Once you send your job application to a government agency, you have kicked off a process that is largely out of your control and almost always invisible to you as an outsider. Government organizations are bound by laws and regulations in handling job applications so that all applicants receive a fair opportunity at getting the job.
Some job application systems, such as the US government’s USAJobs, have functionality built into the system, which allows applicants to see how their applications are progressing through the organization’s hiring processes. This online functionality reduces the number of phone calls and e-mails the human resources department receives because applicants can look up critical information for themselves within a few minutes.
Outlined below are the basic processes that human resources staff follow in hiring for a government job. The hiring process can be lengthy, and you may be contacted by both a human resources professional and the hiring manager or supervisor. As a result, there may be some back and forth if they're interested in you.
1. Posting Closes
Once you submit your application, you must wait for the job posting to close before you hear a response. When government agencies post jobs, they almost always have an application deadline. They do this so they can manage how many applications they receive and so they can move forward with the hiring process without adding additional applicants throughout the process.
In the interest of fairness, human resources departments stick to closing dates and do not allow managers to consider late applications unless all late applications are accepted. There is no fair reason to accept one late application and not another if both applicants turn in applications that meet the minimum requirements listed on the job posting.
2. Applications Are Screened
Once the human resources department knows they have all the applications the organization will consider, they read each application to make sure that each candidate meets the minimum requirements specified in the job posting. For instance, if the posting said that the new hire must have a bachelor’s degree, a human resources specialist will remove from consideration all applications where the applicant does not show completion of a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, it is important for applicants to ensure that they clearly outline how they meet the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the job.
3. List of Finalist Is Compiled
Once all the applications have been screened for the minimum requirements, the human resources department and the hiring manager work together to make a short list of finalists they would like to interview. For the sake of equity, the decisions are based on the information included in the applications. Depending on the department you're applying to, don't be surprised if you're contacted by human resources requesting references or additional information that can include writing samples or essays.
4. Interviews Are Scheduled
The human resources department or the hiring manager calls applicants who earned an interview. If an applicant chooses to withdraw from the process, the organization may decide to either interview the next most qualified candidate who did not earn an interview at first or continue the process with one less finalist. The decision largely depends on how close the next most qualified applicant was to being chosen for the original group of finalists.
If you are contacted for an interview, you may be interviewed in person or over the phone. Some open positions receive many applications from qualified candidates. As a result, phone interviews are necessary to screen applicants further.
5. Necessary Background and Reference Checks Are Conducted
At this point in the process, many organizations conduct background and reference checks. It does not make sense to perform these checks on all the applicants from both cost and staff time perspectives. Once the finalists are selected, the checks can be performed on the small group. The benefit of running the checks at this time is so that there is no added delay if the chosen finalist turns down the job offer. Some organizations wait until they are ready to make a job offer until they run the checks so they do not incur the cost of running checks on individuals they will not hire.
6. Interviews Are Conducted
Groups of finalists are usually composed of three to five people. The number of finalists to be interviewed and how many people will be conducting the interviews largely determines how long the interview process will take. If there are only a handful of finalists to be interviewed, the process may only take a week to conduct all of the interviews. However, if there are many finalists and interviewers, the process will likely take much longer.
7. New Hire Is Selected
After the interviews have been conducted the interviewer or the interview panel decides which finalist will receive the job offer as well as the rank order of the other finalists in case the chosen finalist declines the job offer.
8. Job Offer Is Extended
A job offer is extended to the chosen finalist, which is usually done verbally so that salary and start date negotiations can begin. A letter documenting what the hiring manager and chosen finalist agreed to is sent to the chosen finalist to accept.
9. Job Offer Is Accepted
A chosen finalist formally acknowledges the job offer verbally or in writing. The organization begins paperwork necessary to hire the chosen finalist on the agreed upon start date.
Please be aware that some government departments have additional security requirements resulting in a waiting period before you receive the proper security clearance. For example, in the Department of Homeland Security, the security clearance process can take anywhere between two weeks to one year but usually takes approximately three months.
10. Candidates Not Selected Are Notified
Once the organization and chosen finalist have agreed upon the terms of employment, the organization typically notifies all the other applicants that the position is filled. However, there are some departments that do not notify applicants of a filled position.
Some organizations choose to notify only candidates who are interviewed but most organizations that follow this practice state their policy in their job postings or on their web page that contains the application process and information for job seekers.