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Moving Up the Federal Ladder

Starting a new job is always tough. You’re trying to understand a company’s structure, policies, your pay/benefits, management expectations, and more. Tackling all of this is hard enough – but what about advancement opportunities, job roles, and identifying professional development resources? This can be just as tough for early career folks. So, before you arrive in the office on day 1, take your oath, and join your new team, here are some common “things they don’t tell you” to consider.

Pathways to Advancement

Many early career folks are eager to demonstrate their value and get on fast tracks to promotions. While good work is always rewarded, moving up the ladder in federal service can be slower and more challenging that you envisioned. There are few factors that influence this.

Pay Scale

The pay scale almost all federal agencies use is the General Schedule (GS) scale. Job positions are usually tied to pay grades on the GS scale, and each federal agency can only have so many people at each pay grade. The higher pay grades are reserved for management positions, making them extremely competitive. Therefore, your ability to negotiate a starting salary, receive pay increases, or be promoted depends on the pay grade designated for your position.

2018 General Schedule Pay Scale

Job Codes

Your position also has a federal job code – or category – associated with it. These categories are meant to sort various skills each agency needs, and provide tailored development pathways based on your code. Some of these categories have associated supervisory positions, and some do not, making promotions likewise challenging if you don’t know how many supervisory positions within your job code an agency has. Fear not; you can always switch between job codes at the same pay grade (or apply for a higher pay grade position with a different job code).

Developing Yourself as a Leader

Pursuing professional development opportunities is often seen as the best way to build your case for a promotion. Each agency usually has an office dedicated to employee development and advancement, and these offices organize professional development classes you can take online or in person. However, keep this in mind: developing yourself as a leader is up to you. Courses provided through your agency undoubtedly have great benefit. Finding a course, seminar, or program yourself that you believe will give you unparalleled knowledge or skills is even better. Identify areas where you believe you can grow and seek out opportunities not currently provided through your agency. It demonstrates creative thinking and intent on your part, and no professional development program is better than the one you make for yourself.

Ultimately, moving up your career ladder is all about one thing: initiative. Pay grade advancements, promotions, and the like can all be influenced by your approach to your role. Offer to help with projects or work outside of your daily duties, even if it’s something you’ve never done or not let of your job code description. Learn what certificates, qualifications, or courses folks took in areas where you want to work, and pursue them. If you demonstrate that you’re available to do more than your assigned duties, you’ll become an invaluable member of your team and gain a great degree of professional flexibility. Who knows – you may even get your agency rethinking how they employ job codes and pay grade positions to reward high performing folks like you!

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