How to get a job in the
Federal Government
           by Olivia Crosby

         esigning the International Space Sta...
If you’re looking for a job, consider the Nation’s

largest employer. Each year, the Federal Government

hires thousands o...
Chart 1
 Federal agencies with the most employment, March 2004

Distribution of Federal workers, March 2004

                                                                    13 per...
ing the GS code. The coding systems used to classify
Office of Personnel Management’s Occupational Clas-
sification Manual, ...
reer Centers also provide Internet
Chart 2
 Top 25 occupational series in the Federal Government, March 2004
postings a day, pinpointing the best possibilities takes        every week.
Contacting agency offices: The direct approach                  medical occupations currently qualify for direct hiring
Federal job titles by college major
Below is a sampling of titles that relate to various col-             Titles marked (*...
Program manager                                 Social service aids and assistant*       Environmental protection assistan...
International relations
  Pharmacist                             Physical scientist
(continued from page 10)
       Decoding vacancy announcements                         qualifications and salary history.
Standard legal information. Most announcements                 If you are applying for a job that is located far from
Jobs for students and recent graduates
 Are you looking for an internship, a summer job,           tising positions in Oct...
• Agency-specific resume builders. The easiest
     Next, list specific courses you have taken that relate
to the job. Be su...
Take advantage of a paper resume’s flexibility by          USAJOBS website. This builder allows you to submit
choosing a fo...
Tips for career changers
 If you are an experienced worker looking for a             person for the position. You might le...
group projects, for example, all show communication           specific paper, noting its length, degree of complexity,
How To Get A Job Fedjob
How To Get A Job Fedjob
How To Get A Job Fedjob
How To Get A Job Fedjob
How To Get A Job Fedjob
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How To Get A Job Fedjob

  1. 1. How to get a job in the Federal Government by Olivia Crosby D esigning the International Space Station, uncovering security threats, conserving the Florida Everglades, cre- ating an ad campaign to combat disease—these are ex- amples of just a few of the tasks done by workers in the Federal Government. With more than 1.7 million jobs and over 400 occupational specialties (excluding postal service and military workers), the Federal Government offers more choices than any other single employer in the United States. Whatever your interest and back- ground, you can probably find a Government career to match. People get jobs in the Federal Government in the same way Olivia Crosby is a contributing editor to the OOQ, (202) 691-5716. 2 Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004
  2. 2. If you’re looking for a job, consider the Nation’s largest employer. Each year, the Federal Government hires thousands of new workers. Here’s how to become one of them. that they get most jobs in the private sector: by finding Jobs are found throughout the Nation and across the openings and submitting a resume or application. But world. As the map on page 5 shows, about 87 percent searching for a Federal job can be more complicated than of Government jobs are outside of the Washington, DC, other job searches. That’s because of regulations designed area. About 3 percent are in foreign nations. to keep the hiring process fair. Job titles are standardized. What’s more, the Federal Government hires people Resumes are more detailed. And job qualifications are for hundreds of occupational specialties, the largest of more specific. which are shown in chart 2 on page 8. For some occupa- Tailoring your search to the Federal Government’s tions, including forest conservation technician and geog- rules will increase your chances of getting a job. Read on rapher, the Federal Government is the primary employer. to discover the types of jobs available in the Federal civil (See the OOChart in this issue of the OOQ.) service and the qualifications required. Then, learn how With so many choices, you may need to sort through to find and apply for jobs. Information geared toward stu- scores of openings to find a job that fits. Your search dents and recent graduates is on page 16. Tips for career will be more fruitful if you understand Federal job titles, changers are on page 19. And page 25 summarizes the identify jobs for which you are qualified, and start with Federal job search as a 5-step process. the right resources. Exploring the options and preparing for the hunt The trouble with titles When hunting for a Federal career, you have a myriad The Federal Government uses a set of standard occupa- of choices. Federal jobs are spread across more than 100 tional titles, also called occupational series, to describe agencies and bureaus, each with its own mission and each its jobs. Some titles—such as carpenter and chemist—are overseeing its own hiring and recruitment. The largest easy to understand. Others require interpretation. A per- agencies are shown in chart 1. son interested in marketing might look for positions with Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004 3
  3. 3. Chart 1 Federal agencies with the most employment, March 2004 232,644 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 223,086 U.S. Army U.S. Navy 179,806 160,078 U.S. Department of Homeland Security 151,806 U.S. Air Force 126,260 U.S. Department of the Treasury 102,397 U.S. Department of Agriculture 102,280 U.S. Department of Justice 100,294 U.S. Department of Defense, other 71,531 U.S. Department of the Interior 64,687 U.S. Social Security Administration 63,429 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 57,723 U.S. Department of Transportation 37,288 U.S. Department of Commerce 23,517 U.S. Department of State 19,091 National Aeronautics and Space Administration 18,525 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 15,997 U.S. Department of Labor 15,072 U.S. Department of Energy 12,568 U.S. General Services Administration U.S. Department of Housing and 10,325 Urban Development 5,389 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation 4,997 Smithsonian Institution 4,574 U.S. Department of Education 3,570 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission 0 50000Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Central Personnel Data File 100000 150000 200000 250000 4 Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004
