Josephine's Personnel Services, Inc.

What You Can Do for Your Country: Tips and Advice for Finding a Great Government Job

September 8th, 2011

About 2 million people are employed in government jobs, making the federal government America’s largest employer. And you don’t have to live in Washington, D.C. to be a government employee. Only 10% of that 2 million are located in Washington, while the rest work throughout the United States and overseas. Government employees are hired in just about every career field and in a wide variety of occupations.

While government salaries aren’t always comparable to private sector on the lower levels, the benefits and pension plans are excellent. So is the job stability.

Finding a government job can take time: the period from initial application to job offer can be four months to a year. But if you’re willing to invest the time, a government job can offer long-term rewards. Here’s how to compete for one:

Know Where to Look

All federal agencies are required to list all openings publicly. The best place to start looking for a government job is on the USAJobs web site, where you can search for jobs in various locations, build a resume online and sign up to receive job postings via email.

However, not all federal agencies use that site, so if you know you want to work at a specific government agency or department, look at that agency’s web site for further career information.

Network

To find out about new government positions on the federal and local level, join professional networking groups. Just like in the private sector, there are professional associations for government workers in just about every discipline, and most of them collect job openings in the relevant field.

No matter how many years since you’ve graduated, you should also check with your alma mater’s career services department, since many colleges and universities maintain good relationships with certain government departments and agencies in an ongoing partnership.

If you have specialized technical or professional skills, you may be able to speed up your search by finding recruiters who have contracts to fill government jobs.

Know the Scoring System

You only have to file one application for a government job, but that application has to do two things: get you past the lower-level screeners or computers that are making sure you meet minimum requirements and impress the hiring managers who will eventually be evaluating your application.

Make sure your resume includes as many of the exact keywords as possible from the requirements in the job listing itself. Most applications for federal jobs are rated on a scale from 1 to 100, and more matches will get you a higher score and increase your chances of making it to the next level. You will also get points for military service, disabled status and volunteer work related to the position, if you use the right keywords to describe it.

To impress hiring managers, don’t just list responsibilities: cite and quantify results you achieved in past positions. Don’t worry too much about taking up too much space. Resumes for federal jobs typically average three to five pages.

Ace the Interview

Government interviews are quite different from what you’re probably used to when applying for a corporate job. It’s likely to be a panel interview with two or more questioners interviewing you at the same time. Also, the interview will likely be focused much more on what you’ve done in the past than anything you hope or plan to do in the future.

Interview questions will focus on your ability to meet the requirements mentioned in the job posting. The government wants proof of your abilities, so create a list of relevant anecdotes and practice discussing them in a clear and confident way. Their theory is that the best predictor of the future is past performance.