Federal Job Search Strategies: 7 Tips to Help You Succeed


US federal government remains the largest employer in the United States. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there are currently more than 2,700,000 employees working for the federal government in civil service positions. For nearly every federal job vacancy, the number of applicants exceeds the number of available positions by at least tenfold.

Why do so many Americans aspire to a federal job? The answers are diverse. Some consider it a patriotic duty, while for others it’s an act of enlightened self-interest. Whatever your motivation, however, the benefits are significant. Simply put, Uncle Sam is an excellent boss.


Working for the federal government offers employment stability that cannot be replicated in the private sector. Once a new employee completes a predetermined probationary period (usually 1 year), lifetime employment is nearly guaranteed. Laws and regulations governing federal personnel practices make it extremely difficult to fire, lay-off, or forcibly transfer most employees. On the rare occasions when lay-offs do occur, displaced employees are given very preferential hiring treatment for similar positions that becomes available. The result is that very few federal employees have ever missed a day of work due to a lay-off. USAJobs.OPM.Gov

Fringe benefits, including an excellent retirement package, are also a major motivating factor. Health benefits for federal employees are generally better than those offered in the private sector, and the government currently picks up more of the premium costs than most private employers. For an employee enrolled in BlueCross/Blue Shield’s family coverage, for instance, the government currently pays $578 of the $771 monthly premium. Retirement benefits are based on a complicated formula that incorporates the employee’s salary, years of service and retirement age, but independent studies consistently determine that the plan is more generous than nearly all private sector employers.

Federal salaries are competitive as well. In year 2005, the average salary for all federal government workers worldwide is $60,203. Due to the salary structure and political realities, raises are virtually guaranteed every year. In January 2005, the raise was set at 3.5%. In addition, salary adjustments are made for employees in major metropolitan areas.

Federal government service also provides far more opportunity for advancement than most other employers. At the senior management level (known as the Senior Executive Service, or SES), salaries range from US$107,550 to US$162,100. There are currently approximately 7,000 SES employees in federal service.

With all of these benefits, it’s no wonder that many job seekers are trying to land a position with the federal government. While the competition is fierce, here are some key strategies that can help you in your search:

1. Check the government’s official employment web site (http://www.usajobs.opm.gov) often. Virtually every federal job vacancy is listed there, and it’s updated every day. Most vacancy announcement are only open for a period of approximately 3 to 4 weeks, and the application process can be detailed, so it’s best to check frequently so you can start working on your application as early as possible.

2. Avoid services that claim to help you land a federal job. Companies that guarantee you a federal job are scams, and these services can’t do anything that you can’t do yourself.

3. Be willing to accept a pay cut. While federal salaries are competitive, the compensation structure is such that salaries typically start low but increase quickly. Every federal job has a starting grade and a “full performance” grade. Typically, professional positions start at grade 7 in the federal pay scale (referred to as General Schedule-7, or GS-7), and increase to GS-9, GS-11 and GS-12 at 1-year intervals. For an employee in Washington, D.C., that would mean starting with an annual salary of $35,452 but earning $62,886 after three years of service (not counting the annual government-wide salary increases of approximately 3% per year).

4. Consider “trainee” positions. The term has a negative connotation, but starting in a designated trainee position can be a great way to get your foot in Uncle Sam’s door. These positions, which generally require no specific work experience, are typically filled at the GS-5 level ($25,000 – $30,000 per year). Because many federal jobs are only available to current or former federal employees, working as a trainee for a year or two often opens a lot of doors.

5. Read the vacancy announcement carefully. Procedures for applying for a federal job have been streamlined in recent years, but it’s vitally important that your follow the instructions provided to the letter. Unlike their private sector counterparts, federal hiring managers have to abide by standardized procedures without exception. For instance, they are legally prohibited from considering applications that arrive after the closing date on the vacancy announcement–even one day late. Likewise, if you don’t submit the requested documentation on time (transcripts, etc), they can’t collect it from you later.


6. Bulk up your resume. This may be good advice for any job hunter, but it’s particularly important when applying for a federal position because of the way initial GS grades (i.e., starting salaries) are determined. Many vacancy announcement can be filled at any of a few different GS grades, and the level at which a new hire is brought on board is determined by his or her years of pertinent employment history. It is a little-known secret that federal hiring managers want to start new hires at the highest grade they can justify, because by doing so they can minimize the risk of turnover. Most federal employees who leave government service before retirement do so during the first five years of their career, because starting salaries in the private sector are higher.

So, how can you help your new agency pay you more? If you’re in a position that makes it difficult to gain work experience in your desired field, remember that self-employment, if legitimate, counts as employment experience for federal hiring purposes. For instance, if you’re a stay-at-home mother with the goal of re-entering the workforce as a writer, working from your home as a freelance writer for three years would count as work experience when you apply for that federal job. Incidentally, on the date of this article there are currently 27 writing and editing vacancies listed on the USA Jobs web site!

