How to Land a Government Job

Working for the government used to be seen as a dead end because it offered lower compensation and reduced possibilities for advancement and promotion. For those on the fast track to success, climbing the corporate ladder was the way to go and working for a public office was virtually career suicide. Government employees were often portrayed as unmotivated bureaucrats who clocked out at the dot of five.

However, recent economic developments changed all that, and now government positions are considered as plum posts. First of all, the economic recession saw a massive amount of private sector jobs falling prey to downsizing and pay cuts. As the federal government is virtually the only one who is hiring, displaced employees who previously looked down on public service jobs are now changing tack. After all, compared to the prospect of unemployment, being a pencil pushing bureaucrat is not really that bad. Second, the US government estimates that more than 270,000 jobs will be opening up during the next three years. This is largely due to the fact that the baby boomers are going to be hitting retirement age during this time.

Third, compensation for federal jobs has become more competitive with those offered in the private sector. For instance, the potential pay for a computer and systems information manager with the Department of Homeland Security was recently listed at $160,000 a year. Meanwhile, by 2013, an average federal employee is expected to earn upwards of $75,000 annually. Given the extremely low risk of being fired, the regular eight-hour work days and the added benefits like pensions and health care, working for the federal government is clearly a rather smart move.

This is not news though; in fact, a lot of people have come to the same realization. As a result, competition for federal jobs have become more cutthroat, so much so that you even can find applicants with Ph.Ds lining up to get hired for any available position, including clerical or secretarial jobs. However, there are ways to get hired, if you are willing to do your leg work and not in a hurry to start working (getting a job offer can take as long as 4 months to a year after submitting your application). The following strategies below can help you land that government post.

Be ingenious about finding job openings

Here’s a tip: the law requires all federal agencies to publicly list any job openings. Now, virtually everybody uses the USAJOBS websites to post open positions but note that this is not mandatory. Therefore, some jobs may be listed elsewhere. It is always wise to check a specific agency’s website. For instance, the FBI and the federal courts favor using their own sites when advertising for job openings. Careers sections is different government portals can also give you some great leads.

Spread yourself out

As with any private sector gig, getting the inside track on a juicy position is all about knowing the right people. Networking with groups and other organizations relevant to your field is very helpful. Also try to attend regular job fairs and the other venues where you can interact with current government employees. Even if they may not have anything for you right now, they could potentially throw some insider tips your way when something does come up.

Contact a recruiter

Sometimes, getting in touch with a recruiter could get you on the right path to getting hired by Uncle Sam. Look for recruiters with a good placement record in government positions. You should also consider checking in with your college career services department.

Be in the right field

The Partnership for Public Service reveals that hundreds of thousands of government positions are going to be hiring within the next three years. There are going to be approximately 54,000 jobs available in the medical and public health field, while 52,000 positions will open in security and protection services. Other fields such as compliance and enforcement (31,000 job openings), legal (24,000 job openings) and administrative and program management (17,000 job openings) are also going to be wide open. And if you are contemplating joining the CIA, NSA, Homeland Security, the Justice Department or the Department of Veteran Affairs, you’re in luck—these agencies will likely add a lot of workers to their roll.

Make your application stand out

Given the stiff competition for job openings, your resume will only be one among thousands. Part of the reason why getting a job offer from the US government takes so long is that your application needs to make it through a lot of screenings.  This, your goal is to convince low-level screeners that you meet all minimum requirements and then impress the hiring managers who will be evaluating your candidacy at the later stages.

When writing your resume, make sure that you include critical requirements that are listed in the job listing. Applications for federal jobs are rated for suitability on a range of 1- 100 and automated software are often used for initial screenings. Including certain keywords can raise your score and get you through the next level. Use bullet points rather than narratives—this makes it easier for reviewers to run through.

Aside from the particular requirements for the specific position you are applying for, you can also leverage other related experiences such as past military service, volunteer positions, etc.

Lead them to the bottom line

You can better impress a hiring committee if you point out what makes you great. For example, cite specific contributions to the previous institutions you have previously worked for. Enumerate policy goals that you helped achieve, paint a clear picture of how much money you saved the company by expediting a process, etc. If the job you are applying for asks you to submit an essay in the form of a Knowledge Skills and Abilities (KSA) document, take it seriously and include all demonstrable skills relevant to the job. Don’t worry about taking up too much space, as a job application for a federal post is typically three to five pages.

Knock their socks off in the interview

If you have gotten as far as the personal interview, then you are doing great. The goal at this stage will be to impress them with your skills and ability to conduct yourself well. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that most federal personal interviews are generally conducted by a panel rather than just a single person. This actually works in your favor as it reduces the possibility of bias.

If the prospect of coming under multiple scrutiny fazes you, prepare yourself well. Ask your friends or family to help you practice so that you can feel more confident in this setting.

Generally, you will find a panel interview to be very systematic and organized. One person will pose his or her questions and then pass you along to the next panel member. The aim is to personally evaluate your suitability for the position you are applying for, so be ready for questions that clarify or elaborate on your profile and KSA forms. You may also be quizzed on past jobs and training. Sometimes, you would be thrown a hypothetical situation to help the panel gauge your responses to job-related issues.

You may find that the process of applying for a government job is more rigid and bureaucratic than its corporate counterpart but that it simply how it works. Nonetheless, given the chance at a stable and benefit-laden job, you would no doubt agree that it is certainly worth your best effort.