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How to write a great IDP. Image of a hand holding a pen.

You’ve set aside time to write your Individual Development Plan (IDP), but the minutes are quickly ticking by as you stare at a blank page. No matter how many times you’ve written an IDP before, it can be hard to know where to start. Don’t worry – with these simple steps, you can write your best IDP yet!

Think about your career

To kick-start the IDP process, spend some time thinking about your career. How are you doing in your current job? Where do you excel, and where do you fall short? What are your general career goals? As you consider these and other questions, write down your thoughts. Think about ways you could use help to be more successful in your current job and to keep your career moving forward. Be honest with yourself about your developmental needs and priorities.

Identify your goals and developmental activities

Now, use the information gained during your brainstorm to identify goals for your IDP. Your IDP should include at least one concrete, long-term goal and from three to six short-term goals. Keep in mind that the short-term goals you set should help move you closer to your long-term goal. 

Next, identify one to three developmental activities for each goal that will help you reach that goal. Examples of developmental opportunities may include taking advantage of a formal mentorship program, finding an informal mentor on your own, or taking a course on VA’s Talent Management System (TMS) that is relevant to your goal. 

While you look for developmental activities, make sure not to limit yourself to any one type of learning. There are plenty of opportunities to develop your skills. In fact, research suggests that around 70% of learning happens while you’re simply doing your job.1 So seek out challenging projects, job rotations, or stretch assignments, which are all great learning opportunities. 

Still not sure which developmental experiences to include in your IDP? You can always visit the VA Career Guides to find recommendations for your specific job at VA, or check out some additional ideas for developmental activities here.

Write your IDP using the SMART method

Now that you have your list of goals and developmental activities, you are ready to draft your IDP. For each goal, be sure to add specific details including measures of success, completion timelines, and milestones. Using the SMART method as you write your goals will help you make sure you’ve included all of the elements for a well-written, achievable goal. Also, if your supervisor or department does not require a certain format for your IDP and you need a form to track your goals, you may want to use the MyCareer@VA Workbook, which allows you to track your progress and keep a record of your activities.

Schedule a discussion with your supervisor

Once you have written your developmental goals, schedule a meeting with your supervisor at a convenient time for both of you to discuss what you have come up with. Your supervisor is a valuable resource for your career planning, since he or she can help you explore goals or developmental opportunities you may not have considered.

Before the meeting, make sure you have prepared for your IDP conversation with your supervisor and are clear on what you want to achieve during your conversation. Be sure to also follow up on any suggestions your supervisor has to help improve your IDP.

A well-written IDP will help you stay on track toward achieving your goals. But don’t forget, an IDP should not be a one-time activity. Review your IDP frequently to see how you’re doing and to make updates as you and your goals evolve.

Want to learn more about career planning and Individual Development Plans (IDPs) at VA? Check out VA’s four steps to career planning and additional tips on writing an IDP. And as always, visit MyCareer@VA and the VA Learning University for more training and career development information.

Source(s):

1Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W (1996). The Career Architect Development Planner (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Lominger. p. iv. ISBN 0-9655712-1-1.


4 Developmental Experiences to Include in your IDP. Image of a woman working on a computer.

It’s fall, which means you are probably starting to write your Individual Development Plan (IDP) for the coming year. It’s likely that you’ll consider adding training courses to yours, but have you thought about other developmental experiences to include? If you are looking for more ways to support your professional development, consider adding these learning opportunities to your IDP.

1. Read a Book


Are you interested in learning Excel? Do you want to improve your communication skills? There are lots of great books available where experts share their experience and​ knowledge, and reading is often more convenient than taking formal training. You can read at any time, even if you only have five minutes to spare – and with the popularity of mobile devices, learning can truly happen anywhere.

As you consider book options, you may want to check out TMS’s Books24x7, which gives VA employees easy and free access to thousands of titles. You’ll find a wide array of professional development books, from New York Times bestsellers like Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World to proven classics like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

2. Find a Mentor


If you don’t have a mentor, you may want to add the activity of finding one – even an informal one – to your IDP. Mentors are excellent sources of one-on-one support as you build skills and navigate other important decisions for your career. If you are interested in finding a mentor, check out MyCareer@VA’s tips on how to build a successful mentoring relationship.

If you already have a mentor or trusted advisor, ask him or her for advice on what developmental activities could benefit you. Your mentor might be able to recommend a professional association you should join or give you ideas for stretch assignments that you could discuss with your supervisor.

3. Learn New Skills from Your Coworkers


Working with a co-worker or team member is an excellent way to learn new skills while completing your daily tasks and responsibilities. Think about teaming up with someone who is really good at a particular skill that you would like to learn or improve on. Working with a coworker this way allows you to learn and practice in a safe and comfortable environment. Talk with your supervisor or mentor if you are unsure of whom to seek help from.

4. Review the VA Career Guides


Still looking for ideas? Check out the VA Career Guides, which recommend not only training but also developmental experiences for your current job and the next levels of your job. For example, if you are an accountant at VA, the VA Career Guides suggest developmental experiences like taking minutes for an audit meeting, working on process improvement requests, and participating in an internal audit. Search for your job in the VA Career Guides and see if there are other developmental experiences you can add to your IDP.

