Getting a Government Job – A Second Look

Our readers provided us with insightful feedback in response to a recent article on getting a government job. It seems many federal employees agree that the federal hiring system is in need of reform.

My recent article on obtaining employment with the federal government (Getting a Government Job – It May Not Be as Easy as you Think) generated a number of intriguing responses from our readers, most of which were in agreement with the message I conveyed in my story, that the federal hiring process is indeed too complex and needs revision. The feedback I received on the article ranged from people agreeing with me and sharing their experiences in seeking federal jobs all the way to shunning the government as an employer and encouraging me to not even bother trying to obtain a job in the federal workforce as it was not a place anybody should be working.

While I would not agree that the federal government is poor place to work, I do, of course, feel that the hiring process is far too cumbersome. True, I have never worked for the government, but I have both friends and family that work or have worked for Uncle Sam, so I’ve seen first hand that it really can offer a rewarding career to its employees. My family members who were in the federal sector had challenging jobs which they enjoyed, were compensated well, received valuable on the job training, and were also able to retire at a relatively young age because of the benefits packages the government gives to its employees. Because I know that a person can have a wonderful career with the government, I think it’s unfortunate that there are those who feel this is not the case or who have a federal job which they do not enjoy. I’m not arguing that there are not any mundane federal jobs, I am only saying that the federal sector can be a fulfilling place of employment.

Since it seems apparent that many current federal employees agree that the hiring process is in need of repair, what then, did our readers have to say about the federal hiring process? What follows are some of the comments received regarding the issue.

One reader joined the Navy believing that the door to a federal job would be open upon completion of service:

After I graduated from college, I joined the Navy, since that path would guarantee an open door to a career with the government, right? Wrong! The closest I got was to interview for a legal assistant position with the Navy. I have a paralegal certification as well as a B.S. in Governmental Administration on top of a 5 pt. veteran’s preference. Hey, I got an interview! But, I did not get the job. Something about being “overqualified”.

Another reader said that she experienced many of the same difficulties as I did; lack of response to applications and the inability to check an application’s status:

“In 2000, I applied for over 25 positions. I only heard from one agency providing me the status of my application. A couple of times, I tracked down a human voice to provide status of my applications. And even after you “get in”, it’s difficult to get not as easy to move around to other positions as everyone claims. It’s still a who you know world in government hiring.”

One gentleman who has spent his career in federal personnel noted that the system has not always been difficult, but has become so in recent years.

As a federal personnelist for the last 25 years, I have seen the system go from a very hands on process where specialists actually talked to employees and perspective employees, to a faceless, nameless workforce that has no personnel or personal skills. The federal service is a closed society and practically impossible to break in to.

A perfect example is my wife who wanted to work for the government. She holds a Bachelors, Masters, and Law degree and still, despite many attempts, cannot get a federal job. She even tried to get in as a clerk and was rejected!

Another reader made an excellent point, that while the system does need revision, changing such a large system which is already firmly established will require tremendous effort:

“… making changes in one of the largest bureaucratic organizations in the world will take massive cultural and attitudinal changes (which often result in stagnated efforts, or perhaps even resistance to change) so often times even simple changes to obviously more effective systems or procedures get bogged down.”

Some of our readers told us that the system isn’t difficult just as a newcomer, but that you can also struggle with moving between jobs once you have federal employee status:

It isn’t much easier being on the inside. I have applied for jobs where I was called for an interview over a year afterwards during which I received no feedback. I have interviewed for job and have never been informed of the outcome only to find out later, indirectly, that the position(s) had been filled. I know of qualified candidates that have been summarily rejected because the office wanted to fill the position from the outside. The general feeling is, if you have not been sought for the position and requested to apply, your just wasting your time.

As for offering solutions to the personnel system, another reader suggested that contracting out the HR duties would be best:

“After nearly 30 years in the government, I can think of no time when I have felt the personnel system was anything but incompetent! Contracting out the whole HR system would solve the problem – nothing short will fix it. It is doubtful if any of the current HR management could survive such a change – they would have to perform for a change!”

After seeing what our readers had to say about the federal hiring process, it is even more clear to me that others have the same feelings about the hiring process as I do and that the general consensus of both current and prospective employees is that the system is in dire need of a change. How and when this change might occur is anybody’s guess.

Many thanks to the readers for providing a variety of insightful and interesting comments on the federal hiring process!

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.