GUEST COLUMN: 4 Essentials for a Successful a Transition out of the Federal Government

Jason Levin

Jason Levin

By Jason Levin of Ready, Set, Launch, LLC

If you’ve spent many years in government service, you may be toying with the idea of doing something new in your career. Even if you love your job, you may be craving the energy, challenge and change of perspective that can come with a new role in a new industry. If you are asking, “what’s next?” you may also be asking, “Should I transition to the private sector? Or maybe start a consulting business?”

The task of figuring out what you to do next might seem a little overwhelming. Fear not: you are not alone! There are just times when smart, accomplished and experienced executives are unsure how to approach these questions. As you consider your next steps, you will not only need to develop career ideas, but you will also need to move those ideas into action. Here are four keys to making a successful transition out of a government role.

Point 1 – Set reasonable time frames

One key questions to ask is “what is success in the near term?” Instead of thinking about what you want to do 5-10 years from now, shorten the time frame to 12-18 months. Deadlines that are shorter in duration are easier to visualize and more achievable. Incremental changes in your career can lead to more interesting opportunities as time goes on.

Point 2 – Be Selfish – No, REALLY…What do YOU want to do?

What do you want do? It is a fundamental question you are likely going to get asked over and over again. In your government career, you have made positive professional, associative and personal contributions to your colleagues, peers and family over the course of your career.

There are plenty of inspiring ways to think about this question. While it might seem indulgent, ask yourself what activities you find the most satisfying? If you were to tease out the very best experiences you’ve had, from what type(s) of work did you derive the most enjoyment? Laundry listing all of your career accomplishments and skills will certainly make you feel good about what you have done. But as you think about where you want to GO, think about the accomplishments that were the most professionally fulfilling. What types of roles allowed you to achieve these successes? With whom were you working?

In addition to looking at past work experiences, did you ever make a promise to yourself that you still want to keep?

Point 3 – N=30 – Leverage relationships to confirm or deny the career hypothesis

I won’t be the first or last person to tell you that the best way to learn about career opportunities is by talking to people. Consider your list of possible career ideas, and view your conversations as an opportunity to test a career hypothesis with people you know and trust.

A statistically significant data set in your college statistics class is typically 30 data points. Depending on the transition you are looking to make, you will need to have as many conversations as possible. Too often, I see individuals attempting to make a career transition stop after one or two conversations. There are plenty of people in your relationship base who want you to succeed, so start having your one-on-ones!

A federal aviation and transportation executive I worked with was initially hesitant to expand his ideas about potential employers beyond aerospace and defense. I encouraged him to have more discussions with a broader scope of contacts. As his exploratory conversations continued, he realized that his options extended into technology, retail and even media. Having more conversations meant that more executives with an array of perspectives were weighing in to help him assess his vast set of accomplishments and skills.

Point 4 – Help others help you

In setting up your conversations, be prepared to summarize your background. As a federal government executive you don’t need to talk about every aspect of your career – just highlights of your background. To help summarize your background, you might consider using a stopwatch. I was working with a federal government executive who initially took 15 minutes to introduce his background, which focused too much on where he had been. After working with the stopwatch, we were able to reduce it to under 5 minutes and develop a focused summary of where he wanted to go. Packaging your experiences matters!

As you think of each discussion, what do you hope to learn? Jot down some questions. You might want to talk about possible roles, or even specific types of employers you find interesting. If you don’t know names of specific employers you might explore, then be sure to ask, “Given I really enjoy supporting these types of missions, what types of employers are doing work in this space?”

The next step in your career should be an exciting one. You now have a rare opportunity to take a step back and focus on the things that are most important to you. Keep your timeframe short, and be open to the possibilities in front of you. Good luck!

Jason Levin founded Ready, Set, Launch, LLC®, www.readysetlaunch.net, after a career in brand management at Unilever, consulting at Accenture and employer branding sales at Vault.com. Career and outplacement coaching is his passion, and he guides executives and mid-career professionals of all backgrounds through career transitions, even into retirement. Jason works with his clients to land that next job, get a promotion, make a career change, start an entrepreneurial venture or transition into retirement. Jason enjoys speaking on and moderating panels and presenting career management seminars and webinars at staff retreats, conferences and training sessions. Jason has appeared on WTTG Fox 5 and CTV News and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Money, Fortune and MarketWatch on career related topics. Jason is based in Washington, DC, is married to a lovely red-headed attorney and has two red-headed boys.

Related:  GUEST COLUMN: Build a Bridge for Your Laid-Off Employees as They Exit: Outplacement in Government Contracting


There is a better way. Both employers and future employees deserve an effective transition process. Thursday, July 14th 2016 WashingtonExec is facilitating a 1-day seminar for retiring government executives seeking smooth transition to industry in a non-threatening, collegial and off-the-record environment.  The Navigating Your Transition to Industry Seminar  focuses on how executives can transition effectively during the crucial first 45 days after obtaining an inaugural industry job. The sessions are geared towards GS-14 executives who plan to head to a Director and higher position in industry.

We volunteer to run these seminars because the school of “hard knocks” is really hard. Many of those who have volunteered to help scope the Navigating Your Transition to Industry Seminar believe that there is a better way for highly-qualified government executives to transition to industry then “feeling your way around in the corporate darkness”. The learning curve for organizations with senior government executives transitioning to the private sector is large; both employers and future employees deserve an effective transition process. Read on here and sign up here.

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