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11 DIY Ways to Advance Your Government Career

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During sequestration and continuing resolution contingency planning, discretionary training and leadership development programs typically are among the first to be cut.  As we demand leaders do more with less, and ask them to say NO to things that would otherwise be YES, we must acknowledge that leadership development programs are of increasing value.  Yet, it’s inevitable that development programs, at least in the short term, will see significant cuts.

Let’s face it: this impacts YOU.

Formal learning programs are an organization’s investment in you so that you can in turn best serve the organization. Deep cuts to training and development programs will affect you.   There will be fewer opportunities for professional growth and perhaps limited opportunities for advancement. That doesn’t change the fact that your colleagues, your staff, your organization and the nation are still counting on you to develop new skills, stay fresh and remain relevant.  Plus, on a personal level, you’re undoubtedly looking to advance your career and make a difference.

While formal programs are absolutely critical to your growth and advancement, there are lots of things you can do yourself, right now. Here are 11 relatively cost free ways to take your learning and professional growth into your own hands:

  1. Join relevant communities of practice - COPs offer many opportunities for sharing knowledge, meeting new colleagues, and locating formal learning products. Some places to start your search include GovLoop, Defense Acquisition University (DAU), The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), and
  2. Find a peer coach by offering to be one in return—share favorite practices, learn new skills, and talk through current challenges.
  3. Identify a mentor, or someone who has skills you’d like to build in yourself—ask her/him to help you navigate your current work environment and guide you in taking your performance to the next level.
  4. Or, be a mentor yourself! A significant amount of learning comes from sharing information and teaching others what you know.
  5. Sign up for relevant trade journals - they’re usually free and will help keep you abreast of industry advancements. Start with Government Executive or Federal Computer Week.
  6. Become a member of a professional organization or alumni association— build your networking opportunities.
  7. Participate in Government Executive and other organizations' seminars and events —these are ways to connect with and learn from leaders in your industry and stay abreast of new developments, often at no cost!
  8. Take advantage of your organization’s internal learning management system resources—these often include online training, books, and other job aids that you might not have known about.
  9. Look for free MOOCs—massive open online courses, such as Coursera or edX, which are free clearinghouses for university-initiated courses, and collaborative online learning.
  10. Develop your own peer cohort for specific learning topics—focused brown bag lunch meetings and other opportunities to learn from colleagues and share your own knowledge.
  11. Return to materials from past courses—books, assessment reports, action plans, and old journals are excellent places for a quick tune-up.

Use this period of austerity as an opportunity to clarify your professional goals and career path.  Furloughs and downsizing may feel negative, but may also help you finally take the next step in making the change you’ve been thinking about for some time.

Image via Dusit/

Jacqui is an experienced leader with over 12 years of service in the military and federal sector. She is a U.S. Army veteran with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. She has held program management and leadership positions in the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of the Treasury, and currently serves as the Chief Knowledge Officer of the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General, where she is responsible for enterprise-wide learning and knowledge management activities. She holds advanced degrees in Strategic Intelligence and Organization Development.

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