7. Above all, don’t give up. Although the competition for federal jobs can be tough, the benefits are well worth the effort. Like any job search, most applicants can realistically expect to be turned down many times before they are offered a position. Tenacity and a positive attitude are your most vital assets.

Sean Dunagan is the president of Pinnacle Associates, a web-based resource for freelance professionals and home-based business owners. federal job

For more great information, please visit Pinnacle’s web site, http://www.pinnacleassociates.50megs.com

OPM USAJobs As a Government Hiring Tool


In the past, applying for a job with the Government required massive forms such as the 171, with its multiple pages and boxes to fill in and multiple stamps to mail. Just finding a job required a trip to the library who had the listings and the Federal Register publications. It was time-consuming and tedious, you really had to work for it and then wait patiently for a return. Today OPM USAJobs is the Government’s super-convenient user-friendly online one-stop job center. It is a well-designed website with multiple, easy to use and understand help screens and FAQ areas.

The Federal Gov is very large and layered, acronyms abound and navigation into this realm used to require much additional research and materials. Today OPM USAJobs makes the search and application process a straightforward process. The website has the necessary online forms and capabilities to develop up to five online resumes and add supplementary documents for an ongoing search and apply process.


The website easily explains many terms that a job-seeker will find as part of a job description and does an excellent job of describing the workings of being a Federal employee. The Government uses many forms and types of communications and most are described here. Processes for changing jobs within the system as well are listed. The website is easily used by those applying for jobs and those employees seeking changes or advancement opportunities.

Almost all large-scale employers today use online applications and forms for recruitment. Not all are as easily used and understood as OPM USAJobs. Many employers use a common vendor for their applications, some employers also use online “psychology” tests to appraise attitudes. These are similar to the tests that police departments use to seek out whether or not the candidate is truthful or not and use a process of asking the same question three different ways in three locations to measure consistency. USAJobs does not use this process and the candidate avoids demeaning mind-games. USAJobs.OPM.Gov

The website is at once easy to use, extremely informative and navigates simply. FAQ’s actually answer real questions which would have required in-depth research before. The reality is that the American  Government carries out large-scale work and requires specialized personnel with in-depth knowledge. USAJobs allows these candidates to provide supplementary information that further helps them make an excellent presentation. Human Capital Management has come a long way since paper forms and the Federal Register, USAJobs is an excellent resource and open door to Government service.  USAJobs.OPM.Gov

OPM USAJobs is a twenty-first century technology for a twenty-first century problem: the hiring of massive numbers of federal employees using digital means. Check out our web-site for more information.

Make USAJOBS Work for You

USAJobs.OPM.Gov –  When starting your search for a federal government job, it is important to realize that using USAJOBS to your advantage is not merely an option, it is a necessity. Even job seekers who have networked with federal managers or have completed a government internship are required to go through the process. While some agencies have started working outside the USAJOBS portal, and either use third party hosts or their own websites to post some vacancies, the processes they use are usually similar. Each agency must ensure that the federal hiring process is as objective as possible. USAJobs.OPM.Gov

It is critical to know the USAJOBS portal inside and out before beginning the federal job search and application process. Below is an overview of the site’s primary features that help ensure that you make the most of the process.

Site Overview The USAJOBS homepage provides job seekers with the ability to search for positions based on specific keywords and locations and includes buttons where users can create an account and submit resumes. OPM also uses this page to showcase specific agencies and job positions on a rotating basis. Keep in mind, however, that these featured agencies and jobs are not usually those that are actually hiring the most.USAJobs.OPM.Gov

The site’s top navigation links to six separate channels: Search Jobs, My USAJOBS, Info Center, Veterans, Forms, and EmployerServices. If you are a U.S. military veteran, you should check out the Veterans Preference Guide to determine your eligibility and how to make the most of your transition to civilian federal employment. The most important channels for new federal job seekers are the first two: Search Jobs and MyUSAJOBS.

Search for Jobs This page allows job seekers to search for positions by keyword, location, job category (i.e. career field), salary range, and GS pay grade. It is a good idea to cast a wide net when searching by location because postings are sometimes miscategorized. For instance, if you’re searching for a job in the Buffalo, NewYork area, you should select “NY-Buffalo” and “NY-Western New York” to ensure that you get a listing of all jobs available in your area. Federal agencies will sometimes include the exact geographic location of the job in the post description, but not always. If you are looking for a position in a more specific geographic area than those provided, you should enter the location in quotes in the keyword search at the top of the page (i.e. “North Tonawanda” AND “New York”).

