FACT: The average federal grade level is GS-12. The Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) FY 2013 profile of full time, permanent federal civilian non-postal employees showed the average annual salary to be approximately $79,000.
- Opportunities for promotion in government are plentiful, but it takes a strategy to develop your skills and prepare your resume in order to get promoted to the next grade level.
- As your grade level increases, so does the required level of qualification and responsibility.
- Advancement from higher-level grades is more competitive.
- Opportunities are more difficult to obtain, particularly outside of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
- If your resume does not represent skills for the next higher grade level, you will not get promoted.
The Good News:
- Federal employees (many in higher-grade positions) are increasingly becoming retirement-eligible. That may help you advance to a higher grade more quickly these days than in the past.
7 HOP TIPS: Put these tips to work now and increase the likelihood of moving up in the Federal Government.
- DEVELOP A GAME PLAN. Rather than applying for every new Announcement at the next highest grade, step back and assess your own strengths, where the opportunities are to best utilize those skills, and where you will enjoy working. Focus on those Job Announcements first and integrate the next 6 TIPS in your analysis.
- MOVING UP within the same series is generally easier than moving between series. This is particularly the case as you approach the mid-level grades. Your “series” experience, especially if it’s in the same agency, should be directly relevant to the skills required in the next graded position. Those skills may also translate well to same series positions in other agencies, but the applicant pool will likely include more candidates with agency-specific knowledge and experience. This is also the case, to a somewhat lesser extent, with moving within the same “occupational group” (for example, the 0340 General Administrative group that includes occupational series for e.g., Program Managers, Administrative Officers, Management and Program Analysts, and Logistics Managers). It will be more challenging to meet the “specialized experience” criteria for different series unless you have expertise in the other skills sets.
- LOOK FOR multi-grade career ladder positions. In these positions, employees progressively acquire the background necessary to perform at the “full performance level.” You will not be competing against others for a promotion to the next grade, but rather against performance expectations. If you had originally been selected to a GS-12 position with promotion potential of a GS-14, you could have moved up to a GS-14 in as little as two years if you performed well. So, try to identify positions where you have noncompetitive opportunities to move up. As you might expect, these ladder opportunities are harder to find as you get into the mid and higher-level grades.
- SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE: Always excel. Do your best and achieve in tangible ways. Produce qualitative work of significant impact that is praised by superiors; exceed the quantitative expectations of your position. If your Agency awards superior work, do your best to be acknowledged with letters of commendation, incentive and special achievement awards (both individual and as a member of winning teams), and quality step increases. Be the first to volunteer for the challenging assignment and help your management team succeed.
- ACTIVELY PURSUE career-enhancing opportunities. Review the type of skills that are expected at the next grade level of your series and look for ways to gain those skills. Seek out assignments to be part of special teams or task forces; apply for meaningful details; look for opportunities to “act” at the next level. Offer to mentor new staff or interns. Be an effective “change agent” and embrace reinvention at your agency. Pursue in-house or other government agency training that may help you in your current and future positions; you may be pleasantly surprised at the training opportunities that are “there for the asking.” And, remember that relevant “volunteer” work, although unpaid, helps build your competencies. You will be credited for all of your qualifying experience, including volunteer experience that you clearly include on your Federal Resume.
- TIMING: Don’t stay in a job for too long before trying to move up. Once you have a few years of experience under your belt, start looking for opportunities at the next grade level. Even if you don’t succeed at first, establishing your interest in upward mobility sends an important message to your management team. If you find your current agency’s environment stimulating and there are opportunities to grow, explore those first. If not, should familiarize yourself with the missions and goals of other agencies (perhaps those where his skills could best be utilized) and apply for opportunities in those agencies. A great source for learning about specific agencies is to review The Partnership for Public Service’s annual “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government®.” Another tool proving valuable insight into agency challenges is OPM’s Annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
- “NETWORK, NETWORK, and NETWORK.” Join professional organizations, alumni associations, and relevant LinkedIn® groups. Make sure that you have a professional social networking presence. Attend luncheons, etc. where you are likely to learn and mingle. If appropriate, seek “informational” interviews with managers in prospective offices.
If you need help with a federal resume for a promotion or first time government job, contact the Resume Place for a free quote by filling out the Request Quote for Federal Resume.
The Federal Resume Guidebook, 6th Edition
New January 2016! For federal employees seeking new positions
The 6th edition of this book by leading federal resume expert, Kathryn Troutman, are all in the OUTLINE FORMAT. This Federal Resume Outline Format is organized so that the Federal Human Resources Specialist can quickly see the keywords, KSAs, accomplishments, and qualifications for a federal position. This book is a MUST to purchase if you are seriously seeking a federal career. Learn the differences between the Federal Resume and the Private Sector Resume.
The New SES Application, 2nd Edition
Why struggle on your own to write your Senior Executive Service application? Use a clear step-by-step method that was refined over 10 years in author Kathryn Troutman’s 2-day SES workshops, and proven to work hundreds of times in the classroom. Along the way, you’ll find excellent “before and after” samples of the application pieces. Includes the key steps involved in developing the SES application: writing the ECQs, TQs, Five-Page SES Federal Resume, and Executive Cover Letter (if needed), as well as using the required Challenge-Context-Action-Results (CCAR) format for SES narratives.
Ellen Lazarus is a Resume Place Certified Federal Job Search Trainer, Federal Resume Writer and Career Coach. She is a former Legislative Branch senior executive.