Transfers and Federal Jobs

Federal employees in the competitive service are free to transfer to other federal jobs without going through the same OPM hiring process. Here are a few things you need to know about transfers and federal jobs.

Working in the competitive service is more than just a job.  For many federal employees, it is a career, and one with many promising options.  One of the advantages is the ability to transfer to other jobs in the competitive service, without having to go through the same difficult hiring process you went through when you got your first federal job.

Here are a few things you should know about transfers and federal jobs.

Am I Eligible for a Transfer?

In order to transfer to another federal job, you will need to have gone through the hiring process that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) uses for all competitive service positions.  Once you have gone through this rather thorough hiring process, you can transfer to another job in the competitive service without doing it all again.

Unfortunately, this means that if you are in the excepted service, you may not be able to transfer with the same ease as you would if you worked in the competitive service.  Agencies in the excepted service do not have to follow OPM’s rules, so the hiring process for these positions is not standardized.  Although a position in the excepted service does give you an advantage over other applicants, since you most likely have more applicable experience, you may have to apply for the position just like anyone else.

There are, however, a few exceptions.  Some excepted positions and agencies may have transfer agreements with the competitive service, which allows employees to move more easily into competitive jobs.  Usually the agencies that have these agreements also have merit systems similar to the competitive service, which makes it easier for things such as work history and the employee’s level to transfer over.

Finally, veteran preference may inhibit your ability to transfer into another position, even if you already work in the excepted service.  By law, certain jobs must go first to any veterans who have applied for the position.  Only if no veterans have applied may a non-veteran applicant be considered for such a position.

How Do I Apply for a Transfer?

Just as with any job search, finding a new position to transfer to is up to you.  You will need to browse postings of available jobs, and submit your resume just like any other applicant.  There are many online resources that list federal job postings and offer help in resume writing and applications.

Keep in mind that just because you are eligible for a transfer, does not mean you will get the job.  You will have to apply for the position and take your chances, just like any other applicant.  Although your current status as a federal employee and your relevant work experience may be helpful, you will be considered for the job based on how well you meet the position requirements.

Finally, when applying for a transfer, you will find that some positions are available to current competitive service employees only.  If you work in the excepted service, you may not be eligible to apply for these positions at all.  Additionally, some agencies may hire internally, within the agency’s own workforce, so you may never even hear of available positions in other agencies.

What is the Merit Promotion Program?

The merit promotion program is a system used to hire internally when positions become available.  A merit promotion announcement is made, and the job posting is listed in the database.  Status applicants — current federal employees, veterans, and those eligible for reinstatement — are then able to apply for the position.  Although some agencies do take applications at any time, others only accept them when a merit promotion announcement has been made.

Merit promotion announcements are typically published online, on federal job search websites as well as on the agencies’ own websites.  Federal employees who want to transfer should regularly check the online federal job boards and the websites of the agencies where they want to work.

Will I Have to Serve a New Probationary Period?

All federal employees serve a probationary period when they are hired on for the first time.  Don’t worry, though — you will not have to serve another when you transfer.  It’s a one-time only requirement!  However, if you are in the middle of the probationary period, you will have to finish out the remainder on the new job.  Also, if you just recently got the job, you may have to wait 90 days before being eligible for some transfers.  For instance, usually you cannot transfer to a new location or a higher grade until you have been in the current position for at least three months.

A career in the federal sector can be lucrative and rewarding.  The key to success, however, is knowing when and how to transfer to a new position in order to further your career.  What goals do you have for your career?  If you are in the excepted service, do you need to find a job in the competitive service in order to achieve your goals?  You now have the information to better answer these questions; use it to help you get where you want to go in the federal service.

About the Author

Jason Kay is a professional resume writer and regular contributor to, a professional federal resume service and repository of sample KSA statements.