Learn More How to Speed Up the Federal Job Hiring Process

How to Manage Your Online Federal Application

Ten Steps to Getting Hired by Uncle Sam

Searching for jobs by specific job categories can be somewhat problematic as well. Each job position is categorized under one of them, but the process is not very intuitive. Job positions are often categorized differently than they would be in a private sector job search. Again, when first orienting yourself with USAJOBS, you should err on the side of caution, and use the keyword search. Once you become more familiar with the Federal Classification System, the job category search will be more useful.USAJobs.OPM.Gov

Job seekers can also search by agency, GS series, and for senior executive positions by clicking the appropriate tab in the page’s secondary navigation. The process is similar to the basic search, but if you already know the agency or career field that you want, searching via these pages would be more appropriate.

As you go through the process, it is important to remember that federal hiring can take between 3-6 months and that the process requires a high degree of patience. Many job seekers often decide to seek work as consultants at government contractors, nonprofit think tanks, and law firms that specialize in government services.

My USAJOBS Here is where job seekers can make their job search unique by adding their personal information and becoming USA JOBS members. There is also a tool to submit your resume. This makes your resume and qualifications more accessible to federal recruiters and retrievable by the agencies that you are applying to. The process is similar to that of other job search sites. First you must create a USAJOBS account where you must provide your personal information in addition to a unique username and password.

Once you have registered, you are able to submit as many resume versions as you want and they will remain stored on your account page. Also available is a job alert function, called “Agents”, where you can type in keywords, locations, or agency-specific searches whose results would be emailed to you on a regular basis. You may create up to ten such alerts. USA JOBS keeps a log of every position that you apply for, and it will inform you if the vacancy has been filled.

What Is Most Critical? The most critical aspects of USA JOBS are creating an account and keeping abreast of when federal vacancies open. Despite the often slow pace of the federal hiring process, the earlier you apply for a federal vacancy, the more likely you are to get it. Though the postings on USAJOBS can often seem confusing and overwhelming, they remain the primary means for storing your employment information and quickly submitting it to federal agencies that you are interested in. Use GovCentral to learn more about federal gov  career fields and what agencies and cities are seeing the most government hiring, but remember that USA JOBS will be necessary to complete the process.


USAJobsOPM.Gov – Using the USAJOBS resume builder

USAJobs.OPM.Gov – Gov jobs are in such high demand there’ll be an abundance of applicants trying to get the same job that you are.

Getting a government job has always been for the cream of the crop and one factor that seems to set many applicants from others apart is the resume, but the format for the Government resume is going through change and so the need for services such as USAJOBS resume builder are now more important than ever. Lately, the Federal Government has been making a push towards making a universal format for all Government applications and so what may have been the norm last year isn’t the norm now. USAJobs.OPM.Gov

Basically the Office of Personnel Management, or the O.P.M, got together all the key Government agencies in order to come up with a resume format that encompasses all of the areas of the Federal Government. Now all critical data that is required has been structured to fit all Government resumes and the format doesn’t change. “USAJobs.OPM.Gov

This is important because there were many well qualified applicants that may have never emerged as some people are better than others when it comes to writing resumes. Now thanks to services such as USAJOBS it is now possible for anyone to be able to put together or effectively update their resume by using their resume builder. Using the USAJOBS resume builder you can easily and effectively create one Government resume that will work universally for any position that you may want to apply for.

While all the crucial criteria will remain the same, in order to get the most out of the USAJOBS resume builder you should address the following: USAJobs.OPM.Gov

• Keywords: Knowing what keywords to use is paramount. Your resume should include the proper keywords that convey how qualified you are and that also show that you contain the specific knowledge needed to effectively do your job. A god place to look for ideas on keywords is in the job announcement itself. USAJobs.OPM.Gov

• Get to the Point: Because Federal Government jobs are in such high demand there will be an abundance of applicants trying to get the same job that you are. Be sure to get right down to the point and when you are designing your resume using USAJOBS resume builder make sure that your credentials pop out within the first few seconds of the resume.

• Follow the Flow: The recent resume rule changes are what prompted the USAJOBS resume builder to be created. When using the resume builder stick to the blue print that is laid out for you. It may be tempting to stray from the formula, but that could end up costing you an interview. Go with the flow that USA JOBS resume builder provides and take advantage of the prep work that has already been done for you. USAJobs.OPM.Gov

Your Government resume may have become more streamlined in nature, but it is still the key to you standing out from all the other applicants who are going after your dream government job. Fortunately there are services such as USAJOBS resume builder that can help you to create the perfect Gov resume each and every time. Because the rules have changed in regards to the government resume format, if you have not already updated your Government resume now is the time to do so.

Jason Kay is a professional government resume writer and regular contributor to GovernmentResume.org site, which provides government resume writing tips & job application assistance.