Job Search Checklist for Federal Government Employees

Landing a job in the federal government can be a life-changing experience. But before attempting to find the perfect government job, follow this simple job search checklist.

Landing a job in the federal government can be a life-changing experience. With approximately 2% of the US population employed in the federal government, it is the largest employer in the country. According to one report, the number of civilian federal employees grew by 14% in the last 8 years. Between the benefits, experience and prestige that come with earning a government position, job seekers around the country rush to federal employment opportunities. Before attempting to find the perfect government job, follow this simple job search checklist.

Know Your Goals

Prior to starting your search, explore personal and professional goals. If you’re already a federal government employee and looking for a change, what are the likes and dislikes of your current position? Are you looking for more flexibility or excitement? Do you want to travel or stay close to home? With the opportunity to work in the US or abroad, the possibilities seem limitless. Knowing career and life goals before starting a job search will help you stay focused and determined.

Review Qualifications

Certain positions within the federal government require special qualifications or experience. If you’re already a federal employee and seeking a change of pace, look specifically for jobs open to federal employees. By virtue of having experience as a government employee, you earn a significant advantage over unexperienced applicants. For individuals with military, legal or in-depth knowledge of special subjects, a position in government is a good fit. Before setting off on a hunt for government jobs, explore what is commonly called the Plum Book, which contains more than 7,000 positions within the federal government and a description of their responsibilities.

Write a Federal Résumé

If you haven’t updated your résumé recently, today is the day to start. Unlike regular versions, federal résumés are longer, in-depth and designed to provide a comprehensive picture of employment history. Although most résumés are one page, federal résumés are up to five pages and include education, background and training information. Resume experts recommend creating a modified version of your federal résumé when pursuing a new opportunity. Consider these best practices before creating or revising your résumé.

  • Avoid jargon or niche terms. Using language only spoken by a small group of people, such as “platoon,” can alienate potential employers.
  • Communicate KSA factors. Unlike normal résumés, federal résumés require the applicant to clearly communicate knowledge, skills and abilities related to a position’s duties and requirements.
  • Provide complete, accurate information. From hours worked per week to salary, each federal résumé must be complete and accurate.
  • Report veteran status or federal government experience. If you possess experience as a federal employee or member of the armed forces, this should be communicated in your résumé.

If unsure of your ability to convey employment information in an engaging manner, ask a friend to review your resume or hire a professional to edit your résumé before submission.

Begin Your Search

Thanks to the internet, searching for a federal government job is easier than ever before. There is no longer a need to travel from agency to agency, read job boards and complete a new application each time you’re interested in a position. Now, online government employment directories help applicants sort through available listings quickly to find the best match.

  • OPM – The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is a valuable asset when searching for a federal government job. Responsible for maintaining, the OPM serves as a hub of information for human resources departments, job applicants, applicants with disabilities and retirees.
  • – Known as the most comprehensive resource for available government positions, simplifies the search for credible employment opportunities. With resources for students, recent grads, veterans and senior executives, it has become a trusted source for the latest openings. Use the website’s advanced search feature to tailor results to your career goals.
  • Federal Executive Boards – At, job seekers can access information to Federal Executive Boards in nearly 30 metropolitan areas. Reviewing this resource provides insight into the location and accessibility of government positions outside of Washington, D.C.
  • Best Places to Work – If unsure which agency you’d like to pursue, review the best places to work within the federal government and view information about each agency first. Whether you value flexibility, great leadership or exposure to innovative ideas, the federal government has a position to suit your personal style.

Other employment opportunities may be available from the US Postal Service, Internal Revenue Service and other large government agencies, for which the application process may differ.

Avoid Scams

Federal government positions are highly sought after by job seekers. Unfortunately, high competition creates an environment in which scammers can mislead unsuspecting applicants into divulging personal information. The Federal Trade Commission pursues suspected scammers and warns the public regularly about the job scam warning signs. Particularly when supplementing your job search with the internet, never respond to an ad asking for the following information.

  • Social security number
  • Payment information
  • Other personal information

Also, be careful of ads claiming to be a “previously undisclosed” employment offer. According to the FTC, these ads are likely an attempt to steal personal information.

Polish Your Interview Skills

If it’s been a while since your last job search, polish your interview skills before needing to use them. When applying for a federal government job, there are four potential interview scenarios you may encounter. These include a one-on-one interview, phone interview, video interview or panel interview. Although finding out the details beforehand is ideal, it’s not always possible. Research the government agency, interview former or current employees and conduct mock interviews with friends prior to scheduling an interview.

Gain Security Clearance

For many federal government positions, security clearance is a requirement. Though different levels of clearance exist, the process of obtaining clearance can be lengthy, preventing the ability to begin employment. Experienced federal government employees need to ensure their existing security clearance does not lapse prior to conducting interviews. Often, holding active security clearance serves as a measure of your trustworthiness and responsibility as an employee of the US government.

Leave Room to Negotiate

Interviewing for your dream job in federal government may be intimidating, but negotiating the terms of your employment, including salary, benefits and job duties, should not be avoided. Even if you’re not the “negotiating type,” reviewing the details associated with any employment offer is a good habit. Specifically, carefully outline the perks, salary, responsibilities, and expectations before accepting a position. Depending on your experience, it may be wise to negotiate a higher starting salary or additional benefits.

Have Patience

Most of all, patience is a necessity when it comes to any job search, but particularly when seeking a federal government position. With thousands to choose from, pursuing the best government opportunities can feel like a chore. Between the application and onboarding process, getting hired can take months. A fair amount of patience is required to finally receive an offer (and begin) the career of your dreams. While following up within a reasonable amount of time is appropriate, applicants should expect to wait before decisions are final.

By completing each item on this checklist, you will be better prepared than the competition to receive a job offer.

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.