Federal Hiring Process
Your First Federal Job
The first rule about applying for a Federal job is to make sure you have current information. We encourage you not to rely on information provided by others, because oftentimes they entered Federal service under entirely different rules and practices than apply today, or they may not have the same preferences and entitlements as you. You want to ensure you’re working with the most current information available, so do check with reliable sources, including this web site.
The first thing you want to do is learn what vacancies or potential vacancies are out there. Most Federal agencies are required by law to post notices of vacancies for positions lasting 60 days or more, for which they will consider anyone outside of the agency’s current workforce.
Some agencies are not required to list their positions as described above. These agencies include “Excepted Agencies” such as the FBI, CIA, and others whose rules are not the same as the majority of what is often termed “the competitive civil service.” To learn about employment opportunities with these agencies, contact their individual websites. Most are usually found under a very easily determined address such as www.cia.gov (Central Intelligence Agency), or can be found by accessing www.whitehouse.gov and clicking on USA.gov under “Your Government.” Following additional links will lead you to a listing of all Federal agencies.
Once you determine what’s available, you need to identify the vacancies that interest you. You can view the vacancy announcement, see the qualifications required, and, in many cases, apply online. Just be sure to thoroughly follow the instructions listed on each vacancy announcement, as they will vary depending upon the agency, and their primary method of receiving application materials might be different from previous Federal jobs for which you have applied. Sometimes additional information is needed in order for the agency to process your application. Examples include: transcripts, DD Form 214, VA Form 15, questionnaires, etc.
Please read the instructions very carefully. Some agencies extend you the courtesy of contacting you to let you know what forms they require that you did not submit, but most do not. Information not submitted can result in your application not being evaluated, in which case you will not be considered for the position. Sometimes an agency provides contact information for the vacancy announcement. If you have questions, you can call or e-mail the contact person.
Exclusively for the Disabled Vet
The United States has an obligation to help veterans of the Armed Forces readjust to civilian life. This country owes a debt of gratitude to those who suffered physical injuries and impairment as a result of their military service. Many initiatives were created to help ease the return of these veterans to working status. These initiatives are commonly known as veterans’ preference. Veterans’ preference was created not as a reward for serving in the military, but out of a sense of obligation to those who suffered economic loss due to their military service.
The Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944 gave us veterans’ preference in its current form. If you are disabled, by law, you are entitled to preference over others in hiring from competitive referral lists. Veteran’s preference does not guarantee you a job. You are eligible for Federal employment based on veterans’ preference, but not entitled to a Federal job. You must conduct your own job search. Agencies have discretion on the sources they use to fill their vacant positions, and may or may not use these special appointing authorities. Some use it more than others, such as the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs. It is up to you to make yourself known to agencies and selecting officials, so do look for every opportunity to apply for those positions for which you qualify.
Once you obtain Federal employment, veterans’ preference does not apply to promotions or reassignments; however, you do have greater retention standing after you are hired if the agency were to undergo a reduction in force (RIF). In fact, disabled veterans are the very last group of employees to be affected by a RIF.
Note that preference is given in both the Competitive Service and the Excepted Service. You only receive preference if you were discharged or released from active duty in the Armed Forces under honorable conditions (i.e., honorable or general discharge).
Certain Federal positions are open only to veterans with preference. These occupations are custodian, guard, elevator operator and messenger.
How to be Appointed to a Federal Job
There are basically three ways to be appointed to a Federal job:
1. Competitive Appointment
This is the way most employees enter the Federal civil service. You will compete for these positions along with others, both veterans and non-veterans. The highest ranked individuals are referred for consideration.
- If you have a service-connected disability of 10 percent or more, 10 points are added to your passing score, AND your name is placed ahead of all other individuals who receive a passing score. In the past, this was referred to as “floating to the top of the list.”
- Generally, agencies must select from the top three candidates referred, and they must select someone with veterans’ preference before they select someone without it.
- It is not mandatory that they select the compensably disabled veteran, but they must select someone with veterans’ preference if they are among the top 3 candidates.
