How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job: Your Complete Guide to Opportunities, Internships, Resumes and Cover Letters, Networking, Interviews, Salaries, Promotions, and More!

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Praise for How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job:

“I wish that Lily Whiteman’s ground-breaking book had been around when I was in grad school. The book provides the essential toolkit for anyone interested in cracking open the federal hiring process. An invaluable resource to be used throughout your career. You won’t find another book on the market with more honest, relevant advice for landing your dream job in the federal government.”

— Katherine Hudson Walker, Past President of Young Government Leaders

“This is ...

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How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job: Your Complete Guide to Opportunities, Internships, Resumes and Cover Letters, Networking, Interviews, Salaries, Promotions, and More!

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Praise for How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job:

“I wish that Lily Whiteman’s ground-breaking book had been around when I was in grad school. The book provides the essential toolkit for anyone interested in cracking open the federal hiring process. An invaluable resource to be used throughout your career. You won’t find another book on the market with more honest, relevant advice for landing your dream job in the federal government.”

— Katherine Hudson Walker, Past President of Young Government Leaders

“This is the perfect book for anyone wanting to get into the federal government for the first time, or for current feds seeking promotions and jobs in the senior executive service. Providing previously unavailable ‘behind the scenes’ information and resources, this book has it all. Plus, its fresh writing style entertains and educates. If you buy one book on federal jobs, make it this one!”

— Cory Edwards, Creator of Career Directors International’s Certified Federal Résumé Writer Certification Program

Which employer is continually hiring everyone from new grads to seasoned professionals no matter how the economy is doing? The federal government—that’s who!

The federal government offers some of the most secure and highly paid jobs around. And with a whopping 200,000 people hired each year both nationwide and overseas, the federal government is the nation’s largest employer. But federal jobs are not always easy to get—especially if you approach the job-search process the same way you would for private sector employment. Federal employment requires a different set of strategies and behind-the-scenes information on what really works and what doesn’t.

Now you can find out exactly what it takes to nail a great federal job, internship, or fellowship with the all-new second edition of this bestselling classic. Written by a federal career coach and columnist with decades of personal experience climbing the federal career ladder herself, How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job is the ultimate insider’s guide to successfully navigating every stage of the federal job search. You’ll find all-new information on how to:

•Locate every appealing job or promotion for which you qualify—including unadvertised openings.

•Impress federal hiring managers online, on paper,

and in person—crucial tips culled straight from the gatekeepers!

•Model your application materials on the most persuasive résumés and door-opening cover letters—each included on the accompanying CD.

•Negotiate a top salary (often tens of thousands of dollars a year above what is initially offered!)

•Pass formidable security clearance processes and expertly handle potentially deal-busting problems.

•Access special hiring programs for young professionals, women, veterans, and people with disabilities.

•Accelerate your rise up the federal career ladder—with pivotal advancement strategies available nowhere else.

Don’t let some of the best job opportunities pass you by! With this up-to-the-minute book and invaluable disc packed with résumés, templates, checklists, and tracking sheets, plus inside tips on how to painlessly write eye-catching, impressive appli­cation essays (all of which are also available for easy access online), you’ll beat out the competition to land a highly sought-after federal job—the best employment option available today!

Lily Madeleine Whiteman is a popular contributor to the “Jobs” section of The Washington Post, the career columnist of Federal Times, and a senior writer at the National Science Foundation, a federal agency. Whiteman’s career advice has been featured in many other national outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, and U.S. News & World Report. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814420225
  • Publisher: AMACOM
  • Publication date: 6/13/2012
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 259,065
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 10.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

LILY MADELEINE WHITEMAN is a popular contributor to the “Jobs” section of The Washington Post, the career columnist of Federal Times, and a senior writer at the National Science Foundation—a federal agency.

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Read an Excerpt


Your Complete Guide to Opportunities, Internships, Résumés and Cover Letters, Networking, Interviews, Salaries, Promotions, and More!


Copyright © 2012 Lily Madeleine Whiteman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8144-2022-5

Chapter One

A Great Time to Go Federal

U.S. News & World Report describes a government job as a terrific deal and includes "governement manager" on its list of best careers.

U.S. News & World Report describes a government job as a terrific deal and includes "government manager" on its list of best careers.