  4. 4. Distribution of Federal workers, March 2004 13 percent 12 percent 21 percent 39 percent Washington, DC: 8 percent Alaska: 1 percent Hawaii: 1 percent International: 3 percent Note: U.S. territories not included. Percents do not sum to 100 due to rounding. Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Central Personnel Data File the title market analyst, for example, but he or she also overlook is technical writer. In the private sector, that title might want positions with the more unusual title of trade usually refers to jobs writing about science or comput- analyst. Both involve marketing products. ers. But in the U.S. Government, technical writing is any So, how can you find all the titles that fit your skills? writing that requires specialized knowledge. The position If you are a college graduate, start by scanning the list on could relate to law, education, or any other subject. pages 11-13. It shows how different occupational titles Jobseekers also need flexibility because titles in the relate to various college majors. If you have a degree in Federal Government are often not as current as those in history, for example, titles such as archivist or historian the private sector. Consider Web designer. The Govern- could be a perfect match. But so might other titles, such ment does not use that name, but it does hire people to as writer-editor or foreign affairs specialist, that are men- do that type of work. Web designing jobs might be listed tioned under different liberal arts majors. under visual arts specialist; public relations specialist; or, Some of the job titles you’ll find are unique to the if the job requires technical computer skills, information Federal Government. Program analyst is the most com- technology manager. A good strategy for finding posi- mon example. Workers with this title evaluate Govern- tions is to search for many different titles or by broad ment programs, make recommendations for change, and occupational group. tell decisionmakers what resources programs need. If Recognizing the confusion that job titles can cause, research, policy analysis, or business is your interest, try the Federal Government provides some help. The Gov- ernment’s employment website,, this title. Jobseekers need to be flexible in their search because provides definitions for many job titles. The site also titles used by the Federal Government are often broader offers quizzes that relate career interests to job titles. And than private sector ones. One title that people often for more detailed information about titles, check the U.S. Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004 5
  5. 5. ing the GS code. The coding systems used to classify Office of Personnel Management’s Occupational Clas- sification Manual, available online at jobs vary by agency, but the most common system is class/text/hdbktoc.htm. the General Schedule (GS). The GS assigns every job a grade level from 1 to 15, according to the minimum level Qualifications required of education and experience its workers need. Jobs that require no experience or education are graded a GS-1, In nearly all cases, Federal employees must be U.S. citi- for example. Jobs that require a bachelor’s degree and no zens. Beyond that, qualifications vary. experience are graded a GS-5 or GS-7, depending on an Qualifications. The Government hires people with applicant’s academic credentials and an agency’s policies. nearly every level of education and experience—from The table below shows the GS levels for entry-level high school students with no experience to Ph.D.’s with workers with different amounts of education and little or established careers. Jobs in some occupations, such as no work experience. engineer, ecologist, and lawyer, require that workers have College degrees only qualify you for a particular a bachelor’s or graduate degree and credit for specific grade level if they are related to the job. For occupations college classes. Other occupations require experience, requiring general college-level skills, a bachelor’s degree education, or a combination of both. A few, such as office in any subject can qualify you. But other occupations clerk, require no education or experience to start. require a specific major. The qualifications needed for each job are described After gaining work experience, people often qualify in detail in the vacancy announcements that advertise job for higher GS levels. In general, 1 year of experience re- openings. Each job also has a code that corresponds to its lated to the job could raise your grade by one GS level in minimum requirements. Understanding these codes will most clerical and technician positions. In administrative, speed your search. professional, and scientific positions, GS level increases Shortcut to matching your qualifications: Crack- GS levels by education GS-1 No high school diploma GS-2 High school diploma (GS-3 for clerk-steno positions) GS-3 1 year of full-time study after high school Associate degree or 2 years of GS-4 full-time study after high school GS-5 or GS-7, Bachelor’s degree or 4 years of depending on agency policy and applicant’s full-time study after high school academic credentials Bachelor’s degree plus 1 year of GS-7 full-time graduate study GS-9 Master’s degree or 2 years of (GS-11 for some research positions) full-time graduate study GS-9 Law degree (J.D. or LL.B.) GS-11 Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate or (GS-12 for some research positions) advanced law degree (LL.M.) 6 Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004
  6. 6. reer Centers also provide Internet access for jobseekers. Contact in- formation for Federal Employment Centers and One-Stop Career Cen- ters is available in the blue pages of the telephone book or by calling the U.S. Department of Labor’s toll- free career information line: 1(877) US2-JOBS (872-5627). Without the Internet, you can conduct a search by telephone, fax machine, or mail. Finding openings The U.S. Office of Personnel Man- agement maintains a central data- base, called USAJOBS, that lists nearly every Federal job opening available to the public. Searching this database online or by telephone is the first step to finding a job. Jobseekers can also contact agencies directly for assistance and for infor- mation about special hiring pro- grams. Finally, jobseekers shouldn’t abandon traditional methods, such as reading classified ads and attend- ing job fairs. Many agencies use ads USAJOBS lists nearly all Federal job openings available to the public. and fairs to supplement their recruit- ing efforts. in increments of two until you reach a GS-12. After that, GS level increases one level at a time. USAJOBS: The official source With each additional year of experience at a higher The first place to check for job openings in the Federal level of responsibility, your GS level could continue to in- Government is the USAJOBS website or automated tele- crease until it reaches the maximum for your occupation. phone line. If there’s a Federal job that needs to be filled, it’s likely to be listed here. In fact, in most cases, agencies Resources online and off are required to advertise job openings on the USAJOBS Applying for a Federal job is often simpler if you have system. access to the Internet. Although every part of the applica- Website searches. The USAJOBS website, tion process can also be completed offline, the Internet, allows visitors to sort openings allows for faster searching, completion, and submission by occupation, location, occupational group, keyword, of applications. grade level, salary, and Government agency. The ad- Jobseekers can visit a Federal Employment Center vanced option allows visitors to search by any or all of for free access to the Federal employment websites. these factors simultaneously. Many of the U.S. Department of Labor’s One-Stop Ca- In a system that often holds more than 18,000 job Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004 7
