How to Find a Federal Government Job

US Capitol Building, Washington DC, USA.
Hisham Ibrahim / Photodisc / Getty Images

About 2 million people are employed in a government job, making the federal government America's largest employer. Only 10% of these workers are located in Washington, D.C., the rest work in federal government jobs throughout the United States and overseas. Government employees are hired in just about every career field and a wide variety of occupations.

Government Job Salary and Benefits

The salaries for most government jobs are based on a "General Schedule" (GS) pay scale.

   There are 15 grades within the salary structure, and each grade contains 10 steps.  Salaries for 2015 range from $18,161 for Grade 1, Step 1 (the lowest level) to $132,122 for Grade 15, Step 10 (the highest level).

The average salary for federal, non-postal employees was $79,030 according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Federal jobs that are hard to fill may offer special pay rates that are higher than average, and there are salary differentials based on location. In addition, there are generous benefits including health insurance, sick and vacation leave, child care and retirement savings/pension plans.

Competitive Versus Excepted Service Jobs

Competitive service jobs are all routed through USAJobs.  Candidates must take appropriate exams and abide by all of the Office of Personnel Management procedures for hiring.  Excepted service jobs are offered through certain government agencies, and those agencies are not required to advertise through the USAJobs site.

Agencies set up the screening procedures for these positions, and the process may deviate from the established OPM protocols.

Veterans Preference

Veterans Preference is a program, created under Title 5 of the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944, which helps veterans advance into federal employment. Veterans are entitled to preference over others in hiring and in retention during times of workforce reduction.

Additionally, veterans are given extra points on the entry-level Civil Service Exam. Veterans’ Preference does not apply to promotions, reassignments, or transfers.

Candidates for Veterans’ Preference must meet the following requirements:

  1. Have an honorable or general discharge.
  2. Military rank must be lower than major or lieutenant commander, unless the veteran is disabled.

Levels of Veterans’ Preference

There are two levels of preference eligibility, Disabled and Non-Disabled. These levels translate into bonus points on Civil Service Exams.

Veterans are eligible on the disabled level (5 extra points) if they received a purple heart or had any service-induced disability, and eligible on the non-disabled level (10 extra points) if their active duty was one of the following:

  1. Over 180 days (other than training) after September 11, 2001 
  2. Between August 2, 1990 and January 2, 1992
  3. Over 180 days (other than training) between January 31, 1952 and October 15, 1976
  4. Receipt of a campaign badge between April 28, 1952 and July 1, 1955

    Federal Government Job Search Tips

    The best place to start looking for a government job is on the USAJobs website.

    Agency and Department Job Sites

    If you're interested in working at a specific government agency or department, you'll find career information available on the careers section of the agency web site.  Agency websites are the best place to look for excepted service positions since they may not be posted on the USAJobs site:

    Networking for Government Jobs

    Candidates should conduct informational interviews with college alumni, church, family and professional contacts who work for government agencies.  These individuals can provide insight about vacancies relevant to your background and coach you through the application process. 

    Your contacts may exert some influence upon hiring in their agency especially for exempt service positions if you impress them during your consultation.

    Read More: How to Apply for a Government Job

    There are a variety of ways to apply for a government job. In all cases, the first step is to review current openings. Then you can decide which jobs are of interest and follow the instructions on how to apply.

    How to Apply for a Federal Government Job

    The USAJOBs web site has an online Resume Builder. Users can create online resumes specifically designed for applying for Federal jobs. Resumes created on the USAJOBS resume builder can be printed from the system for faxing or mailing to employers; and saved and edited for future use.

    For many of the vacancies listed on the site, job seekers can submit resumes created through USAJOBS directly to hiring agencies through an electronic submission process.

    Regardless of the format you choose, you will need to include certain information in addition to the specific information requested in the job vacancy announcement:

    Job Information
    Announcement Number, Title and Grade(s)

    Personal Information
    Full Name, Mailing Address, Zip Code, Phone Numbers (day and evening)
    Social Security Number
    Country of Citizenship - in most cases you will need to be a U.S. Citizen
    Veterans' Preference - if you are a veteran
    Reinstatement Eligibility - if you have a previous worked for the federal government
    Highest Federal civilian grade held

    High School - Name, Address, Zip Code, date of diploma/GED

    College/University - Name, Address, Zip Code, Degree(s), and Major(s)
    List credits earned if you did not graduate

    Work Experience 
    For each job: 
    Job Title (include series and grade if Federal job)
    Duties and Accomplishments
    Employer's Name and Address
    Supervisor's Name and Phone Number
    Note whether your current supervisor can be contacted
    Start and End Dates (Month/Year - Month/Year)
    Hours Per Week, Salary

    Other Qualifications 
    Job-related training courses (give title and year)
    Job-related skills (other languages, computer software/hardware, tools, machinery, typing speed, etc.)
    Job-related certificates and licenses (current only)
    Job-related honors, awards, and special accomplishments (publications, memberships in professional/honor societies, leadership activities, public speaking, and performance awards)
    Give dates, but do not send documents unless requested.

    Double-Check Your Submission
    Carefully review your application to make sure that you have incorporated all the information required in the job announcement.  If your resume or application does not provide all the information requested on this form and in the job vacancy announcement, you may lose consideration for a job.  Proofread your document for spelling and grammatical errors.

    More Information

    Finding Federal Jobs 
    How to find government jobs online.

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