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Tips for Applying to Federal Jobs

This is a good time to check out the federal landscape. Budget cuts and employee morale are not ideal right now; federal applyhowever, with over 2 million federal employees and about a quarter of them eligible for retirement, the odds are in your favor. It will require patience, but it will also require careful navigation through the confusing elements of the system. Federal hiring managers have to sort through large volumes of applications, so they have every right to narrow the selection when candidates overlook items. Here are five tips for applying for a federal government job.

1. Know what is out there for you.

The federal government is huge. See if you can locate a position that matches your skills and qualifications. Is it a good fit for you?  Get an idea of what the agency is all about-what is their mission and strategic plan? If you are not clear if the agency is right for you, do more research . Identify your preferred agencies, and then determine what they are looking for.  Do they need someone with your talents? 

2. Search on the most applicable sites.

Federal agencies are required to list job openings on public sites – with some exceptions. While USAjobs.gov is the starting point, it’s good to explore the specific agency website.  If you click here you will find links to each agency website. or agency specific sites. Don't assume USAJobs.gov has every single job posted by every agency-it does not. Agency internship programs, special exempt programs and other unique positions are often not listed there.

3. Be very clear in your understanding of the government’s job posting to see if it is what you really want.

  • Make sure you qualify for the job by the job series. Check out USAJOBS’ list of job series by college major to see what you do qualify for. The comparison of necessary credentials for the job is quite clear when submitting an application without anyone on the inside helping you.
  • Next, understand what grades you qualify for and where you fall within each grade. This one is a little more difficult to understand. A little prior work will ensure you are only applying for positions that are within your pay grade. Don't waste anyone's time applying for a GS/9 position, thinking you can negotiate your way to a GS/13 – that will not work.
  • Third, figure out if the job is open to everyone. Just because a job is posted, doesn't mean that someone on the inside already has the job-this happens a lot. The posting should indicate if it open to all citizens, current federal employees, or employees at that particular agency. If there is only one opening posted or the posting is only up for a week, then the chances are the position may already be filled. Don't get discouraged-move on!

4. Be thorough with your application and do everything that is asked.

Do the very best you can on the writing assignments to make sure you are using new and different examples and you are meeting the key words with those examples. Customize your resume for federal positions and include the words that are in the job description’s duties, qualifications, and requirements sections in your resume. Most agencies are seeking to simplify the application process, which means the resume is becoming more important. Don't overlook any careless mistakes, they could cost you the job.  Proofread-proofread-proofread!

5. Network with anyone who can help-especially those working in federal government.

Your network could provide you with information about the application process. Knowing the right person can go a long way.  That doesn’t mean this process is easy, it simply means it can help you understand what is required.

There are other ways to work with the federal government without being a federal employee. Consulting companies offer plenty of opportunities to work with the federal government and ways to have a positive impact. Also public service is worth pursuing.  Finally you could explore contracting opportunities. An on-site government contractor job could be the most efficient way to make the necessary connections to make the cross over from private sector to public servant.

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