  7. 7. Chart 2 Top 25 occupational series in the Federal Government, March 2004 Employment Occupation 74,380 Miscellaneous clerks and assistants 69,185 Miscellaneous administration and program positions 64,209 Information technology management positions 50,548 Safety technicians 49,521 Nurses 46,791 Management and program analysis positions 40,666 Secretaries 39,078 Criminal investigators 29,132 General attorneys 27,735 Social insurance administration positions 27,379 Contact representatives Contracting positions, including 27,269 contract officers and specialists 23,440 Air traffic controllers 23,178 General business and industry positions General inspection positions, including 22,613 investigators and compliance officers 22,400 Medical officers, including doctors 22,067 Human resources management positions 20,490 Electronics engineers 18,903 General engineers 17,653 Tax examining positions Engineering technicians 17,474 15,549 General biological science positions General education and training positions, 15,335 including instructors and consultants 15,060 Correctional officers 14,388 Budget analysis positions 0 1000020000300004000050000600007000080000 Data File Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Central Personnel 8 Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004
  8. 8. postings a day, pinpointing the best possibilities takes every week. Automated telephone system. The USAJOBS auto- savvy sorting. This is especially true when job titles are unfamiliar. If you are looking for a specific job title, mated telephone system, available by calling (703) 724- search for it immediately using the occupational se- 1850, is the offline alternative to the website. It lists the ries function. But remember: one Federal title does not same openings and is available 24 hours a day. Customer necessarily cover all the jobs that use a particular skill or service representatives are available weekdays from 8 include a certain task. To cast a wider net, search by oc- a.m. to 8 p.m. eastern standard time. cupational group. Although the system changes periodically, it gives An alternative approach is to start searching by callers search options that are similar—but not identi- geographic location. Some locations might have only a cal—to the ones on the website. Knowing the occupa- handful of openings at a given time, and that could be a tional titles and series codes that interest you can speed manageable bundle to sort. a telephone search because callers can key these into the To make sure you find other relevant jobs, supple- telephone menus to start a job search. ment your hunt with a keyword search. These searches Callers can also search by occupation type (profes- scan each vacancy announcement for given words and sional, senior executive service, clerical and technician, are ideal for jobseekers unfamiliar with Federal job titles. and trades and labor), length of job (temporary, full time, A search for “mathematics,” for example, could yield part time, or summer), or hiring agency. Callers can refine openings for accountants, physical scientists, and other their results by specifying location or pay range. positions related to math. The telephone system gives a few details about each job opening, including job title and location, and then of- To identify jobs that require a given level of educa- fers to mail the full announcement. tion or experience, specify the appropriate GS level, as described in the last section. Jobs listed under other clas- sification systems will be included automatically. If you decide to search by agency, remember that opportunities might be available in unexpected places. Environmental engineers, for example, are hired not only by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service, but also by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Navy, the Department of Energy, and more than 30 other agencies. You can program the USAJOBS site to repeat your searches automatically and e-mail the results every day or Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004 9
  9. 9. Contacting agency offices: The direct approach medical occupations currently qualify for direct hiring programs in many agencies. In addition to using the USAJOBS database, applicants Jobseekers who are minorities or veterans or who can contact Federal Government agencies directly. This have disabilities also can ask to speak to a specialist who method is especially important when searching for jobs focuses on helping workers in these populations. Most that are not required to be posted on USAJOBS. (See the agencies have such specialists. box about exceptions to learn more about positions that Check online or in the telephone book for agen- are exempt from this requirement.) cies’ contact information. You can also find a list of But contacting agencies should not replace search- agencies online at ing USAJOBS. Some agencies update their own websites all_agencies/index.shtml. less frequently than they do their USAJOBS submissions. Also, the human resources specialist you speak with Other sources of openings: Newspapers, might not be aware of every opportunity. And you might not know about all the agencies with openings. job fairs, and more Even so, there are still many benefits to calling agen- Federal employers often supplement USAJOBS postings cies directly. Human resources specialists can often direct with advertisements in newspapers and journals and on jobseekers to appropriate openings quickly, helping them private job boards. Many Government agencies also pro- to match their skills to jobs. They can also explain special vide school career centers with information about jobs, hiring programs, including the Outstanding Scholar internships, co-ops, and special programs for students and Program for people who are college graduates, who recent graduates. have grade point averages of at least 3.45 or who have Many agencies also rely on job fairs to recruit new academic honors, and who are applying to designated oc- workers. In fact, if you arrive at a fair with a resume, cupations; the Bilingual or Bicultural Program for people there’s a chance you could leave with a job offer. Under who speak Spanish or have cultural knowledge important direct-hire regulations, some agencies can hire applicants to the job; and the direct-hire authorities for occupa- on the spot for a few designated occupations. In the more tions identified as having a shortage of qualified workers. likely case, recruiters will accept your resume and start Workers in information technology occupations and some the traditional hiring process. (continued on page 14) Exceptions to the Federal rules A few agencies and occupations are exempt from Foreign Service workers, also are exempt from some standard regulations that govern Federal some of the procedures described here, and so hiring in the civil service. Jobs in those agencies are positions that last fewer than 180 days. and occupations do not have to be listed on USA- Even when they don’t have to, many ex- JOBS. And people who apply for those jobs might cepted-service agencies still follow the standard have to fill out different application forms or fol- procedures. These agencies often list openings low different procedures than the ones described on USAJOBS, for example, and require the same in this article. information in applications and resumes. Contact Excepted-service agencies include those in excepted-service agencies to be sure of their hir- the legislative and judicial branches of Govern- ing methods. ment and several agencies in the executive Finally, a small percentage of positions in the branch, including the U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Government are set aside for political Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the intelli- appointees. People are appointed to these jobs gence services. by elected officials. A few occupations, such as attorneys and 10 Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004
