Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Maximize your time as a Presidential Management Fellow

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Tips for current or aspiring Presidential Management Fellows and the managers and associates who advise them:

  • Before applying to the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program, consider its advantages and disadvantages versus other federal fellowship programs or entry-level positions.

The PMF program offers prestige, training, networking, mentoring and substantive experience. But so do many other federal internship and fellowship programs and entry-level jobs. Many such positions have simpler and faster application procedures than the PMF’s. And some entry-level jobs pay better.

  • If you apply to be a PMF, keep pursuing other career options. Only about one in 10 applicants are accepted into the program.
  • Even if you’re selected as a PMF finalist, you will still have to find a job in an agency and then rotations. When you’re hunting for jobs or required rotations, beware that some managers are more knowledgeable than others about the benefits of hiring PMFs and about the program’s requirements. And some agencies devote more resources than others to helping PMFs satisfy program requirements.

For example, a Bureau of Land Management PMF told me her managers assured her they “want me to fall in love with BLM during my fellowship’’ and “consider it part of their jobs to help me succeed.” Unfortunately, some agencies are not so invested in their Fellows. What’s more, the BLM Fellow warns that some managers may accept Fellows for rotations, in part, to gain “free labor.”

So when you research jobs and fellowships, ask current and former Fellows about your target organization’s attitudes toward Fellows. And in interviews with hiring managers, ask them about: their understanding of the program; previous experiences with Fellows; willingness to allow Fellows to devote time to required PMF activities; the agency’s infrastructure for cultivating Fellows; the impacts of budget cuts on this infrastructure; and the potential for landing promotions and post-fellowship positions.

Also, be prepared to sell the program and explain to hiring managers the benefits to them of hiring Fellows, as explained on the PMF website, www.PMF.gov.

  • When you’re seeking a PMF job or rotation, the BLM Fellow advises: “Be genuine, confident and upfront about your interests. I found it OK to show hiring managers that I already had some direction, but to also acknowledge that I don’t know exactly where and how exactly I want to get there. Part of the appeal for managers is to show you a career path and get you excited about it.

“Explain to managers what you offer, while staying humble and expressing your eagerness to learn from other professionals. Be careful not to seem overly confident or cocky, or you’ll risk alienating hiring managers by reinforcing the unfortunate stereotype of PMFers as ‘people who act like know-it-alls.’ ”

  • Land rotations that will complement — not merely duplicate — experiences offered by your main PMF job.
  • Network. “Go down the hall and introduce yourself to PMF alumni,” the BLM Fellow advised. Through such networking, she received helpful advice on finding and selecting rotation and training opportunities, and on documenting her successes, as required for graduating from the program.

Your LinkedIn profile should open strong

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Open your LinkedIn profile with a bang by instantly conveying your professional stature and by concisely packing as much information as possible into your header and your summary.

Your header is the title following your name. It shouldn’t necessarily match your job title, particularly if your title has only a ho-hum ring or does not capture your stature or areas of accomplishment.

Consider spicing up your header by calling yourself an “expert in X.” Do you recoil at the thought of calling yourself “an expert” even though you’re a seasoned professional? If so, you’re not alone, if my experience is any indication: When I lead seminars on career advancement skills, I invariably meet many true experts in their fields who — out of misplaced modesty — had never considered themselves as such until I convinced them otherwise.

Here’s my “expert” rule: If you’re the go-to person for a skill or topic and have years of experience in it, you’re an expert in it. All the more so if you have taught or published in your field.

Still not convinced you’re an expert? Then consider including in your header an alternative impressive phrase, such as “with extensive expertise in X.”

You might also spice up your header by citing skills you possess that are not covered by your job title. For example, I know a professional whose job title is “illustrator.” But because she also produces videos on her job and would like to move into a video production job, she added “video producer” to her LinkedIn header in addition to “illustrator.”

Another option: Define your position, your unique approach and what makes you stand out from the pack. For example, “chief financial officer who closed my agency’s books in record time.”

Also, feel free to cite your current employer in your title.

Your summary is the section following your header. Consider beginning it with a verve-filled conversational statement that defines your specialty or rare combination of skills, or describes how your approach distinguishes you from the pack.

