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5 Work Behaviors That Help You Get Ahead

Are you looking to move forward in your career? No matter what your goal is, here are five things you can do right now to help you get ahead:

1. Be a solution-finder.

When problems pop up, people are much more likely to listen to your concerns if you recommend a solution at the same time. Identifying the issue is important, but when you can suggest a solution to fix what's wrong, that's when you really stand out professionally. In fact, this kind of behavior is so important that Innovation is one of VA’s “Core Characteristics.”

Being a solution-finder can be simple: first, take some time to think about the issue and consider an ideal outcome, then work backwards to identify the steps needed to make that idea work. It is important to always be polite when bringing these ideas to others. Wayne Turk, author of "The Art of Managing Up," states that it is vital to not only communicate the failures or successes of a project, but also to be considerate. By remaining tactful during these conversations, you demonstrate that you understand workplace complexities and that you can be trusted to work an issue through to completion.

This approach to problem-solving pays off in two ways. First, when you own your work and invest in it, you’re more likely to create good work. Second, taking the extra initiative demonstrates your ability to think critically and work independently. Both will prove that you’re ready for greater responsibility and the next stage of your career.

2. Become an expert and share your knowledge with your colleagues.

Are you the go-to person on a specific topic for your team? Take some time to think about how your peers and supervisors rely on you – you might be an expert and not even realize it.

Whether or not your workplace talents are widely recognized, consider taking steps to make them more visible. For example, you could organize a team brownbag meeting to share your tried-and-true techniques for handling difficult patients or to reveal the secrets of your wizardry in Excel. Your colleagues will respect you as a reliable source of information, and your proven capabilities and growing reputation could translate into career advancement opportunities.

3. Request and be receptive to feedback.

Don’t wait for your annual performance review to see how you’re doing. When you take on a new responsibility, work with a new person, or have a project come to an end, take the opportunity to request feedback from trusted peers and supervisors who will be honest with you.

When you do this, make sure you ask for specific feedback. For example, if someone says you're doing a great job, ask for examples of what you’re doing well so you can repeat those behaviors and strengthen your skills. However, be prepared to receive all kinds of feedback, both positive and developmental. The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) suggests that when you receive constructive advice, it’s best if you stay relaxed and avoid trying to justify your actions or make excuses. Instead, really listen, thank them for their feedback, and ask for suggestions on how to improve.

One common method you can use to ask for feedback is the “Stop, Start, Continue” technique. You can use the questions that follow to make sure the feedback you get is specific and actionable:

  • Stop: What isn't working that I should stop doing?
  • Start: What am I not doing that I should start doing?
  • Continue: What is working that I should continue doing?

4. Get a mentor.

Finding a good mentor is always a smart career move. Not only can mentors recommend ways to develop your skills, they can also help expand your professional network, introduce you to new perspectives, and put you in touch with people who might know of new opportunities that are perfect for you.

Choose someone who would be a good role model for you. This could be someone who is on a career path that you are interested in, a person who's been where you are (and is now more advanced), or simply someone who has a skill set you hope to develop. You can help build this relationship by prepping questions or discussion topics before each meeting. For example, you could discuss how your mentor built his or her career at VA, ask for advice about career challenges you are currently facing, or ask for recommendations on how to build your strengths. You can find more MyCareer@VA tips for having effective conversations with a mentor here.

5. Talk with your supervisor about your career development goals.

If you're looking for advancement opportunities or even just want to develop your skills, tell your supervisor. One good way to start this conversation is to take advantage of your Individual Development Plan, or IDP (find MyCareer@VA’s tips for creating a strong IDP here). Completing your IDP will help you identify concrete steps for growth and will also provide you with an easy set of talking points for your discussion with your supervisor. He or she will be impressed with your motivation and both of you can work together to find stretch assignments, training, or other opportunities that match your goals.

Have other career development questions? VA offers many resources to help you in your career development, so be sure to check out MyCareer@VA and the VA Learning University for more training and other career development information.