  10. 10. Federal job titles by college major Below is a sampling of titles that relate to various col- Titles marked (*) can be entered with no education lege majors. Many of these positions allow for the sub- or experience, but coursework leading to an associate, stitution of experience for a degree. Most of these titles vocational, or bachelor’s degree can qualify workers for require either a bachelor’s degree or 5 years of closely a higher level of responsibility and pay. related experience. A degree in the subject listed does Finally, there are many other titles related to these not necessarily meet basic requirements of the position. subjects, and official titles change with changing regu- Some require specific coursework in other subjects, and lations. Use this list as a guide, but search for positions some, such as project manager, require experience. by keyword and occupational group, as well. Agriculture and agronomy Fishery biologist Government Accountability Office Food inspector (GAO) evaluator Agricultural commodity grader General fish and wildlife administrator- Intelligence specialist Agricultural engineer Government Acountability Office Internal revenue agent or officer Agricultural management specialist (GAO) analyst Securities compliance examiner Agricultural program specialist Microbiologist Tax specialist Agronomist Range conservationist Trade specialist Foreign agriculture affairs specialist Range technician* Irrigation operation occupation* Veterinarian or veterinary health scientist Facilities management and realty Social conservation technician* Wildlife biologist Distribution facility and storage Soil conservationist Zoologist manager Soil scientist Equipment specialist Botany Facility manager Architecture and construction Housing manager Agronomist science Industrial property manager Botanist Architect Realtor Forestry technician* Construction analyst Geneticist Construction control inspector Human resources and Horticulturist Landscape architect employee relations Plant pathologist Naval architect Apprenticeship and training Plant physiologist representative Plant protection and quarantine Art Contractor industrial relations specialist Arts specialist specialist Plant protection technician* Audio-visual production specialist Employee development specialist Design patents examiner Employee relations specialist Business Exhibits specialist or technician Equal employment opportunity Business and industry specialist General arts and information specialist specialist Contract specialist or Illustrator Hearing and appeals specialist procurement analyst Museum specialist or technician Labor management relations Government Accountability Office Photographer specialist or examiner (GAO) analyst Recreation and creative arts therapist Mediator Miscellaneous administrative and Visual information specialist Wage and hour compliance programs specialist, including specialist acquisition manager Astronomy Program analyst Astronomer and space scientist Industrial management Geodesist Industrial hygienist Accounting and finance Physical scientist Production control specialist Accountant Quality assurance specialist Accounting technician* Biology Assessor Management Animal health technician* Auditor Administrative officer Budget analyst Animal scientist Commissary store manager Financial administrator Biological science technician* Logistics management specialist Financial analyst Biological scientist, general Financial institution examiner Management analyst Consumer safety specialist Financial manager Printing manager Fish and wildlife refuge management Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004 11
  11. 11. Program manager Social service aids and assistant* Environmental protection assistant* Social insurance administrator Environmental protection specialist Project manager Social worker Fish and wildlife refuge management Supply specialist Vocational rehabilitation specialist General fish and wildlife administrator Support services administrator Government Accountability Office Criminal justice (GAO) analyst Management information systems Border patrol agent Programs specialist (Environmental and Financial manager Correctional officer natural resources) Information technology Criminal investigator Rangeland manager specialist or manager Document analyst Operations research analyst Foreign language Internal revenue officer Police officer Border patrol agent Marketing U.S. marshal Customs inspector Agricultural marketing specialist Foreign affairs specialist Bond sales promotion representative Education and library science Intelligence specialist Property disposal specialist Education Language specialist Trade specialist Education and training specialist or Forestry Chemistry technician Educational program specialist Forest products technology specialist Chemical engineer Employee development specialist Forestry specialist Chemist Instructional systems specialist Forestry technician* Consumer safety officer Public health educator Soil conservationist Environmental engineer Teacher (U.S. Department of Defense) Food inspector Geology Training instructor Food technologist Vocational rehabilitation specialist Geodesist Health physicist Geologist Hospital housekeeping management Library science Hydrologist Intelligence specialist Archivist Oceanographer Physical scientist Librarian Physical scientist Toxicologist Supply cataloger Communications and Health and medicine journalism Physical education Consumer safety specialist Outdoor recreation planner Agricultural market reporter Consumer safety inspector* Recreation specialist Broadcaster Public health programs specialist Sports specialist Communications specialist Language specialist Health science Electronics Printing manager Industrial hygienist Electronics technician* Public affairs specialist Public health educator Telecommunications manager Technical writer/editor Safety and occupational health Telecommunications managers English and literature manager Writer/editor Communications analyst Social insurance administrator Computer science Miscellaneous administrators and programs specialist Computer specialist Hospital administration Printing manager Information technology project manager Administrative officer Public affairs specialist Information technology (covers many Health system administrator Technical writer/editor specialties) Health system specialist Writer/editor Hospital housekeeping manager Counseling and social work Engineering Educational and vocational training Medical Engineering specialties specialist Dental hygienist* Operations research analyst Educational services specialist Physical scientist Dental hygienist, community health Equal opportunity compliance specialist Quality assurance occupations Food assistance program Diagnostic radiological technician* specialists and other Medical officer (“physician” or Environmental studies social program specialists specialty name often used) Ecologist Human resources specialist Medical technician* Environmental engineer Psychologist Nurse 12 Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004