For example:

• Journalism suits me to a “T” because I am inveterately curious. I love asking questions, and sleuthing out answers.

• Golda Meir said, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.” Her philosophy has guided each alternative dispute resolution negotiating session I have led between employees and managers during the last 10 years.

• I am a multitasking maniac. I manage a 10-person press office that is a veritable news release factory; airs weekly webcasts routinely picked up by The Washington Post and The New York Times; produces daily updates to a website that receives 500,000 hits monthly; and serves as my agency’s crisis management center.

• I created a cure for meeting overload! As a conference planner and facilitator at X since 2006, I have been running productive, engaging conferences that render disorganized, pointless and endless events obsolete.

Also include in your summary a “greatest hits” career overview in a concise paragraph or bulleted list of three to five of your most relevant achievements. Determine how to phrase those achievements by asking yourself, “If I were to meet a pivotal contact, which of my achievements would impress him most, and how could I prove to him that these achievements were important?”

LinkedIn is key to getting a job, promotion

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My informal survey suggests that LinkedIn may be the most popular social media website among seasoned professionals.

Harder evidence of LinkedIn’s indispensability: According to a Jan. 27 New York Times article, “In Hiring, a Friend in Need Is a Prospect, Indeed,” some large companies are finding qualified candidates by recruiting new hires from the LinkedIn networks of their current employees. In the process, they are bypassing reams of nameless applications from recruiters and job boards.

So if you’re seeking a nonfederal job, it is practically de rigueur to create an impressive LinkedIn profile. And if you’re seeking a federal promotion, the same is becoming increasingly true. In light of the popularity of LinkedIn, you can expect federal hiring managers to review your LinkedIn profile before they meet with you.

But LinkedIn is important for more than job hunting. These days, whenever you’re exposed to new professional contacts, some of them will probably review your LinkedIn profile. These contacts may include new managers; colleagues and subordinates at your job; your interviewees; fellow attendees at meetings and conferences; people who hear you speak at events; editors considering publishing your work; and journalists.

Some tips for improving your LinkedIn profile:

  • Maximize your name’s reach. Include nicknames and maiden names in your profile name, if you want to be found by people who know you by such names. Follow your name with the letters that represent any advanced degrees or certifications you have.
  • Keep your LinkedIn profile shorter, less comprehensive and more conversational than your résumé.
  • Be selective. Exclude jobs too dated or too unrelated to your current persona to matter anymore.
  • Be descriptive. Job titles don’t speak for themselves. Each job listed in your LinkedIn profile should be accompanied by a job summary.
  • Be concise. Limit each job summary to several bullets or a short paragraph that captures your salient achievements. Emphasize achievements that most parallel your current goals — no matter how little time you may have spent on them. And exclude achievements that don’t parallel your goals — no matter how much time you may have spent on them.
  • Purge vague, overused clichés such as “team player” and “results-oriented.” Instead, prove that you warrant such descriptors. Did you, for example, lead a team, reconcile differences within a team, contribute to a team’s success or win a team award? And identify your results — if possible, with metrics. Did you, for example, manage a large network, save staff time by streamlining procedures, produce more with less or manage a budget? How big? How did you do it differently and better than others?
  • If you’re job hunting, exclude any information that may alienate hiring managers, such as your political affiliations — unless you’re seeking a political job.
  • Order information strategically. Order your jobs in reverse chronological order — unless a previous job is more relevant to your current career goals; in such cases, order your jobs according to their relevance to your current goals. Similarly, if your volunteer experience or education is more relevant to your goals than your job history, give such information top billing.
  • Cite relevant websites in the “Summary” or “Projects” sections of your profile or in the appropriate job summary. These websites may include online portfolios or sites that showcase your projects or positive press coverage of them.
  • Use quality controls. Run all profile text through a spellchecker before posting it on LinkedIn, which does not check spelling. Mistakes such as “detail-oriented edtor” [sic] are instant credibility-busters. Also, review the final version of your profile on LinkedIn to catch formatting mistakes.
  • Make your profile public, if you feel comfortable doing so. A hidden profile won’t generate traffic.
  • Increase your wow power. Regularly update your profile. And review other profiles to collect ideas on how to improve your own.

