Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Surviving probation, part 2

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My Oct. 21 column provided tips on successfully completing probation on a new federal job. Here are more tips:

Be aware that the strictness of criteria for passing probation varies among agencies, offices and supervisors. But even if your particular environment has a lenient history, don’t take anything for granted.

When you start your job, ask your new boss who you will be working with most closely, and then find and introduce yourself to those people. Also, obtain the organizational charts of your agency and relevant offices, and familiarize yourself with the names and faces on those charts.

Work to cultivate a good relationship with your boss; he or she will probably be the primary decision-maker on your probationary fate. Make your boss’s goals your goals, and try to suggest new, innovative ways to advance those goals.

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Other officials besides your boss may also help decide your probationary fate. Particularly if your boss leaves his supervisory position for any reason during your probation, his replacement, your boss’s boss or other managers may also help decide your probationary fate. So try to cultivate good relationships with as many managers as possible, as well as with colleagues who may report on your productivity to your boss and other managers. You will thereby generate a favorable reputation throughout your organization.

Earn a good reputation throughout your organization by making yourself as helpful to others as possible. Some ways to do so: If a colleague or manager is obviously overloaded, volunteer to help him, if possible, even if doing so involves assuming menial tasks for a short time. You will thereby burnish your team player credentials. Also, try to cultivate a needed specialty and use it to help advance your organization’s goals. In addition, volunteer for high-profile projects that will provide you with opportunities to impress other mangers besides your boss.

Another strategy: If your office is short-staffed because of attrition, vacations or other reasons, inform the appropriate manager of your availability to support him and handle unstaffed projects.

In addition, always be friendly and engaging to colleagues and managers: Show your social skills.

When managers praise your work, ask them to email such praise to your boss and c.c. you on such emails. Keep a record of any emailed and oral praise you receive from managers, and others, and maintain a running list of your achievements. Submit these documents to your boss before your annual review.

Don’t disparage or criticize your boss or your office or show disgust or displeasure, even with body language, in public or private to anyone in your agency during your probation. If such negativity gets back to your boss, it will be a relationship-killer.

Don’t apply for any new jobs within your agency without first obtaining a blessing from your boss during your probation. If you suspect that your boss would object to such a move, stay in your current job until you finish probation.

Find ways to use your special expertise or knowledge. For example, if you’re the only social media expert on your staff, offer to kick off a social media program for your office and to train colleagues in social media. Alternatively, if you have previously worked at an organization that your current organization would like to forge a closer relationship with, offer to use your key contacts at that organization to advance that effort.

Unless you’re the victim of an egregious injustice, don’t complain to your boss during your initial months. Avoid making an impression as a whiner.

Periodically mention to your boss your positive experiences on your new job: why your projects are interesting and matter; how you are helping to advance them; why you’re enjoying working with your colleagues; new things you are learning; and other benefits of your new job.