Looking for a Federal Government Job? These 7 Tips Can Help!

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The federal government is the country’s largest employer, with more than 2.7 million nonmilitary employees and as many as 90,000 new hires each year. On any given day, the government has as many as 10,000 job openings in areas as diverse as health care, law enforcement, engineering, tech support, and landscaping.

Pivoting from private to public

If you’re looking to find a federal government job, you’ll need to craft a cover letter and resume that demonstrate you have the skills and background needed. From there, the hiring process tends to be more detailed and much lengthier (six to 18 months) than a private sector job search. The seven tips below should help improve your chances of landing a government job, along with the competitive salary and benefits that come with it.

Utilize government and private sector web tools

Using USAJOBS.com can help you find a federal government job. Nearly all federal jobs are listed on the site, and applicants must create a detailed profile to be considered for them. Using the site’s resume builder, applicants can create and save up to five resumes at a time to use for jobs in various sectors. You can also import a resume from another site. LiveCareer’s vast collections of resume examples and cover letter examples can help you get on the right foot with the creation of both documents.

Once you’ve applied, you can check USAJOBS.com to see if your application has been “reviewed,” “referred” or “not referred.” If you make it past the interview stage but are not extended an offer, the status of your application will be updated to “not selected.”

If there are qualifications that have not been addressed in your work descriptions, employ volunteer experiences that address those requirements.

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Only apply for jobs you are qualified for

In the private sector, it often makes sense to stretch by applying for jobs for which you have most but not all the preferred qualifications. However, agencies contracted to fill federal positions are instructed to adhere to the education and experience criteria, so resumes that do not demonstrate a complete match are not considered.

Bulk up your resume

Because the federal hiring process is so focused on detailed qualifications, successful resumes for federal jobs tend to contain extremely detailed descriptions of skills and accomplishments for each job listed. As a result, a successful resume for an entry-level federal job could run two to five pages.

List precise month and year start and end dates for each job, as well as the number of hours you worked each week. Use metrics to quantify times you raised or saved money or improved efficiency. If there are qualifications that have not been addressed in your work descriptions, employ volunteer experiences that address those requirements.

Tailor your resume and cover letter

Federal job descriptions have a uniform organizational structure that allows you to respond accordingly in your resume and cover letter to such categories as “Duties” and “Qualifications.” Make sure your cover letter and resume address all criteria noted in the job description using the same keywords.

Your resume may be initially reviewed by an applicant tracking system, but even if a human capital officer is the first to review your application, they are not likely to be familiar with your field, so be sure to use nontechnical, accessible language, spell out all acronyms and match keywords from the job announcement exactly.

See if you qualify for a preference

If you’re a veteran, you qualify for a veterans’ preference, which means you will be given higher priority for hiring. Peace Corps and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers are given noncompetitive eligibility status for one year after service is complete, meaning that their applications will be fast-tracked for positions they have minimum required qualifications for, and they may even be notified about openings before they are publicly announced.

Be prepared for a formal interview

Interviews can take place by phone, video or in person, and may involve a panel. All applicants are asked the same questions in the same order, and the process focuses more intently on work experience and technical expertise than you may be used to. Interviewers will also be looking to see if you are committed to the goals of the agency, so come prepared with a short speech that demonstrates your dedication to that mission.

Negotiate your salary — carefully

Once you’ve been extended an offer by a federal agency, there’s some room for salary negotiation, but not much. Broad ranges of compensation are determined by the level of experience required for each job, with jobs requiring a high school diploma only starting at the General Schedule (GS) 2 range. Entry-level jobs for college graduates are GS 5-11, mid-level roles are in the GS 12-13 range, and senior-level positions are in the GS 14 or 15 categories.

An HR official will extend your offer, which will include the grade and salary. Typically, both are negotiable, but there is likely less room for negotiation than might be expected in a typical private sector offer.

You’re not done yet

Once you’ve accepted the offer, HR will begin the security checks, and this process can take as long as three to six months, depending on the level of clearance required. It’s a lengthy process, but if you are looking for competitive compensation in a mission-driven environment, the destination may be worth the longer journey.

LiveCareer offers a plethora of tools for job seekers to use when seeking work. In addition to a free resume builder and resume samples, you can take advantage of our vast collections of resume templates and resume examples to use as starting points when crafting your resume. And get help with cover letter writing via our free cover letter builder.

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