Finding a job in the U.S. government is a complex process that requires greater commitment and preparation than in the private sector. Federal job applications have several unique requirements and a specific resume format to follow. Government agencies typically provide better job security and benefits, so you’ll face strong competition during your search. In this guide, we’ll provide valuable insights to help you navigate the unique aspects of federal applications and obtain a job in the U.S. government.
Benefits of Getting a Job in the U.S. Government
Federal employees often enjoy much more lucrative benefits than the private industry. Data shows that government employees receive more vacation days on average than private sector employees. Jobs in the U.S. government also tend to have a higher level of job security and better retirement pensions. Although some data suggests that private sector employees have higher starting salaries, carefully weigh the value of federal benefits to make the right financial decision for your needs.
|Length of Service
|Vacation Days Per Year
|1 to 3 years
|3 to 15 years
|15 or more years
Cons of Getting a Job in the U.S. Government
Although federal employees often enjoy better benefits and job security, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that average salaries were 24.09% higher in the private sector. There are many opportunities to advance in government agencies, but you may take a pay cut depending on your target industry. To help you make the best financial decision, carefully weigh the benefits and salaries of government and private sector employment during your job search.
Requirements for Getting a Government Job
Federal job applications have several unique requirements you’ll need to follow to advance to the next phase of the hiring process. It’s important to understand that if any of these details are missing, the government agency will likely reject your application.
Be sure to specify each piece of information, even if it doesn’t apply to you.
- Citizenship: You must specify that you’re a U.S. citizen to apply for federal jobs. Applicants with work visas and green cards are ineligible for those positions but may pursue state or local government jobs.
- Veteran’s preference: You’ll need to declare whether or not you qualify for veteran’s preference, regardless of whether or not you previously served in the military. If you do, specify the number of points, which are determined by your years of service.
- Security clearances: If you’re a veteran with a current or former security clearance, specify the level and current status of the clearance on your resume.
- The Veteran’s Equal Employment Opportunity Act (VEOA) eligibility: VEOA is an opportunity for honorably discharged military personnel to compete for specific positions. You’ll need to declare your eligibility whether or not you’re a veteran.
- Job type: Federal government positions are categorized as either permanent or temporary appointments. Permanent jobs have no set term limit, whereas temporary appointments are typically short-term contracts or special assignments for current government employees.
- Availability, schedule, location: Be sure to mention the earliest date you can start for the position and your work schedule (full-time, part-time, contract). Also clarify your target location (city and state).
- Questionnaires and civil service exams: As part of the hiring process, most applicants are required to complete either a questionnaire or civil service exam. These requirements are contingent upon the type of employment you’re pursuing. You’ll be notified with the time of the exam and location of the testing site by the hiring agency.
6 Steps To Land Your U.S. Federal Government Job
Now that you understand some of the requirements for federal job applications, we’ll provide a step-by-step guide to help you prepare for the job search process. Having a clear goal and strategy in place will save you time and greatly increase your chances of landing interviews.
- Step 1: Create your account on usajobs.gov. Start by selecting your email, password, and authentication method. Next, fill out the necessary information to build your profile.
- Step 2: Decide your career path. Evaluate your interests and job announcements to identify the best fit for your long-term career goals.
- Step 3: Build an accomplishment-driven federal resume. Ensure that your application meets the requirements for federal job applications and provides a compelling overview of your professional experience.
- Step 4: Analyze the description of each job announcement. Align your federal resume with correct job requirements, qualifications, and keywords.
- Step 5: Monitor the status of your application on usajobs.gov. Set up daily alerts to keep track of your referred and non-referred applications.
- Step 6: Prepare yourself for the interview. Practice sample interview questions with a friend, colleague, or career coach to refine your pitch and increase your comfort level.
Step 1: Create a USAJOBSs Account
The first step in applying for federal employment is to create your account on usajobs.gov. This is the only website you can use to apply for positions in the U.S. government, so avoid third-party sites. After selecting your username, password, and authentication method, build your profile. Although some information is optional, include as much as possible to enhance your job search results. Usajobs.gov utilizes your profile to provide you with jobs that match your field and qualifications.
Step 2: Decide Your Career Path
Before you begin applying to job announcements, take the time to identify your career path. Determining the right career path is important, as you don’t want to find yourself in a long-term commitment that doesn’t align with your future career goals. Start by asking yourself what you’re passionate about within your field and why you want to work for a specific government agency. For instance, if you’re a data science professional who’s interested in the environment, you might want to pursue a job with the EPA that involves analyzing environmental data trends. Below, you’ll find a list of common government positions you can apply for:
Step 3: Build Your Federal Resume
Federal resumes differ from public sector resumes in many ways. In addition to listing citizenship, veteran’s benefits, job type, work schedule, VEOA eligibility, and target location, include all of your past work experience and education. This means your document will require much more time and effort to complete. As you build your federal resume, keep a strong focus on your accomplishments. Government hiring agencies are often more thorough than hiring managers in the private sector, so it’s worth putting the time in to refine your content. For more information, visit our federal resume building guide.
Feature volunteerism and community service
As a civil servant, community service and volunteerism are typically much more important for U.S. government jobs than in the private sector. Include all of your past community service on your resume, and consider volunteering for new initiatives to bolster this section of your document. Volunteerism is especially impactful for government jobs that involve daily interactions with the public, as agencies will want to see examples of your involvement in the community.
Should you list job salaries on a federal resume?
Job announcements sometimes ask applicants to include salary information for past jobs. Omitting this information won’t disqualify you from the applicant pool in most instances, but there is another option available. Rather than listing the exact salary you held, you could instead feature a range. Ultimately, government jobs tend to provide lucrative benefits and compensation to their employees, so you can include your past salaries if you’re comfortable. It is best to also make this determination based on the specific wording of the job announcement.