Job applications require your best efforts

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The 17th-century French scientist and mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” The principle that writing concise documents takes more time than writing long-winded ones applies to just about every type of document, including reports, fact sheets, websites, letters, presentations and applications.

Instead of leaving the preparation of documents to the last minute, take time to:

  • Tailor each document to its target audience. When deciding what to leave in or out and how to order your document’s contents, consider what your audience most wants and needs, and prioritize accordingly.
    And when it comes to applications, remember: Managers are about as likely to read and remember generic, untailored applications as you are to read and remember your junk mail — and for many of the same reasons.
    So your time is much better spent tailoring a few applications to their target audiences than carpet-bombing the world with many untailored, generic applications that will all probably miss their mark. Put another way: If you are unwilling to devote an otherwise enjoyable weekend to tailoring your application to your target job, some of your competitors almost certainly will be willing to do so — and so they will probably beat you in the competition.
    To tailor your application to a target job, identify the types of academic and professional experiences as well as personality traits demanded by your target job; carefully troll through your background to identify your matching credentials; describe them; ruthlessly edit your resulting descriptions to eliminate superfluous information; and then order and format your descriptions so your most relevant credentials appear first and most prominently on the page.
  • Write to be understood. Consider what background information your audience needs to understand your message and provide it. Define acronyms and technical terms, as needed.
    In your applications, assume no previous knowledge about your field or sector so that human resources personnel and managers who have no previous knowledge of your field or sector will understand your application and be impressed by it.
  • Work on your document in multiple sessions. It is virtually impossible to crank out a winning document in a single session — even in a long, caffeine-spiked all-nighter.
    Rather, crafting eye-catching, informative and easy-to-read documents requires multiple sessions punctuated by long breaks. Only by temporarily detaching yourself and then returning to your document with fresh eyes can you even approximate the perspective of strangers  — and recognize problems, such as passages that should be reordered; logical leaps that should be clarified; wordiness that should be economized; long passages that should be broken up with shorter paragraphs and headings; ho-hum passages that demand zest; errors that need corrections; and important information that should be added.
    If you don’t have time to let your document go cold for extended periods, let it at least go lukewarm for brief periods, if only by briefly distracting yourself by watering your plants, making a phone call or jamming on your air guitar.
  • Proofread your documents scrupulously. Repeatedly print your document and proofread for  typos, misspellings, punctuation problems and extra or missing words that will not necessarily be found by spellcheckers and are easier to spot on hardcopy documents than on the computer screen.
    Large percentages of federal job applications are rejected solely because of these types of careless applications. If an applicant’s work doesn’t pass muster when he is supposedly putting his best foot forward, it is unlikely to pass muster under less pressured circumstances.
    The tragedy of rejections based on careless errors is that the hapless rejectees are almost never informed of why they wiped out. So be forewarned.
  • Solicit friendly fire on your documents from trusted advisers before submitting them. The only way to know how you’re coming across is to ask other people, “How am I coming across?” It’s better to find out how to improve your documents when you still have opportunities to improve them than to blissfully submit flawed documents and let your mistakes silently sink you.

 

Use metrics to promote achievements

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Statistics, measurements, counts and other metrics sound scientific, inarguable and objective. If you bolster your resume, answers to interview questions and updates to your supervisor, LinkedIn profile and other professional documents with such metrics, they will sound scientific, inarguable and objective.

By quantifying your achievements, you will also underscore their heft and help prove that you’re an action-oriented go-getter rather than a self-promoting talker.

“Time” metrics are one way to help quantify your achievements:

  • Your years of experience or hours of training or courses.
  • Tight, non-negotiable deadlines you met, or the number of work products (such as press releases, articles, videos, reports, grants, regulations) you produced or processed within a specified time.
  • Time savings you produced by streamlining or automating procedures.
  • You can also use metrics to quantify the number of people affected by your achievements:
  • The number of interns, employees or contractors you recruited or supervise; the number of customers or clients you serve, managers you support or stakeholder groups you interact with.
  • The size of the audience reached by your publication or website, or the increase in size of audience you generated.
  • The number of attendees at presentations, conferences or training sessions you managed, or the number of events you led. Also, the number or percentage of attendees who rated your event favorably.
  • The increase in an organization’s membership or the improvements in survey results you generated.
  • Reductions in the frequencies of deaths, injuries or other adverse events you helped bring about; the number of people or organizations that must comply with regulations you implemented; the number of people using a network or other system you manage or the size of database you manage; or the number of cases you won or managed.
  • Stats that reflect the selectivity of a fellowship or other honor you received.
  • The size and diversity of membership of a group you lead, or stats proving that you increased the diversity of an office or program.

