How to get a US government job

Written by

John Ingram


June 24, 2018


How to get a US government job

Are you interested in how to get a US government job? Or, are you keeping your options open and instead looking to cast a wider net?

If you are a recent graduate, the good news is that the job market hasn’t been this strong in a long time. Unemployment is at near record lows, going by recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In May 2018, the Bureau reported that total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 223,000 from the previous month, and the unemployment rate edged down to 3.8 percent. Employment continued to trend up in several industries, including retail trade, health care, and construction. Over the same period, private sector employment increased by 178,000 jobs, according to the ADP National Employment Report.

All of this is great news for those seeking job opportunities. The one exception is in the government (federal and state), where employment has more or less remained flat. In fact, since the beginning of this year, employment in federal agencies has declined. However, despite this decline, many U.S. government agencies are still hiring. And for certain sectors and roles, a job in government provides a richer and more fulfilling experience than would be possible, say in the private or nonprofit sectors.

How to get a US government job

In general, for one to get a US government job requires that the potential employee be a U.S. citizen or national although in a few cases, there are opportunities for non-citizens. There are two rules for non-citizens:

  • Hired into either the excepted service or Senior Executive Service (SES).
  • Hired through the competitive service with approval competitive service when there are no qualified U.S. citizens available.

The U.S. Government hiring web site, USAJobs Agency Talent Portal, includes various hiring paths from veterans, Native Americans, those who are disabled, to those who are students and spouses. Before applying, the applicant must have a tailored cover letter for the position of interest, current resume or curriculum vitae, official high school or college transcripts, and for veterans, the DD-214 as required documents with which to submit. For current or former government employees, an updated SF-50 form must be included.

For those who apply to positions which require a security clearance, ensure that you complete, save a copy, and password protect your e-QIP security application. A security clearance is not your own but is required for certain positions and additional information can be found with the National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB) and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) – Defense Security Service (DSS).

Once all requisite documents are available for submission, you must create your own profile on USAJobs before searching and applying for any position. Your profile allows you to save any jobs you may be interested in and you have the ability to manage everything you need to complete your application including resumes and required documents. In addition to searching for jobs, there is a filter where you can find jobs more suited for you. Filters include location, salary, work schedule, and agency to narrow down your results. If you’re unsure which agency to work for, you may want to do some research as to the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Government Accountability Office are among the agencies rated as the best to work for. 

There are two types of government pay bands: General Schedule (GS) and Federal Wage (WG) Classification Systems. For the GS, pay is defined by grades 1-15 and steps 1-10 and may include locality pay. For example, a position may be coded as a GS-9 so you can assume that the starting pay is $43,857 according to the 2018 Salary Table for GS. The WG bands are essentially hourly pay.

Some Federal Government agencies may have the direct hiring authority and to learn what types of opportunities exist, you must visit the agency-specific site for details. One main caveat when applying is to carefully read over all details of the job announcement to ensure that 1) you are qualified and 2) you meet the position requirements.

Throughout the year, there may be opportunities to attend hiring events which are hosted or sponsored by the U.S. Government – some are virtual and others are located at urban venues. In either case, be forewarned that you may only get a few minutes with which to speak to a recruiter because attendance is very high so the government hiring representative may not have much time to devote to everyone – practice your elevator employment speech before attending.

Once you find a job that intrigues you, you should read the whole announcement not just parts of it because each announcement has different qualifications and information. These qualifications are crucial and if you do not pass them you won’t be eligible for the job. These qualifications will also need to be added in your application.

When your application is ready, you will be sent from USAjobs to the agency application system and then you can submit your application from there. Before you submit, you may need to complete other agency required steps. The time it takes to submit an application depends on the job you are applying for and the agency’s requirements. You can actually check the status of your application, when the agency receives your application, the status will change to “Received.” The estimated time for your application to be received is within a few hours after completion of your application.


The government may offer various incentives including the student loan repayment program. This program allows the agency to repay Federally insured student loans in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 5379. If it offered for the position which you are applying ensure that you read and understand the fine details because this program is agency-specific.

Getting that coveted government career started requires that you prepare in advance of graduation and that when you apply, you get the highest qualified rating or GS level. If you a student, you may want to research The Pathways Program regarding federal internship and employment opportunities.

Getting a college education can help you learn more and develop information to help you get into more government jobs. Without this, it may be hard to achieve government jobs. If you need help deciding on a career, consider enrolling for the College Mouse Keys to Career Success course, which offers a proven step-by-step process for identifying the right career. In addition, College Mouse offers many other resources from resume writing help to interview preparation.

You May Also Like to Read…

Graduating but don’t have a job? Here are your next five steps
How to snag your first job after college
How to get an internship and why it matters


Written by:  John Ingram

John Ingram is a former Marine, a retired Soldier, engineer, and self proclaimed geek. He is located in Maryland and is currently a freelance writer.

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