- If you believe you were among the top three candidates referred for a position and did not get selected, you are entitled to a copy of the agency’s reasons for passing you over.
- If you are a 30 percent or more disabled veteran, an agency must notify the Office of Personnel Management and you if they propose to pass you over. You have 15 days from the date of notification to get your response to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). OPM considers the agency’s rationale for wanting to pass you over, and they also consider your response. They have the final decision in such cases.
2. Non-Competitive Appointments
Special Authorities were created to ease veterans’ way into the Federal workforce.
Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA)
- Veterans who meet eligibility criteria for VRA can be appointed to a Federal job without competition. After 2 years of satisfactory service, you will be converted to a career-conditional appointment in the competitive service (permanent job).
- You can also be given a noncompetitive temporary or term appointment based on your VRA eligibility. These appointments do not lead to permanent jobs and will carry a date indicating how long the job will last. Be sure you understand the time frame, so that you can plan your next move in advance of your time running out on such appointments.
- You can be appointed to any position for which you qualify up to GS-11 or equivalent (the promotion potential of the position is not a factor).
- You must meet the qualification requirements for the position. (Note: any military service is considered qualifying for GS-3 or equivalent.)
- After you have completed 2 years of substantially continuous service in a permanent position under a VRA, the appointment will be converted to a career or career conditional appointment in the competitive service, providing your work performance has been satisfactory.
- Once on-board, you are treated like any other competitive service employee and may be promoted, reassigned, or transferred.
- VRA appointees with less than 15 years of education must complete a training program established by the agency.
You are eligible if you are:
- A disabled veteran; OR
- A veteran who served on active duty in the Armed Forces during a war, or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized; OR
- A veteran who, while serving on active duty in the Armed Forces, participated in a United States military operation for which an Armed Forces Service Medal was awarded; OR
- A veteran recently separated from military service.
If you are claiming eligibility on the basis of serving in a campaign or expedition for which a medal was awarded, you must have received the campaign badge or medal.
In addition to meeting the criteria above, to be eligible, you must have been separated under honorable conditions (i.e., you must have received either an honorable or general discharge).
Note: Under the eligibility criteria, not all 5-point preference eligible veterans may be eligible for a VRA appointment. However, all disabled veterans are eligible for VRA appointment.
Lastly, even though VRA is a non-competitive authority, should the situation occur where 2 or more VRA candidates apply for the same position with the same veterans’ preference entitlements, a competition of sorts does occur. So you should always ensure that your application package reflects all your qualifications and work experiences so that you can be the one selected!
How To Apply: Agencies rarely advertise solely for VRA positions. They may include VRA as one of several groups that can apply and be considered. So be sure to carefully read the “Who May Apply.” information on vacancy announcements. You can also contact the human resources office at an agency where you want to work to get additional information.
30% or more Disabled Veteran Program
If you have a service-connected disability of 30% or more, Federal agencies have the authority, by law, to give you a noncompetitive appointment. These positions must be for more than 60 days.
- The disability must be officially documented by the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- This authority covers all grade levels and occupations.
- You must meet all qualification requirements for any position to which you are appointed. This could include the requirement to achieve a passing score on a written test.
- You are first given a temporary appointment with an initial expiration date in excess of 60 days. Your appointment can be converted at any time to a career conditional appointment (permanent).
- You should contact the agency’s human resources office where you’re interested in working to find out about job opportunities. You will be asked to submit a copy of a letter not more than 12 months old from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) or Department of Defense certifying that you receive compensation for a service-connected disability of 30 percent or more.
Disabled Veterans Enrolled in VA Training Programs
This special program is for veterans who are eligible for training under the Department of Veterans Affair (VA) vocational rehabilitation program. If you are eligible, you can enroll for training or for work experience at an agency that has an agreement with the VA.
- During your training or work experience period, you are not a Federal employee
- There is no set length of time for the program. The training/work experience is crafted with your individual needs in mind.
