After serving in the military, many service members believe that a natural transition for their career is a job with the federal government. The path to a job is not always smooth, however, for those seeking employment with the federal government. For those unfamiliar with the system, it can sometimes seem that the hiring process is not of this planet.
This article seeks to offer an overview of the beginning of the process; that is, how to find a job with the government, prepare your application documents and apply.
Finding a Federal Job
The U.S. government is, in a nutshell, a gigantic employer. It is extremely large, and employs people in nearly every occupational category imaginable.
To find a federal job, you must first identify the name of the occupational group you seek. Jobs in the government are grouped according to occupational groups, or Series. The professional group is the GS series; the blue-collar group is the WG series.
Each series is broken down into the various job titles within that group. For example, within the GS-0500 Accounting and Budgeting group, you’ll find job titles like Accountant, Accounting Technician and Auditor.
After you’ve identified the job titles you’re interested in, look for job announcements. There are a few job boards where federal jobs are posted, but the biggest internet aggregator of federal job postings is on the Office of Personnel Management website.
A word of caution: The federal government and private industry may have differing descriptions of any given job title. Make sure you read every job announcement carefully to make sure you understand it before you apply.
A brief list of GS Occupational Group is below. This list is not inclusive of every series:
- Accounting and Budgeting GS-0500
- Administrative, Clerical and Office Services GS-0300
- Business and Industry GS-1100
- Copyright, Patent and Trademark GS-1200
- Education GS-1700
- Engineering and Architecture GS-0800
- Equipment, Facilities and Services GS-1600
- Information and Arts GS-1000
- Investigation GS-1800
- Legal and Kindred GS-0900
- Library and Archives GS-1400
- Mathematics and Statistics GS-1500
- Medical, Hospital, Dental and Public Health GS-0600
- Personnel Management and Industrial Relations GS-0200
- Physical Sciences GS-1300
- Quality Assurance, inspection and Grading GS-1900
- Social Science, Psychology and Welfare GS-0100
- Supply GS-2000
- Transportation GS-2100
- Veterinary Medical Science GS-0700
- Miscellaneous (not elsewhere classified) GS-0000
Once you’ve identified the series you’re interested in, be sure to check the OPM postings (or, more recently USA Jobs) regularly. Some openings are posted for a week or two; some openings are posted for a matter of a few days. The key is to make a habit of checking the postings regularly. The USA Jobs site is particularly useful because it allows for search by agency as well as interest area, such as airport security or water safety.
Before you apply for any job, find the hiring manager’s or administrative contact’s phone number or email address. Contact them and ask to have the official job announcement sent to you. The official job announcement will contain the job description, the duties, key qualifications, and Knowledge/Skills/Abilities (KSA) questions. It will also sometimes contain additional details about the job and description of the application and hiring process. This is extremely useful information to have and it is often unavailable from the OPM posting.
Preparing your application
The best approach you can take when preparing your resume and application is to not assume anything. Do not assume the reader knows anything about the job field in which you’re seeking entry, do not presume they know anything about skills required or acquired in the military. Take the more is more approach: document all of your education, training, special skills, responsibilities, duties, accomplishments, awards, speaking engagements, everything you’ve earned during the past ten years (or more, if its relevant to the job).
The standard federal job application is called an SF-171. You can and should- fill it out online and save a copy. This is where government job-seeking is different from civilian job-seeking: If you are applying for more than one position within the same job series or family, it is prudent to prepare a highly inclusive, thorough resume and application as opposed to preparing a unique resume for each application.
In the government hiring world, volunteer and extracurricular experience is valued. If you have developed skills while volunteering that will add value to your job performance, present it as thoroughly as you would a paid job experience.
Take the KSA questionnaire as seriously if not more seriously than the application itself. Very often the KSA response is used as a screening tool to determine whether an applicants resume or SF-171 will be read at all. Read each question on the KSA and address each question thoroughly, making sure to provide relevant examples of your knowledge, skills and abilities.
Make yourself a checklist of all the documentation and components of the application process. Before you send in your application packet, make sure that your resume contains:
- The announcement number and job title
- Names and addresses of former employers
- Names and phone numbers of former supervisors
- Your salary history
Once you’ve sent in your application, get back to your job search. It can take several weeks if not months for the government to process your application, so it’s best to stay busy and not obsess about your status. The government hiring process takes time, so stay positive and busy so you don’t drive yourself crazy with anticipation or worry. Remember that for every single job posting the government puts out there, they can receive tens of thousands of applications. Just because you haven’t received a response doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not interested in you.