When I worked for the US government, I was hired as a GS-7 and received several early promotions with predictable succession. Then the promotions stopped.
So, I sought out advice from senior leaders who had risen through the same normal government career ladder. Their advice: move up or horizontally. The secret ingredient: continuing education.
I looked at what vacancies were happening at the next level, but there were none. These positions were filled with people who had no intention of moving on or retiring for many years.
That left the option to move laterally into another part of the organization or to a new one altogether. A lateral move can also involve looking for a similar position working on a different project.
Following this approach led to a career progression up the civil service ranks, moving around the country about every three years. I became a master of several skills and knowledge bases. I was able to advance faster than my peers who I had left back at my parent organization, many of whom remained at the same level for almost 20 years.
Once I made it to the GS-14 level, my promotion prospects stalled. I was not getting interviews for any positions at the next level. It was time to add to my formal education, so I subsequently earned both a master’s and Ph.D.
Those additional credentials made my next career progression much easier. After completing the degrees, I got interviews and was promoted.
Later, I tried an experiment. I applied to positions for which I knew I was unqualified and received interviews for them as well. My Ph.D. added more credentials than my years of varied expertise.
So, be flexible in your government career. Move sideways if the top is blocked. Make earning a master’s and even a Ph.D. part of your career plan. This approach will help you make the most of your career in government.
About the Author: Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is the program director for Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of Reverse Logistics Management and Transportation and Logistics Management. Prior to joining APU, Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His book, RFID Metrics, was published in 2007 by CRC Press and is in revision.