- If an agency has their training plan approved by the Office of Personnel Management, veterans who successfully complete the program are given a Certificate of Training showing the job series and grade level of the position for which training was received.
- If you have such a certificate, an agency may appoint you to a temporary or term position for up to one year. They can then convert you, without a break in service, to a career-conditional appointment (permanent) at any time during your temporary or term appointment.
- Check with your VA vocational rehabilitation counselor for more details on how to become part of this program.
3. Merit Promotion Selection under Veterans Employment Opportunities Act
VEOA authorizes veterans to compete for positions as if they were internal candidates, provided the agency is accepting applications from individuals outside the agency.
- VEOA ensures that veterans are able to compete for government positions that previously may have only been available to existing civil service employees.
- You will be able to recognize such positions because any time an agency opens an announcement to applicants outside their workforce, they must include a statement on all their merit promotion announcements that eligible veterans may apply.
- Bottom Line: When an agency opens a vacancy announcement to their current employees and other Federal employees outside their agency, as a veteran meeting VEOA criteria, you can apply, too, even if you’ve never worked for the government.
- Veterans interested in applying under this authority should seek out agency merit promotion announcements open to candidates outside the agency. Applications should be submitted directly to the agency.
- Eligibility: You may be eligible for appointment under the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) if you have 5 or 10 point veterans’ preference, or if you are a veteran who has been honorably discharged from the armed forces and substantially completed 3 years (not less than 2 years and 11 months) of active military service. You can only use VEOA appointment eligibility if it is the only appointment eligibility you possess. If you are a veteran with career status or can be reinstated to Federal services because you worked for the government before, you are not eligible for a VEOA appointment.
Other Special Appointing Authorities
If you strongly desire to work for the Federal government, you must be proactive and begin networking with local agencies, contacting listed resources, and aggressively seeking out all available Federal employment opportunities.
The Federal Government’s hiring options include excepted service special appointing authorities for people with disabilities. Although not developed exclusively for disabled veterans, disabled veterans are eligible to apply if they meet the criteria. Federal employers are authorized to use these authorities when considering certain people with disabilities (those who have severe physical, cognitive, or psychiatric disabilities or who have a history of or who are regarded as having such disabilities). The authorities provide a unique opportunity to demonstrate the potential to successfully perform the essential duties of a position with or without reasonable accommodation in the workplace. Agencies have direct hire authority for the Schedule A appointments presented here.
- Schedule A, 5 CFR 213.3102(t) for Hiring People with Mental Retardation. This authority is used to appoint persons with cognitive disabilities (mental retardation) who meet the eligibility requirements. Upon completion of 2 years of satisfactory performance the employee may qualify for conversion to the competitive service.
- Schedule A, 5 CFR 213.3102(u) for Hiring People With Severe Physical Disabilities. This authority is used to appoint persons with severe physical disabilities who: (1) under a temporary appointment have demonstrated their ability to perform duties satisfactorily; or (2) have been certified by a counselor from a State vocational rehabilitation agency (SVRA) or the Department of Veterans Affair’s Vocational Rehabilitation Office as likely to succeed in performance of duties. Upon completion of two years of satisfactory service under this authority, the employee may qualify for conversion to the competitive service.
- Schedule B, 5 CFR 213.3202(k) for Hiring People Who Have Recovered from Mental Illness. This authority permits appointments at Grades GS-15 and below when filled by individuals who: (1) are placed at a severe disadvantage in obtaining employment because of a psychiatric disability evidenced by hospitalization or outpatient treatment and have had a significant period of substantially disrupted employment because of the disability; and (2) are certified to a specific position by a State vocational rehabilitation counselor or a Department of Veterans Affairs counseling psychologist (or psychiatrist) who indicates that they meet the severe disadvantage criteria stated above, that they are capable of functioning in the position to which they will be appointed, and that any residual disability is not job related. Employment under this authority may not exceed two years following each significant period of mental illness.