Have other questions about your IDP? Visit MyCareer@VA for more tips to create your IDP and for writing SMART goals. And don’t forget, TMS offers great training courses to help you plan your career development, including “Pursuing Successful Lifelong Learning” and “Managing Your Career: Creating a Plan.”


Coming Soon: The New, Improved MyCareer@VA. Image of a person looking at the new website on a laptop.

At some point, you’ve probably stopped to think about where you want to go in your career and how to get there. These are important questions to answer and, very soon, you will have even more tools and resources to help you answer them. This November, MyCareer@VA will be getting some great new features designed to make career development even easier for you.

We’re excited about the new MyCareer@VA, and we think you will be too. Here is an inside look at what’s coming.

Personalized Career Hub

All users with an account on the website will now have a personalized Career Hub that provides customized career guidance and support based on where you are in your career and where you want to go. Once you've decided on a career goal, your Career Hub will:

  • Guide you step-by-step to your career goal, connecting you with the right resources when you need them. By breaking up your goal into manageable steps, the Career Hub helps you stay on track and takes away the guesswork from what comes next.
  • Organize your resumes, career paths, job announcements, and more. Keeping all your career development tools and accomplishments together in one place allows you to spend less time looking for what you need, and more time building the career that fits you.
  • Track your progress and keep a record of your activities. You will be able to know where you've been, see where you’re going next, and discuss career development accomplishments with your supervisor, if you want to.

Whether you are seeking to build skills or change jobs, the Career Hub helps you see the big picture of your career so you can give it your all and help VA meet its mission.

Expanded Multi-Media Library

You’re bound to have questions as you build your career. So MyCareer@VA is expanding our advice and guidance from career development experts in our new Library. You’ll be able to browse tips on resume writing, find courses on how to develop your career, learn about leadership development programs at VA, listen to career advice from VA leaders, and much more. If you see something interesting, you can simply save it to your Career Hub so it’s easy to find and read later.

Access Anywhere, Anytime, From Any Device

The updated MyCareer@VA website will provide easy access from any mobile phone or tablet. This means you can work on building your career when and where it is most convenient for you. Improved navigation and search functionality also mean you can easily find the information you’re looking for.

Image of the new MyCareer@VA homepage on a tablet.

Check Back in November

In early November, you’ll have access to these new features and be able to start planning the next steps toward your career goal. For VA employees, the upgraded site will also be a valuable resource for guiding your individual development planning. To get started with your Career Hub, you’ll just need to log in to your MyCareer@VA account or create an account if you’re new to the website. Then, you will be guided through the setup of your personalized Career Hub.

Excited to see where the new MyCareer@VA can take you? So are we. Be sure to come create your own Career Hub this November!


How to Plan Your Career in 4 Steps. Image of a man holding a planner.

Planning your career can seem like a difficult task, but with the right approach, you can open up new doors without feeling overwhelmed. No matter where you are in your career – whether you are a long-time VA employee, a new employee, or a Veteran entering the civilian workforce – career planning with VA’s four-phase career development model can help you break things down into manageable steps. Here’s how it works:

Assess

During the Assess phase, you get to ask yourself an important question: What do you really want to do with your career?

You can start this process on your own – it’s as simple as brainstorming about your interests, priorities, and goals. Or, you can get feedback from people who know you well.

As you assess yourself, be sure to focus on your strengths. While it’s important to understand and work on your shortcomings, the biggest career growth can actually come from further developing skills or behaviors in which you already excel. Consider reading Now, Discover Your Strengths on TMS’s Books24x7 for help figuring out your strengths. Or, take one of the TMS courses on emotional intelligence – an important skill for understanding yourself – such as "What is Emotional Intelligence?" and "Improving Your Emotional Intelligence Skills: Self-Awareness and Self-Management."

Finally, as part of the Assess phase, you should think about the tradeoffs you are willing to make in your career. For example, if your goal is getting a higher paying job, think about how long a commute you are willing to have in exchange. Considering tradeoffs like this can give you more insight into your actual priorities.

Explore

During the Explore phase, you are looking for opportunities that move you toward your overall career goals. This means researching various career paths on your own or through conversations with others.

A good first step in the Explore phase may be to use the My Career Fit Tool, which not only helps you further assess your work interests but also helps you identify and explore VA jobs that match these interests. Or, if you already know what job you are interested in, try finding a mentor in that career field who can talk with you about next steps or good developmental opportunities for you to complete.

Another great activity is to shadow someone in the workplace. Job shadowing is when you observe someone for a day to learn more about whether that person’s career field or specific job could be a good fit for you. Express interest to the person you want to shadow and see if he or she has enough time available. Then, work with your supervisor or mentor to set it up.

In the Explore phase, keep in mind that any activity that helps you discover more about a career you may be interested in is worth considering. This includes the activities above but can also be as simple as having lunch with someone who is knowledgeable about another career to get his or her insider’s perspective.

Plan

Now that you understand yourself and the career possibilities in front of you, you are ready to create a plan. Coming up with a solid plan can be easy when you approach the process with an Individual Development Plan (IDP). IDPs provide the structure you need to stay on track.

You can set effective career goals in your plan using the SMART method, which will help you think about the concrete steps you will take to achieve your goals. Is there training you need to complete to be eligible for a new position? Or are there experiences you can get in your current position that will qualify you for your next? For instance, if one of your goals is to improve your communication skills, you might plan to gather feedback on your communication skills from your peers and supervisors and then spend time learning about different communications styles. Or, you could take the "Preparing for Effective Business Meetings" course on TMS to learn about communicating effectively during meetings.

