Your excitement about securing employment with the federal government is likely tempered with your fear of what to expect during your first days and first year of work. Whether you are headed to your perfect dream job, or one you hope will be a stepping-stone to advancement in your chosen career field, how you respond and what you learn during the first year can be crucial in determining your future.
Fortunately, other “newbies” have embarked on a federal employment career. Those who have gone before you have advice intended to assist your navigation through this sometimes difficult federal employment maze. Here are just five tips you may find helpful as you begin your career with a plan for advancement.
1) Learn everything there is to know about your specific job.
Be sure you are totally familiar with your position description, which outlines your duties and responsibilities and determines your pay grade. This means knowing:
- Your exact job duties.
- Who do you report to?
- Who you should go to with questions.
- Which law or executive order authorizes the existence of your office.
- The mission of the organization or department for which you work.
- Will the work involve meeting strict deadlines, or will it be a little more flexible?
- Which criteria will be used to determine if your job performance is satisfactory?
As soon as possible, find a mentor. This will preferably not be your boss, so you can feel free to talk to your mentor about any issue. You may want to see if your department has a mentoring program. Your mentor can provide career advice and help you learn how things work, what your role is, and how to fulfill expectations.
2) Pay attention to what the probationary period means and what to expect from it.
In the private sector, job probationary periods are generally three to six months. Probationary periods for federal employees are one year. Do not stress, but your supervisor will be evaluating your work to determine if you are a good fit for the specific job as well as for government employment. That decision will be made before, or at least by, the end of the year.
Every day, remember the saying, “keep your eye on the ball,” in which the “ball” symbolizes your career goal of long-term government employment. Stay amenable to direction, utilize your skills, but do not hesitate to ask questions. Do your very best so that at the end of the year, your supervisor will be convinced you are the best person for the job.
3) Listen, read, listen some more, and continue learning.
There is much to learn, and you may feel as if there is very little time to learn it. There are likely reports and manuals available that will assist you in learning about your specific position. Learn the acronyms that are relevant to your particular job — and as many more as you can. Study them until you know them by heart. The government seems to run on acronyms. You do not want to be in a staff meeting and not know what is being discussed because you don’t recognize the acronym.
Always, always, ask questions when you do not understand your directions or what is being discussed. It is far better to acknowledge that you do not know what people are talking about and to get clarification than it is to stumble ahead in the dark to complete a project, only to discover it was the wrong project, or the problem you solved was not the one that needed solving.
After you are sure you understand the directions for a specific task that is assigned to you, feel free to ask others for advice, and then listen to what it is they tell you. Communication is key.
Retired Air Force four-star general, Lester Lyles, responded in a recent interview that it is important to communicate with those whom you work for, with those who hold positions lateral to yours, or with those who work for you. He said, “Communication also implies receiving. Sometimes, it’s just shutting up and listening to others.”
4) Be ready and eager to be a team player.
Almost across the board, the advice for making your first year a success in your new federal government job is to be a team player. “Collaboration” seems to be the buzzword for government work. Everyone on the team relies on each other to get the job done. Be wary of trying to look good at the expense of others. The idea is for the team to excel. Be a leader when called upon to be a leader or when the situation calls for it. Take direction when your role is to follow the lead of another team member.
5) Follow the ethical restrictions.
All employees of the federal government are bound by certain ethical restrictions in both their work and personal behavior. Some of those restrictions include:
- Never use your public office for private gain.
- Never give preferential treatment to any business, individual, or private organization.
- Be absolutely certain not to violate any law or ethical standard or do anything that might make someone think you have broken the law or acted unethically.
- Avoid the appearance of impropriety, which means do not accept gifts, outside employment, or any other type of compensation that may appear to be a reward for a favor you have done for a private individual or organization.
Whether you work for the public or private sector, you still risk being accused of inappropriate or unethical conduct. Do not risk the loss of your personal assets to such litigation. Consider the potential benefits of having professional liability insurance through a reputable company like Starr Wright USA.
Article authored by Starr Wright USA.
Starr Wright USA, a marketing name for Starr Wright Insurance Agency, Inc. and its affiliate(s), is an insurance agency specializing in insurance solutions for federal employees and federal contractors. For more information, visit WrightUSA.com. Starr Wright USA is a division of Starr Insurance Companies, which is a marketing name for the operating insurance and travel assistance companies and subsidiaries of Starr International Company, Inc. and for the investment business of C.V. Starr & Co., Inc.