Do I Qualify for a Federal Job?

Many jobseekers hesitate to apply for federal jobs because they are afraid they won’t qualify, but the truth may surprise you.

Working in the federal sector is an appealing prospect because of the job security, career advancement, and benefits these positions offer.  Many jobseekers are hesitant to apply for federal jobs, however, because they worry that they won’t qualify.  If this is your concern, you are not alone, but read this article before you decide not to respond to that job announcement!  You may be surprised to find that a federal job isn’t as difficult to get as you might think.

Am I too young or too old to get a federal job?

You must be at least 18 years old in order to work in the federal sector.  Some exceptions are made, however, for 16- and 17-year-olds who have graduated high school, attained their GED, completed a vocational program, or gotten school officials to sign off on their decision to pursue employment instead of continuing their education.  Jobseekers under 18 can also work in the federal sector on a part-time basis while they are in school, with the option of working full-time during their vacations.

There are also some upper-level age limits for certain agencies.  For instance, you generally cannot start a career as a firefighter or a law enforcement officer unless you are under 37 years of age, because of the physical requirements of these jobs.  However, most federal jobs do not have maximum age restrictions; check with the agency before assuming you are too old to get the job.

Do I need to already have my security clearance?

You don’t have to have already gotten your security clearance before you apply for a federal job, even if the position requires one.  In fact, the agency you are applying to can’t even start the process of getting your security clearance until you have been offered the job.  If you already have your security clearance from another position, it may help you get the job, but it’s not a requirement.

When you apply for a position that requires security clearance, you will go through the federal hiring process like normal.  Once you are offered the position, you will need to fill out Standard Form 86.  In spring 2011, this form was updated, requiring more detailed information from the applicant.  Although this may seem like more work for you, it is designed to help speed the review process so that you can be issued your security clearance more quickly.

Do I need to be a citizen of the United States?

Most people assume that you have to be a citizen of the United States in order to get a federal job.  Normally the law does require that you have to be a citizen in order to work in the competitive civil service, but a non-citizen can be hired to the excepted service under certain conditions.  For instance, the non-citizen must be a permanent resident of the United States, and can’t be taking the job away from qualified U.S. citizens.  However, certain agencies can hire non-citizens without regard to these restrictions.

Can I still get a federal job if I have a criminal record?

Believe it or not, having a criminal records doesn’t necessarily bar you from federal employment (unless you were found guilty of treason, of course).  Just like with any job you apply for, the agency will consider the offense, how recent it was, and how it relates to the responsibilities of the position.  You may also be barred from some specific jobs — for instance, if you have been convicted of domestic violence, even a misdemeanor, you are legally prohibited from working in a position where you would come into contact with firearms.

Isn’t the federal hiring process really tough?

The federal hiring process can be extremely daunting, and is one of the biggest reasons why many jobseekers avoid applying for federal jobs.  Job applicants are especially overwhelmed by the thought of having to write KSAs, the essay-style statements that are designed to demonstrate whether your skills and experience match the position’s requirements.

Fortunately, the government is changing many aspects of the federal hiring process.  KSAs are being phased out of the initial application in favor of a traditional resume; applicants are then screened, and those who are the best fit for the position are asked to submit KSAs.  The idea is to ensure that jobseekers aren’t putting a lot of time into applying for jobs that they aren’t qualified for.  New time limits also ensure that applicants won’t have to wait as long to hear back on whether they’ve gotten a job, and the status of your application is updated periodically so that you know where you are in the hiring process.

A lot of jobseekers worry that they won’t qualify for a federal job, as if there is some magical requirement you have to have in order to work for the government.  But as you can see, even older jobseekers, certain non-citizens, and jobseekers with criminal records can qualify for federal employment.  And since the government has revamped the hiring process, it’s now easier and faster to navigate the hiring process, too!

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.