By Tim McManus of the Partnership for Public Service, The Muse
Landing a federal job can be an overwhelming—and often frustrating—process. But there’s no place to make a difference for our country quite like the government, which touches all aspects of our lives, from the air we breathe to the food we eat to homeland security to helping the homeless.
As the nation’s largest employer with about two million civilian workers, the government is seeking to fill thousands of positions at any given time, and these federal jobs match almost every set of skills and interest. In the last fiscal year, the government hired nearly 92,000 full-time permanent employees, and these jobs were located in all 50 states and overseas, not just in Washington, DC.
If you’re not clear on the type of job you want or don’t know how to navigate the system, it can be easy to get lost in a maze of agency websites and swallowed by the number of open federal job announcements. On the flipside, if you understand the process and know what you’re looking for, you can focus your efforts on specific careers based on federal employee salary search or different agencies, and increase your chances of success.
Here are nine tips to improve your odds of landing a federal job:
1. Bookmark the Best Federal Job Search Websites
First things first, go to USAJOBS.gov. Almost all federal job openings are listed there, along with the details about duties, minimum qualifications, basic benefits, and application instructions. Peruse agency and professional field pages on the site to find positions in your area of interest and to learn the level of experience required, the salary range, and the location.
Remember, while USAJOBS.gov is full of information, you’ll still want to check individual agency websites for more information on the work and missions of federal organizations.
2. Choose Positions You’re Qualified For
The qualifications listed in the job announcement provide important insights into the background, training, and experience the agency seeks. While it may be worth applying for a job you’re not entirely qualified for in other industries, in the federal government you must meet all of the qualifications and eligibility requirements.
3. Remember That Some Veterans Get a Preference
If you’ve been in the military, you have the option of a veterans’ preference. This does not guarantee that you’ll get the job, but it gives those who have served a distinct advantage over similarly qualified non-veterans. To qualify, a veteran must have documentation of a general or honorable discharge from active duty service. Nearly one-third of the federal government’s new hires in fiscal 2014 were veterans.
However, it’s worth noting that not all active duty service qualify for veterans’ preference.
4. Apply Immediately Following Your Return From Peace Corps or AmeriCorps VISTA
One of the best kept secrets in the federal recruiting and hiring process is that returned Peace Corps volunteers as well as AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers have a special preference. Agencies can interview and select qualified former volunteers on the spot without ever posting the position on USAJOBS.gov or engaging in other steps that are part of the normal and often slow and competitive hiring process. This preference is available for the year following your successful completion of service.
5. Dot All of the “Is” and Cross All The “Ts”
Incomplete applications will not be reviewed. (No exceptions!) It’s critical that you completely fill out the online job application and questionnaires and supply transcripts, letters of recommendation, writing samples, and a resume per the job requirements.
Most importantly, submit your application on time. Agencies will absolutely not accept late applications .
6. Prepare a Multi-Page Resume
Summarizing your work history in a one-page document is the way to go for a typical job application, but a federal resume should be more detailed and run two to five pages. It should follow a similar style to a traditional resume, but it needs to go into more depth. You must elaborate on the duties of your former jobs, your accomplishments, and the relevant skills that you bring to the table, including experiences you have had outside the workplace. (More on that here .) Also be prepared to provide salary history and references.
7. Tailor Your Resume for Each Job
Rather than submit the same resume for every federal position, craft new ones to match your experiences to the specific requirements outlined in separate job announcements. Most importantly, sprinkle keywords and phrases used in the job description into your resume to emphasize that you meet the criteria.
Hint: The same use of keywords should be also included when answering online application questions. And by all means, don’t be modest! You need to give the agency representative a reason to pull your resume out of that huge pile and make you one of the top candidates.
8. Be Patient, But Persistent
The federal hiring process can be slow and full of hurdles. In short, applying for a federal job and getting an answer takes time. Some agencies are better than others, and a number have special hiring flexibilities for critical positions that allow them to go outside the normal process and make quicker decisions. But in truth, applying for a federal job requires patience and persistence, and you may be competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants.
You can track the status of your application by logging into your USAJOBS.gov account or from within the agency system that you used to submit the application. If there is radio silence for several weeks after the job submission period has closed, email the contact person listed on the job announcement. Following up by phone is okay, too. You may not always get a response, but it’s worth trying to determine the state of play.
9. Bring Your “A” Interview Game
If you’re called in for an interview, you’re on a short list of those being seriously considered. However, you still may be among a dozen folks who are vying for one slot. Interviews are the time to sell yourself and set yourself apart.
And discussing your specific qualifications is only one piece of the puzzle. It can’t be stressed enough: Hiring managers want to see that you’re committed to the agency’s mission. You should prepare a short speech explaining why you would be a perfect choice based on your specific skills and experiences.