"Any idiot," claims Alexander Methven, "can get ahead in Washington if they use their head. There are some 386,000 jobs here in the federal government. There's no company in the world like it."

The key to a double-digit GS rating? "Tuning into office politics," the Virginia-based career consultant told a workshop on "The Politics of Job Hunting in the Federal Government."

The session was one of about 140 at last week's 11th Annual National Training Program sponsored by Federally Employed Women. The 12-year-old organization has 236 chapters in the United States and abroad.

Despite advancement "practically for the taking," says Methven -- who claims to have coached about 10,000 federal workers -- many public servants "foolishly over-rely on supervisors who promise to promote them.

"The biggest hang-up -- particularly for women, minorities and 'craftsmen/ scientist-types' -- is that they don't want to play the game. They pout, 'If they can't see me for who I am, I don't want their old promotion.'"

This atttude is "nonsense," contends Methven. "Unless you can play power politics," he adds, "I hope you never get promoted past GS-13. You'll go to a meeting, chicken out, and not bring back the bacon to your own people.

"Self-nomination is one of the most crucial points for controlling your career. You can't be afraid to say 'I want that job, that detail or that two-week course.'"

But promoting yourself doesn't mean "turning people off by telling them how great you are," he says. "You don't have to be a loud mouth. You can be low-key and promote the fact you're a competent person. Stress how you'll be a much greater help to your boss if you get whatever it is you want."

This ability is particularly important in a red-tape-wrapped bureaucracy. Advises Methven: "If you don't like ambiguity, get out of government."

Another "big mistake," he says, "is to go it alone. You have to build a cabinet of advisers."

A good "cabinet" should include three groups of people: in-house sponsors, peers and "anyone yoou know -- clergy, alumni, community leaders.

"A Ph.D. won't get you past GS-9. But if you are too young, too old, too black, too white, or have the wrong degree from the wrong school, the right sponsorship can get you in anyway.

"Good peers come in as you go down the pike and kiss your mentors goodbye. Trusted peers can monitor you, and tell you if you came across too strong in a meeting . . . or advise you if you have doubts."

Chance contacts outside the office may prove invaluable. "If you read books on an airplane you're a damn fool," says Methven. "You never know who you're sitting next to."

And don't slip on your integrity, cautions Methven, in the race up Bureaucracy Hill. "You want to be able to look yourself in the mirror, even if it's at one grade lower."

Among his other suggestions:

Be trustworthy. Information is power. If you're excluded, you're dead.

Retain your sense of humor. It doesn't hurt to be the kind of person everyone's glad to see on Monday morning.

Do your homework before an interview. Have a sponsor put in a good word, and build a "talking paper," noting how you are particularly well-suited for meeting each qualification.

Treat colleagues with respect. You may get some vital information from a person everyone else has written off.

Try to avoid showing resentment or envy of another's success. "Put a rose on the desk" of a colleague who got the promotion you wanted.

Write thank-you notes. Even if you didn't get the job, you'll be remembered.

Try for exposure and visibility.

Become a crucial subordinate to a mobile boss.

Don't waste time in a job. "Women," he says, "tend to stay too long."

How long is too long? "At Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald's, stay 10 minutes. At the White House stay as long as you can."