Should I stay or should I go?


Generally, you should — if possible — begin to seek greener pastures when your current job stops offering new intellectual, managerial and financial opportunities, and/or fails to provide a respectful/dignified work environment — and probably won’t do so in the foreseeable future.

However, during my many years as a fed, I have known many intelligent, energetic and accomplished professionals who passively stayed at their jobs for many years after their positions had become hopelessly unrewarding or unpleasant, without attempting to seek new opportunities. Why? In many cases, because they were afraid of change.

To keep advancing, your fear of not achieving your potential must exceed your fear of change. If your fear of change, or anything else, is inhibiting you from attempting to climb the career ladder, consider discussing your fears with your trusted advisers, reading relevant self-help books or seeking professional help. I you expect a troubled work environment to spontaneously improve when its problems are not even being addressed by management, ask yourself whether your expectations are realistic. In my experience, problems rarely fix themselves.

If the main source of your job dissatisfaction is a bad relationship with your boss, consider this: You may, under some circumstances, be able to escape your boss without leaving the organization.

You may, for example, be able to liberate yourself from your boss simply by outlasting him at your agency. This possibility may be potentially likely if your boss is a political appointee — many of whom stay in their positions for only several years. Also, consider whether your boss might be privately planning to imminently retire.

What’s more, I’ve known many federal managers who appeared to be steadfastly devoted to their positions but one day, seemingly out of the blue, announced their departures for new jobs. So, unless you have incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, don’t necessarily assume that your boss will remain a permanent fixture in your office.

Another option: If you know of a short-staffed supervisor who is managing interesting projects, take the initiative to make an appointment to discuss your potential for filling his or her staff’s gaps through a detail assignment. If successful, such details sometimes lead to permanent positions.

Alternatively, if you opt for a full-fledged job search, here are some tips:

  • If you don’t want to use your current boss as a reference, respond to reference requests from interviewers by explaining that you don’t want your current boss to know about your job search; reasonable interviewers will understand your desire for confidentiality. Instead, use current and/or former colleagues and supervisors as references.
  • If you recently received an unfavorable performance evaluation that you fear will sabotage your federal job applications, take heart: many federal job applications don’t require submission of recent annual evaluations. In addition, because of the subjective nature of evaluations and the differing grading standards among agencies, many federal hiring managers don’t even consider performance evaluations when they are required. Also, if you are currently contesting your most recent evaluation through formal channels, then it has not been officially finalized. Therefore, under such circumstances, you may submit your previous evaluation to applications requiring your most recent evaluation.
  • Excepted service agencies generally pay better than competitive service agencies. So, if you switch from a competitive service agency to an exceptive service agency, you may significantly boost your salary.

About Author

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 Ask your career questions by email to or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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