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How to Start your Career with the Federal Government

Federal jobs are highly sought by job-seekers at every career level. Federal employees support and administer governmental functions from the National Forest Service to the Department of Defense. Employees in such positions enjoy highly competitive compensation and benefits packages, but even more importantly, they have an important opportunity to serve their country in meaningful ways.

It isn’t always easy to get your foot in the door, so to speak. The federal government uses a preference system that awards points based on certain criteria. If another candidate, matching your experience and education, is applying for the same job, the person with the most “preference” will most likely get the position. Being a current or past federal employee is a big advantage, as is being a veteran. Being neither of those things could prevent you from even getting an interview.

For this reason, you should be strategic about what you apply for and put 100% effort into every application you submit. Federal jobs can be quite competitive. Be prepared to compete.

Register for an Account on USAJOBS

USAJOBS is the website where you will find federal job postings. On any given day, you can find more than 10,000 open positions for federal employment. There are openings for janitors, nurses, teachers, analysts, scientists, administrators, drivers, mechanics…the list goes on. You can find jobs in the U.S. or around the world.

USAJOBS also offers advanced search options that you can use to quickly find a position that interests you. You can search and apply using your profile and federal resume…all at

Important Note: You may encounter paid services promising exclusive access to federal positions, but buyer beware. The vast majority of these sites are going to lead you straight back to USAJOBS. Signing up for USAJOBS is free, so don’t let anybody charge you for it.

Setting up your USAJOBS profile can take some time, but it will be worth it. Preparing your documentation ahead of time can make the process easier. You will need detailed records of your academic and employment history. Federal job applications require at least the last ten years of your work experience. You will need to upload a current resume and any applicable college transcripts.

Once your profile has been created, you can use it to apply for any jobs for which you are eligible. You can also search for jobs, create automated job alerts that will be sent to your email account, save documents, and create up to five different profiles (use one for each type of position that interests you.)

Search Job Vacancies

Federal jobs are classified into three categories:

Competitive Service – This is the most common category. Most federal positions are competitive service positions.

Excepted Service – These positions are outside of the traditional scope of federal jobs and could be related to intelligence or other specialized jobs.

Senior Executive Service – One step below appointees of the president, senior executive positions are very rare and exceedingly competitive.

Don’t forget to set up some automated job searches so you can stay on top of new openings. USAJOBS has new positions daily.

Carefully Read the Eligibility Requirements

Federal positions can also have different eligibility criteria, even within the same classification. Some positions are only open to veterans. Others may be open to current or former federal employees.  If neither of those categories applies to you, look for positions marked “all sources” or for U.S. citizens.

Here are the most important pieces for you to review:

Who May Apply – Check your eligibility status to be sure that you meet the minimum requirements.

Qualifications – Most federal positions list specific skills and experience that are relevant to the position. Some will even have additional job application requirements that you must meet, including additional screening questions, documentation or even an occupational questionnaire.

These additional requirements can be time-consuming if you don’t get your documentation in order before you begin. You can save yourself time by carefully reviewing these requirements in the Required Documents area of the job description.

The Required Documents section will list every document that you need to submit with your application, as well as any additional questionnaires you must complete. While many positions on USAJOBS only require the basic application and resume, others will require written references, security clearance documentation, college transcripts or other documents.

Reviewing this information before you begin your application will help you to get organized and avoid submitting an incomplete application package.

Now What?

You may find this surprising, but government hiring processes can take months. You should monitor your USAJOBS account closely. Once the position closes, you will be deemed qualified, highly qualified or best qualified based on your qualifications and preference points. The highest scoring individuals get referred to the hiring manager.

Once interviewed, it may be several weeks before you hear back. You will either receive an official job offer from HR, or you will see a change to your application status indicating that you were not selected.

It may take patience and a bit of time to get started, but federal service is a compelling and rewarding career path.

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