Take Action

Now, you’re ready to put your plan in motion. Depending on the goals you have identified, you may be taking a few hours of training each week, shadowing another employee to see what it takes to succeed in his or her position, or applying for a new job at VA. As you complete your planned steps, don’t forget to gather feedback on your activities from a supervisor or mentor. You should also review and adjust your IDP as you go based on your progress toward your career goals.

By using these four phases for your career planning, you will be well on your way to the career you want. But remember to be flexible – developing your career is a continuous process. As your priorities evolve, you should feel free to bounce back and forth between the four phases, getting what you need from each.

Want to learn more about career planning at VA? Consider registering for "Managing Your Career: Creating a Plan" through TMS. And as always, visit MyCareer@VA and the VA Learning University for more training and career development information.


The SMART Way to Set Goals. Image of someone writing SMART on a sticky note.

Like many VA employees, you may have some specific developmental goals that you want to include in your individual development plan (IDP) this fall. Did you know that there is a way to write your goals that can make you more likely to be successful? By using the SMART goal method, you can create tangible, action-oriented goals you can really achieve.

What is a SMART goal?

A SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Here’s how SMART goals work:

Specific

To be specific, your goal should be concrete and well-defined. It should identify what you are trying to achieve and who is responsible for completing each component of the goal. Start by asking yourself questions like:

  • What exactly do I want to do?
  • Are there certain steps I should take?
  • Will I be using specific resources to reach my goal?
  • Will I need to work with someone else?

So, for example, if your overarching goal is to improve your leadership skills, you can make that goal specific by saying:

I am going to register for and take online training courses to improve my leadership skills.

Note that this goal is still pretty vague. Keep reading to make it SMART.

Measurable

A goal should also have criteria you can use to track your progress and determine when you’ve been successful in reaching your goal. To make your goal measurable, it can help to think about the following questions:

  • How will I know when I’ve accomplished my goal?
  • Is there quantitative information I can include to make it easier to measure my progress?

Using the leadership training example, you can make your goal measurable by listing the number of courses you will take:

I will complete four leadership courses.

Attainable

Your goal can be a challenging one, but it should still be attainable. Make sure you have the time and resources needed to realistically reach your goal by considering these factors:

  • How much time out of my regular schedule will it take to complete my goal?
  • Will I reasonably be able to dedicate this amount of time?
  • Will any funding be required to complete my goal, and if so, will I be able to obtain it?

In the leadership training example, you can make your goal attainable by planning to schedule a reasonable amount of time to train:

I will dedicate one hour outside of my normal work schedule per week to complete leadership training.

Relevant

To keep your goals relevant, make sure they are focused in the direction you want to go in your career. For example, if you are a nurse, you may set a goal to develop your therapeutic communication skills to improve your patient service. To find activities that are relevant to your career, review the recommended training and development experiences for your job in the VA Career Guides, or review VA’s All Employee Competencies, and Leadership Competencies for the skills VA values in all of its employees and leaders. Then, consider questions like the following:

  • Is this a reasonable goal for me in my current job?
  • Will this goal help me move forward in my career?
  • Does this goal support VA’s mission?

You can make the leadership training goal relevant by choosing the right level of leadership training:

I will take the TMS training course “Transitioning from Technical Professional to Management” (http://go.usa.gov/yNrC) to help me prepare for the transition to a management position.

Time-Bound

Finally, your goal needs a deadline to help you stay motivated. Think about how long it will take to complete your goal. Then, ask yourself questions like:

  • Are there outside factors that will affect my timeline, such as objectives I’ll need to complete first?
  • Are there things I should be doing along the way to keep myself on track?
  • Are there any upcoming events that would influence my deadline?

To make the leadership training example time-bound, you can include a timeline for reminders and the goal’s completion date:

I will complete my goal before my IDP check-in with my supervisor at the end of January, and I will set a calendar reminder to check my progress on the 15th of each month.

Putting it all together

Once you’ve worked through the SMART method for each piece of your goal, you are ready to combine them into a SMART goal. For the leadership training example, the final SMART goal would look like this:

I am going to register for and take four online training courses to improve my leadership skills, including the TMS training course “Transitioning from Technical Professional to Management” to help me prepare for the transition to a management position. I will dedicate one hour outside of my normal work schedule per week to complete leadership training, so that I complete this goal before my IDP check-in with my supervisor at the end of January. I will also set a calendar reminder to check my progress on the 15th of each month.

After you finish

Now that you know how to use the SMART method, be sure to record your SMART goals in your IDP.

Want more help creating an IDP? Check out MyCareer@VA’s “Tips for Creating Your IDP” to get a good foundation. If you are a supervisor, you may like MyCareer@VA’s course on Having Developmental Conversations, which offers tips for talking with employees about SMART goals and IDPs. And as always, visit MyCareer@VA and the VA Learning University for more training and career development information.


Networking Myths and How to Truly Grow Your Network at VA. Image of a handshake.

By Sally Colella

If you find that the word “networking” makes you want to run in the other direction, you are not alone. Many people are repelled by the thought of networking. But what if your current beliefs about networking are actually incorrect, and abandoning those beliefs could help you find your next developmental opportunity or build a VA All Employee Competency like Personal Mastery?