MyCareer@VA Helps VA Rise in Best Places to Work Rankings for 2013

Best Places to Work In the Federal Government® recently announced that VA was the Second-Most Improved Large Agency and one of only two large agencies to improve its scores this past year. VA’s improvement was in part due to MyCareer@VA, according to Gina Farrisee, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration. In a recent article, Farrisee explained that MyCareer@VA “leads employees to programs, activities, and skills that improve their overall work experience.”

Curious about why employees like MyCareer@VA so much? Or how it might improve your job satisfaction? Check out two of our most popular tools, the VA Career Guides or the My Career Mapping Tool, where you can learn more about specific positions at VA and possible career paths available to you. Or for more options, visit our Getting Started pages for Current Employees or Prospective Employees.


5 Steps to Become an Expert in Self Development

What if you could help better serve our nation’s Veterans while also helping yourself advance in your career? No matter what your background, there are many ways you can serve and advance at the same time. One way, you might not have considered before is by building your expertise in Personal Mastery. Personal Mastery is when you understand yourself and how to connect with the people and tools that can help you reach your career goals. When you excel at Personal Mastery, you grow your skills, you like your job more, and do your job better, which in turn helps you provide even better service to Veterans.

It is for this reason that the VA Learning University includes the Personal Mastery competency in the All-Employee Competency Model. What does this mean for you? It means that you have access to a roadmap that can help you own and manage your career. VA’s Personal Mastery competency has five different proficiency levels – novice, foundational, intermediate, advanced, and expert. By assessing your proficiency with Personal Mastery, you can create your own plan for becoming an expert in self-development.

Step 1 – Novice

Take a minute to recall the old proverb, “Know Thyself.” This is the heart of the novice level within Personal Mastery. As a novice you need to explore your own unique experiences and how these have contributed to your strengths and weaknesses. You learn more about these strengths and areas for development by listening to feedback from others. As a novice, you seek guidance and direction. Therefore, you often wait to be told what training courses to take or what jobs to explore. It is important for you to move away from reacting to information and to start proactively finding ways to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses.

Step 2 – Foundational

When you achieve foundational proficiency, you seek out guidance for self-development and career advancement. You can see areas for improvement and begin to close those gaps by creating an Individual Development Plan (IDP). At this proficiency level, you are more proactive and start to connect with people and the resources you need to learn and grow.

Step 3 – Intermediate

At the intermediate level, you actively participate in self-development and career advancement opportunities. You proactively take advantage of VA’s TMS course offerings to expand your skills and are checking back often for new resources. You aren’t waiting to be told which training courses to take. Rather, you know how to close gaps in your knowledge by seeking out learning opportunities. At the intermediate proficiency level, you also regularly ask for feedback and apply past experiences to improve performance.

Step 4 – Advanced

At the advanced level, you are already skilled at managing your own personal growth and are now also encouraging others to participate in learning opportunities. You initiate career developmental conversations and work with others to help them set developmental goals. You are passionate about VA and the talented people who work here and as a result seek out mentoring or coaching opportunities. You may decide to do this through local programs or join the MyCareer@VA Super User Program to help others connect with the tools and resources they need to own their careers.

Step 5 – Expert

As an expert, you may not have all the answers, but you know how to find them. At this level, you are constantly seeking innovative ways to develop yourself and others. You are a champion for VA and our important mission. Therefore, you work hard to expand the knowledge and skills of VA’s employees. What’s more, you also champion coaching and mentoring activities to create a culture of continuous learning.

Making a commitment to growing yourself and others is good for you and for VA. VA created the Personal Mastery competency to provide you with a straightforward way to think about career development. When you take charge of your career, you can create the future you want for yourself. This encourages you to bring the very best of who you are to work so that your pride and purpose can serve Veterans and their families.

Are you ready to become a self-development expert? ​​​​​

MyCareer@VA’s Latest Occupational Family Additions

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