Applying for Government Jobs

Author:  Ryan Rampersaud

The federal government is America’s largest employer. Approximately 1.8 million people are employed by the government. As a student of the sciences, whether it be computer science, biological sciences, or the physical sciences, there are a large number of job openings in a number of different agencies. For all you astronomers and engineers, perhaps NASA may be the place for you and for all you environmental scientists there may be a future career at the EPA. For those interested in medicine and the biological sciences, the National Institutes of Health may be the right fit. These are just a few of the federal agencies that you may be able to work for. However, many people may be under the impression that finding and applying for government jobs is difficult for civilians, but the reality is that it is quite simple.


Application Procedure

Although all these agencies are funded by the federal government, there is no central department in charge of hiring employees (there is no giant human resources for the entire federal government). Agencies are in charge of their own hiring practices and all have individual departments/supervisors who deal with this. Thus, all correspondence and questions should be directed to that particular department. 

Technology has become an even greater part of our society, and has made the process of finding and applying for jobs extremely simple. USAJOBS is the official job site of US government agencies and this website allows you to directly apply for government positions. As with any job, you can apply by submitting your resume or by filling out the “optional application for federal employment-OF612.” The OF-612 is simple a form that mimics a resume asking for work experience, education, and all other necessary information. While resumes are preferable to the OF-612, be warned that if your resume is lacking any necessary components, you may not be considered for the position.


What to include in the Resume

You must include the announcement number, title and grade of the job for which you are applying. As with any resume, standard rules for preparing a resume apply:
•     List information in reverse chronological order (most recent first).
•     Try to keep length at one page.
•     Provide only necessary information—do not embellish or overstate your duties, responsibilities and accomplishments.
•     Do not use any fancy fonts, which look very pleasing but are basically illegible. (If they can’t read your resume, you won’t get serious consideration).
•     You should always maintain a certain level of professionalism. Make sure your voicemail message is concise, clear, and professional (Employers do not wan to hear your favorite song). Also, to avoid any problems, use your university e-mail address, or sign up for a free account (yahoo, hotmail, etc.). Avoid using personal e-mail addresses. 
•     Remember that employers are reviewing numerous applications. So, try to be concise, but include all the points you want to cover. The last thing someone wants to do at the end of the day is read a 4-page resume.
•     Always check, double-check, and triple-check your resume. There should not be any mistakes at all (grammatical, spelling, or otherwise). Any mistakes will look highly unprofessional and will reduce your chances.

All federal jobs will do background checks, and if you are an ex-offender, it is to your advantage to be honest. The federal government maintains that although they do consider your criminal record in determining if you are right for a job, this should not prevent you from obtaining a job with the government. However, a criminal record may prevent you from working at particular jobs involving certain kinds of work depending on the crime committed (don’t worry, jaywalking will not prevent you from getting a job). However, prohibition from all federal employment can be a problem if you have been convicted of treason, initiating rebellion against US, or have supported overthrowing the US government.



Many of us have heard of these “civil service exams,” although many of us don’t know what they entail. You may envision a sort of entrance exam given to all prospective employers of the federal government. Generally, most positions do not require you to take a civil service exam. For example, students of the biological and physical sciences generally do not have to take any exams. However, engineering and IT specialists may have to in order to join certain agencies. Ultimately it depends on the hiring agency.

In terms of education, the required amount varies between agencies. Salaries for federal jobs are based on a “General Schedule” (GS) pay scale. You may get entry level jobs (starting at the GS-2 level) with little or no experience and a high school diploma. With more experience, you may qualify for GS-3/4 level. The scale level which you qualify for depends on your education an experience (and the higher the scale the higher the pay). Higher levels can be obtained with advanced degrees and more experience.

Pay scale:

GS-2 $18,385 GS-11 $46,189
GS-5 $25,195 GS-15 $91,507
*Be advised, this is a general guide, and exact amounts can be found in the vacancy announcements. For more information take a look at “Basics of the Government Pay Scale”

Hopefully this information has shed some light on the process of applying for a government job. The process isn’t so much different than applying for a job in private industry. Good luck with your job search!


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