How to Get a Federal Government Job, From Application to Offer

The US federal government is the largest employer in the world and has its own hiring process.

This process has changed in recent years since the government added special hiring powers and skills assessments, partly out of necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to competition for talent.

This ongoing series explores the federal job application process and the ins and outs of how the government ranks, screens, and prioritizes applicants for federal employment.

Where to find job vacancies

Almost all federal positions are hired by the USAJobs Portal, which hosts thousands of government lists and processes millions of requests each year.

The key to a successful federal application starts with understanding how to use the site.

The USAJobs profile allows applicants to list their personal information — including demographic data such as race and age, which is used to track agency hiring data — and upload or create a resume.

The system also helps you apply certain filters to refine your search. For example, you can filter by jobs open to the public or those offering telecommuting.

USAJobs is not an exhaustive list. Specialized agencies, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Central Intelligence Agency, publish listings separately on their own websites, so it’s worth cross-referencing job boards with agency career pages.

Ratings are also becoming the new norm in federal hiring. A degree will soon become less important in the federal job application process, but agencies will look to other way to evaluate a candidate’s skills.

This can include real tests to quantify your skills or interviews with subject matter experts for highly specialized positions.

The federal government also uses background investigations to determine whether a candidate is fit to work for the government. This is usually the longest part of the federal hiring process, but while all jobs require screenings, not all receive security clearances.

Understanding the GS Salary Scale

The General Schedule dictates how most federal positions are classified and paid. But candidates don’t need to be an expert if they know where to look.

Series and grades are the government’s system for categorizing and defining jobs. The series is a numbered system for grouping similar occupations. For example, a nurse is part of the 0610 series.

A “note” refers to the General Hours (GS) Salary Scale – this is the level of remuneration for work.

The higher the educational level, the higher the salary. The GS pay schedule is the most common pay schedule, but there are others, including the salary scale and Special rates.

A “step” is a salary increase. In the GS salary scale, each grade has 10 steps.

Are government jobs recession proof?

Federal government jobs have the advantage of relative stability when the economy crashes. These jobs, while not always recession proof, often offer greater job security than private sector jobs, studies show.

In 2020, United StatesJobs hosted more than 330,000 job postings, facilitated 1.25 billion job searches, and enabled individuals to initiate more than 18 million federal job applications.

While by no means a recession, the COVID years have seen a major economic downturn while opportunities for frontline federal jobs, particularly in public health, increase.

The White House Office of Personnel Management is enforcing its COVID-19 Excluded Service Hiring Authority through March 2023. This allows agencies to hire directly to a position at any level for one year – with an optional one-year extension – without going through the normal competitive process, as long as this position is essential to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, it can be worth keeping that resume polished and updated even if the markets start to slump.

With reporting by Jessie Bur.

Molly Weisner is a reporter for the Federal Times, where she covers government labor, policy and contracts. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as an editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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