handouts.

Once you’ve finished preparing your slides, ruthlessly eliminate some of them. Time flies during presentations. You probably won’t have enough time to present all of the slides you have prepared at an unhurried pace. And your audience won’t miss what they are not shown. The number of slides you present should be far fewer than the number of minutes you have to present them.

If any viewers squint/strain to view a slide, summarize its contents for your audience. And improve your slides for your next presentation; treat your slides as continual works in progress.

Tell your boss about positive verbal comments and favorable audience surveys generated by your presentation, and include this feedback on your accomplishments list that you submit before your annual review.