Knowing when to fit in and when to rebel is the first step toward succeeding in a government job.
Are you young, gov and awesome? Join 500+ government leaders on July 26-27th at .
When adults asked years ago what you wanted to be when you grew up, you probably didn’t say “government employee.” And maybe you’re still wondering why you went that route, with today’s politicians saying you’re a , plus events like “ and .
But here you are working for government and finding out it’s not all bad. You work on a great mission, the pay is better than non-profits, and you have some great teammates.
Unfortunately, like all jobs, working for the government does present some hurdles. You’re expected to know a million acronyms, it can be difficult to get rid of unproductive people, and sometimes you feel lost inside a giant bureaucracy.
After working 5+ years in federal government, co-founding (largest young professional group for young federal employees), , launching (social network for 60,000 government innovators), and planning (largest conference for Gen X/Y government leaders), I understand your pain. I’ve thought a lot about how to succeed in improving government and want to let you know:
- You are not alone. There are tons of smart passionate innovators like you in government
- Like industry, there are real skills you need to hone to be a successful government leader. (Yes, just being smart and reading a few books isn’t enough.)
So here are four skills every young government leaders should have to ensure happiness and get ahead in your government career:
1. Know when to fit in and when to rebel
There’s a real art to affecting big change in government. Often, I see young federal employees with a couple years of experience fit into extremes — either they have five ideas a minute and always push their idea at every meeting, or they’ve given up and take a defeated attitude and rarely propose new ideas.
The truth is a true leader knows when to play their cards — when to be patient and hold your cards, when to fold and lose the battle but not the war, and when to be aggressive and play your deck.
2. Network outside your agency
Ever heard doesn’t matter in government?
Wrong. If you only know people in your agency, that will limit you. By not leveraging best practices from other agencies, you’re limiting your problem-solving capability. Additionally, you’re limiting your career opportunities; you may be limited in promotion potential in your agency while other agencies are growing and want your talent.
3. Follow the money
If you want to get ahead in government, you need to understand how the money works. Most of the technical work in government is outsourced these days, so a large part of a leader’s role is around planning budgets and being a smart buyer, as well as a strong project manager.
That means you should take all courses available to you related to budget and acquisition. Ask to work on the next procurement in your division and volunteer to lead a project, and you’ll become even more valuable within government.
4. Don’t get discouraged
Too many young feds quit government based on a or a poorly run division. But there’s as much diversity within government as in private sector.
Tired of working in a large organization? Try joining a 10-person agency like . If you feel like your office is too slow, go work for a fast-paced agency like or .
Regardless of politics, we all want a well-run, effective government. We need smart, passionate public servants working on important issues from protecting the environment to curing cancer. So I hope you take my four tips to heart, make a few changes, and become that government leader our country needs.
Steve Ressler is the co-host for the , a two-day training event for 500+ Gen X/Y government leaders held on July 26-27th.