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GS Pay Scale FAQs

GS Pay Scale FAQs

While we’re constantly working to improve our guide to the GS Pay Scale, it can still be a confusing system. We created this page in order to answer any specific questions you might have about the Pay Scale. Since many users seem to have similar question, we’ll continue to post the questions we receive here, along with the best answers we can muster.

Below is a list of questions from the forums, some with multiple answers posted.

If you don’t see your salary inquiry here, be sure to post it in the GovCentral discussion forums.

Clarification on the Ten Steps
Non-government Work Experience
Does Locality Affect Pay Rates?
What is an Automatic Step Increase?
Negotiating My Salary

Clarification on the Ten Steps
Does the fact that there are 10 steps to each grade mean that it takes 10 years to reach top pay with the federal government? Also, if one is hired at the 5/7/9 level and the position has a full performance level of GS 12/13, do you receive steps at the same time you are advanced to the next grade? – FutureCFE

Answer 1: If you are hired as a 5/7/9… You begin as a 5 after a year of work you go up for a performance review. If your boss feels you should be promoted to a 7 you will be and so on. In most cases, this promotion is done without competition “non-competitive promotion”.

When you accept a new job it’s important to check out the steps… The best time to take advantage of the step system is BEFORE you accept a job offer. Take this example:

“Joe, is offered a GS-12 position, he knows he needs a few steps in order to reach his current salary. Upon accepting the job, Joe negotiates a GS-12 position step 5.” This way “Joe” doesn’t have to wait 10 years to reach his full potential as a GS-12 and gives him and advantage if he applies to be a GS-13.

Answer 2: It takes way more than 10 years to reach salary full potential even though there are 10 steps. Steps 1-4 take a year, 5-7 take two years, and 8-10 take 3 years…

Answer 3: If you start in the government as a GS 5, you could apply for a GS 7 in one year. Then at the end of the next year you could apply for and land a GS 9. And the next year you could apply for and land a GS 11. Then one year later go for a GS 12. Next year 13. Next year 14. Next year 15.

6 years from GS 5 to 15. That would be amazing. But legally according to the rules, you could do this.

The steps within the grade are for people who stay in the same grade for a long time.

If you started as a GS 5 and stayed there, you could move to a GS 5, step 2 the next year. And the next year you would go automatically to a Step 3. This is not a fast way to get promoted.

But these moves happen without applying for a job. They just happen.

But things are changing in government and these automatic step increases will be a process in the past pretty soon.

Non-government Work Experience:
If I have a few years of experience outside the government and decide to apply for a government job, where would I start at on this scale?
I’ve seen some jobs I am qualified for state that equivalent experience that would be obtained at the GS-5 level is required. Does this mean that I can’t apply for the GS-7 position that was posted… and if so, why is it posted as open to the public, if the public isn’t working on that same scale?
– Taishan

Answer 1: Starting salaries depend on the selecting officials discretion. Sometimes you can negotiate your salary within a pay grade, in some cases you can even receive recruitment bonuses, student loan repayment, and relocation expenses.

You can apply for whatever grade you think your skills qualify you for.

This may help you: Qualification Standards for General Schedule Positions,

Answer 2: Think of the pay scale (5, 7, 9, etc) in terms of the private sector. Many jobs will have subsets within the HR system that provides salary ranges (Accountant I, Accountant II, Lead Accountant, Accounting Supervisor I). Each level tends to have a separate set of duties and qualifications. In theory. If you read the requirements closely, they should give you and idea of what duties are expected of a grade level.

If you have any questions about how experience equates to a level, OPM publishes information or your local library might have a copy of the plum book.

Does Locality Affect Pay Rates?
I was just offered a job at GS12 level. But when I asked to confirm the advertised salary, they say the starting salary is really $5,000 less than what was advertised. They claim not to know why the computer pulled the higher amount in the job announcement. Is this kind of “error” common with federal employment? Is there any recourse for me? (F.Y.I – I have a copy of the job announcement. The Human Resource woman that I spoke with in Washington, D.C. pulled it up and said “oh…” She saw the same salary as I did. She offered no excuse, but refused at this point to hire me at the advertised salary.)-steinsview

Answer: Ask if the advertised salaries was posted for a certain “locality” since GS-Pay is adjusted to the local labor markets. E.G., San Francisco and New York City may have an 8% differential since they are high cost areas, for the same grade and step.

Learn more about Locality Pay Rates

What is an Automatic Step Increase?
Can someone expand on the references to “automatic step increases” being history soon? – Robert4486

Answer: Some agencies, particularly the Dept. of Defense, are no longer on the GS scale. They are on a system called “pay-banding”. Instead of being a GS-15 step 1 you are given a range in which your pay can be, and promotions/pay increases are determined by performance reviews.

For more information visit:

Negotiating My Salary
I just interviewed for a position that I have a very good shot at. But how does one go about the negotiations? I put on my application that I would accept a GS-11 or 12 [the position was advertised as 9/11/12], both of which would be a pay cut for me, but I won’t go below a 11 step 6. A 15% paycut is the most I can take. Because this is almost a dream job for me, I don’t care about the grade. Negotiating advice needed! - Luckylou

Answer: Some say you can’t negotiate but I have never heard nor experienced this. The government has put some things in place to keep up with private sector jobs. Maybe people don’t know about these things. You’d have to talk with HR about your pay and steps. Be ready to defend your case if you want the pay and the job.

Need advice on negotiating? Check out this article <a href=“” Negotiating Your Way to a Higher Federal Salary."

Don’t see your question here? Ask it in the GovCentral discussion forums.

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