Do you want to land an interesting job that pays a top salary, provides unbeatable, rock-solid job security, and will advance the public good in important ways? If so, you're probably primed to work for the federal government.

What does the federal government do? The federal government literally runs this country. To do so, it protects the strength and vitality of the U.S. economy; creates foreign policy; manages precious natural, cultural, and high-tech resources; forecasts tornadoes and hurricanes; oversees the nation's planes, trains, and highways; secures our food and water supplies; protects the health and safety of workers; keeps unsafe products off the market; and funds most of the nation's scientific and medical research, to name just a few examples.

To run the country, feds do everything that private-sector employees do—and more. So like the private sector, the federal government hires almost every type of white-collar professional, including engineers, teachers, IT experts, scientists, business managers, lawyers, PR specialists, policy wonks, medical professionals, accountants, program managers, and almost every type of blue-collar professional, including auto and aviation specialists, equipment operators, mechanics, electricians, property managers—and many more.

Plus, the federal government has jobs that you won't find anywhere else. Feds work as spies, volcano watchers, park rangers, terrorist hunters, disease detectives, curators of precious historical documents, and diplomats. The possibilities are endless.

Feds work in every imaginable setting, from offices, laboratories, museums, libraries, hospitals, parks, forests, and marine sanctuaries located throughout the United States to embassies located in far-flung countries. And they access and control resources—including huge budgets—that are unavailable to private-sector employees.

Another important advantage: the federal government provides one of the precious few workplaces where you can work exciting jobs, earn competitive salaries, and still have a life. Most feds stick to a 40-hour work week. The federal government also offers these first-rate perks:

* Job Security: The federal government continuously hires for all types of jobs and internships—even when other organizations are laying off. And while nongovernmental employees may be "pink-slipped" when the economy falters, feds are rarely laid off. Also, it is generally much harder to fire federal employees than employees in other sectors.

* Top Salaries and Advancement: Studies and anecdotal evidence show that federal salaries are very competitive with private-sector salaries and that feds in many fields earn more than their private-sector counterparts. Plus, feds receive regularly scheduled promotions, merit-based promotions, and annual cost-of-living salary increases. For more information about federal salaries, see Chapter 16.

* Generous Vacations: Full-time federal employees enjoy 10 paid holidays and 9, 13, 20, or 26 days of vacation each year, depending on their seniority. They can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to attend to a birth, adoption, or seriously ill family member.

* Top-Notch Health Insurance: Feds choose from the nation's best health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, long-term care, and life insurance programs.

* Facilities to Help You Stay Close to the Kids: Many agencies have on-site childcare facilities.

* Coverage for Health Care and Dependent Care Costs: Feds can pay up to $4,000 annually for childcare, up to $5,000 annually for health care, and up to another $5,000 for adult dependent care, from tax-free accounts that are set aside from their paychecks. Depending on expenses and tax brackets, these benefits may yield individual tax savings totaling thousands of dollars annually.

* Excellent, Secure Retirement Packages: As corporate scandals and cutbacks erode private-sector pensions, feds remain covered by secure pensions that feature a defined benefit based on length of service (with cost-of-living increases), and a 401(k)-like investment program with matching. Moreover, unlike most retired private-sector employees, retired feds get another coveted benefit: lifetime health insurance coverage.

* Flexible Schedules: Flexible work schedules and telecommuting options are freeing feds from the straitjacket of 9-to-5 schedules. In addition, many feds can opt to work 9 hours per day in exchange for taking off every other Friday. Surveys show that the overwhelming majority of feds feel that their supervisors support a work-life balance.

* Repayment of Academic Loans: Some feds receive up to $60,000 in student loan repayments. In addition, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act forgives the outstanding student loans of public service employees—including feds—after they have made 10 years of payments.

* Opportunities to Be a Do-Gooder: The ultimate aim of most federal jobs is—in one way or another—to better the world. In the words of a Peace Corps staffer, "I am doing what I love to do, and it's all for a very good cause." Moreover, even entry-level employees can wield tremendous responsibility in the government. "I have only been out of college for a year-and-a-half, and I am influencing huge budgets on environmental programs," observes a program analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ride the Hiring Wave

The federal government, which currently employs almost 2 million people, is currently perched on the edge of an unprecedented retirement wave, according to the Office of Personnel Management. More than 25 percent of federal employees have already reached the minimum retirement age of at least 55 years old, and every year, hundreds of thousands of feds are retiring. By 2016, 37 percent of feds are expected to retire.