Here are some commonly held myths, the research that dispels them, and tips for how to find a networking approach that works for you.

Myth #1: A Bigger Network is Better

Busting the Myth: Many of us assume that being a “good networker” means having a large network, where the more Outlook contacts, LinkedIn connections, or Facebook friends we have, the better off we are.

However, research shows that a larger network does not necessarily mean stronger performance in your job.1-3 Instead of focusing on size, you should aim for a network of diverse, high-quality connections with people who you trust and find energizing. This type of network will help you find information you need to develop innovative solutions and build expertise better than a large, superficial network.

What to Do: So how do you create a network that is measured not by its size but by its alignment with what’s most important to you? It’s all about being genuine. The most powerful networks include relationships that advance the expertise of both people by exploring their shared interests. So, begin by listing topics you find interesting and that align with your career aspirations or current projects. Then, reach out to begin or renew relationships with others who might have expertise in these topic areas. Consider professional associations, friends of friends, online social networking groups, and former classmates as sources for finding these contacts.

For example, if you’re trying to build your skills in developing and coaching others, think about people you know who develop those around them and ask how they handle particular challenges you are facing. You might also try attending gatherings sponsored by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) to help you meet and learn from others who are experts.

Myth #2: Extraverts Do It Better

Busting the Myth: Many of us have a stereotype of the ideal networker – the gregarious salesperson who loves nothing more than to “work” a huge room at an industry conference or happy hour.

However, research suggests that both extraverts and introverts find effective approaches to building their networks. In fact, “being an extravert or introvert does not necessarily predict the size or quality of one’s network within their organization,” says Dr. Rob Cross, a professor at the University of Virginia who studies networks. The key is to find an approach you enjoy. If you try to build your network in a way that feels false, you won’t want to do it.

What to Do: To figure out how you like to build relationships, think about the professional colleagues you find energizing and make a list of how you met them. Were you going through a shared challenge at work? Did you meet at a training event or conference that focused on a shared interest?

Next, review this list and think of ways to purposefully put yourself in those situations more often. For example, say you are more comfortable building connections with others gradually through a shared activity. Consider volunteering for more work assignments that put you in contact with people you’d like as part of your network. Or, if you have started interesting relationships in the past while organizing workplace events, consider investing more time in helping with the next holiday party.

Again, the most important thing is to avoid forcing yourself into a role that doesn’t fit you. Find an approach that works for you and make a commitment.

Myth #3: Only Strong Ties are a Source of Support

Busting the Myth: In our professional network, “strong ties” are our closest colleagues. Like many, you may assume it is only appropriate to make a request for help or information of those who you interact with most frequently.

However, relying on only your strong ties can limit your career. Research shows networks of high performers are open and diverse.2-6 So, if your network consists only of people who work closely together and know one another, you are likely shutting yourself off from new ideas that stimulate innovation and creativity.

What to Do: Think of ways to reach out to those who you don’t see as part of your regular work schedule or other commitments. Focus on those who are in different geographic areas, industries, or roles. This is where social networking sites such as LinkedIn can be very helpful. Get familiar with LinkedIn tools that help you to see friends of friends, and don’t be shy about asking your friends for an introduction to their other contacts who are exposed to a different set of insights and opportunities.

Sally Colella is an executive coach, network expert, and coauthor of The Organizational Network Fieldbook: Best Practices, Techniques and Exercises to Drive Organizational Innovation and Performance.

Want to learn to communicate effectively with diverse networking contacts? Everyone has a different communication style – learn about yours and how to adapt to the styles of others to make connecting easier. You may also be interested in the TMS course "Managing Your Career: Professional Networking Essentials.” And as always, visit MyCareer@VA and the VA Learning University for more training and career development information.

Source(s):

1Brass, Daniel J. 1984. “Being in the Right Place: A Structural Analysis of Individual Influence in an Organization,” Administrative Science Quarterly 29, 518-539.

2Burt, Ronald S. 2000. “The Network Structure of Social Capital.” Research in Organizational Behavior 22: 345-423. New York: JAI Press.

3Podolny, Joel M., and James N. Baron. 1997. “Resources and Relationships: Social Networks and Mobility in the Workplace,” American Sociological Review 62: 673-693.

4Burt, Ronald S. 1992. Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition. Cambridge, Mass: The Harvard University Press.

5Gargiulo, Martin, and Mario Benassi. 2000. “Trapped in Your Own Net? Network of Cohesion, Structural Holes, and the Adaptation of Social Capital,” Organizational Science 11(2): 183-196.

6Mehra, Ajay, Martin Kilduff, and Daniel J. Brass. 2001. “The Social Networks of High and Low Self-Monitors: Implications for Workplace Performance,” Administrative Science Quarterly 46: 121-146.


Informal Mentors: Why You Need Them and How to Get Them. Image of mentor and mentee chatting over coffee in a coffee shop.

Most people get there at some point: You have an area in your career that you want to improve, but you don’t know how. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. A mentor can very likely help you, whether you are trying to manage work/life balance, navigate career decisions, or develop new skills in VA’s All Employee and Leadership Competencies. Not only that, a mentor can also help you get more personal satisfaction from your career.