  12. 12. International relations Pharmacist Physical scientist Foreign affairs specialist Physicist Physical therapist Intelligence specialist Physician assistant Social science International relations specialist International trade specialist Program specialist Nutrition Language specialist Social scientist Consumer safety officer Dietitians and nutritionist Political science, government, or Archaeology and anthropology Food assistance program specialists public administration Anthropologist Food technology occupations Foreign affairs specialist Archaeologist Government Accountability Office Museum curator History (GAO) analyst Museum specialist Archivist Miscellaneous administrators and Historian programs specialist Economics Government Accountability Office Program analyst Economist (GAO) analyst Program manager Financial analyst Intelligence specialist Public affairs specialist Industrial analyst Museum curator Public utilities manager Manpower development specialist Museum specialist Trade specialist Psychology Miscellaneous administrator and Educational services specialist Geography programs specialist Employee development specialist Cartographer Human resources specialist Cartographic technician* Law Psychologist Community planner Administrative law judge Recreational and creative arts Geodetic technician Attorney therapist Geographer Hearing and appeals specialist Intelligence specialist Highway safety specialist Sociology Navigational information specialist Import specialist Social service aids and assistant* Surveying technician* Paralegal Social service administration Other titles plus Geographic Tax law specialist specialist Information Systems (GIS) Sociologist Mathematics Actuary Common titles across all majors Cartographer Intelligence specialist Mathematician Program analyst Operations research analyst Program manager Statistician Program specialist Traffic manager Writer/editor Park and recreation management Forester Outdoor recreation planner Park ranger Recreation and creative arts therapist Recreation specialist Physics Astronomer and space scientist Geodesist Geophysicist Health physicist Hydrologist Patent examiner Photographic technology specialist Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004 13
  13. 13. (continued from page 10) Decoding vacancy announcements qualifications and salary history. Series and grade. Every Federal Government job Every Federal job opening that is available to the public has a code that consists of a two-letter combination fol- has a vacancy announcement. The announcement de- lowed by two numbers. The letters refer to the system scribes the position and how to apply for it. It is filled used to classify the occupation. As discussed previously, with important clues about what agencies want in an GS is the most common letter combination and refers to applicant. General Schedule. WG refers to Wage Grade, the classifi- cation system used for positions that are paid by the hour. Announcements, piece by piece Other letter combinations stand for classification systems All vacancy announcements have the same basic parts, al- specific to a particular agency. though the order, style, and wording vary. Knowing these After the letter combination, the first number is a parts can help you to zero in on key facts. 4-digit occupational series. This usually corresponds to Basic information. At the top of an announcement, the job’s title. The second number is a 1- or 2-digit grade you will find the announcement number, position title, level that corresponds to the job’s minimum require- agency name, and duty location. The name of a person ments, level of responsibility, and pay range. to contact for more information might be listed here or at In many announcements, more than one grade level the end of the announcement. is listed. This means that people who qualify for either Who may apply. Some jobs are reserved for people grade can apply. It also means that workers can be pro- who are current or former Federal employees or who are moted to the highest level listed without changing jobs. veterans or disabled people who meet specific conditions. Promotion potential. This is the highest grade level These vacancy announcements say that they are for “Em- available for the job. If no potential is listed, that does not ployees only” or “Status candidates only.” mean that the job is a dead end. Nearly all Federal jobs For jobs open to the public, announcements say offer regular pay increases, and many positions prepare something like, “Open to all qualified candidates” or workers for higher level jobs. “Open to all U.S. citizens.” Job duties. This section of the announcement lists the On some announcements, this section might be called specific tasks of the job. Analyze them for clues about “Area of consideration.” the types of skills the employer is looking for. Later, you Opening date. Agencies begin accepting applications can tailor your application to match. on this day. Basic qualifications. These are the minimum levels Closing date. Applications are due on this day. Some- of education and experience required for the job. If the times, applications only need to be postmarked by the job has many possible grade levels, the qualifications for due date. But usually, they must arrive at the agency by each are described. this day, either by midnight or by the close of business. Additional qualifications. Sometimes, this section is If you cannot meet the deadline, don’t give up im- titled “knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required”; mediately. First, check to see if it has been extended. In “desired qualifications”; “ranking factors”; “selective some agencies, this happens at least 10 percent of the factors”; or “evaluation methods.” Whatever its name, the time. Also, in rare cases, it may be possible to submit a section describes further qualifications for the job. These partial application and complete it later. To find out, call are the criteria used to rank applicants. Your application the contact person listed on the announcement. should address them all. A closing date that is months away or that is listed How to apply. This section lists the materials that as “continuous” means the agency is gathering a pool of applicants must provide. It describes how and when the candidates for future job openings. materials should be submitted. Pay range. Most, but not all, Federal workers start Conditions for employment. If a position requires their jobs at the low end of the earnings range listed on travel, background checks, drug screening, or a security the announcement and work their way up. Applicants can clearance, those conditions are explained in the an- sometimes negotiate higher starting pay based on their nouncement. 14 Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004
