Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Melting icy coworkers

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Suppose you suspect that a manager or colleague is holding a grudge against you for no explicable reason. Perhaps this person seems to, for example, behave coldly or chronically irritated with you, avoid you and/or does not assign you desirable projects. How can you improve the relationship?

First, re-evaluate: Consider whether your manager/colleague is really snubbing you, or is indiscriminately cranky, aloof or social inept with everyone, is shy, or is coping with personal problems. Also, consider whether you may have inadvertently harmed your relationship with him by, for example, being standoffish because you’re consciously or unconsciously intimated or you’re shy.

But if your re-evaluation does confirm your suspicions about a grudge, try to improve your relationship by being friendly without mentioning your grudge suspicions: Engage him in chitchat, occasionally sincerely compliment him, or ask him to coffee or lunch.

If that approach fails, consider — if appropriate — gently and gingerly directly addressing the problem by initiating a calm, diplomatic conversation about it with your manager/colleague. Some tips:

  • If after contemplation, you’ve identified a specific way you may have alienated your manager/colleague, prepare a compelling, nonoffensive explanation and/or apology that you can, if necessary, deliver when you later meet with him.
  • Meet when he isn’t stressed or hurried. Before starting the discussion, double-check with him that it’s a good time to talk.
  • Keep the meeting cordial. Maintain eye contact and a friendly face. Stay unresentful and nonhostile.
  • Consider opening your discussion by saying, “I sense there may be some tension between us. I’d like to improve things. Can we discuss this situation so we may resolve it?” Or, “Perhaps we’ve had a misunderstanding. Is there a problem that I’m unaware of? If so, can we talk to clear it up?” Mention that by doing so, you’ll be able to work together more efficiently.
  • Your manager/colleague may ask you what you mean. Consider elaborating by saying, “I get the feeling that you don’t feel as comfortable with me as you might. Is there any truth to this? Have I inadvertently done something that bothered you?”
  • If your manager/colleague responds by accusing you of making a mistake you didn’t make, reply by calmly stating your case. Also say, “I hope that this clears the air so we can put this behind us and work together in a positive way.”
  • Alternatively, if your manager/colleague responds by citing a mistake you did make, explain that it was an inadvertent, one-off situation; apologize; offer solutions; identify extenuating circumstances; and pledge to work to regain his trust. If the cited mistake surprises you and you’re unprepared to discuss it impromptu, consider saying so and suggest discussing it later, after you’ve gathered your thoughts and reviewed your notes.
  • Don’t interrupt your manager/colleague; let him tell his side of the story before you tell yours — and, if necessary, ask for the same courtesy. Also, don’t respond to accusations with accusations.
  • If your manager/colleague denies that there is any tension between you, express relief and say that you would like to continue working together on a positive note. Also, mention that you would invite any follow-up discussions in the future.

And heed the trite but true saying, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” You are sure to improve relationships with coworkers by helping them — even if necessary tasks are menial — when they’re in a bind.

Also, you may obtain free, confidential trouble-shooting advice from a mental health professional from your agency’s Employee Assistance
Program.

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of 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.

Earning a great review

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It’s that time of year again, when birds start singing, buds start sprouting, the days lengthen … and staffers in many federal agencies receive their annual evaluations.

So it’s also time to review techniques for earning great annual reviews:

Update: Throughout the year, update your boss on your projects every couple of weeks via emails or brief meetings. If you anticipate possibly missing deadlines or encountering other show-stopping problems, tell your boss about them when there is still enough time for trouble-shooting.

Also, inform your boss about praise you receive from other managers, partners, stakeholders, instructors, clients, or other important individuals. Do so by forwarding relevant emails to him, and by asking those who verbally praise you to email their praise to your boss and to c.c. you on such emails. Save copies of such emails and other forms of positive feedback, such as enthusiastic evaluations from attendees of your trainings or the counts of large turn-outs for events you organized.

Request Recognition: If you successfully complete a detail, ask your detail boss to give you a written evaluation when your detail ends. If your boss is “too busy” to do so, offer to write your evaluation yourself for his signature. Then, submit your signed evaluation to your boss on your regular job.