What if you are not currently participating in one of VA’s formal mentoring programs? Not to worry – you can also get these benefits from informal mentoring relationships. Check out these tips for finding informal mentors and building strong relationships with them.

Remember that you can have more than one

While you should have only one formal mentor at a time, you can (and should) consider having more than one informal mentor. In fact, you might already have a few informal mentors and not realize it. For example, you may have one informal mentor whose career path you’d like to mimic, another whose communication skills you admire because she can effectively interact with anyone, and yet another who you look up to because he is always well-dressed for every situation. Basically, if you deem someone an expert you can go to for advice on a particular topic, you can think of him or her as an informal mentor.

Choose the right people

How do you do this? First, start by thinking about the aspects of your career that could benefit from mentoring. Then, based on the improvement areas you’ve identified, brainstorm about potential people who might help you meet each of your goals. Think about individuals who are knowledgeable enough about you to understand what you do, your skill set, and your aspirations.

Don’t limit yourself to only those in your same work group or chain of supervision. You may actually have a lot in common with someone from another department or position. Of course, looking outside your group of immediate colleagues is even more important if one of your goals is to transition to a new career field. For example, if you are currently a special assistant but aspire to become a contract specialist, you should find someone with contracting experience from whom you can learn.

Keep in mind that while your supervisor may be the person who best knows you and your work, you can still gain quite a lot from the perspective of others. Also, choosing a mentor from outside your chain of command can help avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Make sure you are prepared for your discussions

Don’t let the ‘informal’ label mislead you. While these relationships are informal in the sense that they don’t arise from a structured program, they still require preparation. You should be ready to guide the conversation, asking thoughtful questions and providing ideas on how your potential mentor can help you. Being well-prepared shows you are serious about your goals and demonstrates why having a relationship with you is worth the effort. You can learn more about how to present your best self when seeking career help by checking out MyCareer@VA's tips on effective mentoring conversations.

Don’t worry about imposing – your mentor has a lot to gain, too

Maybe you’re worried about fitting into your mentor’s busy schedule and not being able to offer him or her anything in return. Mentorship, though, can be a deeply fulfilling experience not just for you, but for your mentor, too. By providing advice, mentors have the opportunity to reflect on their own careers and the value of their experience. You are also giving your mentor an excellent opportunity to build leadership skills and possibly to develop a connection at a different level in the organization4 – great goals for someone who is also looking to develop in their career.

Be engaged but respectful

Striking a balance between being respectful of your mentor’s time and staying engaged can be a tricky part of any mentorship. Talk with your mentor about his or her preferred channels of communication – avoid social media or text messages, unless initiated by your mentor – and discuss how often you should plan to meet. Be mindful of your mentor’s other commitments, but don’t let too much time pass in between communications. Maintaining a consistent level of engagement is important, as is showing a genuine interest in the relationship. For example, you can share information with your mentor that you think she would value. Did you find an article of interest to your mentor? Send it her way.

Finally, remember to show your gratitude and acknowledge your mentors’ support. Many times, a simple “thank you” is all that’s needed.

If you are looking for ways to introduce yourself to a potential mentor, check out MyCareer@VA’s Elevator Pitch Prep course to hone your 30-second elevator pitch. You may also like the TMS training “Essential Mentoring Techniques: Mentoring Fundamentals” on the basics of developing a mentoring relationship. And as always, visit MyCareer@VA and the VA Learning University for more training and career development information.

Source(s):

1 “Ten Years of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government Rankings: How Six Federal Agencies Improved Employee Satisfaction and Commitment.” Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte. December 18, 2013. 27. http://ourpublicservice.org/OPS/publications/viewcontentdetails.php?id=231

2, 4“Best Practices: Mentoring.” United States Office of Personnel Management. September 2008. http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/training-and-development/career-development/bestpractices-mentoring.pdf

3 Lockwood, Nancy R. “Mentoring Series Part I: The Value of Mentoring.” Society for Human Resources Management, August 1, 2004. http://www.shrm.org/research/articles/articles/pages/mentoring_20series_20part_20i__20the_20value_20of_20mentoring.aspx


Veteran Maps His Way to Career Success. Image of map with starting and ending points.

Stephen Clabough has his sights set on becoming a hospital director at the Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s an ambitious goal, but when he shares his plan you can’t help but think that he’ll succeed.

After six years in the Marine Corps, Clabough came to VA as a Presidential Management Fellow, seeking another avenue to continue the service to his country that he began as a Marine. VA was the “only agency I applied for,” he recalls.

It was during his first assignment, as a special assistant to the Director of the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, that he began to map out his future at the Department. One evening after work, Clabough found himself wondering what else was out there. Searching the web, he made his way to MyCareer@VA, accounting for just one of more than 1.5 million visits the site has seen in less than three years.

MyCareer@VA, an initiative led by the VA Learning University, is an effort to transform career development at the Nation’s second-largest Federal agency. The program offers data-driven tools and online resources so that anyone with access to the internet has the opportunity to develop their careers at VA.

Clabough, whose stint as a special assistant was coming to a close when he found the MyCareer@VA program, gravitated toward the My Career Mapping Tool. He typed in his current position and watched as related jobs began to populate on the screen. The path he expected to see – which would take him from his current position of special assistant to executive assistant to assistant director, and so on and so forth – was there among the options. But there were other choices as well.