In addition, once you’re hired, your agency can use the following hiring authority to provide assistance should your disability warrant it:
- Schedule A, 5 CFR 213.3102(II) for Hiring Readers, Interpreters, and Other Personal Assistants. This authority permits appointments of readers, interpreters, and personal assistants for employees with severe disabilities when filled on a full-time, part-time, or intermittent basis. Upon completion of at least one year of satisfactory service under this authority, the employee may qualify for conversion to the competitive service.
Filing Applications After the Announcement Closes
As a 10-point preference eligible, you can file an application at any time for any position which:
- A permanent appointment has been made in the preceding 3 years;
- A list of individuals eligible to be selected to the position currently exists that is closed to new applications; OR
- A list is about to be established.
You should contact the agency that announced the position for further information.
President Obama has established a program that provides new avenues for students and recent graduates to enter the federal workplace.
The Pathways Program kicked off on July 10, 2012 consolidating a number of government internship programs into a single system for recruiting, training and retaining students and recent graduates who are well-qualified candidates for federal employment. The Pathways Program was created for several reasons, including 1) providing alternate paths for recruiting recent college and trade-school graduates (including military veteran students) to the federal workforce; 2)offering meaningful training, mentoring, and career-development opportunities for students, recent graduates, and student veterans; and 3)replacing student internship programs that were found to violate federal veterans’ preference laws. Veterans’ preference applies to all Pathways Programs job opportunities. If you qualify for veterans’ preference, be sure to include your DD-214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty and, if applicable, SF 15, Application for 10-Point Veterans’ Preference, with your application.
The Pathways Program is composed of three parts: an Internship Program, a Recent Graduates Program and the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program. The first two programs are brand new, while the PMF Program is being modified. As a student or a recent graduate, the program best suited for you depends on where you are in your academic studies.
The Internship Program is a new program for students who are currently enrolled in high school, home school, trade school, college or other qualifying educational institutions. It provides a path for students to explore the work of the federal government and get paid while they are still in school. The Internship Program replaces the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) and the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP).
The Recent Graduates Program provides a new path to a potential career in the civil service for individuals who have graduated in the past two years from a qualifying educational institution with an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, professional, doctorate, vocational or technical degree or certificate. Military veterans may apply up to six years after receiving their degree or certificate if they have been prevented from doing so because of a military service obligation.
For more than 30 years, the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program has been the federal government’s premier leadership development program for advanced (masters or professional) degree candidates. PMF applicants who have received a qualifying advanced degree within the two preceding years can apply to the PMF program.
Positions in the Pathways Programs are excepted from the competitive service. Participants in these Programs are appointed under the newly created Schedule D of the excepted service.
Understanding How Federal Salaries Are Set
How Pay Is Determined
Uncle Sam has worked very hard to create a system that ensures employees doing similar work are similarly compensated. Pay is tightly tied to what one does, which is clearly spelled out in a job description. In some cases, the person who interviews you for a particular job has some ability to impact your base salary. When your military experience is directly related to the Federal job for which you are selected, and you earned a higher rate of pay in your military job, at the agency’s discretion, you can enter the position at a higher starting salary. In addition, in an effort to effectively compete with the private sector, there may be add-ons available in the form of premium pay, bonuses or allowances, to put a little more heft into your future paycheck.
Government Pay System
Most white collar civil service jobs are set on the General Schedule, or GS pay scales. The GS pay scale ties experience required to do the job with the job’s level of responsibility to grades and steps within grades. The higher your grade, the higher your salary.
How do I Figure Out Where I Fit Within the GS Range?
- Education. Someone with a bachelor’s degree usually starts at the GS-5 or GS-7 level. Someone with a Master’s degree usually starts at a GS-9 level.
- Experience. Agencies look at your work experience to determine a grade level for which you would be qualified. Although it is best to get a position at as high a grade as possible, don’t rule out applying for and accepting career ladder positions. Within the Federal system, you can advance from GS-7 to GS-12 in as little as 3 years, which amounts to about a 40 percent salary increase!
