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Area of Consideration: Federal Jobs

Some Job Seekers’ Top Area of Consideration? Federal Jobs

By Amber Johnson

Corporate America’s recent tumble took jobs and confidence away from millions. New opportunities, job security, and benefits may seem scarce, but experts say you can find them all right now by taking one of the many government jobs available. Jobs in the government are on the rise for qualified workers.

Caroline King found work in late May as a veteran service representative for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the federal agency with the most job postings so far this year.
According to King, the advantages of working for Uncle Sam include “job security, fairness, constant pay increases every year, and great benefits.” She also cited diversity and the ability to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

King prepares veterans’ claims for benefits before they go on to be rated for compensation. ”I love helping people who have done noble things for the good of others. Sometimes it’s the difference between a person being homeless, or not... I feel extremely connected with the job I'm doing and why I'm doing it.”

Janet Ruck, co-author of The Guide to America’s Federal Jobs, says usajobs.gov, the official job site of the United States federal government, is a must for government job seekers.

Ruck says that there are “35,000 jobs posted on any given day.” While the focus is federal, usajobs.gov also connects to opportunities in state and local government. In addition, visitors can execute specific searches for jobs fueled by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), otherwise known as the economic stimulus package.

Which areas of the government have been boosted by an influx of stimulus funding? Ruck points to the growth in security, particularly cyber and homeland security. Overall, demand for government workers is expected to stay strong in the years to come, due to an upcoming wave of Baby Boomer retirement, according to Ruck’s book.

Competitive Status: Federal Jobs Require You to Be Qualified

The website, usajobs.gov, maintains a year-to-date list of the most in-demand job positions in the Federal government. For the month of September 2009, some of these openings, and their median annual salary according to PayScale.com, are listed below. Since required levels of experience or skill vary by position, actual salary numbers may vary, as well:

1. Office clerk, $32,457
2. Registered nurse, $61,345
3. Information technology specialist $67,082
4. Human resources specialist, $50,459
5. Civil engineer $73,151
6. Accountant $49,982
7. Social worker $53,550

Laurence Shatkin, career information expert and co-author of 200 Best Jobs for Renewing America, says that the government is strict with hiring and therefore tends to maintain a level playing field. “Everything is advertised. It’s harder to get the inside track… But networking helps, as it does with any job hunting.”

A personal connection helped King. At the encouragement of her brother, who works as a rating veteran service representative for the Department of Veteran Affairs, she emailed the relevant human resources representative to request notification in the event of an opening. It wasn’t long before she was contacted. King says, “The process was rather quick and I was hired within two weeks of my interview.”

The first step in any government application effort is simple, yet often overlooked, according to Ruck. She says, “Figure out whether or not you are qualified.” She goes on to explain that many applicants don’t take the time to thoroughly review the lengthy postings, referred to as vacancy announcements. Ruck says that if you fail to meet at least 80 percent of the qualifying criteria, it’s likely not worth the time required to apply, which usually ranges from 10 to 12 hours. 

Your next task is to analyze all sections of the vacancy announcement and tailor your resume to the specific job to make sure you keep up with competitive status of federal jobs.

Depending on the job, you may be required to submit a personal essay demonstrating that you have specific knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for the job. This essay is your opportunity to showcase your unique qualifications. In her book, Ruck covers tips for successful essays. She urges applicants to write in the first person, be concise, provide concrete examples of abilities and results, and include job-specific words found in the vacancy announcement wherever possible.

Before applying, weigh the possible downsides of government employment, recommends Shaktin. He explains, “It’s a very bureaucratic set-up… Compared to working for a small business, you may get frustrated with red tape.”

While King is happy with her job, she admits that she had to adjust to a lot of rules she wasn't used to “like restricted internet access and no visitors that don't work on site.”
Shatkin acknowledges relative job security and opportunities for training and education among government’s lures, but says, “Pay tends to be somewhat lower.”

Having spent 26 years as a commissioned psychologist for the U.S. Public Health Service, Ruck urges applicants to see government work not just as a way to put food on the table, but as a place to find purpose. This is especially important in a government job, which could span decades.

Ruck advises, “Know what you’re good at. Know what your passions are.” According to Ruck, a wide array of agencies, departments, and missions means that whatever work you’re best suited for, “It’s there in the government.”

Source: Salary data from PayScale.com. The salaries listed are median annual salaries for full-time, federal government employees with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses.

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