How to Find a Federal Government Job

US Capitol Building, Washington, DC

 Omar Chatriwala / Getty Images

About 2 million people are employed in a government job, making the federal government America's largest employer. Less than 10% of these workers are located in Washington, D.C., the rest work in federal government jobs throughout the United States and overseas. Government employees are hired in just about every career field and a wide variety of occupations. Here’s what you need to know to find a job with the federal government.

Government Job Salary and Benefits

The salaries for most government jobs are based on a "General Schedule" (GS) pay scale. There are 15 grades within the salary structure, and each grade contains 10 steps. Salaries for 2018 range from $19,048 for Grade 1, Step 1 (the lowest level) to $138,572 for Grade 15, Step 10 (the highest level).

The average salary for federal, non-postal employees was $84,913 according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Federal jobs that are hard to fill may offer special pay rates that are higher than average, and there are salary differentials based on location. In addition, there are generous benefits including health insurance, sick and vacation leave, child care and retirement savings/pension plans.

Competitive Versus Excepted Service Jobs

Competitive service jobs are all routed through USAJobs. Candidates must take appropriate exams and abide by all Office of Personnel Management procedures for hiring. Excepted service jobs are offered through certain government agencies, and those agencies are not required to advertise through the USAJobs site. Agencies set up the screening procedures for these positions, and the process may deviate from the established OPM protocols.

Veterans Preference

Veterans Preference is a program, created under Title 5 of the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944, which helps veterans advance into federal employment. Veterans are entitled to preference over others in hiring and in retention during times of workforce reduction.

Additionally, veterans are given extra points on the entry-level Civil Service Exam. Veterans’ Preference does not apply to promotions, reassignments, or transfers. Candidates for Veterans’ Preference must meet the following requirements:

1.  Have an honorable or general discharge.

2.  Military rank must be lower than major or lieutenant commander, unless the veteran is disabled.

Levels of Veterans’ Preference

There are two levels of preference eligibility, Disabled and Non-Disabled. These levels translate into bonus points on Civil Service Exams.

Veterans are eligible on the disabled level (5 extra points) if they received a purple heart or have any service-induced disability, and eligible on the non-disabled level (10 extra points) if their active duty was one of the following:

1.  Over 180 days (other than training) after September 11, 2001
2.  Between August 2, 1990 and January 2, 1992
3.  Over 180 days (other than training) between January 31, 1952 and October 15, 1976
4.  Receipt of a campaign badge between April 28, 1952 and July 1, 1955

Federal Government Job Search Tips

The best place to start looking for a government job is on the USAJobs website. In addition, if you're interested in working at a specific government agency or department, you'll find career information available on the careers section of the agency web site.

The USAJobs site details information about hiring paths for special categories on candidates including veterans, disabled workers, students/recent graduates, native Americans, military spouses, and current/past federal employees

Agency websites are the best place to look for excepted service positions since they may not be posted on the USAJobs site:

Networking for Government Jobs

Candidates should conduct informational interviews with college alumni, church, family and professional contacts who work for government agencies. These individuals can provide insight about vacancies relevant to your background and coach you through the application process. Your contacts may exert some influence upon hiring in their agency especially for exempt service positions if you impress them during your consultation.

How to Apply for a Federal Government Job

There are a variety of ways to apply for a government job. In all cases, the first step is to review current openings. Then you can decide which jobs are of interest and follow the instructions on how to apply.

The USAJOBs web site has an online Resume Builder. Users can create online resumes specifically designed for applying for Federal jobs. Resumes created on the USAJOBS resume builder can be printed from the system for faxing or mailing to employers; and saved and edited for future use.

For many of the vacancies listed on the site, job seekers can submit resumes created through USAJOBS directly to hiring agencies through an electronic submission process. Regardless of the format you choose, you will need to include certain information in addition to the specific information requested in the job vacancy announcement:

Job Information
Announcement Number, Title and Grade(s)

Personal Information
Full Name, Mailing Address, Zip Code, Phone Numbers (day and evening)
Social Security Number
Country of Citizenship - in most cases you will need to be a U.S. Citizen
Veterans' Preference - if you are a veteran
Reinstatement Eligibility - if you have a previous worked for the federal government
Highest Federal civilian grade held

High School - Name, Address, Zip Code, date of diploma/GED
College/University - Name, Address, Zip Code, Degree(s), and Major(s)
List credits earned if you did not graduate

Work Experience
For each job:
Job Title (include series and grade if Federal job)
Duties and Accomplishments
Employer's Name and Address
Supervisor's Name and Phone Number
Note whether your current supervisor can be contacted
Start and End Dates (Month/Year - Month/Year)
Hours Per Week, Salary

Other Qualifications
Job-related training courses (give title and year)
Job-related skills (other languages, computer software/hardware, tools, machinery, typing speed, etc.)
Job-related certificates and licenses (current only)
Job-related honors, awards, and special accomplishments (publications, memberships in professional/honor societies, leadership activities, public speaking, and performance awards)
Give dates, but do not send documents unless requested.

How to Get Your Application Noticed

  • Carefully review your application to make sure that you have incorporated all the information required in the job announcement.
  • If your resume or application does not provide all the information requested on this form and in the job vacancy announcement, you may lose consideration for a job.
  • Proofread your document for spelling and grammatical errors before submitting.