He honed in on a sequence that moved through acquisitions. Clabough was intrigued by the contract-focused positions, which would make use of his legal experience. He learned that a job in acquisitions could not only lead him toward his ultimate goal, but that the field would round out the fiscal skills he’d need to lead a VA facility.

With MyCareer@VA, every employee is empowered – as Clabough was – to reach for a goal. Providing opportunities to grow is a priority for VA and part of a larger plan to develop and retain talented individuals who can lead the organization through challenging years ahead.

MyCareer@VA is at the center of VA’s strategic commitment to career development. The program is built on helping people find the job that fits them and makes the most of what they like to do and the things they do best.

This concept of “job fit” is more than a nice sentiment. Research shows that employees who use their strengths on the job are six times more likely to be engaged.1 In turn, engagement is critical to reducing turnover and increasing employee productivity.2 In other words: career development not only benefits the individual, it benefits VA as a whole and the 8.5 million Veterans and family members served by the Department.

Just a few years in, the program is making an impact. MyCareer@VA was highlighted by Gina Farrisee, VA’s Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, as one of the reasons for VA’s recent ascent in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings for 2013.

As Clabough discovered, a single action can be the start of a powerful plan. MyCareer@VA users take more than 10,000 such actions each month, from creating resumes to searching for jobs to taking online career development training courses. In the last six months alone, participants dedicated more than 27,000 hours to developing their careers.

This fall, VA employees and job seekers will have an even more powerful way to plan and achieve their career goals as MyCareer@VA launches an enhanced website with expanded tools and resources, as well as the ability to create “to dos” and track progress.

For those in need of further motivation to focus on their careers, Clabough has advice: “You have to find something you truly believe in…it’s about having your big picture, about what you value and what you want.” For Clabough, the big picture is to continue serving his country. It’s with this mindset that he approaches his work and, one day at a time, puts his plan in motion.

Source(s):

1 “State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders.” Gallup, Inc. 2013. http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/state-american-workplace.aspx

2“Performance in a cost-constrained Federal environment: Improving employee engagement to do more with less.” Deloitte Development LLC. 2011.


How to Get Rid of Interview Jitters. Image of job candidate sitting across a desk from an interviewer.

You’ve polished your resume, applied for jobs that interest you, and now you’re scheduled for an interview. If you’re like most people, interviews can be anxiety-provoking. You know that confidence plays a big role in how others perceive you, so how do you shake off your nerves to deliver a knock-out interview?

First, Know What to Expect

Knowing what to expect both before and during the interview is one of the best ways to feel calm and confident on interview day.

  • Plan your day. Feeling rushed or having loose ends on the day of your interview can make you feel more stressed, so plan out your day in advance. How will you get to the interview and how long will it take? How much time should you allot for getting through security? What will you wear that makes you feel professional and confident, yet also comfortable? Be sure to handle details like printing copies of your resume and picking up your suit from the dry cleaners before the big day.
  • Know your subject material. Do your research on VA and the organization you’d be joining so you feel knowledgeable about the topics you will be discussing. Take time to review interviewing basics on MyCareer@VA’s InterviewPrep and learn about performance based interviews, the type of interview most commonly used at VA.

Next, Practice Your Answers

Knowing that you can provide a well-rounded and strongly formulated answer will make you feel more confident when sitting across from the interviewer. These steps will help you do just that:

  • Organize strong answers. A good answer for a performance based interview is one where you can describe how you’ve performed in previous jobs, delivered results, and made an impact. Learn the Situation, Task, Action, Results method – “STAR” for short – which gives you a format to do all three. Having already thought through your examples using STAR, you can recall them quickly and respond without feeling put on the spot.
  • Practice your delivery. Now that you know your answers and how to structure them, the next step is to polish your delivery. Practice being clear and reducing bad habits such as using “um” and “like.” It can be hard to evaluate your answers yourself, so check out MyCareer@VA’s InterviewStream tool, which lets you capture and replay your responses. Using your computer’s webcam, you can record a video of yourself answering common interview questions that you can watch or share with others for feedback.

Still a Little Nervous?

So far you’ve figured out what to expect and you’ve practiced your answers, but if you need a little more help to shake those nerves, these tips are your ace in the hole:

  • Visualize success. Visualize yourself delivering a successful interview. You may have heard that visualizing success is a proven technique used by professional athletes like Tiger Woods and former heavy-weight champion Muhammad Ali. Research suggests that this technique works for interviews, too.1 In fact, research shows that creating this vivid mental imagery will help you feel less stressed while also improving your interview performance. As you visualize, try to picture as many details as you can about the experience. For example, imagine the time of day, your mood (calm and collected!), your firm handshake, and your confident smile. Then picture answering each of your practice questions with your best answer; a strong, steady voice; and open, confident body language. Add all the details you can think of, and visualize them several times before your interview. The more vivid your mental imagery is, the more effective it will be.
  • Deep breathing. If you find yourself getting nervous during the interview, take your time answering and try taking several deep, slow breaths from your belly the next time the interviewer is talking. The deep breath helps trigger a relaxation response. 2 Taking a deep breath before you respond also allows your voice more support, generally deepening your tone and increasing your speaking volume, making you come across as more confident.

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

Source(s):

1Knudstrup, Mike, Sharon L. Segrest, and Amy E. Hurley. 2003. “The use of mental imagery in the simulated employment interview situation.” Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 6. 573-591.

