Guest Post: Your Federal Career

Your Federal Career

Decision Making – Strategies for Success

By Karol Taylor

Karol Taylor is a retired fed and Career Counselor who helps people get federal jobs.  She is the coauthor of Guide to America’s Federal Jobs: A Complete Directory of U.S. Government Career Opportunities, 4th. EdKarol can be reached at and by LinkedInFacebook,  Google Plus.

You finally got your federal job and you’ve been working for the civil service the past three-plus years.  Congratulations, you now have federal career status!  You can apply for federal jobs for status candidates!!

What’s next?  Going for a promotion?  Here’s an idea:  target self-development as your next career action.  How about spending time identifying your long-term career goals and creating a plan to meet them?  This plan can ultimately lead to promotions, but also allows for further career exploration and development of skills that will help you to qualify for jobs that are your best federal fit.

The Peter Principle

Federal culture encourages employees to progress up the grades as quickly as possible, even if they don’t really like the work.  The unfortunate aspect of this thinking is that too many employees end up personifying the Peter Principle, which holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently.  Eventually they are promoted to a position for which they are no longer competent, and there they remain because they can’t do the job (Dr. Laurence J. Peter).

Using an IDP for Strategic Career Planning

An alternative idea is to create a strategic plan for your career, and to decide for yourself how you want to implement it.  While you cannot ignore the federal way of doing business, you can consider other pathways to success. The federal government offers the much-maligned Individual Development Plan (IDP) (click here for more information) for this purpose.  Some agencies require an IDP and some don’t.  It doesn’t really matter what the agency requires, what matters is that an IDP can be used to develop your own personal career strategy, an effective way to plan for your future.

Developing a Personal IDP as a Career Strategy

When agencies require an IDP, your development is in the best interests of the organization.  This is appropriate, since the organization invests in you as a human resource asset – and their future.  However, you are not limited to the required IDP.  You have the freedom of developing an additional IDP of your own, for which you are able to invest in your own future.

Knowing where you are and where you want to go is essential in career decision making.  Identifying your career goals and objectives, and then developing a strategic action plan to meet them, informs your path and determines the steps you need to take to stay on course.

OPM’s HR University offers a free online IDP guide, which specifically targets Human Resources competencies, but can also be used to meet your personal needs.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers a free online course, Career Planning and the IDP.  If your agency doesn’t offer a standardized IDP form, here’s one from OPM.


With a commitment to self-development, identifying affordable courses for your IDP becomes imperative.  Community Colleges offer a variety of low-cost certifications and courses through their Adult Education Programs.  OPM’s HR University offers free HR certifications, which can be accessed using your federal email address.  Federal agencies offer free online training courses accessible from either work or home.

Reading books on current leadership theory is an excellent way to increase your skills.  Daniel Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, the Gallup Organization, Jim Collins, Marshall Goldsmith, Tom Friedman, and David Brock are well known authors with proven ideas.  Have you considered Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) talks as another venue for leadership development?

Gaining College Credit

Please don’t ignore the possibility of accessing Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS).  Apple’s ITunes University also offers a variety of free college courses.  To receive college credit, take these online courses, and then pass the College Level Examining Program (CLEP) assessment at a college testing center. Coursera offers free online courses as well – and there is even one for career developmentGoodwill Community Foundation also offers free online learning.

Professional Affiliation

Another idea is to join a local professional organization that offers low-cost developmental opportunities in your field.  National professional organizations are sometimes very expensive, but your cost can be minimized by joining a local group.  As an aside – additional rating points are given for professional affiliations included on a federal resume.

Alternative Ways to Develop Skills and Competencies

Work details to other offices are ways to gain experience, if they can be worked out with your supervisor.  Just remember that you need 52 weeks of experience at the next lower grade level to meet the qualifications for a vacancy, so you will need more than one 120-day detail.  Volunteering in a field you are targeting can provide developmental opportunities and leadership experience if you serve on their Executive Team.

Moving Over for a Prospective Move Up

Federal employees often hold dear the status of their current grade.  They sometimes ignore the idea of taking a step back in order to move into a position that better fits their unique talents and gifts.

Salary retention allows for two years for pay to remain the same.  This must be negotiated, but it’s important to remember that you do not necessarily have to lose income if you move to a lower grade.  By the end of those two years, many people have reached their original grade while ending up in a job they love.

A Few Last Words

It’s your career!  Embrace it; own it; do what you can to develop it.  If you are willing to use them, IDPs can serve as your roadmap to federal career success.

Karol Taylor is a retired fed and Career Counselor who helps people get federal jobs.  She is the coauthor of Guide to America’s Federal Jobs: A Complete Directory of U.S. Government Career Opportunities, 4th. EdKarol can be reached at and by LinkedInFacebook,  Google Plus.