Working for the federal government can be a pretty sweet deal, as it is usually stable work and has attractive pay and benefits. When most people hear “federal jobs” they probably think of the military, or “something in Washington D.C.” but the fact is that there are more opportunities available in a wider range of careers than you might expect, all across the United States and abroad. Examples include jobs like museum curators and dental assistants, as well as more traditional analyst or administrative positions. The trick is being able to GET one of these jobs.
The first step in federal job hunting is USAJobs.gov. This website is a huge repository of information on federal jobs, and you can search or browse postings by agency, location, or occupation. For those who have not had much experience reading federal job postings, it can be intimidating, but do not despair, you can get through it! Federal job postings are often much longer and more detailed than postings from the private sector – the federal government is such a huge employer that a rigid hiring structure helps ensure a smooth and fair process for all parties involved, even if seems a bit daunting on the applicant side!
Your job posting will contain all the information you need, but it can be hard to decode at first. According to a high level 30 year veteran of government human resources management who wanted to remain anonymous, understanding a federal job posting is like diagramming a sentence in elementary school – you need to break it down to its base components and address each one of them in your application materials. Postings generally have a job summary, duties, required qualifications, how to apply (and how that application is evaluated), as well as other logistical information like salary, location, and when you can apply. Make sure you read the entire posting. I cannot stress this enough, MAKE SURE YOU READ THE ENTIRE POSTING. If you miss even 1 piece of required information in your application, it will be considered incomplete and you will not make the first cut. Many postings talk about required KSA’s – Knowledge, Skills, & Abilities. Be sure to fully explain each aspect of your experience and qualifications because the person screening your application on the other side may know nothing about the job you are applying for, and is evaluating applications based purely on a criteria sheet. Don’t assume that a vague statement like “kept balance sheets” is going to fully communicate the nuanced complexities of developing and maintaining a budget for your organization, or that “ran cash register” will fully explain how you were the first point of contact and customer service for the majority of clientele at your previous position. Be explicit when describing how your experience addresses the required KSA’s. Most application materials are run through a computer to count how many keywords are used before a person even looks at them, so make sure you are using industry-related terms and the vocabulary found in the posting.
Federal job postings will likely have some specialized terminology that might be confusing at first too, especially when discussing pay grade or wage scale. You might see something like “GS-09 required” and wonder what it means. Your GS-XX is your level of education and experience – If you are just starting out, you can qualify for jobs at the GS-02 level with a high school diploma or as little as 3 months of general work experience. Starting at GS-05, jobs generally require 1 year of specialized experience to qualify. When you have a degree but no specialized experience in a career field, you are eligible for appointment at the GS-05 pay scale. In general, to qualify for jobs at the GS-07 and higher grades, your background must have included experience closely related to the work to be performed in the job for which you are applying. Education can often substitute for experience – You can usually qualify for GS-09 positions on the basis of a master’s degree, and for GS-11 positions on the basis of a doctorate.
Applying to federal jobs can take a long time, especially if you’re applying for a sensitive job with a security clearance or need an extensive background check. The federal government generally tries to fill positions within about 45 days of a posting’s closing date, but it can be much longer than that. Be prepared to wait for several months to learn whether you made the cut. Keep a file with copies of all your application materials so that when you finally are contacted to move onto the next step, you can review your materials and feel confident moving forward. Unless the posting specifically says otherwise, follow up on your application to indicate your continued interest in the position, and learn what their hiring timeline looks like and when you can reasonably expect to hear back from them.
If you’re not quite ready to begin actively searching for federal jobs, you can still do some prep work. Look for volunteer & internship opportunities that will give you valuable hands-on experience in your field of interest. Cultivate mentor relationships with your faculty and current employers to help you develop personally & professionally. Schedule an appointment with a career counselor to discuss your career goals & interests and how to best use your time at OSU to accomplish them. Start building your resume now because it is easier to continually update it as you go than it is to write it from scratch. (Career Services has drop-in resume critiques M-Th from 1-4pm!) The sooner you start preparing for your federal job search, the easier it will be!
- READ THE ENTIRE POSTING
- Be explicit in your application materials
- Use job-specific terms/keywords
- Be patient & follow up
- Start early!
Posted by Bryon Burleigh, Career Services Graduate Assistant