- Where You Live. Almost 85 percent of Federal jobs are located outside the Washington, D.C., area, although by far jobs in the Washington, D.C., area have the highest average grade as compared to the rest of the United States. Pay is adjusted so that identically graded positions in areas where the cost of living is higher than average receive more pay. This is commonly known as locality pay.
Starting Salaries for GS-5, GS-7, and GS-9 – 2012
|Los Angeles, Calif.||$34,881||$43,208||$52,852|
|New York, N.Y.||$35,309||$43,738||$53,500|
|San Francisco, Calif.||$37,073||$45,923||$56,172|
How Jobs Are Defined
Each job in the Federal government is assigned to a series, based upon the major duties of the position. For example, the GS-0510 series includes many jobs related to Accountants and Supervisory Accountants, regardless of whether the job requires a specialization in systems accounting, staff accounting, or operating accounting. Within each series are different grades. The more complex the job gets, the higher the grade. Conversely, trainees are lower graded than those performing more highly skilled work.
Every series is assigned to a particular pay schedule. A pay schedule is a table that lists the salary or wage ranges for each grade, regardless of the series. While there are many, many pay schedules, the GS (General Schedule) covers the vast majority of white-collar civilian occupations in the Federal system. In our example above, you can tell the pay rate for the Accountant position will be found in the General Schedule, because a “GS” precedes the series number. In specific urban areas, where the cost of living can be significantly higher, the entire general schedule is adjusted up. These adjustments are referred to as locality pay.
Employees on the GS scale or equivalent receive cost-of-living pay adjustments every year. This usually occurs in January of each year, and is applied equally to most GS employees. In addition, there may be an additional annual increase based on pay comparability laws which must be approved by Congress each year. And of course, another way that you can increase your salary is through promotions, e.g., obtaining a higher graded position. Promotions are not automatic, and in most cases you must compete for them. The better you perform in your job, the more likely you are to be able to earn a promotion.
Advanced In Hire Rate
A superior qualifications appointment is an appointment made at a rate above step 1 of the appropriate General Schedule (GS) grade because of the candidate’s superior qualifications or the agency’s need for the person’s services. A superior qualifications appointment may be made on appointment for the first time in the Federal service. Oftentimes agencies don’t mention this possibility to individuals they want to hire, so it is up to you to bring up any salary requirements you have before you are brought on board in the position.
Federal Wage System
The FWS (Federal Wage System) is a pay system that covers many WG (Wage Grade) positions–blue-collar positions. About 10 percent of the Federal workforce is blue collar. Employees in this system are paid by the hour. The goal of this system is to ensure that; if you are a Federal trade, craft or labor employee, your pay will be similar to the pay of others in Federal jobs like yours in your wage area, and it will be in line with the pay for similar private sector jobs. For example, if you are applying for a job as a pipe fitter in Denver, you can expect the hourly pay rate will be similar to what other pipe fitters in the Denver area are earning, regardless of whom they are working for. However, the rate may be quite different from what someone with your qualifications can earn in Washington, DC. There are separate pay scales established each year for all occupations, so there are a variety of pay schedules for employees covered by the Federal Wage System.
Within each grade there are a series of “steps” that reflect a salary increase. New employees normally start at step 1 of the grade at which you are hired. GS and WG employees both receive periodic “step” increases as long as performance remains satisfactory and one has not reached the maximum step for his or her grade level.
Other Pay Systems
The most common pay systems you are likely to encounter in the Federal service are GS and FWS; however, there are pay systems where the salary and grade structure might be different. The Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security have personnel rules approved by Congress that allow them to implement what is commonly know as pay for performance systems, where the rate of pay received is linked to performance.
Other pay systems are for the Foreign Service, the U.S. Postal Service, the Veterans Health Administration, and Senior Executives. There may be more, so be sure to look at salary information listed on every vacancy announcement.
Allowances, Bonuses and Premium Pay
Allowances, bonuses and premium pay can have a significant impact on your earnings and take home pay. Allowances and bonuses are money made available by agencies for employees in occupations where, without it, it would be difficult to keep the positions filled. For example, allowances can be provided to all employees in positions with retention problems. Recruitment or relocation bonuses are often noted on the vacancy announcement, and may be as high as 25 percent of the base pay.
