ClearanceJobs recently sat down with Love Rutledge, host of the FedUpward podcast. She discussed how she’s found success in a nearly 20-year career with the federal government, how to find opportunities for lateral assignments and upward mobility, and some of the most popular topics she’s tackled on the podcast, including episodes about navigating fertility issues as a federal employee, meeting management, and performance appraisals.
Lindy: Hi, this is Lindy Kyzer and welcome to this episode of ClearedCast. Today we have a fun chance to do a chat with Love Rutledge who hosts the FedUpward podcast. It’s a really cool podcast that really dives into issues relating to the federal workforce, career advice, strategies, topics that you don’t necessarily see talked about other places. Love is talking about at the Fed Upward podcast, giving kind of an encouraging take on federal employment and advice for federal fellow employees who are in this space. So thank you Love so much for your time and for chatting with me, I really appreciate.
So first, I just kind of wanted to ask you what got you started in doing the podcast? And why did you decide that there was kind of a need for your voice in this space, and what are you hoping to accomplish with the things that you discuss?
Love: Yeah, so I started the podcast in the fall of 2019. It had kind of been on my mind for a while. I had a lot of issues during both of my pregnancies while I was working for a federal agency. I couldn’t find the resources that I was looking for. And there was no one-stop-shop. You know, one person who could answer my questions, who was able to really explain where to go for resources, how to schedule a leave plan, how to get access to the nursing mother’s room, how to get closer parking? All these different things were controlled by different parts of the organization. And I was super frustrated, because it took a lot of my time to figure this out. And I kept thinking, there’s got to be a million other women who’ve been through this. Right? And other supervisors besides mine who have been through this, who didn’t know how to advise me. And there was really no one there.
I created a resource and sent it to my HR organization. And lo and behold, a couple of weeks later, they cleaned it up, made it look much better, and they published it. And I thought, well if I can get word out on this issue in this way. Are there other issues that need clarification, where people are looking for resources and they just don’t know where to find them across the federal government? Because people are experiencing so many of the same issues in different departments and agencies, but we don’t know how to connect with one another. That was kind of the problem that was on my mind. And when I went to the internet and looked for resources, I found a lot of great websites, but most of them were not focused on the day to day issues that federal employees are facing. And that’s really what I wanted to tackle with my podcast.
Lindy: You definitely seem to have a female focus to what you’re talking about too, specifically with advice for pregnant feds. And then for fertility issues for folks in federal government. So why have you tapped into those issues specifically as well?
Love: I just haven’t found resources on those specific issues out there and so they’re the kinds of things that people were asking me about. I definitely had issues cobbling together a leave plan and those kinds of things when I was pregnant. I had another federal employee reach out to me and say, “Hey, kind of related to that, I had these issues struggling with infertility, and I really learned a lot. I think I can help other people by sharing this information.” And just like with the struggles I had during my pregnancy, I think people struggled with infertility, and it’s not something people want to talk about. Right? And there’s a stigma about asking those kind of questions in the workplace. And so I just felt like I could make time and space available for people to share those kinds of ideas. I didn’t set out to be focused on women’s issues specifically, but two of my first 10 episodes did have those kinds of issues discussed. And I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on them. That people appreciated it because there really isn’t another place to go to get that kind of information.
Lindy: I think hearing, like you said, from somebody who’s kind of been through the process, that peer learning can be big. Especially there’s usually policy, you would think, governing all this information. But it’s always surprising to me how even within the federal government that policy is not easy to find. And sometimes people think if you work there it’s easy to find. But as you said, like even if you work there, it’s sometimes hard to find the policy and documentation you need.
Love: Absolutely, and every agency and department is a little bit different. They have a little bit different take and spin on their individual instructions or guidelines about each of these issues. But there are some overarching themes that just don’t change between agencies and departments. And if we can share best practices across those organizational boundaries, then obviously it benefits everyone. So again, this is on my own time, it’s not in my official capacity as a federal employee. I have been a federal employee for just short of 20 years. And so I feel like if I can pass on some of the knowledge and information that I’ve learned to help other people, then that’s a great thing for me to be able to pass on to kind of the next generation of federal employees
Lindy: And that is awesome that you’ve been a federal employee for almost 20 years. In this era of job hopping, we kind of talk about that a lot at ClearanceJobs. And even the agencies, the intel community has this whole plan for kind of the on and off ramping, and how to encourage people who are maybe coming from the private sector to pursue federal employment. Maybe speak to that, what kind of has kept you with federal government despite the challenges that might sometimes exist?
Love: Sure. I’ve had a lot of great experiences and opportunities through my career, but certainly there have been challenges. And times when I’ve questioned do I want to jump to the private sector or not? I do have a security clearance myself and obviously that’s very valuable in the private sector marketplace. But I have found the public service mindset and the mission of the organization I work for just has a really strong pull. And I feel really good working for the department that I have been in for my entire career. I’ve jumped around to a lot of different parts of the department. So there’s a lot of diverse job opportunities. So that’s one thing to be able to stay within kind of the same organization, organizational structure from a macro perspective, but get a lot of different types of experience. And then to be able to stay in this geographic area.
I’m in the DC area, and that has been important to me as I have gotten married and started a family. And again, I’ve just had the opportunities to work with really great people. And to get two master’s degrees along the way that the government has funded. Because it behooves my employer to kind of get me that educational experience too. So those have all been great opportunities. And again, the mission can’t be beat. And I think a lot of people who work in the public sector, for them it really is the draw. They have either a history, a family history of public service, or they just have a heart for serving the country. And I think so many of my peers feel the same way.
