Just as the mantra of real estate is “location, location, location,” the mantra of the federal sector should be “relationships, relationships, relationships.”
Here are some ways to strengthen your business relationships and reputation:
• Treat everyone well. No matter where in the hierarchy you are, and no matter how much you dislike or disrespect other individuals, treat everyone with courtesy and respect. You will look best by taking the high road, and you never know if another professional has the ear of a manager whose support you may need.
For example, I am aware of numerous job hunters who either sabotaged or improved their prospects depending on the way they treated their interviewer’s secretary.
• Carve out time daily to improve your professional relationships. As one Senior Executive Service member advises, “Take time every day to interact more than superficially with supervisors and colleagues within and outside of your agency. Promote the free flow of information and always tell the truth — even if it is painful.”
He continues: “Executives always have tough decisions to make. If your relationships are not strong when you make them, you will be dead in the water.”
• Focus on your strengths. Even while you build skills, your priority should be to keep improving the skills that distinguish you from others and that provide the foundation for your reputation. It will be easier for you to sell yourself, and leaders will be more likely to tap you, if you emphasize particular strengths that are not possessed by others.
• Seek opportunities to lead. Volunteer to lead projects, organize training or other events, and bring in speakers. Also, broaden your reputation by pursuing opportunities to work with others at your own or higher levels in other organizations and agencies.
I know an employee who, when a midlevel fed, was assigned to be her agency’s Combined Federal Campaign representative. At first, she resented it because it took time away from her other assignments. But once she realized that the CFC assignment was helping her cultivate high-level contacts that she otherwise would not have generated, she came to appreciate it.
• Learn about the federal budget. This is a must if you hope to one day join the SES. Gain a full, 360-degree perspective — both that of managers of federal agencies and of legislators on Capitol Hill.
As one executive says, “SESers need an overarching knowledge of how the federal government works and to be intellectually nimble enough to move from agency to agency and manage agencies that address varied issues. Doing so requires a basic knowledge of how federal budgets are set.”
You may learn about the federal budget by landing detail assignments that address budget issues in your agency or in Congress. Also, consider taking courses on federal budgeting at the USDA Graduate School, the Federal Executive Institute and local universities.
• Exit gracefully. Last impressions often leave lasting impressions. If you leave your job with loose ends, unfinished assignments and unfulfilled commitments, your last-minute irresponsibility — no matter how time-pressured you may be — may overshadow the years of hard work and dedication that preceded it.
So, before you give notice on a job, list obligations that need your attention and list documents that should be handed over to your successor. Shortly after you give notice, review the list with your supervisor. If you won’t have time to complete the list, prioritize and devise a plan B with your supervisor. On your last day, give a copy of the to-do list to your supervisor, with each item checked off or alternative provisions for it notated.