Premium pay is additional salary earned to compensate for non-standard or difficult work schedules, long and unpredictable work hours. Differentials and hazard pay fall under this heading. Employees receive premium pay for overtime work when they are paid for the extra hours, as opposed to getting time off. There are several situations when an employee may receive premium pay as a regular supplement to his or her paycheck. For such situations, employees may receive additional pay on an annual basis, payable in equal increments in their bi-weekly pay check. Law enforcement officers and firefighters, employees who regularly serve in a standby status and employees who must work “administratively uncontrollable overtime” on a regular basis most often receive premium pay.
Differentials are a special category of premium pay and are used to compensate certain employees because of unusual circumstances with regard to their working conditions or work schedules. Some examples are pay for evening and night shifts, holiday pay, and pay for Sunday work. A differential remains in place as long as the unusual circumstances continue. Once the unusual circumstances end, the differential is no longer payable. It is usually computed as a percentage of basic pay. Certain GS employees are eligible for hazard pay, another special type of premium pay. WG employees are similarly eligible to receive “environmental differential pay”. Hazard pay “is paid in addition to additional pay or allowances under other statutes.” The amount is substantial (often 25 percent of base pay) and offered as compensation for exposure to a vast range of different hazards, such as physical, psychological, or chemical.
Another benefit to Federal employment is that employees who contribute to the agency’s mission above and beyond acceptable job performance can expect to receive recognition for their efforts. That recognition can come in the form of cash awards, honorary awards, or time off the job without charge to leave. It’s also possible to receive cash or other recognition for suggesting or proposing changes in work operations that directly increase the efficiency or effectiveness of the operation. Monetary awards for outstanding or exemplary performance are normally paid in a lump sum.
If you did not retire from the military
If you performed honorably for your active duty and training periods, full credit for your military service is given for vacation leave accrual purposes. For example, if your total time in the military was 4 years, you will be credited with 4 years service for purposes of earning vacation leave (called annual leave in the Federal Service). So when you first become employed in the civil service, because you would have 4 years of military service counting towards your earned vacation time, you would earn 6 hours of vacation leave per pay period. Normally, those first entering Federal service would earn 4 hours of vacation leave per pay period.
For Federal retirement. If you intend to work enough years in Federal civil service to qualify for an annuity or pension, and if you want your military time to be factored into the amount of money you would receive in your retirement, you must deposit funds into your retirement account to cover the military time.
- If you were employed or become employed in a position covered by the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) on or after January 1, 1984, you must make a deposit to the retirement fund of 3 percent of basic military pay to obtain retirement credit.
- If you were employed in civil service positions covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) on or after October 1, 1982, you must make a deposit to the retirement fund of 7 percent of your basic military pay to obtain retirement credit.
- If you were employed in civil service positions before October 1, 1982, you have the choice of either making a deposit to cover your military service; or, you can have your civil service annuity recomputed to delete any military service you have after 1956, if you are eligible for social security when you turn age 62.
Most new Federal employees are in positions covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), so a deposit of 3 percent of your basic military pay is required to receive retirement credit.
There are other rules associated with retirement credit, so once you are employed, you are encouraged to talk to your agency’s benefits specialist, or your veteran’s advisor.
If You Retired from the Military
For leave accrual, as a retiree, you receive credit only for:
- the actual time you served during a war declared by Congress (includes World War II covering the period December 7, 1941, to April 28, 1952) or while participating in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge is authorized; OR
- your active duty time when your retirement was based on a disability received as a direct result of armed conflict. “Period of war” includes World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam era, the Persian Gulf War, or the period beginning on the date of any future declaration of war by the Congress and ending on the date prescribed by Presidential proclamation or concurrent resolution of the Congress.
For retirement, you must waive your military retired pay in order to receive credit for your military service, unless the retired pay is awarded based on a service-connected disability you received during combat.