Lindy: So you give a perfect testimonial for why any employer would be good. And in your case, it’s the federal government, but they’ve recognized your talent. They’d given you inward mobility, and lateral assignments, and opportunities to explore new things. Giving you those two master’s degrees and in return they’ve kind of gotten your loyalty. So that’s a great testimony for the benefits of federal employment. And I love to hear that. Did you have to push to get those kind of lateral assignments or to change up your day to day? Were those presented to you like from your supervisors?
Love: Yeah, a little bit of both. But I would say there’s no better advocate for you and your careers than you, right? So no matter how great your supervisor is. No matter how fantastic a talent management structure there may be in your organization, nobody is going to just hand you those kind of opportunities. You really got to go and seek them out, and do the networking through organizations like yours, ClearanceJobs. And kind of figure out what’s out there and then seek out those opportunities on your own. That’s been my experience, that networking, knowing people across a variety of organizations. And literally just asking around about what’s available, what places are the best to work in terms of work environment, in terms of the mission, and the kinds of products that are produced there. And then just going after those opportunities. And the same thing with educational opportunities.
I found in my career that some of those really great opportunities for training and education are not going to be presented to you on a platter, right? You’ve got to go and seek them out. And for me with the master’s degree program that I did while I was still a federal employee, I had the opportunity to do that because I stalked the tasking system in my organization every week for six months looking for keywords for tasks that came out. Going to organizations to say, “Hey, here’s the call for nominations.” And then once it came out, I was the first one on it.
I had my package already ready to go, and I was able to submit it and meet all the requirements that were in the official tasking that came out through my organization. Even if those things don’t float down through your supervisor, there’s no reason you can’t go and find them. So that’s an important piece of advice I have for all federal employees. Because sometimes we get lost in all the levels of leadership and the bureaucracy. And sometimes the information just doesn’t flow as well as we would like. Not because anyone is plotting in some nefarious way to keep you down, or keep you in a specific position. But everybody has a job to do and sometimes that administrative information gets lost in the shuffle. So go out and look for it.
Lindy: I mean that’s a great point. And we say that in private sector for all the time. That you’re your own career advocate, you’re not going to get promoted without being aggressive and assertive and finding those opportunities. And I think sometimes we forget that the same applies in public sector. If you work for the federal government, if you’re just waiting for the next step increase, your career is not going to progress the way you probably want it to.
Love: Absolutely. I mean you can maintain the status quo, but you’re not going to really flourish unless you go out and make those opportunities for yourself.
Lindy: And you spoke a little bit about taking advantage of your network, talking to other people about opportunities. How have you kind of built a network within the federal government space? Do you build a network within your agency? I think I came from an army background and that was always a little bit awkward with the chain of command structure. And I know sometimes in the government it can seem that way and you even kind of spoke to that. Like there are so many different levels of authority, is anybody off limits when it comes when it comes to mentors or networking? Or how have you kind of navigated that piece of it?
Love: I definitely reach out to peers across organizations, and this is going to sound silly. But the first four different jobs I had within the federal government all came from knowing people that I met through playing in a softball league of all things. So you never know where you’re going to find those connections, right? But if you get involved in some of those extracurricular activities outside of work and make social connections, that can really help you in your career. So that was one way of getting out and having fun with groups of people, and then kind of learning about what they do and where they worked.
I have made a point in every organization that I have worked in at least for the past 10 years or so, to find the senior most female civilian in the organization I work for. And reach out and say, “Hey, I would love to look to you as a mentor, get time on your calendar when it’s available, and talk to you about opportunities across the organization.” And I’ve never had anyone say no. So again, I think just asking the question opens a lot of doors, because most people are willing to make that kind of time and space for you if you are interested in progressing or moving on to a different type of job.
Lindy: Yeah, that’s a great point. With the hidden job market, we talk about that all the time and people are always surprised, “Like ClearanceJobs, you’re talking about the hidden job market?” I was like, “Yeah.” The networking piece of it is big and we’ve always emphasized that part of ClearanceJobs. It’s not just people posting jobs and applying. It’s people building community and networking, because that’s the way people find jobs, and even in the federal government. So tell me a little bit more, we’re going to link to a few of the podcasts on ClearanceJobs, but if somebody is kind of new to the podcast, is there one podcast that they should check out first? One topic that you really emphasize?
Love: You’ve already talked about a couple of episodes that were kind of more focused on women’s issues and that kind of thing. Again, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about those. But if you’re not interested in those kinds of issues, I had an episode about meeting management. Which is something that we all sit in terrible meetings all the time. Right? And I think one of the issues that the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted, is how often we could actually achieve our objective either via email, or over the phone, and not have to sit in a boring, tedious face to face meeting. Right? So I did an episode about how to manage good meetings. Just some basic principles and tactics that we could all be served by if we were to implement them.
And then another recent episode was about performance appraisals and how to approach appraisal conversations with your supervisors, and how to solicit feedback that is actionable. And that’s something I think we all struggle with in the federal government. Because as much as we have systems in place for performance appraisals, sometimes it’s hard to focus on them. And make the time when we’re busy with whatever our missions are, to actually sit down and think about what you’ve accomplished during a given year. How to highlight without bragging about your accomplishments, but how to highlight the things that you’ve done well and the products that you’ve produced. And how to make sure that you’re taking credit for the work that you’ve done during the year. So I think that’s something that everyone in your community could probably benefit from.
Lindy: Those are always two hot topics. How to do your job better, how to manage meetings, and then the talent management performance appraisal review process, making it actually a career development opportunity versus a check the box opportunity. Awesome. We’ll ask folks to check out the podcast and we’ll have more information in the article. Anything else I didn’t ask about or touch upon that you wanted to make sure we discussed?
Love: Well I would just say if folks want to find me, you can find me on the internet at FedUpward.com. And I would love your feedback on the podcast and any specific issues that this community is interested in hearing more about, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions. I’m really eager to hear what you guys had to say.