It’s a new year, with many people starting a new set of resolutions. It may be eating more healthy food or getting into shape. It might be quitting a bad habit. Whatever, the resolution – the intent is the same. You resolve to be a better version of yourself. But, how many of you have resolved to gain a better version of your career?

In my experience, the average government employee does not often take time to review where they are in their career. Or, where they want to go in their career. But, if you are here reading – I think you have.

What you may not have thought about for a new years resolution is how to become a better version of yourself at work.


Last month, I read a book called The Start Up of You.

It’s about applying entrepreneurial strategies to your career. And, when I read through the introduction I thought, “Government employees aren’t going to resonate with this because most do not see themselves as entrepreneurial.”

But, I kept reading. As it turns out, I think there are some take-aways that I think are worth sharing.

If you are someone who wants to progress in your government career, here are my top two take-aways.

Better version of yourself take-away #1.

You have to differentiate yourself. Figure out what sets you apart from other professionals in your area of specialty.
Whether you are interviewing for a job or wanting to lead a new initiative – you need to help the decision maker answer the question: Why you?

Perhaps, in addition to being a strong HR professional you have a good handle on new technologies. Or, maybe you have worked in several different government agencies that have implemented a similar initiative. If so, you have diverse perspectives on what works. Additionally, you have a track record of doing the work previously. Perhaps you were a helicopter mechanic in the military and can use that past experience as an acquisition specialist for purchasing new aircraft simulators.

In my own case, I’m not just a learning professional. I’m a learning professional who also has an academic background who has conducted research and published in my niche. And, to this day I continue to try to maintain a publication record. It isn’t a requirement of my job – but it makes me different from other learning professionals in my agency.

Whatever it is that makes you unique, you need to make sure the decision makers are aware of it. And, if by chance you aren’t different – find something you can learn or acquire that differentiates you from others who do similar work. We have a prior post on some inexpensive ways to develop yourself if your agency doesn’t have the budget to send you to training.

Better version of yourself take-away #2

You don’t have to be better than all professionals – just those that are in your local niche.

This particular take away was both enlightening and a relief. It means, you don’t have to be the best project manager EVER. You just have to be the best project manager in your team or division or agency.

I’ve heard this referred to as being the big fish in a small pond. Or, said differently, it’s better to be the high achiever in a small group of comparatively lower achievers.

In some ways that sounds a bit negative. But here’s how I see it applied to myself: I don’t HAVE to be the best blogger in the universe of all blogs. I don’t even have to be the best blogger of career advice. I only have to be the best blogger of career advice for those who work in government.

Take action

So here’s my challenge to you. Resolve to:

  1. Write a list of 3-5 things that differentiate you from others. Make sure to add those things that differentiates you to your LinkedIn profile and your resume.
    1. Not sure where to start? The authors of The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career suggest that one way to get you started is to ask friends or colleagues: What would you come to me for advice about? The answers are topics that people perceive you to have expertise in – and they are also likely areas where you are differentiated from others. You could also include in this list is what you do better than others in your niche.
  2. Identify a list of 2-3 things that could differentiate you if you had them. These could be things like certificates, skills, experiences, etc.
    1. Create an individual development plan for yourself. The plan will help you gain whatever certificate, skill or experience that you identified. Check out our article on how to create an individual development plan (IDP).