Include your GPA for all degrees
One common mistake that job seekers make while pursuing government employment is omitting GPAs from the education section. Even if your GPA was lower than you’d prefer, include this information on your resume. Government agencies often ask for transcripts, and it’s likely they’ll obtain your GPA regardless of whether or not it’s in the document. Being transparent is a much better approach when applying for a federal job.
LinkedIn | Portfolio
123 Congressional Drive, Washington, D.C., 12345
A security intelligence analyst with over 10 years of experience analyzing high-level security threats, evaluating political risks, and providing corporate intelligence. A strong history of performing research to gather corporate intelligence across Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Top Secret Level Clearance, Active
Country of citizenship: United States of America
Veterans’ preference: 5-point preference
VEOA eligibility: Yes
Availability: December 1, 2022
Job type: Permanent
Work schedule: Full time
Target location: Washington, D.C.
Senior Security Analyst, Cadence Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C.
July 2016 – present
- Define global research for a global business intelligence firm delivering high-level insights on political risks and corporate intelligence for government security agencies
- Manage, build, and develop a 20-person intelligence research department conducting due diligence and risk analysis on international markets and sensitive political issues
- Perform analysis on confidential financial data and coordinate with the corporate intelligence team to identify trends and uncover fraudulent activity
Business Intelligence Analyst, Centerline Technologies, Washington, D.C.
October 2013 – July 2016
- Managed business intelligence operations for a premiere technology company, translate complex data sets into business reports, and conduct analysis on long-term market and financial trends to support data-driven decision-making
- Identify opportunities to enhance data visualization for corporate leadership by implementing a new dashboard to consolidate business intelligence insights
Business Intelligence Analyst, Desmond Pharmaceuticals, Washington, D.C.
May 2011 – October 2013
- Coordinated with the business intelligence team to perform data analysis on research findings, financial indicators, and forecasting to identify business trends and risks for five pharmaceutical product lines
- Created business intelligence reports for senior management and business leaders
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Business Intelligence
George Washington University, Washington, D.C., September 2007 – May 2011
High School Diploma
Benjamin Banneker High School, Washington, D.C., September 2003 – June 2007
- Corporate intelligence
- Business intelligence
- Due diligence
- Political risk analysis
- Security intelligence
Step 4: Analyze the Job Announcements
When a new government position becomes available, a job announcement is made to alert potential candidates about the opening. Start by carefully reviewing the vacancy announcement to ensure your resume is properly aligned with the posting, both in terms of keyword optimization and qualifications. Also determine whether or not your level of experience is sufficient for the grade of the job announcement.
Apply to job announcements that match your grade
Job announcements are classified under grades to reflect the different qualifications, education, and level of experience required for the position. It’s important not to over apply for grades that exceed your current qualifications. If you find one or two openings you’re interested in that require a higher level of experience, that’s acceptable. However, if a government agency is seeing frequent applications for these senior-level positions, it may negatively impact your chances of securing jobs you’re fully qualified for.
GS-1-2 announcements are considered entry-level positions for high school graduates lacking relevant work experience. If you possess experience but lack a degree, you’re eligible for GS-3-5 jobs. Recent college graduates can pursue GS-5 announcements if they have the right degree. Professionals with experience should apply for GS-7-9 grade job announcements. All remaining grades up to GS-15 are meant for senior-level professionals with advanced experience and degrees.
Step 5: Monitor Referral Status After Applying
After you submit your application, the government agency will review your resume and supporting documentation. If your qualifications have impressed the agency, your status will change to “referred” and you’ll move on to the interview phase. If the agency decides to pursue other candidates for the opening, your status will be changed to “not referred” and you can begin looking for other vacancies. You can also set up daily alerts to better stay on top of these changes.
Step 6: Prepare for the Interview
If you’ve successfully advanced to the interview, conduct preparations to maximize your chances of landing the job offer. Government jobs typically have three to four interview phases and it can take time to get through them all. One way to prepare is to practice your responses to sample interview questions with a friend, colleague, or career coach. This will help you become more comfortable in an interview setting and give you an opportunity to refine your pitch.
Why do you want to work for the U.S. Department of Energy? How can you help us expand clean energy throughout our communities on a federal level?
As an executive within the energy industry, I’ve centered much of my career around the implementation of green energy alternatives. In my previous role, I successfully reduced carbon content by 25% in customer energy portfolios by procuring a mix of onshore wind, solar, and nuclear energy resources. I want to join the Department of Energy to support clean energy initiatives on a national level.
Additional Tips To Get a Job in the U.S. Government
Consider pursuing an internship or fellowship
If you struggle to land interviews for government jobs, consider applying for an internship or fellowship. Not only will this bolster your resume, it’ll also provide you with a unique opportunity to network with government employees. You can review a wide variety of fellowships and internships in the U.S. government on careers.state.gov.
Acquire strong references
Many companies in the private sector neglect to follow up on references, but government hiring agencies are much more thorough. The U.S. government conducts extensive background checks on their candidates to verify their identities, and this includes following up on references. To increase your chances of landing the interview, be sure to get your best references in place before you start applying.
Only apply for government jobs on usajobs.gov
While searching for government jobs online, you may accidentally find yourself on a third-party website that offers a paid service to help you apply for federal job openings. These sites are scams and should be avoided entirely, as your personal information could be at risk. You can only apply for government jobs directly on usajobs.gov, so make sure that you’ve entered the address correctly, as copycat sites are designed to be deceptive.
U.S. Government Job Resources
- USA JOBS Help Center
- U.S. Department of Labor Tips for Applying for Federal Jobs
- U.S. Department of State Professional Fellowships
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