Money and efficiency metrics:

  • Your record of completing projects on time or in record time or under budget.
  • The size of budget you manage and budget increases you helped generate; the annual revenue of the organization you manage and revenue increases you helped generate; the dollar value of contracts or accounts you manage; or the dollar value of legal cases, property or equipment you manage or purchased.
  • Cost savings you generated by improving processes, negotiating skillfully or leading reorganizations; stats showing that you improved quality controls or increased efficiency.
  • The number or dollar value of promotions and bonuses you received within a specified time.

Geography metrics:

  • The number of square feet or size of acreage that you manage or consolidated.
  • The number or size of facilities, labs, offices, states, districts or countries in your jurisdiction.

If you can’t cite exact numbers in your attempt, quantify your achievements:

  • Estimate with phrases, such as: dozens of, significant increases in or 100-plus.
  • Use creative but honest accounting. For example, consider the strategy used by a federal attorney asked about her supervisory experience in her application for a managerial position. Instead of stating that, at the time, she had only been supervising three attorneys, she stated that during her 15 years as a supervisor, she had supervised dozens of attorneys. Plus, she quoted praise she had received from her staffers in thank-you cards. The result: She got the job.
  • You don’t have to be the first to climb a Himalayan peak for your achievements to warrant superlatives, such as: first, fastest, precedent-setting, pioneering or record-breaking. Your achievements warrant such descriptions if you were the first one in your office to close the books on time, write a regulation in plain English or innovate an online filing system.

Give your résumé an eye-catching format

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A winning way to craft your résumé is to begin by brandishing your name — followed by abbreviations for any certifications or graduate degrees you earned — in large, bold font on the first line. And cite in large, bold font your professional title on the second line of your résumé.

By doing so, you’ll instantly broadcast to harried hiring managers who only skim your résumé what you are and what you could do for them.

Your professional title should be honest, but need not necessarily match the job title of your current job, particularly if the latter fails to capture your key credentials.

For example, consider the strategy used by a Ph.D. scientist who had a graduate certificate in health policy and was working a two-year policy fellowship in a federal agency. In her application for a permanent federal job in science policy, she used the professional title: “Ph.D. Neuroscientist with Advanced Expertise in Science Policy.”

While her current job title of “fellow” was comparatively vague and uninformative, her self-proclaimed professional title captured her science background as well as her policy expertise — both of which helped her land her target job.

Consider incorporating phrases into your professional job title, such as “expert in,” “specialist in,” “senior-level,” “in-depth knowledge of” and “award-winning.”

More tips:

  • Prominently display in your résumé header your current or past security clearances and veteran’s preference.
  • Consider including a résumé objective that either specifically names your target job or defines what you offer or would contribute. For example, a worthy résumé objective would be: “A position managing a help desk where my knowledge of large networks and trouble-shooting expertise will improve network efficiency.”

Warning: Your objective shouldn’t be a “wish list” of what you want from your next job. This is important because you won’t land interviews by describing your needs; you’ll only land interviews by impressing hiring managers with what you could do for them.

  • Order your job summaries in reverse chronological order because your current and most recent jobs are more important than your ancient jobs.

Emphasize in your job summaries the names of your employers and job titles by using formatting features, such as varied fonts, bold, underlining and italics. Hint: if your ZIP code appears as prominently on your résumé as your current job title, reformat your résumé.

Format descriptions of your activities in each job summary as a set of achievement-oriented bullets.

Break up long lists of bullets under headings, such as Leadership Achievements, Communication Achievements and Strategic Planning Achievements. Your headings should echo the demands of your target job.

