Why It Takes so Long to Hear Back on a Government Job

It might be days or it might be several weeks

Waiting by the phone.
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It can seem like forever between the time you submit a job application and when you finally receive a response. Why does it take so long, particularly with government jobs? 

It happens because there are many steps in the government hiring process and there's generally no set deadline or time by which this entire process takes. The waiting period from applying to receiving a final answer depends on several factors, but if you hear nothing after a really extended period of time, it means you most likely aren't in consideration for the job.

Is It a Vacant Position?

Whether the position is currently vacant or is expected to become vacant in the near future can have a significant effect on the time frame. The agency has an incentive to speed up the process when it's attempting to fill a vacant position. It has more time to sift through applications if that's not the case and it knows well in advance that an employee is leaving.

The Organization Wants to Be Thorough 

The organization also has an incentive to be thorough, and adequately reviewing each and every candidate can slow down the process, particularly during times of high unemployment when numerous applications might be received.

It can take a long time to correct the situation if the person who's hired turns out to be a poor fit, especially in government where agencies protect employees from unfair personnel actions. Many agencies take the position that it's better to take plenty of time for review in the beginning rather than spend even more time straightening out a mistake later.

 

If You Don't Make It Past the First Screening

It could be only a week or two after the application closing date that you get a rejection letter if you're screened out of the selection process when the agency's human resources department reviews all applications for minimum requirements. The good news is that you generally receive this news relatively quickly, so take heart if you're still waiting after a couple of weeks...although not much longer than that.

A Month of Silence

If you don’t hear back after a month, you can most likely forget about that job. The agency could be interviewing other candidates and might notify all applicants that they weren't selected after they choose the new hire. But don't delete electronic copies of the application materials you sent because there's still a slight chance that you’re in the running—you might be next on the list if those in front of you don't work out.

If You're a Finalist

If you're selected as a finalist, you should hear back within about three weeks to set up an interview. You should hear back on the agency's final selection within another week or two after the interview. This timeline might be stretched out quite a bit, however, if the agency offers the job to someone else and that candidate winds up rejecting the offer, such as because salary negotiations didn't work out. If you get a job offer after waiting about a month or so after the interview, this is likely what happened.