Take note: I know a fed who, justifiably, wrote an excellent evaluation for herself at the end of a detail. Soon after, when she was job-hunting, she included on her resume glowing quotes from that signed evaluation (which she had written) — which helped her land her next job.

Document: Keep a running list of all of your achievements, trainings you took, presentations you gave, conferences you attended, ways that you went the extra mile, and other noteworthy successes. Update your list after finishing each project, and immediately preserve evidence of your results and positive feedback. Why? Because your boss is more likely to remember what he achieved in the 11th grade than to, without your help, remember what you achieved 11 months ago. And how can he possibly give you full credit for achievements that he doesn’t remember?

And no matter how thrilled you were by previous projects, and associated results and praise, your memory of some successes probably faded as your attention turned to new projects and evidence of your success vanished as, for example, websites you created changed, documents you wrote went out of print, managers who witnessed your achievements departed, and praising emails got lost in the shuffle.

So the only way you can definitely capture all of your successes is to continually update your achievements list and save written and oral praise and evidence of your results. Perhaps, for example, you should save screen shots of relevant websites.

If you didn’t keep a running list of your successes this year, inventory them now. Then, remind yourself of other salient, potentially forgotten activities by scrolling through your emails and other electronic documents and by asking your close colleagues, spouse and/or other advisers to help jog your memory.

Once you have completed your list, organize it logically. For example, consider prefacing your list with a summary that explains what your main focuses this year were and why, and identifies challenges you conquered. Also, chunk similar types of achievements under headings on your list; your headings may, for example, correspond to categories of responsibilities identified in your position description.

Even if your boss doesn’t request your achievements list before he writes your evaluation, offer it to him. (You may also use your list to support your request for a Quality Step Increase or grade increase, and to help you write your resume and answer interview questions.)

If you receive an excellent annual evaluation, say so and quote selected praise from recent evaluations on your resume in a bullet that introduces this information with the phrase: “Excellent reputation.”

If your boss doesn’t incorporate your list or its gist into your evaluation, ask him during your review meeting to attach it to your review so that it will become part of your formal record.

If you receive a grossly unfair annual evaluation, ask your union how you can request reconsideration of your evaluation or how you can formally object to it.

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Email your career questions to lwhiteman@federaltimes.com.

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.

Use your work emails effectively

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Treat your federal email account as public property, because it is: Any of your emails can be read by your agency or FOIA’d at any time. So never include potentially incriminating, embarrassing or personally confidential information in work emails.

Check the first and last name of the recipient of each of your emails before sending or forwarding it. A cautionary tale: I previously worked with a federal manager who used his government account to send a friend an email that cruelly disparaged one of his colleagues. But immediately after hitting “send,” the manager realized that he had accidentally sent the offensive email to his disparaged colleague instead of to his friend. Oops!

Frantically attempting to salvage the situation, the manager raced to his colleague’s office, which happened to be empty at the time, trespassed into his colleague’s email account, deleted the disparaging email from her inbox and “Deleted Items,” and breathed a sigh of relief — only to look up to see his colleague standing in the threshold of her office. Caught with his back against the wall, the manager coughed up an implausible excuse for his trespassing and quickly fled his colleague’s office.

But it got even worse: Unbeknownst to the manager, all of his colleague’s work emails had been programmed to be delivered to her cellphone in addition to her office computer. Therefore, even after the manager erased the offensive email from his colleague’s work computer, it remained on her phone — where she quickly found it. And so in the end, the fed’s disparaging email and his foolish handling of the situation irreparably damaged his relationship with a colleague, got him in hot water for trespassing and caused him considerable embarrassment.

Address each email after you have finished writing it, instead of when you start writing it. By doing so, you will avoid sending out unfinished emails.

Warning: If you’ve emailed colleagues from your personal email account, their names may automatically populate the “to” lines of emails from your personal account when you start addressing them. If this is the case, be extra careful not to accidentally send personal emails to colleagues.

Craft the subject lines of emails to be substantive in order to help you find them later, if you need to. Also, make them attention-grabbing, so that, like newspaper headlines, they will compel people to keep reading. The more positive and recipient-centered each subject line is, the better.