  • If the online application of your target job requires you to submit a formatless online résumé, accompany it with an uploaded PDF of your well-formatted, hard-copy résumé, if possible.

Why? Because a reader-friendly, well-formatted hard-copy résumé is more likely to get read and be remembered by hiring managers than a hard-to-read, formatless online résumé. Also, bring a well-formatted, hard-copy version of your résumé to interviews.

If possible, also upload to online applications PDF copies of documents that testify to your abilities, such as reports, news releases, articles, brochures for conferences, illustrations, photos or maps that showcase your contributions.

Alternatively, upload an annotated list of websites that showcase your work products, such as videos, artwork or other tangible evidence of your success. Also, consider including links to relevant work products on your LinkedIn profile, an online portfolio or a password-protected website — and provide all relevant URLs and passwords in your cover letter or résumé.

Remember: You will impress hiring managers more by showing them what you can do than by just telling them so.
In a formatless online résumé, use capital letters to emphasize important text, asterisks to create bullets and white space to enhance readability.

To get hired, think like a hiring manager

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Want to understand how to impress hiring managers? It takes one to know one, as the saying goes. So the best way to understand hiring managers is to become one. You may be able to do so by volunteering to serve on a hiring committee.
If you serve on a hiring committee, you will be shocked, outraged, entertained, horrified, humored, impressed and enlightened by how job seekers present themselves. But more importantly, you will be rewarded for your service with insider insights about how hiring managers think and how job seekers fail and succeed in their job quests — information that may help you land your next job.

One of the important lessons I learned by serving on hiring committees is how fast hiring managers operate. Indeed, hiring managers don’t read applications as they read suspense novels — savoring every word while cuddled up with their cat, sipping wine, beside a cozy fire.

Instead, they race through applications solely to whittle down the pile (which they invariably should have finished reviewing yesterday) so they can get back to their “real work.”

My observations about the speed of hiring decisions have been corroborated by more than 100 interviews I have conducted with hiring managers about their hiring decisions. Typical was a response from a hiring manager after I asked him how long he spends reading the typical résumé. “Ten seconds at most,” he said. I chuckled in response. So he emphasized, “No really; I’m impatient and busy — always. So that’s all the time I can give. Plus, I can tell almost instantly whether an applicant has what I’m looking for.”

The lightning speed of hiring decisions means that to be successful, your résumé — your personal marketing document — must serve as a verbal one-two punch that instantly knocks out hiring managers. To design your résumé to score an instant knockout:

  • Tailor your résumé to each of your target jobs. Interpret the job description of each target job as a question that asks, “Could you do this job well?” Answer with a big “YES!” by showing that you have already done so — by describing in your résumé your credentials and achievements that parallel the demands of your target job and by describing the positive feedback and objective validation your accomplishments drew.
  • Don’t expect hiring managers to look for a needle in the haystack — just give them the needle without the haystack. Ask yourself whether each of the credentials and achievements in your résumé mirrors the demands of your target job and whether it would realistically help you land the job. If necessary, purge irrelevant information from your résumé — no matter how personally significant it is to you.
  • Craft each job summary on your résumé to review your achievements — not inventory your assigned duties and responsibilities. After all, reading a series of job descriptions is just about as interesting and memorable as reading someone else’s “to-do” list. (Snooze!) What’s more, your job descriptions only reflect what you were supposed to do (Who cares?), rather than what you achieved (Wow!).
  • Structure each job summary as a set of snappy, fast-read bullets that will send your hiring manager’s eyes flying down the page — not as dense paragraphs. Begin each bullet with an action, achievement-oriented verb, such as led, developed, initiated, managed, presented, created from scratch, designed, completed, trained, streamlined, saved $XX,000 or wrote. Eliminate mealy, vague verbs, such as helped, participated in and contributed, by explicitly stating what you actually did to help, participate or contribute. Find lists of action and achievement verbs by Googling action verbs for résumés.
  • Sequence bullets for each job summary according to their relevance to your target job — not according to how much time you spent on the achievements they describe. By so sequencing your bullets, you will hit hiring managers with your best shots up top and thereby maximize their “wow” power.

 

Power of validation can lift you above the rest

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Which of these statements is more persuasive and impressive?

