On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

The Federal Coach

Jumping from private sector to public service

We received great questions this week - thanks for the dialogue! Please continue to share your ideas and suggestions for the column and send in your questions to the fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org. Remember, it's anonymous!

Q. I'm a new leader supervising more experienced staff who previously served as informal mentors, and I feel awkward. Any tips?

A. Since your colleagues were great informal mentors, I imagine they will be interested in helping you succeed.

Remember too that presumably you were selected for this job as a result of your impressive management and leadership abilities. That's a good thing, not a bad thing, and you should feel confident in your new role.

Here is what I recommend: Sit down with each colleague one-on-one and listen to their ideas and feedback. Don't act like a know-it-all - act like a team leader. In collaboration with them, figure out where your team's strengths are and what each team member can own.

Q. We have a new Commissioner who is inflaming some long-term conflicts between two teams within the agency. As a mid-level leader, how can I resolve this issue and help our teams work together more effectively?

A. I give you tremendous credit for identifying this problem and being willing to help resolve the conflict. Although this is difficult, there is hope.

Situations like this require collaboration. As a mid-level leader caught in the conflict, you lack the authority to resolve this issue on your own. I suggest that you find some colleagues - on both teams, if possible - who agree there needs to be a resolution.

Collectively, consider seeking a resource to help organize and facilitate a joint session to clear the air. This resource may exist within your agency such as a talented HR specialist, a professional mediator or a trusted executive. You might also consider tapping into your network for an external resource to help resolve the conflict.

Last year, I worked with a mid-level leader around a similar situation, and although it remains a work in progress, the relationships at her agency are now more healthy and productive because of collaboration.

Q. Why does it feel like the federal government discourages private sector folks from applying to jobs in the public sector? I have 15 years of private sector experience that could come in handy, but I don't know how to engage.

A. Government processes and hiring procedures tend to discourage external applicants. Job announcements are often confusing, and the application review process takes too long and lacks transparency. Only half of all federal job openings are even made available to non-government candidates.

There is good news, however. As baby boomers retire en masse, the government is increasingly aware of its need for experienced talent like you. Take advantage of this opportunity!

The first two challenges that you will face are translating your experience for the federal sector and figuring out what GS level of government job you should seek. There are many great resources that can help you do both of these things. Spend some time on USAJOBS.gov reading job descriptions to figure out what you might be qualified to do.

You can also take a look at these two resources: Get Hired! How to Land the Ideal Federal Job and Negotiate a Top Salary, by Lily Whiteman, and Ten Steps to a Federal Job, by Kathryn Kraemer Troutman. The Partnership for Public Service's Web site offers advice for job seekers too at ourpublicservice.org/fedexperience.

Be prepared to wait after you apply. The opportunity to make a difference is worth the wait for most people.

By Tom Fox

 |  April 9, 2010; 6:59 AM ET |  Category:  Add category , Ask the Federal Coach Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: A 'cheerleader, coach and referee' at Treasury | Next: When Michael Scott works for Uncle Sam


Please email us to report offensive comments.

As someone who joined the federal sector from the private sector, I completely understand the frustration with the process. I offer the following for those trying to get in:

Applying for a federal job is like applying for college - it is that cumbersome. Fortunately, and contrary to some of the comments, most of the application can be entered once via USAjobs.

TIP: Enter all the information! You will get eliminated for failing to disclose information. What you have in a typical resume tends to not be enough in terms of providing salary history, references, and hours worked. People in the government are not excited to throw out applications from good people - but there is little discretion when people don't fill out all the information. Prospective employees have to deal with elevated levels of scrutiny, starting with the application.

TIP: Essay questions are specific to each job. You can not simply cut and paste your answers from one agency's posting to another. Especially for the higher positions, tactics like this reflect poorly on your writing skills.

REALITY CHECK: the notion that turnover is limited is erroneous. Every 4 years, there is incredible amounts of turnover in the government positions due to all the political appointees. This fact gets left out of the discussion and should be included.

REALITY CHECK: favoritism, if any, exists for one specific group: Veterans. They have specific point and hiring preferences built in. Even if another candidate is more highly qualified, the processes force a hiring manager to prove the veteran is not qualified before they can hire a more qualified candidate. There are times when you see very good candidates turned away in order to meet procedures for hiring a less qualified, but still capable, veteran. This probably happens more often now due to the bad economic times when the pool of submissions of highly qualified non-Vets gets to be pretty high. That said, Vets have earned these preferences. It's part of the process people from the private sector have to accept as part of the process.

Posted by: shreds | April 12, 2010 2:24 PM

USAJOBS.gov is a front page website to several other agency websites.

The process to apply is not efficient often requiring redundant entries (vs linking to a main site), and acceptance or rejections can be several months out.

I have recommended (to deaf ears) that the convoluted "government jobs application site" process be outsourced to GSA Approved private contract and/or temp agencies that can screen and qualify candidates and place them in government positions (either as FTEs or Temp-to-Perm) in a more reasonable time frame.

Personally, I have no desire to waste my time submitting the same information over and over, for many jobs that have already been filled, but the government requires they be posted on the "public board."

I'll take my chances with the private sector. The odds are leaning more in my favor.

Posted by: asmith1 | April 12, 2010 1:11 PM

On landing a federal Job. What a crock. The entire application process reads like a federal Union employee wrote it.

Get realistic in your opinion and actually look at the various overt and subtle restrictions that are built into the application process. There is not one corporation in America that has a similar overdone process.

It is fully designed to protect existing employees from outside and more qualified competition.

Bonuses, autos, 20 year pensions and health care for bureaucrats. What a joke on taxpayers.

Reform is needed in the Federal workforce.

Posted by: wesatch | April 12, 2010 10:18 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company