For example, “Today’s staff meeting is canceled” is a better subject than “The meeting.” And “Meeting about Potential Solutions to Budget Shortfall” is better than “Meeting about Budget Shortfall.” And instead of using the header “quick question,” simply ask the quick question in the header, such as “Have time to review a press release today?” If an email is time-sensitive or urgent, say so in the subject line.

Start each email with a salutation, such as “Dear … ,” instead of immediately launching into your email content. Why? Because no matter how busy and well-meaning you may be, a salutationless email unnecessarily conveys condescension — particularly if your email requests an action from your recipient and if your recipient is a subordinate. By adding a salutation to an email, you will lengthen your work day by a maximum of about two seconds — a small price to pay for an important goodwill gesture.

Email recipients want to know “What’s in it for me?” So whenever possible, answer this question overtly in emails. For example, you could ask your supervisor in an email: “May I attend a lecture about Y at X organization from 3:00 to 5:00 tomorrow? Also, I would like to work at home tomorrow.”

Alternatively, you could strengthen your request by asking, “May I attend a lecture about Y at X organization from 3:00 to 5:00 tomorrow because it would help me do Z better for you? If so, may I please telecommute tomorrow because the lecture will be held near my home, and so I would be able to work a full eight-hour day — which would not otherwise be possible because of my long commute?”

Writing effective emails

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The faster and more easily a document can be read and understood, the more likely it is to be read and understood.

Convey messages with as few words as possible and ruthlessly deleting unnecessary information without cutting essential background information.

Open your first email to a new contact with a concise introduction that quickly conveys context. For example: “Dear Joe: Lily Whiteman here from Federal Times. X suggested that I contact you as part of my search for information about Y.”

Get to the point quickly: Explain what needs to be done, by whom and when within the first few sentences of each email.

Preface a mile-long email string that you are forwarding to another recipient with a quick explanation of the string’s importance and necessary actions.

Use headings to break up text and emphasize your logic in emails that are more than several paragraphs long.

Highlight deadlines and other essential points with bold, underlining or headings. (Color won’t be visible in black-and-white printouts.)

Use numbered lists to convey the sequence of necessary steps or the relative priority of included items, and using bullets to describe related items that are of equal importance.

Eliminate or explaining acronyms that may stump anyone who will receive the email directly or via forwarding.

Include your contact information and title in every email, even if recipients already have this information.

Repeatedly spell-check and proofread.

Not only is an email’s content important, so too is its tone. The more collegial and positive its tone is, the more likely it will be to generate interest and cooperation from its recipients.

Unfortunately, communicating through email is sometimes like talking through a filter that strips words and messages of softening messages and magnifies negativity. It does so because:

Emails are devoid of facial expressions, physical gestures and vocal tone that may otherwise neutralize the sting of criticism or even mild suggestions from superiors.

 

It’s easier to “flame” a faceless computer than a person in a face-to-face or telephone interaction. This is partly because participants in email conversations are deprived of immediate feedback to their comments that may compel them to suppress their anger and rudeness and modulate their tone, and thereby maintain civility and prevent disagreements from escalating into arguments.

Time lags in strained email conversations may magnify tensions. Indeed, emailing criticism without providing quick opportunities for a recipient to respond via phone or face-to-face discussions is the cyber equivalent of lobbing a grenade over a wall and then fleeing. Promote goodwill and avoid generating misunderstandings and inflaming tensions via email by:

Writing emails with a humane tone, even when delivering instructions to subordinates. Remember: There is a person with human emotions on the other side of your computer.

Use everyday conversational language, even when delivering bureaucratic information.

Deliver bad news, significant criticisms or denials of requests, in person or by phone, if possible, even if your decision or criticism is in response to an email.

lf you must deliver criticism or bad news or respond to a negative email via email, craft your email to calmly stick to the facts without sounding angry, offensive or defensive; stay polite. Don’t send your email impulsively; let it go cold, and then edit it with fresh eyes and an open mind. Seek a second opinion.

