The federal government touches nearly every aspect of our lives, from the air we breathe to the food we eat, from aiding the poor to ensuring our safety. It’s the nation’s largest employer, providing jobs to about two million civilian workers. As such, it’s looking to fill thousands of positions at any given time, with a wide scope of skill sets for every interest. In 2015, the government filled 92,000 full-time positions in all 50 states and around the world.
Despite the ready availability of jobs, it can be difficult to navigate the government’s agency websites to find the right position. On the other hand, if you know where to look and take the right approach, you can increase your chances of landing your dream federal government job.
Here are some federal job search tips that will improve your odds:
1. Know Where to Look
Not all job sites are created equally, especially when it comes to federal job postings.
First of all, visit USAJOBS.gov. This one-stop shop has virtually all federal job openings listed, as well as details about minimum qualifications, job description, benefits, and how to apply. The website also has agency and professional field pages so you can search by area of interest, level of required experience, or even salary.
USAJOBS is a great starting point, but you’ll also want to visit individual agency pages for more information about the organizational mission, culture, and other important details.
2. Be Prepared
It can be tempting to apply for a job you’re not entirely qualified for, as this may prove beneficial in traditional work industries. In the federal government, however, you’ll be required to meet all eligibility and qualification requirements. Meeting most of the job requirements won’t cut it.
Also, keep in mind that you’ll receive veteran’s preference if you’ve been in the military. In fact, almost 1/3 of the federal government’s new hires were veterans in 2014. To qualify for this preference, you’ll need documentation from a general or a notice of honorable discharge from active duty. Get this documentation before beginning your job search.
3. Time It Right
With a federal job search, timing is everything – especially if you recently served in Americorps or the Peace Corps. It’s a well-kept secret that the federal government recruits and provides special preference to these volunteers. In fact, agencies can interview and select volunteers on the spot before ever posting the job on USAJOBS.gov. This preference only lasts for the year after your service, so take advantage of it as soon as possible.
4. Do Your Due Diligence
Once you’ve narrowed your job search, prepare a multi-page resume. Brevity might be suitable for a traditional job application, but a good federal job resume is two to five pages long. It should echo the sentiments of a traditional resume but go into more depth. Elaborate on your former job duties, your relevant skills and experiences, your accomplishments, and how your experience outside of the workplace will make you a good fit for your desired position. References and salary history might also be required, depending on the nature of the position.
When applying, complete the application fully and completely. Supply all requested documentation, including transcripts, letters of recommendation, or writing samples. Submit your application on time – the federal government won’t review incomplete or late applications, and there are no exceptions to this policy.
5. Don’t Take a “One Size Fits All” Approach
A common mistake federal job seekers make is submitting the same resume for every position. Instead, tailor your resume to reflect the specific job requirements of each position. Use keywords and phrases from the job description to flesh out your resume and send the message that you meet the criteria.
Here’s a pro tip: don’t worry about appearing modest. Give an agency representative a reason to pick your application out of a stack of candidates. Create a smart online application using key phrases and tailor your accomplishments to the job description at hand.
6. Leverage Your Network
Talk to your circle of friends, former colleagues, and current workmates to achieve a competitive advantage in your federal job search. LinkedIn can help you connect with people who already work within the government. Talk to your friends to learn about potential job openings and gain tailored insight to the application and interview process. If you’re in college, check with your career services department and see if they have any established connections with agencies or government recruiters.
7. Be Patient
You’re seeking a job with the federal government, which comes with many benefits. Positions are sought after, so the hiring process can be slow and full of sequential steps. Applying for a federal job can take four months or more. Some agencies may be faster than others, and many agencies have specialized requirements and vetting processes. Applying for a federal job requires persistence and patients, as you may be competing against hundreds or even thousands of applicants.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you have to sit on your thumbs and wait. Check the status of your application on USAJOBS.gov or from the individual agency website where you submitted the application. If you haven’t had an update in several weeks, email the contact person or follow up on the phone. You might not receive a response, but it’s worth it to see where you stand on the position.
8. Get Ready For the Interview
If you make it to the interview stage, you’re already on the short list of people for consideration. On the other hand, there could be as many as a dozen people vying for the same position. Thoroughly prepare for the interview by preparing a list of potential questions and practicing your answers beforehand. Spend time reading about the agency’s mission, work culture, and anything else you might need to know. Interviews are your opportunity to stand out and establish yourself as the most viable candidate.
9. Take Your Time
Applying for a federal job doesn’t have to be stressful. With a careful and well-thought out approach, you can identify the right opportunities, apply for the right job, and maximize your chances of earning a government position.