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Applying for a Job with the Federal Government

Applying for a Job with the Federal Government


The federal government is the nation's largest employer and only 15% of those jobs are located in Washington D.C. That's the good news. On the flip side, the federal government is a vast multi-pronged entity with complex rules and regulations for hiring qualified applicants. 


This series of articles will provide job seekers with bite- sized tips that will hopefully demystify the process.


Let's start with the application process.  Don't expect this to be a quick or painless endeavor. You have to be prepared to sort through hundreds of job announcements and really review the procedures and deadlines for each application. You also have to be prepared for the whole process to take months, not necessarily weeks. However, you'll be excited to see that the government hires people at all levels of experience, from inexperienced high school graduates to experienced college graduates. Veterans are also highly sought after in all federal agencies, as are people with disabilities.


Salaries with the government are comparable to corporate America and offer locality pay which assures the salary will reflect that area's cost of living. The government is also known for strong employee benefits, which are the same for every employee and they have sick days and paid vacation time that increases over the years. Their retirement benefits are secure and based on salary and years of service, with health benefits that continue into retirement. 

There are two classes of jobs with the Federal Government:

Competitive Services jobs: These jobs fall under the jurisdiction of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and are subject to civil service laws passed by Congress. These laws are in place to ensure that all applicants receive fair and equal treatment. These laws may make it feel as if the entire process is extremely cumbersome, but it also ensures that the best qualified candidate gets interviewed based on job-related criteria.

Excepted Service agencies: These agencies set their own qualifications and requirements. They are not subject to the appointment, pay, and classification rules found in Title 5, US Code, which outlines the role of government organization and employees in the United States Code. However, they are subject to veterans' preference. Some Federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Central Intelligence Agency, have only excepted service positions. You will find that many other agencies may have some divisions or even specific jobs that may fall under the excepted from civil service procedures.  These job postings should be clearly marked for the job seeker.


To understand your own eligibility for Competitive Services jobs, you should understand the basics that these agencies usually choose from.  The foundation of competition starts with a competitive list of eligibles.  This record lists the applicants (in their rank order) who meet the qualification requirements for a specific vacancy announcement. You'll always find a detailed list of qualifications under the "Qualifications & Evaluations" tab in job postings on USAJOBS.  If these aren't clearly defined in your application, you will most likely not make it to the top of that rank order.


Finally, agencies in the competitive service are required by law and OPM regulations to post vacancies with OPM whenever they are seeking candidates from outside their own workforce for positions lasting more than 120 days. These jobs are posted on Excepted agencies are not required to post their job announcement in USAJOBS. To learn about these job opportunities, you must go to their individual websites.