When you must email feedback, such as a document containing your redline/strikeout edits, preface your suggestions or edits with a word of thanks and praise of the recipient’s work.

 

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.

Tell success story in SES application

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Most applicants for the Senior Executive Service hastily slap together application essays that are long, disjointed lists describing general achievements. The problem? Their essays are about as interesting, impressive and memorable as a stranger’s mile-long “to-do” list.

My advice, based on my experience serving on many federal hiring panels and coaching hundreds of feds: Structure your essays around blockbuster success stories — descriptions of how you accomplished concrete, specific, important, big-picture goals or solved show-stopping, vexing problems that parallel the responsibilities of your target job.

Your success stories will be compelling because,  unlike achievement lists,  they will be conceptually united by a dramatic narrative that will wrap around and stick to managers’ brains like verbal Velcro. In addition, they will capture the uniqueness of your goal-reaching and problem-solving expertise and de-emphasize responsibilities that are indistinguishable from those of hundreds of other professionals who have the same title as you. Therefore, they will help you stand out from the pack.

Each success story should concisely describe:

  • Your goal and its importance to your agency. Did you address requirements to do more with less;inefficiencies or gaps in expertise that damaged your office’s reputation or productivity; outdated procedures or equipment that increased costs or wasted time; bad survey or audit results; or criticism from Congress or the press?
    Warning: Only give as much information about your target goal as necessary to provide context for your explanation of your achievement. Your essay should mainly be devoted to your problem-solving or goal-reaching success — not to inventorying your agency’s problems.
  • Your actions. Explain what you did to address the problem or goal and why you chose your strategy. Did you overhaul or consolidate offices; pass or enforce a major regulation; improve a system or process;  issue new grants; raise standards; run a public awareness campaign; manage an investigation; organize a conference; launch a new product; undertake a high-dollar procurement action; generate new partnerships between organizations; or create training or education opportunities?
  • The special challenges you conquered. Don’t pretend  your job is easy. Describe the tough obstacles you deftly surmounted, such as budgetary, personnel or geographic constraints; tight deadlines; a change-resistant bureaucracy; a sensitive political situation; data shortages;  schedule or policy changes that required accommodation; technology glitches; leadership turnover; the lack of consistent commitment from senior management; racial or gender glass ceilings; hostile stakeholder groups or press; or the trail-blazing nature of your work.
    Describe your challenges in objective, impersonal terms without resentment or bitterness. Emphasize what you did, not what was done to you — no matter how overly burdened you might have been. No grumbling!
  • Results. Provide tangible evidence that you solved the problem or achieved the goal. Did your actions yield savings in costs or time; improved health or safety statistics; increased productivity; improvements in survey or audit results or other metrics; a product that drew a large audience and positive evaluations; acquisition of needed products or services; improvements in recruitment; or reductions in pollution or energy consumption?
  • Positive feedback. Quote positive press and written or oral praise from managers, colleagues, associations, stakeholder groups, unions, government organizations; and cite any formal recognition or promotions or awards received because of your results.

Format each essay to jump off the page by giving it an eye-catching title and by labeling its parts with the following headings: My Goal; My Actions; Special Challenges I Conquered; My Results; and Positive Feedback. These headings will convince hiring managers that you produced results and positive feedback even if they don’t read your essay word for word.

See the worksheet for writing effective success stories on the Career Matters blog at www.federaltimes.com.

How to write essays that will get you into SES

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If you’re like most applicants to the Senior Executive Service, you would rather eat glass than answer those odious essay questions in SES applications. Nevertheless, answer them you must, and it is virtually impossible to do so quickly and succeed.

So if you’re unwilling to spoil an otherwise enjoyable weekend — or longer — with essay writing, you will probably lose your SES competition to a more self-sacrificing competitor. Conversely, if you give your essays their due, you’ll probably vault ahead of your competition.

Tips for crafting winning SES essays:

Read essay requirements and sample essays in the Office of Personnel Management’s Guide to Senior Executive Service Qualifications.  Ask your SES colleagues to show you their essays for inspiration.

  • Identify which credentials to cover in your essays.

