Careers in the Federal Government

The following information on this page comes from Find Your Federal Job Fit by Janet Ruck and Karol Taylor. It will focus on how to apply for federal employment in the executive and legislative branches.

The federal government in the United States consists of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The majority (97%) of civilian service employees work in the executive branch. Civilian service positions applies to any federal job where the applicant competes and qualifies based on his or her knowledge, skills, and abilities (educational and work experience). Approximately 15 percent of federal jobs are located in the Washington, D.C. area. Most agency headquarters for the 15 federal departments and 100 agencies are located in the D.C. metropolitan, although most federal agencies have regional offices throughout the country (California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington).
  • Click here for the entire list of federal departments and agencies.
  • Click here for a list of possible federal employment benefits.
Every federal agency advertises the competencies it is seeking in its employees. Vacancy announcements require that applicants address competencies in their resumes and essays.
  • oral communication
  • writing
  • interpersonal skills
  • customer service
  • self-management
  • teamwork
GS or General Schedule is the name for a pay scale based on a combination of educational or experience requirements utilized by the majority of the white-collar personnel in the civil service of the federal government. Entry -level positions are GS-2 through GS-4 (associate's degree or less) and GS-5 through GS-7 (bachelor's degree); mid-level positions are GS-9 through GS-11 (master's degree or professional doctorate); and senior-level positions are reserved for GS-12 through GS-15 (Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate). Job categories beyond the GS-12 require much more specialization, experience and expertise.


GS-2
High school graduation or equivalent
GS-3
1 academic year above high school
GS-4
2 academic years above high school, or Associate's degree
GS-5
4 academic years above high school leading to a bachelor's degree, or
Bachelor's degree
GS-7
Bachelor's degree with Superior Academic Achievement for two-grade interval positions, or 1 academic year of graduate education (or law school, as specified in qualification standards or individual occupational requirements)
GS-9
Master's (or equivalent graduate degree such as LL.B. or J.D. as specified in qualification standards or individual occupational requirements), or 2 academic years of progressively higher level graduate education
GS-11
Ph.D. or equivalent doctoral degree, or 3 academic years of progressively higher level graduate education, or

For research positions only, completion of all requirements for a master's or equivalent degree (See information on research positions in the qualification standard for professional and scientific positions.)
GS-12
For research positions only, completion of all requirements for a doctoral or equivalent degree (See information on research positions in the qualification standard for professional and scientific positions.)


KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities)

KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) is the essay section on the federal government application where you demonstrate your experience, education, or training. This section is used to distinguish the "qualified candidates" from the "unqualified candidates" for a position. If there are selective factors listed on the vacancy announcement, you should address your experience that is relevant for each selective factor requirement. If you do not address the selective factor(s) in your application, you will not receive further consideration in the evaluation process. If you choose to rely on your basic application rather than write separate responses to the KSAs, you should be sure that your basic application covers all the KSAs. As an applicant, it is your responsibility to show how your education and experience meet the requirements for positions. For more specific instructions on how to write the KSAs, the Department of Veteran Affairs provides a great explanation of the entire application process.
    • Click here for more information on how to write the KSAs section of the federal application.
    • Click here for sample federal resumes and cover letters.

    The Federal Resume

    In the United States, a federal resume is a type of resume style constructed specifically to apply for Federal government jobs. A standard resume should not be used to apply for federal positions. A federal resume must include all the information required by a job announcement — not following these guidelines will disqualify your application. Federal resumes are written in chronological resume format. Specific information is required to be included on federal resumes so that applicants can be rated uniformly. This information includes:

    Job Information (Announcement number, title, series and grade of job for which applying)

    Personal Information (Full name, mailing address w/ zip code, day and evening phone numbers w/ area code, social security #, country of citizenship, veteran’s preference, reinstatement eligibility, highest Federal civilian grade held)

    Education (High school: name, city, and state, date of diploma or GED, Colleges or universities: name, city and state, majors, type and year of any degrees received)

    Work Experience (Job title, duties and accomplishments, employer’s name and address, supervisor’s name and phone number, starting and ending dates, hours per week, salary, indicate whether we may contact your current supervisor)

    Other Qualifications (Job-related training courses, skills, certificates and licenses, honors, awards and special accomplishments; for example, publications, memberships in professional or honor societies, leadership activities, public speaking and performance awards).

    A federal resume should cover the last ten years of employment history and should be three to five pages long when printed. When applying to federal government positions, KSA statements are usually required in addition to a federal resume, but in most cases, should be included in the text of your resume.

    The USAJobs.gov website offers an online resume builder. Job counselors for the federal government recommend that you use the USAJobs.gov builder to create your online resume for two reasons: 1) the resume builder will help you ensure that all required content is included, and 2) your resume built through the system is "searchable" by HR specialists. It is recommended you build your blocks of text for each position you want to include in MS Word or a compatible text editor and to cut and paste it into the resume builder tool at USAJobs.gov. For more information, browse the links below:

    Finding A Federal Job

    Federal job postings can be found on USAJobs.gov. Most macro-practice social workers and education professionals will find employment under these two occupational groups (see Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families by the United States Office of Personnel Management):

    Education (GS-1700)
    Duties: administer, manage, supervise, perform, or support education or training work when the paramount requirement of the position is knowledge of, or skill in, education, training, or instruction processes.

    Social Science, Psychology, and Welfare (GS-0100)
    Duties: advise on, administer, supervise, or perform research or other professional and scientific work, subordinate technical or related clerical work in one or more of the social sciences; in psychology; in social work; in recreational activities; or in the administration of public welfare and insurance programs.

    Note: The U.S. Department of Education has its own employment opportunities website.

    Careers in the Legislative Branch


    The easiest way to find the latest announcements on vacancies (e.g., internships and full-time positions) is to sign up on each chamber's bulletin (email listserv). You can receive weekly updates (as an attachment) that includes job descriptions from members and committees.
    • House of Representatives: http://house.gov/content/jobs/hvaps_subscribe.php
    • Senate: http://www.senate.gov/employment/po/positions.htm

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