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How to Start Your Federal Job Search

How to Start Your Federal Job Search

Kathryn Troutman /

When you start, search for all jobs, because many job titles are different in government. In addition to searching Monster for jobs, search the government’s official jobs Web site, USAJOBS. You’ll learn where the jobs are, the agencies that are hiring, the salaries they pay, the duties of the job and the job titles. Spend some time to find jobs you’re interested in. Then you can start thinking about writing your federal resume.

Wouldn’t searching for all jobs give me too many listings?

You can refine your search by city, state and salary. If your degree is in accounting and you’re interested in accounting, budget and finance, you can narrow your search, because those titles are available in government as they are in private industry. But if you’re flexible or if you’re not really sure of what your job title would be in government, the best way to search is by all jobs.

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Can you give me some examples of job titles that are different in government?

One that’s very important is “office manager.” That’s the job title in private industry, but in government the title is “administrative officer.” Another title found almost exclusively in government is “program and management analyst.” In private industry, the title would be “business analyst,” “marketing analyst,” “marketing specialist,” “researcher,” “project analyst,” “writer/editor” or “program analyst”.

I’ve been told that when you apply for a federal job, you have a pretty good idea of what it will pay, unlike in the private sector.

That’s right. The salaries are posted on every announcement. The government has strict requirements for qualifications a person must have to earn a certain salary, so the question is, “How much money can I make in government?” not “How much do they pay?” If you want a human resources job, for example, you can read vacancy announcements to figure out what salary grade you’d earn based on your experience. Then, go to the government’s pay scale, called the General Schedule, to find out what that salary grade pays, which varies depending on the cost of living in a given area.

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What about the interview? Is it like a private-sector interview, or is it different?

It could be a telephone interview, it could be one-on-one, or it could be with a panel of two or three people. The most popular format now is the behavioral-based interview, which relies on situational questions such as, “Can you give me an example or a time when you had to lead a team?” As in the private sector, you may be asked what your biggest weakness is or something else, but be prepared for questions about your experience. Interviews can be rigorous, so practice and prepare ahead of time.

Once the interview is over, how do I follow up? Does following up work?

In government, busy recruiters often appreciate a follow-up. It is worthwhile and always helpful if you send a thank-you email to the person or people who interviewed you as well as to the HR specialist who coordinated the application. Those thank-yous do not come very often in government, so they stand out. Don’t make it long — five lines, max. Then two weeks later, you could contact the HR person who set up the appointment to find out if all the interviews are finished and whether someone has been selected.

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