While you’re overburdened by current priorities, it may be difficult to remember previous achievements and objectively gauge their relevance to your target job. So ask your trusted advisers to review your achievements and target job with you so that  they may remind you of achievements you may have forgotten or dismissed as insignificant.

An example of the importance of this principle: An agricultural executive from Central America who has a doctorate from an Ivy League university consulted me on his rejected SES application. The problem: The executive had loaded his essays with descriptions of ho-hum, dime-a-dozen administrative responsibilities rather than with his Superman-like achievements — including his success in single-handedly negotiating the safe rescue of several of his staffers who had been taken hostage by rebels in the wilderness, even negotiating alone and unarmed with the rebels face-to-face in a remote forest.

Brilliant though the executive was, he had omitted his negotiating triumph from his essays because he had not realized that it brandished his courage, leadership, grace under pressure, strategic planning, conflict resolution abilities and other sought-after management qualities. But once the executive armed his essays with this and other important achievements — some of which were truly worthy of a Bruce Willis movie — he landed a top post at a large federal agency.

  • Inventory your achievements — from your résumé and annual evaluations; written and oral praise from politicians, political appointees, journalists, executives, colleagues and subordinates; your publications; presentations and events you led; media campaigns covering your work; evaluations from trainings and speeches you delivered; your awards and grants; fellowships, detail assignments and special projects for which you were handpicked; your academic transcripts and certifications.

Note the number of people or sizes of jurisdictions you managed and the size of your budgets; survey results you improved; your streamlining programs that saved time or money;  the ways you promoted diversity through hiring and mentoring; your high-stakes decisions; high-dollar contracts you authorized; ways you modernized office practices; and crises your managed.

  • Triage your successes for inclusion in your essays via these rules: The bigger your achievements, the better.

This means the more people you managed and were affected by your work, the more life and death, health and safety, job-creation and financial implications of your work and the more positive media it garnered, the better.

Also, recent successes usually trump ancient ones.

  • It can be tricky to parcel your credentials among your answers to SES questions because these questions are maddeningly redundant and overlapping. But here’s a strategy: Write down each question followed by all of your big relevant academic, professional and volunteer credentials that parallel the demands of your target job. If a credential fits multiple questions, use it only to help answer the question that provides the best fit — unless you need to use it to expand another answer that would otherwise be lacking.

How to become a Presidential Management Fellow

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The Presidential Management Fellows program will continue to operate, despite budget cutbacks, because agencies must continue to grow new leaders and conduct succession planning, Angela Bailey, the Office of Personnel Management’s associate director of employee services, said in an interview.

So if you’re qualified to join the PMF program, apply. Don’t bypass the program on the wrongful assumption that it will be a casualty of cutbacks.

Although attorneys and policy wonks are, as always, welcome to apply, technical specialists  — in health and in information technology fields such as cybersecurity and software engineering — are in particularly high demand.

The PMF application begins with an online questionnaire. High scorers become semifinalists. Each semifinalist is invited to an in-person assessment that may be completed at various locations nationwide.

This assessment includes several components, including a behavioral interview, a group exercise and a timed essay-writing exercise.

Survivors of the in-person assessment become finalists who are eligible for PMF positions — many of which are filled at an annual job fair in Washington. Usually, about 60 percent to 67 percent of finalists find PMF jobs.

How to maximize your chances of succeeding in the PMF application process:

Study the websites of the PMF program (www.pmf.gov) and the Presidential Management Alumni Group (www.pmag.org). Also, use personal and online networking channels to connect with program alumni and discuss their experiences with them. Reflect your resulting programmatic knowledge and your desire and ability to contribute to the program in the written and in-person components of your application.

Follow application instructions to the letter. Many applicants wipe out by failing to do so.

Seize opportunities to explain why you want to work in the public sector, and your relevant experience.

Emphasize your leadership credentials, such as experience in student government, and positions in teaching, training or tutoring. This is important because the PMF program is aimed at cultivating a cadre of government leaders.

Also, prove that you’re well-rounded, that you have had a breadth of paid or unpaid experiences, and that you would skillfully maneuver through working environments that are multigenerational and have differing office cultures.