  • “I am an excellent swimmer. I know you will be impressed by how well I swim when you watch me.”
  • “I won an Olympic gold medal in swimming.”

The first statement — unsupported by any objective validation — could easily be dismissed as self-serving propaganda and an empty, presumptuous promise. By contrast, the second assertion is impressive because it incorporates objective, inarguable, universally respected validation: an Olympic medal. The second assertion meets the gold standard, literally.

You can similarly use the power of validation to prove that you have met the gold standard of your profession and thereby impress your boss, hiring managers or others who will judge your background when you apply for annual bonuses, jobs, admittance to the Senior Executive Service, promotions, awards, grants, academic programs, speaking engagements or other honors. Do so by incorporating into written and spoken descriptions of your achievements your own personal versions of Olympic gold medals: solid, objective, inarguable, universally respected evidence of your stature and success.Some potential examples of your personal gold medals:

  • High academic grades, high grade-point average, merit-based scholarships or fellowships.
  • Positive annual evaluations.
  • Praise you’ve received from professors, supervisors, senior officials, clients, contractors, customers, staffers or mentees.
  • Bonuses or other awards, including team awards.
  • Security clearances.
  • Grants.
  • Publications in professional journals or popular press.
  • Positive media coverage of projects that incorporate your contributions.
  • Improvements in survey results that you helped generate.
  • Promotions and rapid advancement. For example, “I advanced from a clerk to a program manager in six years.”
  • Your years of experience.
  • The size of audience of a document or event you produced or the prominence of your audience. For example, were your work products distributed to senior managers or Congress?
  • The size of your budget.
  • Repeat requests for your services from senior managers or stakeholders.
  • Position on a management team, acting positions or prestigious details.
  • Record of meeting non-negotiable deadlines and completing projects on budget.

You may generate other personal gold medals by asking yourself: What proof do I have that I have been successful? How did I improve the operations of my organization? What evidence shows that I wield a lot of responsibility? How have I saved time or money for my organization or improved its reputation? Why is my work important?

See the power of validation in action in the two real-life openers from cover letters:

  • “I am writing this letter to express my sincere interesting in obtaining a writer/editor position with the United States Mint. I am completely confident in my professional abilities and I am certain that my employment would benefit your company as well as myself.”
  • “I would be eager to contribute my 15 years of experience as a writer/editor to the United States Mint as a Public Affairs Officer. My credentials include two awards of Excellence from the Association of Government Communicators, two recent merit-based promotions in four years and a security clearance.”

The second opener belonged to the winning cover letter, largely because it incorporated impressive validation.

One way to brandish your gold medals in your résumé is to copy a technique evident in ads for movies that splice together praising quotes from good reviews they have received. Similarly, consider splicing together quotes from oral or written praise you have received from bosses, managers or other stakeholders in your résumé — either in a summary of qualifications or under the appropriate job description in your résumé.

Preparation essential when considering ‘retirement career’

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Because of the bad economy, the limitations of federal retirement benefits, the housing crisis, ever-increasing health care costs and lengthening life spans, the phrase “retirement career” is no longer an oxymoron. But beware: Retirement careers often require long-term planning.

The first step for considering your options is to identify your earliest possible federal retirement date, based on your age and years of service.

If you’re a full-time fed and want to keep working for the federal government after reaching retirement eligibility, you probably have two main options: Continue your current federal career path, provided that your job doesn’t have a mandatory retirement age; or enter phased retirement, which would enable you to work part-time after retirement. This option will be made available after the Office of Personnel Management finalizes program regulations.

Once phased retirement is available, here’s how it will work:

A phased retiree would work part-time for the federal government and receive an annuity payment that is consistent with the payment he was entitled to before entering phased retirement but is pro-rated for the non-working portion of his workweek; and he would receive payment for his part-time work.

At full retirement, the annuity would be recalculated to incorporate additional credit for time worked during phased retirement. This revised annuity would be higher than it would have been if the retiree had fully retired instead of entering phased retirement, but lower than it would have been if he had continued to work full-time. Note that an employee’s agency must approve his phased retirement.

