On Getting a Federal Job

I didn’t want to work for the federal government, but it was the only organization that would hire me back in the Reagan Recession. There is a certain taint to going to work in what I call Weapons World that makes it hard to get other jobs, even when you have tried to cleanse yourself by getting advanced degrees. I have masters degrees in business adminsitration and chemical engineering,  My agency paid for the tuition and the books.  

The basics: if you have a bachelor’s degree in any field, you qualify for a GS-5. Ifyou have a 2.8 GPA or better, you qualify for a GS-7.  Fear not, most jobs that require a college degree carry noncompetitive promotion to at least GS-11, so you can look forward to promotion to GS-7 in 26 weeks and GS-09 52 weeks after that, and promotion to GS-11 52 weeks after that. In 130 weeks or less, your salary will increase by at least 50%. This is how it works if you are applying purely based on education. If you have experience in the field, you can be hired at a higher grade. For instance, masters degree plus a year of experience is qualifying for GS-11, as is bachelors degree plus three years of experience.

An interesting thing about federal employment is that your degree does not matter all that much.  One can qualify for federal engineering jobs by having 60 semester hours in math and science.  Though my engineering degrees are in chemical engineeirng, I have been a chemical, general, and mechanical engineer and am currently classified as an industrial engineer. I have also been classified as a physical scientist. I was offered a job as an electrical engineer some years ago on the condition that I get a masters degree in electrical engineering, and I would have gotten tuition support for that.

If you have a masters degree, you automatically qualify for a GS-9 job. If you have a doctoral degree, you qualify for GS-11 jobs, and if you did a post-doctoral fellowship, you will be hired as a GS-12.  The doctoral level is the only situation where your degree matters. If you are applying for a GS-12 engineering job and are qualifying based on education and not experience, you have to have the degree in that field. One of the better things about the federal government as an employer is that there is transparency concerning pay. You can go to OPM.gov and look up the salary range available. If you have previous experience, you don’t have to start at set 1 of the pay scale, which has 10 “steps” in it, each of which are worth about 3% of the step one pay.

The federal jobs portal is USAJOBS.com . Like other similar systems, you put a resume on the portal and you apply for jobs. Announcements tend to be open for anout two weeks, but nearly every one will say that they reserve the right to hire additional people from this list.  They found that keyword search didn’t work particularly well, so every application that the machine says that the person is qualified gets a review by an actual person. If you decide that you want to work for the post office, you will be referred to the post office’s portal by the job announcement. The same is true of the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies of the Department of the Interior.

It is a long process, but there is some feedback. Within a couple of weeks of the time that the announcement closes, you will receive a “notice of rating” where you will be told whether or not you are qualified for the job and whether or not you have been referred for selection. My experience is if you are not called for an interview within two weeks of being referred, you will not be interviewed.

 I believe that an important consequence of sequestration will be that only local hires will be permitted as exceptions to an agency’s hiring freeze. They want to avoid paying people’s moving costs, which can be substantial because one can receive reimbursement of real estate costs, moving of household goods under a government bill of lading (you don’t even see a bill), as well as 60 days of temporary quarters allowance, which covers your hotel bill up to a certain amount and gives you an allowance for meals. All of the jobs with the Veterans Adminsitration state that they do not pay for moving expensse.

It may well be more worthwhile than usual to look at the federal agencies in your area to see whether they are hiring. At worst, they are developing a standing register of candidates for jobs.

2 thoughts on “On Getting a Federal Job”

  1. I am guessing everybody is jumping on the bandwagon for a federal job.

    They jumped on the state job bandwagon in our state. 4 years back I took a state exam; there had to be over 400 people waiting in the school lobby for the proctors.

    Usually the several highest scoring candidates, and the veterans that attained a passing grade, are interviewed.

    I got an 85 but so did 150 others.

    I don’t think there are any more job opportunities for us anymore, whether they are federal, state or other in the private sector. We’re done.

  2. Even the lousiest federal job is a job with decent benefits. That’s what people were slow to figure out. I wish you well in your artistic endeavors, but it would be nice to have a day job to fall back on. I told you these things years ago, and working for the government is something that you didn’t want to do. It’s a pain in its own special way, true enough.

    A factor that slowed federal hiring for a long time was the rise of the “support contractor” over the last 15 years or so. Prior to that, we substituted technical staff for admins becuase headcount was capped, or we lost the ability to fill jobs when people retired under various rounds of incentives that were really just a sweetener of about $17K after tax for people who were eligible to retire anyway. The idea behind the support contractor was to be able to hire and fire quickly, even though they cost more on an annual basis. Make it through your year of probation, and you have to really screw up to be fired.

    85 on a civil service exam isn’t a very good score, and you won’t be hired at that level unless you are disabled, and that takes a letter of certification fro the state board of vocational rehabilitation, the VA , or Social Security. You might be qualified, but you won’t be “best-qualifed”, and so won’t make the interview. Getting referred takes a score in the low-nineties.

    I think that the support contractors are going to take the next hit in sequestration. A job in my opffice that used to be done by a support contractor is now done by a federal employee, and we are adding federal employees and cutting contractors. I’m seeing this in other agencies as well.

    Wanting to be an admin is something of a dead-end job. It maxes out at GS-6 in most cases. If you have other skills, you might be able to get an intern job that pays an immediate salary that would get you noncompetitively to at least GS-11. The difference would be about $20K within 3 years.

    I can’t argue with what you think. I can tell you what I know. You might live somewhere that there are few federal jobs. I used to work in Dover at what is commonly called Picatinny Arsenal. There’s the IRS in Mountainside, and they take seasonal hires for GS-5/GS-6 jobs that often turn into regular jobs. The VA is hiring everywhere, and you might be able to get a job as a contract assistant, which is an assistant to a contract adminsitrator. The job pays better than a regular admin, and you’d probably have the chance to train as a contract adminsitrator, and once fully certified, you’d make close to $100K annually. This might take you five years to get there.

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