“Rank and file…”

In another thread, someone asked about examiner reactions to the job-satisfaction rankings for federal jobs that were recently published. Initially, I just responded within the thread, but since I didn’t have anything else to post today, I thought I’d go ahead and turn it into a post.

potential examiner asked:

Hi Relativity,

Can you shed some insight on how the new examiners have reacted to the PTO’s ranking among government agencies? It is not very positive and from an outsider, it would seem like a depressing place to start a career.

Well, POPA is doing their job, and I won’t comment on their analysis of the rankings.

I haven’t heard anyone else muttering about the rankings, to be honest with you. Let’s be clear: rankings are totally irrelevant when it comes to whether or not YOU enjoy the job as an individual. Rankings are great for trying to influence change in policies, salaries, etc. Rankings are good for figuring out what employees do and don’t like about the job. But unless something is actually changed by someone, the rankings don’t mean a whole lot.

There are some people who just won’t like the job, no matter what. These are people who don’t like to write, who want hands-on engineering or lab work, or who prefer looser, non-equation based accountability for their work. This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things – the sooner they find out the job isn’t for them, the better off they probably are.

Then there is the spectrum of people who can barely stand the job, those who are content, and some who love it. Same as with any job, really.

In all fairness, I found the interview process to be very upfront. No one tried to convince me that this was the job for me – everyone involved was very clear that this is a job for some but not all.

But I can say that the PTO has a lot of benefits that other agencies don’t have, and I won’t even attempt to guess why those benefits didn’t translate into higher rankings. I’ll list a few:

  1. High pay scale. PTO pays well compared to other agencies, especially for people coming straight out of college.
  2. Bonuses. I have a lot of friends who work for the federal government in other agencies, and none of them get bonuses.
  3. Ability to become GS-14 within 5 years. Many agencies cap the number of GS-13s and 14s that they will promote. You have to wait for someone to die or retire.
  4. Overtime. A lot of agencies don’t want you doing a lot of paid overtime. Why? Because it is difficult for them to know if you’re actually being productive during that time. Since the PTO is production centered, it is easy to know if you’re living up to your end. SPEs are happy for you to work overtime, assuming you’re doing the job well.
  5. *Flexible Schedule!* Not so much during the Academy, but after you leave, your schedule becomes very, very, very flexible, as long as you’re able to work independently. I had friends in other agencies swearing to me that I was wrong about the schedule, and that *surely* you have to declare your hours for the quarter. Nope. Your time can vary by the day. Just get your 80 hours in per biweek
  6. Lots of reading, writing, and researching. For some people this is a negative. For others, it is great. It’s individual.

Please don’t mistake me for a Pollyanna. Like any job, there can be negatives, and I am not exactly a veteran employee with lots of experience on the job. But I’ll let other people speculate on those issues.

So while I’m sorry that I can’t give you a more direct answer to your question, I hope this helps.

Here’s my advice to you, for whatever it is worth: take a look at your own strengths and weaknesses, talk to people who have done the job for awhile, and ask them about the qualities that lead to success or failure in the office. Ask them about what they like and what they don’t like. Talk to people who will be in the art unit you’ll be going into to get a more accurate feel. Go ahead and attend a job fair, and/or have a conversation with the SPE who interviews you.

In my humble opinion, that kind of information is worth much, much more than any ranking chart or survey.


5 thoughts on ““Rank and file…””

  1. The survey results are worthless anyway as it’s a bad sample- about half the respondents indicated they were managers. Obviously half of the employees at the PTO are not managers.

  2. You don’t need a survey to tell you something is wrong when the PTO hired 1,200 people and lost 510 in fiscal year 2006… Office actions used to be a single page long… it is sad to see examiners with advanced degrees, such as mba’s and law degrees, who find their job to be very difficult due to the unfair and outdated production standard that is set by the PTO.

  3. Is that true? 1200 hires and 510 lost? Were they fired or did they just leave? I was considering applying for an examiner position, but I dont want to destroy my career!

  4. Yes, the figures are on page 2, left column of the popa newsletter http://www.popa.org/pdf/newsletters/2007_07.pdf

    But it doesn’t say how they left. I know at least 2 primary examiners (one who had worked at PTO for 7 years) who had left b/c of production/workflow, which is basically a “report card” you get every 2 weeks measuring how much work you produce within the biweek.

    If you can handle the workload, it’s a pretty good job. If you can’t, it becomes pretty miserable.

    Before you apply, I would talk to both current examiners and those that have left in order to get a better understanding of the production/count system.

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