Alternatively, if you would like to bolt from the federal government, consider laying the groundwork for your retirement career while you are still working at your current job. That way, you won’t have to overcome an employment gap as well as potential age discrimination once you return to the job market.

A career shift or an employer shift usually requires considerable time and effort to gain needed credentials, experience and contacts. As part of your preparation:

  • Attend retirement seminars at your agency long before you retire. These seminars, which are free of charge, will help you calculate your retirement budget and evaluate your postretirement career options.
  • Continually assess the job market in your field and get as much training and experience as you can to keep your skills current. Every field is constantly evolving and advancing, and so you must also evolve and advance to stay relevant.
  • Broaden your credentials to increase your appeal to potential employers by working on different types of projects and in different offices on your current job. Specialization is great, but if you overspecialize for too long, you risk painting yourself into a professional corner.
  • As your colleagues plan for their retirements and leave the federal government, talk to them about their career choices and stay in touch with them after they retire.
  • Consider switching to an alternative work schedule, if you are not already on one, and using your resulting time off to participate in activities — such as networking online and in person, doing volunteer work, conducting research, generating publications, giving seminars and getting training — that may will help you launch your postretirement career.
  • Stay current on social media tools so that you can use them to generate networking contacts in your federal afterlife, particularly among younger professionals. It is impossible to build a new career in any field without engaging with people who are younger than you.
  • Surf AARP’s website at www.aarp.org for resources on financial planning, job hunting and starting your own business during retirement.

 

Take these steps before becoming a federal contractor

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My Sept. 24 column reviewed potential federal contracting opportunities to consider if you start your own business after leaving your federal job. Here are tips I collected from federal contract managers on how to win contracting bids:

  • Follow solicitation instructions to the letter, and submit all required documents.
  • Discuss solicitations that interest you with your target agency’s contracting officer (CO) before you submit proposals. Also, consult him if you anticipate missing deadlines or if you hit other obstacles while preparing proposals or fulfilling contracts. It is the CO’s job to communicate with vendors; don’t be shy out of the mistaken belief that you will earn a reputation as a pest if you contact him.
  • Tailor each proposal. Specify how you will fulfill all solicited requirements. A federal procurement manager advises bidders: “Do the research. If your proposal just yammers on about your company’s history and why it is so great, it will flop.”
  • Write your proposal so that it gets to the point quickly and hits readers with your best shot up top. “If you bury your relevant credentials and project plan in fluff, you will dig your own grave,” warns a federal procurement manager.
  • Your proposal should answer questions such as: Why should we select your company? What does your company offer that other contractors don’t? If possible, provide concrete examples of your company’s successes that parallel the demands defined in your target solicitation, and describe any previous contracts you have fulfilled.
  • Craft your written proposal to be complete and comprehensive. This document is the only record that will count — spoken conversations or handshake agreements are not contracts.
  • Don’t communicate with anyone at your target agencies about your pending bids except the appropriate COs. If you violate this rule, you may inadvertently create fatal conflicts of interest.
  • Answer appropriate “sources sought” notices — statements of potential interest in a product or service by an agency — posted at www.fedbizopps.gov. You may get your foot in the door and earn an insider advantage that could lead to a small business set-aside or a sole-source contract.
  • Work to expand business. Research opportunities with your customers during the fourth quarter of the year, when they may be particularly eager to meet small-business contracting goals before the fiscal year ends.

Resources to help you win federal contracts:

  • Most agencies have an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, which promotes opportunities for small business by publishing forecasts of their procurement needs and by hosting vendor outreach sessions, where businesses market their capabilities and learn about potential procurement opportunities.
  • Before attending sessions, research your target organizations and practice your sales pitch. Bring with you marketing materials. Find sessions at www.osdbu.gov.
  • The Small Business Administration’s Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program promotes opportunities for women-owned small businesses. See www.sba.gov.
  • SBA offers free mentoring programs that pair small businesses with experienced entrepreneurs. For more information, type mentoring into the search window at www.sba.gov.
  • The Procurement Technical Assistance Program provides help to businesses at little or no cost as they seek government contracts. See www.aptac-us.org/new.
  • The National Association of Government Contractors offers leads on government contracts and potential teaming partners, contract review services, proposal writing services, training and publications. See www.nagc.com.