How To Get a Government Job

The US Government is big business when it comes to its employment needs. Throughout the government’s vast network of agencies, laboratories, and departments, there are needs for virtually all skills types and degrees of experience. Federal employees enjoy excellent benefits and competitive pay, and some prospective employees find the employment stability to be a deciding factor in their decision to seek employment there. Working for the US government is more than a job, it is a career.

The process of getting a Federal job may seem daunting because government employers go to great lengths to ensure fairness in consideration and assure the capabilities of employees to do the job for which they are applying. But if you follow their procedures and are qualified, getting a US government job is very possible.

Benefits of working for the US Government

With more than 1.8 million civilian employees, the Federal Government, excluding the Postal Service, is the Nation’s largest employer according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Most Federal jobs are full time, although many organizations are beginning to offer part-time, flex-time and telecommuting positions. Your government job is likely to be in an office, although there are some positions that involve working in the field. Whatever your preference, you can find a position that meets your needs.

A government job offers a nationally recognized health insurance program, 10 paid holidays per year, 13 sick days, and 13 to 26 vacation days, depending on your years of service. Employees may also participate in 401(k) programs and may be eligible for retiree health insurance. Although salaries in the government may sometimes be below comparable positions in the private sector, the total benefit package and the added security of your position are strong incentives for applying.

Step 1

Search. Applying for a position in the US Government goes more smoothly if you have access to the internet. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management maintains a searchable database called USAJOBS that lists job openings. Although there is also a telephone-based job information system, it is more time consuming and difficult to use compared to the online version.

When searching the online database of jobs, be sure to read descriptions of tasks and requirements closely because the job title listing uses standardized and sometimes archaic skill classifications. For example, a web designer may be listed as a visual arts specialist. The job listing will contain a lot of information about the available position including salary range, work location, job duties, and restrictions, such as “requires US citizenship”.

The government provides special employment consideration for veterans who separated from active duty with an honorable or general discharge. Preference is given to veterans over non-veterans for all positions. In addition, five points are added to your score or rating if your service was during a war, military engagement or peacekeeping operations, and 10 points are added for any veteran who has a compensable service-connected disability. 10 points are also added for spouses, widows, widowers, or mothers of certain veterans. A veteran may also receive an appointment without competition in some circumstances, especially if that veteran has a service related disability of 30% or more.

The Federal employment system also has special programs to recruit Hispanics and excellent students. You can learn more about the opportunities for students at Government Student Jobs. The Hispanic Employment Initiative involves special efforts to recruit, advance, and retain qualified Hispanic candidates in the Federal workforce.

Step 2

Prepare your resume and supporting materials. Now we come to a key requirement for successfully getting a job with the US government – completing your resume. Many government positions require online applications in a specific format so that resumes and applications can be searched electronically for the key words required for the position. Therefore, when completing your federal resume, pay particular attention to the words used in the job posting and use those exact words, where appropriate, in your resume. Although you can choose to have your resume filed for future consideration, it is better to complete a unique application for each job in which you are interested. That way, you can tailor the words to that job. If you are not confident about preparing your resume, we would suggest using a resume preparation service for a generic resume that you could adapt for each job application.

Some important factors to consider in preparing your application and resume involve the Factor Evaluation System (FES) criteria used to assign grades to each position. There are nine official classification standards and you should use these as a checklist to ensure your resume is hitting the right level for the position:

  • Knowledge required for the position – How do your previous experience relate to the position you're applying for (demonstrate similarities)?
  • Supervisory levels and responsibilitiesIndependent judgment, autonomy, leading teams or training other staff are key components to demonstrate in your resume.
  • GuidelinesWhether or not you have applied law, policy or purely “sorting” functions within previous positions held.
  • Complexity – What level of complexity have you operated under in previous positions? Have you been responsible for decision-making considering variables and outcomes?
  • Scope and effect – How your previous positions have impacted on overall organizational structure (i.e. manager with regional responsibilities compared to admin responsibilities within a department).
  • Personal contacts – In previous positions, what positions within and outside of an organization did you interact with? For example, a PA may have regularly interacted with government, business and management level employees.
  • Purpose of contacts – Considers whom you talked with and what you talked about. Contacts that having a bearing on policy makers are graded higher.
  • Physical demandsRelates more to positions in the field and your ability to work effectively in various work environments with differing level of physical demands.
  • Work environment – Only matters for positions that require significant physical effort or are hazardous in nature. Otherwise this factor can be ignored.

Ensure you include important information related to these nine factors so that the “gatekeeper” (or human resource person reviewing your application) can easily assess your suitability for the position. Keep in mind though that you should always aim for a resume that is concise and four pages or less that supplies relevant and important information on your behalf.

Step 3

Interview. If you are selected for consideration as a viable candidate for a government position, then you will be contacted by an organization's representative. The rest of the path to successful government employment is no different than any other job seeking process. You should:

  • Collect more information about the position and the work environment. You should read the Position Description carefully and present your experience with those criteria in mind.
  • Use first person in describing your accomplishments and responsibilities.
  • Arrive for your interview on time and appropriately dressed.
  • Convince the interviewer that you can do the job and want to do the job. Your interviewer and those reviewing your resume will be looking to confirm your skills in the tasks required for the position, your prior level of responsibility and authority, your ability to comply with rules, laws, and guidelines, and your ability to meet the physical demands of the job.
  • Provide certification of your claims to experience and training and have proof of US citizenship or the right to work in the United States.
  • Follow up your interview with a thank you note reminding the interviewer of why you are a good candidate for the position and express your appreciation for their time.

Jason Kay recommends you learn more about applying for federal government positions at, which prepares federal resumes and KSA statement responses.

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