  14. 14. Standard legal information. Most announcements If you are applying for a job that is located far from include sections on veterans’ preference, or preferential your current address, indicate a willingness to relocate. hiring for qualified veterans; the Career Transition Pro- Otherwise, some agencies might eliminate your applica- gram (CTP), or preferential hiring for qualified Federal tion. • Job facts. Copy the announcement number, posi- employees whose jobs have been eliminated; and merit promotion procedures, or application instructions for cur- tion title, and grade level from the vacancy announce- rent Federal employees. Skip these sections if they do not ment. If the announcement lists more than one grade apply to you. level, state the lowest level you would accept. For exam- Announcements also include equal opportunity state- ple, if the announcement describes the job as quot;GS-5/7,quot; ments, information for applicants with disabilities who decide whether you would take the GS-5 or if you would need assistance, and, sometimes, admonitions to tell the only accept a GS-7. truth on the application. This information varies little Be sure you qualify for the level you choose, how- between announcements. ever. If you pick a level that is too high, you will not pass the first screening. If the level you pick is too low, the Applying for a job agency will most likely upgrade you automatically. The application that you submit will go through many • Work experience. For each past job, give the levels of review. First, human resources specialists will standard information found in most resumes. Specifically, screen it to see if you meet the basic requirements for the state the job title, starting and ending dates (including position. Then, the specialists or a panel of experts will month and year), employer's name and address (or write rate your application according to the additional qualifi- “self employed,” if that applies), and major duties and cations listed on the vacancy announcement. If your ap- accomplishments. plication rates among the best, it will be forwarded to the In addition to that information, a resume for a Fed- hiring manager, who will choose the winning candidate. eral job also must show the average number of hours Every agency follows its own procedures when worked per week or simply state “full time”; salary or requesting applications. Some agencies ask only for a wage earned; supervisor's name, address, and telephone resume tailored to the Government’s requirements. Oth- number; and whether your most recent supervisor may be ers also ask for written statements about your skills or contacted. If you have had past jobs in the Federal Gov- for completed questionnaires. You might need to submit ernment, include the occupational series numbers and the copies of academic transcripts or other materials, too. starting and ending grades of those positions. If you have relevant volunteer experience, mention Resumes with a Federal twist it. In Uncle Sam’s eyes, all experience counts. Consider A resume for a Federal job includes all of the information using titles that show what you did rather than using the in a standard resume, plus some additional details. These generic title of “Volunteer.” resumes are often two to four pages, which is longer than Most importantly, describe job duties and accom- the 1- to 2-page resumes typical in the private sector. plishments in a way that proves how you are qualified. Creating a resume involves gathering the required Study the vacancy announcement and emphasize the information and putting it in the right format. parts of your work history that match the qualifications Gathering the facts. If you have a standard resume, listed there. you already have most of the information you need. But Remember, human resources specialists in the Fed- Federal agencies ask for more information than most eral Government might not be familiar with your career other employers do. Resumes and applications for Fed- field. To help them understand how your experience eral employment must include the following: matches what is required, try using some of the same • Contact information. As you would on any words found in the vacancy announcement, especially resume, you must list your full name, address, and tele- words that describe job duties or qualifications. You also phone number. But you also need to provide your Social can help them understand your work by spelling out acro- Security number and country of citizenship. nyms and other abbreviations. Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004 15
  15. 15. Jobs for students and recent graduates Are you looking for an internship, a summer job, tising positions in October, and jobs often fill or a co-op program? Or are you looking for a quickly. Recent graduates. The Federal Government quick way to jump-start your career after gradu- ation? If so, the Federal Government can provide also offers special programs for recent college those opportunities. graduates to help them advance their careers. Summer jobs and student jobs. Most agen- Participants usually receive special training and cies offer student jobs and internships as part assignments and yearly promotions. Most of these of the Student Temporary Employment Program programs are specific to particular agencies. (STEP). Some student jobs, such as science and You can learn about them by attending career engineering co-ops at the National Aeronautics fairs, contacting agencies that interest you, and and Space Administration and internships at the searching the USAJOBS database. National Institutes of Health, relate to students’ One career-building program—the Presiden- career goals. Students often get school credit, as tial Management Fellows Program—is available in well as pay. Other jobs provide experience that several agencies. In this program, management is more general. To qualify for a student job, you fellows receive formal and informal on-the-job need to attend a high school, college, or voca- training and receive assignments designed to tional school, with at least a half-time schedule. further their career goals. The fellowship lasts 2 Students can find internships, co-ops, and years and is open to people with graduate de- other jobs by checking the online database at grees in any subject. Fellows usually start at the This site is run by the GS-9 level of pay. They are eligible for the GS-12 U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the level at the end of the program. Fellows who U.S. Department of Education. It lists many op- already have relevant experience can start at portunities. Agencies are not required to post higher pay levels. opportunities on the site, however. Fellows must be nominated for the program You can also check with the career guidance by their college or university. Check with your office at your school or call agencies directly. career guidance office for application instruc- If you are looking for a summer job, start your tions. For more information, visit or call (202) 606-1800. search in the fall; some agencies begin adver- For past jobs with complicated or changing duties, give the month and year it was conferred. Except in the consider dividing your job duties into sections. The case of some agencies’ automated forms, nearly all appli- description of a management job, for example, might be cations for Federal jobs must provide information about divided into staff training, budgeting, and project plan- high school. ning sections. Also, give the names and addresses of any colleges Make your resume stand out by including your most or universities you have attended. List degrees received, impressive accomplishments. You might say that you the month and year they were conferred, and your major earned an “A” on a research paper, won an award, or areas of study. Consider providing the number of credits saved your company time by finishing a project ahead of you have earned in subjects related to the position. In schedule. Consider using numbers to add concreteness. the Federal Government, 24 credits in a subject is often If, for example, you organized a successful fundraiser, considered equivalent to a major. say how much money you collected. If you are working toward a degree, show the total • Education and training. For this part of the number of credits you have earned. If you are still in resume, provide the name and address of the last high school, include the month and year you expect to gradu- school you attended. If you earned a diploma or GED, ate and the word “expected.” 16 Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004
