How to Get U.S. Government Jobs
Uncle Sam’s complex hiring process is far different from the private sector, experts say, but if applicants heed federal employment tips, it’s not impossible.
By Kristina Cowan, Senior Writer, PayScale.com
Have you ever wondered how to get U.S. government jobs, only to retreat in fear of a dreaded civil service exam?
If so, you're not alone, experts say. Dennis V. Damp, author of "The Book of U.S. Government Jobs: Where They Are, What's Available & How To Get One," says one of the biggest misconceptions people have is about such a test. "Over 80 percent of all jobs do not require a written entrance exam. Uncle Sam rates most applicants through an extensive review of their work experience and/or education that is stated on their application or federal style resume," according to the book.
Clearing up such misconceptions-and learning other useful federal employment tips-can put applicants on a successful path to a U.S. government job, experts say.
Applying for U.S. Government Jobs
Pursuing U.S. government jobs is very different from what applicants are accustomed to in the private sector, Damp explains, and it's critical to understand the differences.
Applicants must submit an in-depth federal style resume or the Optional Application for Federal Employment. In some cases they also have to complete Occupational Questionnaires and Knowledge, Skills & Abilities statements.
The resume is critical, according to Damp.
"Job seekers often submit private-sector resumes when applying for jobs, not realizing that federal style resumes require considerably more detail," he explains. They are typically three to five pages long and should include detailed work history back a minimum of 10 years if possible, education, personal information, and other qualifications.
Damp urges applicants to tailor their resume to each job, using wording that specifically shows how they meet the duties and responsibilities noted in each job announcement.
"There's no such thing in the federal sector as a generic resume," Damp says.
Apply frequently, make sure applications are grammatically accurate, and anticipate the hiring process to last between two and four months (on average) from the time you start applying, he says.
Other Federal Employment Tips
Lily Whiteman, author of the forthcoming book "How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job," says many people don't know about some federal employment tips, such as alternative paths to U.S. government jobs.
"A little-known back door to federal jobs is through contracting," says Whiteman, who works for the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va. "Also there are a lot of temp agencies that provide staffing to the federal government. A lot of people end up getting federal jobs by starting off as a temp."
A World of Perks
Though U.S. government jobs can be fraught with bureaucracy's inevitable red tape, experts say, they're often sought-after for their perks.
Damp notes in his book that, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, "The average annual federal worker's compensation, pay plus benefits, is $106,871 compared to $53,288 for the private sector." Vacation, holidays, sick-leave and retirement plans are generous, Damp says.
Recruitment and retention incentives are generous and include cash and a student-loan repayment program that lets agencies pay up to $10,000 a year of an employee's loans, and no more than $60,000 total for each employee, according to Damp's book.
Mary Levy, director for consumer information outreach at the Federal Citizen Information Center in Washington, D.C., mentions a different benefit: "people realize by being part of government, you have an opportunity to have a profound effect on the lives of your fellow citizens."
A variety of print and online resources can help with applying for U.S. government jobs. Here are some Web sites for getting started:
List of Government Careers and Salaries
Kristina Cowan has over 10 years of journalism experience, specializing in education and workforce issues.