How to Get a US Government Job
Synopsis: Information on applying for government jobs that offer better job stability and benefits than many comparable jobs in the private sector. Applying for a government job is a little more complicated than for a job in the private sector. Your resume will need to follow a special format, and you may have additional forms to submit with your application. Most government jobs offer an automated system for checking up on the status of your application. If not, you can call the agency, but make sure you wait three weeks from the closing date listed on the vacancy announcement.
Government jobs are very much sought after because they offer better job stability and benefits than many comparable jobs in the private sector.
Many people are intimidated by the fact that they don't know how to navigate the process of getting a government job. Don't let fear of the unknown eliminate a fantastic opportunity! With an understanding of how the process works, getting a government job will seem like a walk in the park.
Finding Government Jobs
The first hurdle you have to cross is locating government jobs for which you are qualified. Because government jobs are not always posted in the same formats - or in the same places - as jobs in the private sector, most job seekers overlook them entirely.
An ad for a government job is known as a "vacancy announcement." These announcements list more than just the basic information that you would expect to find in a normal job ad. For instance, a vacancy announcement usually includes:
- Basic information
- Who can apply
- When they will start accepting applications
- When they will stop accepting applications
- Pay range
- Series and grade
- The highest grade level (promotion) available in the position
- Job duties
- Basic qualifications
- Required knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs)
- How to apply
- Conditions for employment
- Standard legal information
Where to Search
Vacancy announcements for government jobs can be found in a number of places:
- USAJOBS - The official website, which is maintained by the United States Office of Personnel Management, lists all government jobs open to the public.
- Individual government agencies - To make sure you don't miss out on the jobs that aren't announced to the public, you can contact the agencies directly.
- Newspapers and job fairs - Don't overlook the normal avenues available to job seekers! Job fairs are a particularly good resource, as many agencies attend the fairs intending to fill a position.
Applying for Government Jobs
Applying for a government job is a little more complicated than for a job in the private sector. Your resume will need to follow a special format, and you may have additional forms to submit with your application. In addition, most vacancy announcements include KSAs that applicants need to address.
Federal Resumes and Forms
You usually have two choices when applying for a government job:
- Submit a form application
- Submit a resume
The form OF-612 is the one you should use in lieu of a federal resume. However, read the vacancy announcement carefully, because sometimes a vacancy may require the submission of specific forms - whether or not you submit a resume.
If you use a federal resume, it must include the following subjects:
- Personal Information - The normal contact information, plus your SSN, veterans' preference, and federal status
- Job Information - The title, series, grade, and job announcement number of the job you are applying for
- Summary of Experience - An easy-to-scan summary for the convenience of hiring managers
- Professional Accomplishments - Similar to the "Work Experience" section of a regular resume, but with salary information, average weekly hours, and supervisor's name and number
- Education - Similar to the "Education" Section of a regular resume
- Training - Training and/or certificate programs you have completed that pertain to your career
- Other Qualifications - Separate sections for any awards, certifications, publications, and presentations that pertain to your career
"KSAs" refer to the knowledge, skills, and abilities a position requires. Many vacancy announcements list KSAs that must be answered in writing along with your resume or OF-612. When writing answers to a set of KSAs, be sure to:
- Be complete and concise. Hiring managers expect you to fully answer the KSA, but they don't want to wade through a lot of fluff.
- Echo the wording used in the vacancy announcement. Using the same terminology for specific skill sets draws an instant comparison between the position requirements and your qualifications.
- Quantify your accomplishments. Make an impact by reporting a specific dollar amount, number of hours, or percentage.
- Make your KSA easy-to-scan. The main points of your answer should be easily found at the top of the page, with more specific details listed below.
What Happens to Your Application
The process of applying for a government job is easier when you know what to expect.
Unlike a regular job, a government job requires that your application be sent through several stages of review: A human resources team will check to see that you are qualified for the position, after which a panel of experts ranks all the qualified resumes. Only the top-ranking resumes are then forwarded to the hiring manager.
Most government jobs offer an automated system for checking up on the status of your application. If not, you can call the agency, but make sure you wait three weeks from the closing date listed on the vacancy announcement.
Interviewing for Government Jobs
Interviewing for a government job is much like interviewing in the private sector. However, because the stakes are often higher and the competition more stringent, you may feel there is more pressure on you to perform well in the interview.
Nothing improves your chances of interviewing well like a little preparation.
Although you can't anticipate all of the questions you will be asked in an interview, there are a few that you will almost surely be asked. For instance, most interviewers will start out an interview by asking you to tell them a little about yourself. This is not meant to be answered on the fly. Since you know you will be asked, prepare a short synopsis about your education, your career, and your goals.
The more you practice this ahead of time, the more smoothly you can answer in the interview, and the more your confidence will show.
One fatal error many job seekers make is failing to follow up after an interview. Hiring managers want interviewees to follow up afterward, as it gives them an idea of who is truly interested in the job. Sending a short thank-you note via snail mail or email is sure to leave a lasting impression.
In addition, a thank-you note gives you the opportunity to add information about your qualifications that you feel did not get adequate coverage in the interview. You can also ask the hiring manager when you should expect to hear from them regarding the position.
Negotiating Job Offers
With any luck, you will soon get a call with a job offer. While the laws regulating government jobs do not leave much room for negotiation, you will have a little leeway to negotiate the salary and benefits offered. The important thing to remember, though, is that you did it. You impressed Human Resources, the panel of experts, and the interviewers and/or hiring manager well enough to garner a job offer.
At this point, you can look back on your job search, remember how much you dreaded it, and smile - because you now know that getting a government job is not as difficult as you had imagined.
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