  16. 16. • Agency-specific resume builders. The easiest Next, list specific courses you have taken that relate to the job. Be sure to list any courses that are mentioned way to complete an online resume builder is to cut and in the job announcement, together with the number of paste the information from a word-processing program credits those courses were worth. to the form. You can check the word-processed document Finally, describe job training and certifications and for spelling and save it for future use. when and where you received them. You might also men- Agencies with their own resume builders often use tion academic awards, honor societies, and major school automated systems to check applicants’ qualifications. projects, especially if you are a student or recent gradu- Computers sort resumes by looking for the keywords ate. requested by the hiring manager. These keywords can Be ready to provide your grade point average; some include verbs—such as “wrote” or “analyzed”—that agencies ask for it on their automated forms. If you are describe job duties, the names of required courses or col- given a choice, managers offer this standard advice: list a lege majors, the names of software packages that appli- grade point average if you think that it will help. College cants should know, or any other words related to a job’s graduates with averages of at least 2.5 or 3.0 sometimes requirements. The more keywords the computer finds on qualify for higher starting pay and expedited hiring a resume, the higher the applicant’s score. programs. Applicants also can qualify for some programs For applications screened by computer, it helps to use based on class rank, membership in honor societies, or important words from the vacancy announcement exactly grade point average during the last half of an academic as they appear. If you are choosing between two words program. that describe your skills, choose the one listed on the • Other qualifications. Be sure to mention relevant announcement. But don’t overdo it by forcing a keyword skills and achievements that are not immediately obvi- that doesn’t fit your skills or by making your resume too ous from other parts of your resume. These might include complicated. Remember that if your application passes to computer skills, knowledge of a foreign language, or the next stage, it will be read and rated by a hiring man- professional designations. ager, not a computer. • Performance awards. Consider listing—either Most automated systems let jobseekers check to see within your work history or in a separate section—any how an application will look when hiring managers see performance awards or bonuses you have received. it. Use this option to be sure that formatting is correct • Qualification summary. You might want to sum- and that the application length fits into the limits set by marize your qualifications in a separate section of your the system. Then, submit a resume to apply for each job resume. Summaries can be especially useful in explain- that interests you in the agency. This is necessary because ing long or varied work histories. These sections work employers will only be able to see your resume if you best when they focus on the qualifications shown in the respond to their particular announcement. vacancy announcement. Nearly every agency will accept a paper resume as a • Hiring preferences. If you are a veteran or a substitute for the automated forms, if it is formatted for former Federal employee who was laid off, you might computer scanning and conforms to other norms. De- qualify for hiring preferences. Read the vacancy an- tailed instructions about creating a scannable resume are nouncement or contact the U.S. Office of Personnel provided by the agencies upon request. • Paper resumes. If an agency does not have its Management to learn more. If you qualify, mention your eligibility on your resume. own form, you have many options. One is to submit a Making the best of the Federal format. The next paper resume. If you already have a paper resume, you step is to submit your information in the proper format, can quickly adapt it to the Federal Government’s require- as specified by the vacancy announcement. Many Federal ments by attaching supplemental sheets with the extra agencies have developed their own automated resume information needed—adding a list of past salaries and builders that applicants must use. Other agencies will ac- supervisors, for example. Or you can integrate required cept any type of resume as long as it includes the required information into the body of the resume. information. If you are applying to one of these more Each page should include the job announcement flexible agencies, you can submit a paper resume or one number and your name and Social Security number. This of the official forms that the Government provides. helps reviewers keep your paperwork together. Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004 17
  17. 17. Take advantage of a paper resume’s flexibility by USAJOBS website. This builder allows you to submit choosing a format that highlights your strengths. If you your application quickly and to update your resume are a recent graduate, for example, you might place quickly. education before work experience. The only limitation Fill out the online form, or cut and paste the informa- when applying for a Federal job is that you must use a tion from a word-processed document. Then, submit the chronological format. List each job in reverse chronologi- resume electronically for each vacancy that interests you. cal order, starting with your most recent job. Soon, you will be able to transfer your information auto- • OF-612 form. Another possibility is to fill out the matically from the USAJOBS resume builder to agency- Government’s optional application form: the OF-612. By specific builders. using this paper form, you lose flexibility but avoid hav- For more advice about resume writing, see “Re- ing to create a resume from scratch. The form has spaces sumes, applications, and cover letters” in the summer 1999 issue of the OOQ and online at for all required information. Request a form by calling ooq/1999/summer/art01.pdf. USAJOBS or visiting a U.S. Government personnel of- fice, or download a copy by going online to Written statements about your skills: KSAs • USAJOBS resume builder. Still another option In addition to a resume, you might also be asked to write for applying is to use the online resume builder on the statements—often called KSAs or knowledge, skills, and abilities statements—that show how you meet specific job requirements. For example, an announcement for a management analyst might ask you to describe your communication skills. An announcement for an account- ing technician might ask about mathematics ability or OF-612 is the Federal knowledge of accounting procedures. Government’s optional Writing these statements offers an important advan- application form. tage: the chance to prove you have all of the qualifica- tions an employer wants. Selecting officials agree that you should always include these statements if an an- nouncement requests them. Statements are typically one-half page to one page in length, single-spaced, although length can vary. They are usually written in paragraph 18 Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004