Prove that you’re a good leader during your in-person assessment. Participate in all exercises; ask questions when appropriate; show that you work well in teams; and demonstrate adaptability, good communication skills, collegiality and calmness.

For example, if your in-person assessment includes a mock news conference with aggressive questioning, maintain grace under fire; don’t get flustered, riled or knocked off your game; and explain the issues at hand in a clear, straightforward manner.

Stay on your toes throughout your in-person assessment, even during lunch. “Character is defined when no one is looking,” Bailey said.

Respond to written and in-person situational and problem-solving questions by honestly explaining what you think the best way to handle the challenge at hand would be, instead of by trying to guess the “right” answer, because such questions often don’t have a “right” answer, Bailey said. Rather, such questions are designed to draw out your thinking processes, logic and judgment.

Answer all questions included in background checks completely and honestly. You are more likely to jeopardize your acceptance into the PMF program by lying on your application than by disclosing potentially thorny aspects of your background, which won’t necessarily be deal-breakers if you can thoughtfully explain them.

Agencies hire PMFs at the GS-9 through GS-12 levels or their equivalents. So salary offers for PMF jobs vary depending on the hiring agency, the opening, and the applicant’s qualifications and negotiating success. So shop around and negotiate.

How to qualify for the Senior Executive Service

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Do you think you are or could become executive material? If so, consider aiming for the Senior Executive Service.

Some SES jobs are open only to GS-15s or above and their equivalents, but others are also open to GS-14s and their equivalents.

Before moving into an SES job, you will need to obtain certification of your leadership skills from a Qualifications Review Board (QRB) — an independent board administered by the Office of Personnel Management and composed of SES members. QRBs base their certification decisions on five Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs): leading change, leading people, results-driven, business acumen and building coalitions. To access descriptions of each ECQ, type “ECQ” into the search window at www.opm.gov.

You will also need an offer for an SES job.

There are two ways to obtain QRB certification and an SES job offer. One way is to land an SES job through competition. After an agency selects you for an SES job, it will submit your job application to the QRB for a certification decision. Once the QRB certifies you, you may start the job.

Another way is to complete an SES Candidate Development Program (CDP) run by OPM or another federal agency. CDPs are intensive programs — lasting 18 to 24 months — that require classroom training, at least four months of developmental assignments outside the candidate’s current position, mentoring, coaching, field experiences and Web-based learning.

Agencies may tailor their CDPs and the size of their CDP classes to their particular workforce needs and organizational missions. However, agency CDPs must be approved by OPM.

Acceptance into all CDP programs is competitive. Invitations to apply are usually governmentwide and announced on a rolling basis on www.USAJOBS.gov.

Upon graduation from a CDP, candidates usually obtain QRB certification. Any CDP graduate with QRB certification may be selected, without further competition, to any SES job for which he otherwise qualifies. But graduation from a CDP and QRB certification do not guarantee selection for an SES job.

Some agencies offer new SESers a set percentage increase in salary, usually 10 to 15 percent, over their previous salary; other agencies are free of such restrictions. But no matter what your hiring agency’s policy is, you should at least attempt to negotiate an SES salary.

In fact, these words, “Is this salary offer negotiable?” may be among the most valuable because they compel your hiring agency to increase its offer to you. In addition, salaries in the excepted service — for which agencies are not required to notify the public of vacancies — are usually higher than those for comparable jobs in the competitive service. So, if you are moving from a job in the competitive service into an SES job in the excepted service, your negotiating potential may be particularly promising.

Whenever you negotiate a salary, be diplomatic. The more convincingly you explain how your qualifications exceed the minimum qualifications for the target job, the better. No ultimatums!

The minimum annual salary for SESers is currently $119,554. But maximum salaries vary from agency to agency. Agencies that have been certified by OPM for adopting performance-based appraisal systems may pay higher SES salaries than uncertified agencies. The maximum salary for SESers covered by certified appraisal systems is currently $179,700, and the maximum salary for SESers not so covered is $165,300.

Since 2010, the salary table for all SESers has been frozen along with those of other feds. However, SESers have remained eligible for bonuses.

All SESers accrue eight hours of leave per pay period.