As the saying goes, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” One way to create your future is to plan and prepare for your long-term career moves.
How? Search USAJOBS.gov and agency Web sites for announcements for the types of jobs you would eventually like to land; identify gaps in your background that might thwart your pursuit; and work now to eliminate those gaps. If you have set your sights on the Senior Executive Service, start working now to gain experience in any SES executive core qualifications (ECQs) in which you are lacking. The Office of Personnel Management outlines these qualifications on its Web site at opm.gov/ses/recruitment/ecq.asp.
Some ways to close gaps in your experience:
*Don’t wait to be assigned career-boosting projects. Instead, take the initiative and invite juicy opportunities to come your way. Discuss your goals with your boss and other managers in your office, and ask them to assign you projects that would help you qualify for your target jobs.
Also, identify projects and collateral activities — such as advancing your agency’s alternative dispute resolution program, interacting with important stakeholder groups, organizing news conferences, contributing to agency publications or leading training — that are likely to produce tangible, résumé-enhancing results, and then ask your boss for permission to lead them. Strengthen your request by explaining to your boss how they would advance his goals for the office.
*Ask your boss to send you to relevant trainings offered by your agency, the Federal Executive Institute and Management Training Centers, the USDA Graduate School, professional organizations in your field. Also, peruse the Catalogue of Federal Leadership Development Programs, and classes for feds inventoried at govleaders.org. Also, consider asking your boss if your office will pay tuition for university classes or degrees.
*Gain supervisory experience. Offer to serve in “acting” positions when managers are on leave, offer to supervise other employees, including interns, or offer to mentor other professionals. Also, offer to fill in for employees departing because of details, retirements, maternity leave or for other reasons, if doing so would enhance your credentials.
*Contribute to professional organizations. Help manage their meetings and conferences, give presentations and lead training at these events, contribute to their publications and Web sites and offer to serve as a mentor in their mentoring programs.
Remember that federal experience and training are not the only types of credentials that may help you climb the federal career ladder; relevant volunteer experience and nonfederal jobs should also help you move up. So if you are unable to earn critical experience through your current federal job, consider switching to an alternative work schedule on your job so you can devote your day off or other free time to gaining needed experience. You can:
*Volunteer for nonprofits or community organizations. Suppose, for example, that you are aiming for the SES but you lack experience that would help you satisfy the ECQ of “business acumen.” One way to gain business experience would be to serve on your condo board. In this position, you would manage your condo’s multimillion-dollar budget and produce savings via decision-making on maintenance contracts, member fees and energy consumption. These types of achievements would provide valuable grist for your SES application.
*Publish articles in professional journals in your field or in publications devoted to public administration, or get published in the popular press. These are great ways to establish yourself as an expert in your field and to demonstrate your communication skills. For guidance on how to publish articles in the popular press, check the Web sites of your target publications for their writer’s guidelines, review a copy of “The Writer’s Market 2009 Deluxe Edition,” or take a class on freelance writing.
*Work as a consultant. Create business cards, letterhead and a Web site for your business and market yourself. You may be able to generate higher-level experience and better contacts through your consulting activities than through your federal job.
A caveat: Confirm with your agency’s ethics officer that your publications and nonfederal work don’t violate conflict-of-interest regulations.
— Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is IGotTheJob.net. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.