  18. 18. Tips for career changers If you are an experienced worker looking for a person for the position. You might learn that your Federal job, you are in good company. More than private-sector experience meets the require- 40 percent of the people hired by the Federal ment. • Be flexible about titles. If you want to be Government last year were experienced workers over the age of 35. These tips will help you to get a manager or supervisor, do not limit yourself to credit for your expertise. openings with those words in the job title. Jobs • Estimate your GS level. As mentioned with widely varying levels of responsibility are in this article, the Federal Government clas- often listed under the same title. • Be specific about past experience. Hu- sifies positions according to the complexity of their job duties and their level of responsibility. man resources managers will study the details People qualify for a given level based on educa- of your application to decide if you qualify for tion, experience, or a combination of both. The a job. They will compare your past work to the most common classification system is the Gen- kinds of tasks performed at different GS levels. eral Schedule (GS). To find your GS level, use the Managers will pay close attention to the amount table on page 6 to estimate the level you qualify of time you spent in each job. They usually will for based on education alone. If you also have estimate exactly how many months or years you relevant experience, your GS level will be higher have done each major job task. than that. If you have had relevant managerial When creating a resume or writing state- responsibilities or do complex work indepen- ments about your skills, show your level of dently, you might qualify for a GS-12 or above. To expertise by explaining who you reported to or be certain, read the job descriptions in vacancy worked with and how your work was used. • Explain past job titles. Use job titles announcements. • Understand job requirements. Vacancy that clearly describe what you did. You may want announcements often say that a worker needs to put the equivalent Federal title in parentheses experience equivalent to a particular GS level. next to your actual job titles. • Consider Senior Executive Service. A vacancy announcement at the GS-12 level, for example, might say that you need 1 year of expe- Finally, if you have substantial experience in rience at the GS-11 level. Some announcements high-level leadership positions, you might qualify give examples of what that experience could be. for the Senior Executive Service (SES). SES posi- Others don’t. The simplest way to know if you tions require you to answer a set of standard qualify for a job is to read the job duties. If the questions about your leadership ability. A review work described there is only slightly more com- board established by the U.S. Office of Personnel plex or responsible than work you have done in Management will certify your qualifications based the past, you might be eligible for the position. on your answers and your experience. For more information, see or call (202) If some of the required experience for a job seems unique to the Federal Government, ex- 606-1800. plore further by calling the agency or the contact form. But if time is short and the job you want doesn’t quickly. For help in writing about skills you do not have, involve writing, some screeners say that it’s fine to use see the box on page 21. bulleted lists instead. Consider dividing the writing process into these five Before you start to write, read the vacancy announce- steps: Step 1: Brainstorm. For each required skill, make a ment carefully for instructions about length, format, and content. list of possible examples that demonstrate your expertise. What is most important when writing about skills? Think over current and past jobs to see if they relate. Screeners advise using specific examples, highlight- Remember to include schoolwork, especially if you are ing your best accomplishments, and getting to the point a student or recent graduate. Papers, presentations, and Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004 19
  19. 19. group projects, for example, all show communication specific paper, noting its length, degree of complexity, ability. intended audience, and any results it produced—such as Next, look for accomplishments that illustrate your a good grade or publication in a journal. You might also qualifications. Note awards, compliments about your describe the number of papers you completed in a given work, special projects you completed, and problems you period of time. Details like these illustrate your level of solved. In particular, explain how you used the skill in expertise better than general statements do. question to achieve what you did. Finally, don’t just summarize your tasks. Instead, If the vacancy announcement asks about your knowl- explain why your work was important. If you solved a edge of a subject, jot down any courses, workshops, or on-the-job training that gave you that knowledge. You might also want to divide the topic into parts and describe what you know about each. When brainstorming, restate your resume’s relevant points. Don’t assume that the screener will use your resume to decide if you are qualified. Step 2: Choose the best examples. Select the stron- gest examples of your skills. Picking three is typical, but there is no set number. Choose examples that show your level of expertise. Look for your most difficult or responsible work and for work that produced the best results. Also, consider how closely each example relates to the position you want. When writing about oral com- munication, for instance, think about what kind of oral communication would be important for the job. If the po- sition requires tact, you might focus on a time you dealt with a customer complaint. If the position requires giving presentations, you might describe your experience in a speech class. Step 3: Get specific. For each example you choose, provide details about it. When and where did it happen? Was it at your current job? A past job? At school? Did it happen once or every day? Start your descrip- tions by answering these questions. Many people’s examples begin with phrases like, “In my current position as a help desk tech- nician, I.…” or “As a student at Indiana State University, I.…” Next, be specific about what you did. Rather than simply saying that you wrote many papers while in school, for example, consider describing a 20 Occupational Outlook Quarterly • Summer 2004