How to Work for the Federal Government

How to Apply
Once you’ve selected a position, it’s important to understand the application process. The federal government has discontinued the practice of administering certain testing (although some positions still require examinations), but  the process is still notoriously long, complex, and in need of reform. The good news is the OPM is working on reforms to be put in place over the next year. In the meantime, here’s how to navigate the current process:

To apply for a position, submit either a résumé or an Optional Application for Federal Employment, commonly known as OF 612, which can be downloaded from the OPM Website and requires information a traditional résumé does not. Inquiries about how many academic credits you earned from a given university, your citizenship status, and whether or not you claim veterans’ preference are just a sampling of questions on the OF 612. The job site also offers clear instructions for how to best present your applications.

If you choose to submit a résumé, it should include all the information the OF 612 requires; any omissions will lower your chances and can eliminate you from the pool of candidates. In addition to your résumé, you’ll need to submit a written document known as a KSA (for knowledge, skills, and abilities) in which you can elaborate on your work experiences and highlight your achievements. According to the Information Center on, a hiring manager should be able to see your main credentials on your KSA within 10 to 15 seconds—critical information should “jump off the page”—and you should effectively sell yourself in the top quarter of the first page. In other words, the KSA is a marketing vehicle, and you are marketing yourself.

The Pay Scale is Comparable, but Not the Wait
The vetting process, as it is now, is extensive. Expect to wait weeks, months, or longer before receiving any news.  Although the OPM has established a 45-day hiring deadline for all government positions, the deadline isn’t legally binding and each agency can differ considerably in its hiring practices. Be sure to keep any contact information provided in the job posting to refer to at a later time and date.

Salaries in the public sector are comparable to those in the private sector. There are many pay scales, but two apply to the vast majority of federal employees: the general schedule and the federal wage system. Professional and administrative workers are paid using the general schedule, which provides 15 levels of pay with incremental increases at each level. For example, federal job postings classified as G-14 offer a salary range of $83,445 to $108,483. As with most jobs, new hires usually start at the lower end.

People who work in craft, repair, as operators, or in labor are paid using the federal wage system, which reflects the local wages of comparable positions and varies significantly from region to region.
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