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By: Sandy Harris

How to Prepare for Mid and Senior Level Federal Jobs>

As those of you in the professional and technical fields advance in your specialties and seek federal jobs at the mid and senior levels, you will find that your competitiveness will depend increasingly upon your abilities in a new area: how well you can organize and manage people and projects. The point at which you will face this shift in emphasis from technical skills to management abilities will vary, depending upon your profession and your employer.

For example, a GS-12 electrical engineer may spend 95 percent of his or her time designing electrical systems. However, the designer's supervisor, a GS-13 electrical engineer in charge of the design group, probably will spend 95 percent of his or her time supervising and training subordinates, assessing manpower resources versus workload requirements, preparing budgets, and completing other non-technical but necessary functions

In another organization or technical specialty, the assumption of management responsibilities might be expected at a lower or higher level than GS-13. Whether you are a newcomer or an old hand in your field, you should be anticipating this shift in qualifications requirements now - and be making plans to meet it. Let's identify exactly what qualifications we are talking about. To advance to the higher levels in most technical fields, you will need, in addition to first rate technical qualifications:

1) Administrative ability - The ability to write reports, conduct briefings, analyze problems, communicate with others, prepare budgets, etc.

2) Management ability - The ability to produce reports through others, assign assets (people and money) where they produce the most effective results, etc.

3) Supervisory ability - The ability to run a group of subordinates as a smoothly functioning and productive entity. This includes knowledge of EEO principles.

4) Organizational ability - The ability to cause an entity to produce desired results as efficiently as possible.

5) Public administration - An understanding of the role, goals and problems of your organization within the overall scheme of the government. Qualifications in these areas come from two sources: training and experience, and usually in that order. The importance of these skills has become increasingly apparent to government and educational administrators. The result has been twofold:

First, employers are demanding more administrative and management skills from mid and senior level staff members. Second, organizations and education institutions have responded with courses especially designed to meet these needs. Your goal should be to locate the courses most helpful to you, take them, and then let the right people know you took them.

Where are the courses? Just about everywhere. The Office of Personnel Management sponsors many for federal employees. Most large federal agencies and departments also sponsor courses, as do universities and colleges. Contact your human resources office and the local educational institutions to discover what is available.

The programs can range from a single course of several weeks duration to a complete graduate degree program. For example, in the Washington D.C. area, the George Washington University offers a Master's of Science in Engineering Management program for employees of engineering, business and technical organizations and are intended to complement technical knowledge with managerial skills. This part-time

Master's Degree program provides both management and technology credentials in a format designed for busy working professionals. We single out this program as an example only - there are similar programs available to you from many other institutions, everywhere.

After you've taken a course (or even just begun one), let the right people (prospective employers) know about it. How? Discuss the course whenever you are talking with someone you feel could be instrumental in your career advancement. Make your course activities highly visible on your application package under the Education or Training & Certification sections. Be sure to include:

1) The name of the course;
2) A brief description of course content;
3) Name of educational institution and its locations;
4) Time period that the course spans; and
5) Number of classroom hours devoted to the course.

Many people are confused by the distinction between education and training. This makes it difficult for them to decide whether their coursework should be described under the Education or Training & Certification section of his or her resume. If the course is part of a formal educational program and culminates in a degree, it's classified as education. Other courses and miscellaneous training should be placed under the Training & Certification section.

Don't let the cost of the courses scare you. In many cases, your agency or firm will pay part or all costs. If not, courses of the type we've described can often be tax deductible (including your related expenses, such as mileage.) The controlling tax policy is IRS Code, Section 162. If the course maintains or improves skills required in your present job, or is required by your employer as a condition of continued employment, the costs are tax deductible.

Sandra M. Harris
Federal Research Service

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