2Forbes, Elizabeth J., and Ronald J. Pekala​. 1993. “Psychological Effects of Several Stress Management Techniques.” Psychological Reports 72: 19-27.


How to Adapt to Different Styles of Communication. Image of group of employees during a meeting.

Everyone’s been there. You’re in an important meeting, trying to make an important point, and you can tell the message isn’t getting across. What’s going on? It could be that you and your colleagues or supervisor have different styles of communicating. Throughout your career, you’ll frequently interact with people whose communication styles are different from yours. Learning how to manage these differences is essential to your career – so essential, in fact, that communication and interpersonal effectiveness are both part of VA’s All Employee Competency Model.

So, how do you communicate effectively with someone who communicates differently than you do? Do these two things and you are well on your way…

First, Identify Your Communication Style

Your first move to better communication is learning about your own style. The better you understand your own communication style, the better-positioned you will be to adapt to the styles of others.

According to research on social styles by David Merrill and Roger Reid 1, your communication style is a combination of where you fall on two dimensions: Responsiveness and Assertiveness. To find out where you are on these dimensions, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Assertiveness: When you interact with others, do you tend to Ask or Tell them to do an activity?
  • Responsiveness: When you interact with others, do you tend to Display your feelings and emotions, or do you tend to keep your feelings and emotions Inside?

Using your answers to these two questions, find your communication style in the chart below. For example, if you tend to Tell and Display, then you prefer to use an Expressive style. As you look at the chart, remember that you may use all of these styles at different times – your style is simply the way you prefer to interact with others. Also, keep in mind that no single style is better than any other. You may prefer a certain style because of your own values or because it feels familiar to you, but each style has positives and negatives.

As you read about your style, be sure to pay attention to its possible strengths and challenges, since these could contribute to miscommunication between you and someone with a different style.

Responsiveness Assertiveness-Ask Assertiveness-Tell
Responsiveness-Emotions Inside

Analytic

Common Behavior
  • Likes facts, logic, and consistency
  • Seeks organization
  • Appears detached, independent
  • Cooperative if they have control over their work
  • Cautious in showing warmth or forming friendships
  • Slow to react, but deliberate and disciplined
  • Sticks to decisions

Possible Strengths

  • Objective, analytical, careful, collected, good listener

Possible Challenges

  • Moves slowly, risk-averse, critical

Driver

Common Behavior
  • Focused on action and results
  • Swift to react
  • Seeks control; forceful when facing an obstacle, goal-oriented
  • Rarely shares personal feelings
  • Independent, competitive, takes risks
  • Makes decisions using facts
  • Focused on the here and now

Possible Strengths

  • Decisive, thick-skinned, confident, forceful, goal-oriented

Possible Challenges

  • Impatient, harsh, callous, doesn't share credit
Responsiveness-Emotions Inside

Amiable

Common Behavior

  • Values friendliness and cooperation
  • Unhurried reaction
  • Achieves objectives using understanding and mutual respect, not force
  • Acceptance is important, power is not
  • Social; builds strong relationships
  • Risk-averse
  • Tends to reject conflict
Possible Strengths
  • Supportive, considerate, loyal, goes the extra mile
Possible Challenges
  • Slow to act, dependent, passive

Expressive

Common Behavior
  • Reacts quickly
  • Warm, approachable
  • Competitive; seeks personal recognition
  • Makes decisions based on intuition, not facts
  • Creative dreamers; not detail-oriented
  • Takes risks; changes course frequently
  • Focused on the future

Possible Strengths

  • Moves quickly, humorous, stimulating, persuasive, friendly

Possible Challenges

  • Thin-skinned, attention-seeking, perceived as impulsive
Next, Learn How to Work With Other Styles

While it would be nice if everyone had the same communication style as you, you can communicate more effectively with all types of communicators by making a few simple tweaks to your own style. Think of these behavioral changes as temporary adjustments—you are not changing who you are, just how you approach others.

So how do you do this? Think about someone with whom you have a hard time communicating. For example, can you think of a time you tried to explain an idea to a coworker and felt like you were hitting a brick wall? Now, with that person in mind, take these four steps from Merrill and Reid:

  • Step 1: Understand the impression you make. You’ve already identified your style. Now think about how others are likely to perceive you. How can your communication style create stress for others?
  • Step 2: Take control of your behavior. Look at the possible strengths and challenges of your style. Which ones describe you and which ones could be contributing to miscommunication between you and your coworker? Think of ways to expand or maximize your strengths and play down your weaknesses.
  • Step 3: Identify other styles. Observe your coworker’s behavior and how he or she responds to your style. Follow the same process you used to find your own style to identify and understand your coworker’s style. Does he or she tend to ask or tell others to do something? Does he or she display emotions or keep them hidden?
  • Step 4: Adapt. Notice the similarities between your styles. Are there places where you have common ground? For example, if you are a Driver working with an Expressive, you both prefer to make decisions quickly. Make sure to work these similarities into your interactions with your coworker. Next, think about the differences between your styles. Are there any behaviors you can change to better accommodate the preferences of your coworker? For example, if you are an Amiable working with an Analytic, you might try providing more data when you present your ideas.

