Even though federal pay scales will remain frozen at least through the end of next year, you may still climb the federal career ladder or gain the qualifications to do so.
Some strategies for moving up:
• Despite the pay-scale freeze, you are still eligible for step increases that are typically awarded to successful feds every one, two or three years, depending on their current step.
• If you are in good standing, ask your boss for a merit-based quality step increase. If he denies your request, ask him what you would have to do to earn such a promotion. Then try to fulfill those requirements, and ask again. Click here to learn more about within-grade increases.
• If you have been in your current job for at least one year, and your current job has promotion potential, request a grade increase. Alternatively, apply for jobs that would give you a grade increase.
Contrary to popular belief, if you receive a grade increase, you won’t automatically be promoted to Step 1 of the grade immediately above your current grade. Instead, your promotion would probably follow the two-step rule (click here for details).
To find your salary according to the two-step rule, go to the salary tables here.
Go to the step that covers your current job; find your current step and grade on that table; and then find the step that is two steps above your current step at your current grade. Next, at the grade that is immediately above your current grade, find the salary that is equal to, or immediately above, your two-step salary — and that step will be your promotion destination.
So if, for example, you are currently a Grade 13, Step 6, in Washington, you earn $103,872. The salary two steps higher at Grade 13, Step 8, is $109,807. A grade increase would take you to a Grade 14, Step 3, which is $112,224.
• One of the best-kept secrets in government is that agencies in the excepted service tend to pay more than agencies in the competitive service. I know feds who landed pay increases of tens of thousands of dollars without even negotiating, merely by moving from the competitive to the excepted service. For a list of excepted-service agencies, click here.
• If a position is created for you, ask your hiring manager to build promotion potential into it.
• Work to get into the Senior Executive Service. Remember that some SES positions are open to GS-14s in addition to GS-15s. In addition, the Senior Executive Association accepts GS-14s in addition to GS-15s for membership.
Review the criteria for SES membership by clicking here, and discuss those criteria and your background with current senior executives. Then, design a plan for closing your gaps. Also, consider training that helps feds qualify for the SES at the Federal Executive Institute, the Graduate School, Harvard’s Kennedy School, some federal agencies and the Office of Personnel Management.
If you already qualify for the SES, consider applying for SES jobs now. Remember that agencies that have certified SES performance appraisal systems pay higher SES salaries than agencies without such systems.
• If your current job does not offer the kind of experience you need to advance, consider seeking a detail or lateral position that would offer such experience, even if it wouldn’t offer a promotion. In many cases, you may be moved into any equivalent position within your current or another agency without competition. That is, a hiring manager may hire you without considering any other applicants.
• Explore training options by clicking here. Also, your agency’s training budget may cover the tuition of university courses leading to a degree.