As you use these steps, remember not to take other people’s communication styles personally. Like yours, their styles are simply a product of their responsiveness and assertiveness, not necessarily a reflection of their thoughts and feelings. Lastly, to communicate effectively takes practice and patience, so remember to practice in different situations with different styles, and make note of what works and what doesn’t.

If you liked this article, check out MyCareer@VA’s tips on effective communication with potential employers. You may also like the TMS training “Managing Your Career: You and Your Boss” on how to build a strong relationship with your supervisor. And as always, visit MyCareer@VA and the VA Learning University for more training and career development information.

Source(s):

1 Merrill, David W. and Roger H. Reid. 1981. Personal Styles and Effective Performance. Florida: CRC Press LLC.


7 Tips for an Effective Federal Resume. Image of resume, reading glasses, and inkpen on a desk.

You’ve found the job you want and you’re busy working on your resume. You don’t want that hard work to go to waste, but how do you make sure your resume stands out among all of the resumes that VA receives? All the usual tried-and-true tips for writing a resume are important, but here are a few things about Federal resumes in particular that are good to keep in mind.

1. Be sure you meet all of the qualifications

As you probably already know, Federal job openings can attract hundreds or even thousands of applicants. To narrow down the pool, HR professionals provide hiring managers with a “Best Qualified” list of applicants. The hiring manager reviews the list, chooses whom to interview, and often never sees the rest.

What you may not realize is that HR can only put people on this list who meet all of the minimum qualifications in the job announcement. This means HR will be looking very carefully at everything you list in your resume. Make sure you not only meet the qualifications of the announcement but also spell them out clearly in your application.

2. Tailor your resume every time – it’s worth it!

It’s not uncommon for people to use the same resume to apply to multiple job announcements. While this may seem easier at first, it significantly lowers your chances of getting an interview given the strict, position-specific qualifications required for job announcements.

One way to make applying to several jobs easier is to create a single “master” resume that includes all of your education, experience, skills, awards, and so on. Don’t worry about how long it is – you’ll never send out this master resume, so write everything down. Use this as your starting point and revise it for each job announcement by including only what is relevant to that position and cutting the rest.

Also, keep in mind that MyCareer@VA’s My Federal Resume Builder lets you create and save up to five versions of your resume, making it easy to amend your resume and apply to multiple jobs quickly.

3. Use keywords

As you might imagine, reviewing hundreds of applications to find the most qualified individuals can be a difficult task. To aid in their search, Federal HR professionals (or sometimes a computer program) scan your resume for keywords from the job announcement. Without keywords, it is unlikely your resume will make it past the first review.

What is a keyword? Before you begin work on your resume, carefully read the job announcement. If you see a certain word repeated numerous times, it’s probably a keyword. For example, if you see “contracting” listed repeatedly in the job announcement, it’s safe to assume HR will be looking for someone with contracting expertise.

Other keywords to watch for include specific technical terms or phrases in the job announcement. Before you submit your application, compare your resume with the keywords in the job announcement one last time and make sure the descriptions and language you’ve used in your resume clearly align with the position for which you are applying.

4. Be comprehensive

This means you should include all the relevant experience you would bring to a particular job. This helps HR in two ways. First, HR isn’t allowed to fill in the holes or assume anything about your experience, so you need to paint a clear picture. Second, though qualifications may be inflexible, HR does have the ability to accept the sum total of your relevant experience to determine if you do, in fact, meet requirements. For example, HR can combine the ten months you’ve been a supervisor in your current job with your two months of supervisory volunteer work to meet a required one year of supervisory experience.

So what does including relevant experience look like? If you’re applying for your first job, include information in the education section not only about your internships, but also relevant college coursework and recognition you have received. If you’re a more seasoned applicant, don’t limit it to your previous work experience – talk about volunteer work, technical training, or anything else that may have given you the skills you need for the job. You can learn more here about addressing a job’s requirements successfully in your resume.

5. Keep it relevant

Being comprehensive is extremely important, but being “relevant” is equally so. You should only include information that clearly supports your eligibility for this specific position. Unless your summer job ten years ago as a snake charmer exhibits your qualifications for your desired position, leave it out!

6. Emphasize impact

In addressing the specific qualifications of the position, be sure to emphasize your accomplishments and results from past positions, rather than just a list of the duties you performed. For example, instead of a description like “led a team of 10 for a project,” show the impact you had with something like “led a team of 10 to finish a project ahead of schedule and under budget, resulting in an early launch that helped us meet a key goal for Veteran recruitment.” The difference here is not about including a lengthier description. Rather, it’s about clearly outlining the outcome and impact of your work.

7. Longer resumes are OK, but be concise!

When you’ve tailored your resume, explained in detail all of your relevant experience, emphasized impact, and included keywords, your resume will probably be longer than the 1-2 pages recommended for the private sector. That’s okay. It’s not atypical for an experienced candidate’s Federal resume to be 4-5 pages in length. This does not mean you should go overboard and try to make your resume as long as possible. Remember how many applications HR receives? They need to get a complete picture of your experience, but they always prefer to read fewer pages (wouldn’t you?). Keep your resume overall as concise as possible.

Need additional help with your job search or application process? Browse the VA Career Guides to learn more about the kind of job you’re applying for, and don’t forget you can search open positions at VA with VA Job Finder. Lastly, click here for more information about understanding VA job announcements.


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