The retirement wave is currently rolling over the federal government's executive corps (the senior executive service) with particular ferocity; about 50 percent of federal senior executives are currently eligible to retire; about 90 percent of them will become eligible to retire over the next 10 years; and, in some agencies, this figure has already reached 50 percent.

To backfill for retirees and other employees lost through normal attrition, the federal government is vigorously recruiting all types of professionals at all levels of their careers. Indeed, large percentages of new federal hires are now experienced professionals. Moreover, every retirement at top grades is expected to trigger multiple staffing actions as lower level employees ascend to fill the resulting power vacuum. This means that the retirement tsunami will make it easier than ever to move up in the federal government.

New Blood

When you think of government employees, do you visualize dowdy, schoolmarmish women and frumpy, pocket protector–clad men toiling in musty offices? If so, your perceptions are due for an update.

Indeed, statistics from the Office of Personnel Management, which is the federal government's main personnel office, show that the federal workforce—which is already generally more educated than the private-sector workforce—is steadily becoming more skilled and more educated. In addition, largely because of the ongoing retirement wave and because of renewed zest for government service inspired by various factors, including the fight against terrorism and political and economic factors, "a potential for a quasi-youth movement in the government job sector" promises to infuse the federal government with new, revitalizing blood and fresh ideas, according to the Web site In other words, the feds are registering lower and lower on the stodgy meter.

Chapter Two

The Search Is On

Finding Openings

"The best way to predict your future is to create it."

– Anonymous

Your job search is on and you have issued an "all points bulletin" (APB) for appealing openings. You can continue your quest online anytime, anywhere—at home dressed in your sweatpants while nursing your cappuccino, or between meetings at work while nursing your resentment of your current boss. This chapter explains how to find federal openings and provides leads to hot opportunities.

Where Do You Want to Work?

Contrary to popular belief, the federal government is not a single, monolithic mass. Indeed, federal organizations differ from one another as much as do private organizations.

Some of these differences hinge on each organization's mission—from the National Science Foundation's collegial academic-like ambience to the National Clandestine Service's cloak-and-dagger secrecy to the Security and Exchange Commission's "We're the good guys" ethic. Other differences hinge on factors such as the agency's pay scales, willingness to reward producers with bonuses and promotions, workforce diversity, age demographics, degree of office formality, hierarchy, and level of staff teamwork.

More tips on how to research federal organizations are provided at the end of this chapter, and tips on Capitol Hill jobs are provided in Chapter 5.

What Credentials Do You Need?

Almost every type of white-collar and blue-collar job that exists in the private sector also exists in the federal sector. So, no matter what your field of expertise, there is a good chance that the federal government employs professionals just like you.

Many types of professionals are hired by virtually every agency. These types of professionals include lawyers, project managers, and specialists in human resources, information technology, accounting, communications, contract management, logistics, property management, budget management, and administrative support. But the hiring of some types of specialized professionals is limited to certain agencies that address their specialties.

Some federal jobs require specific certifications or college degrees and some require graduate degrees. But many desirable federal jobs do not require college degrees, and many others, including some management and executive jobs, accept work experience or specialized knowledge in a particular field as a substitute for a degree. The Office of Personnel Management, which is the federal government's human resources agency, explains: "The nature of your specialized experience is what really counts."

Examples of appropriate job titles for administrative staffers who do not necessarily have college degrees include administrative officers, procurement specialists, contract managers, grants managers, audio-visual specialists, property managers, printers, equal opportunity specialists, human resources specialists, information technology specialists, recreation instructors, public affairs assistants, and Web site developers.

Examples of the types of blue-collar jobs (usually called wage-grade jobs) that exist in the federal govenrment include mechanics, building engineers, gardeners, farmers, electricians, fleet managers, drivers—and the list goes on.

The requirements for each job opening are spelled out in its announcement. For more information about federal salaries and what salary range you should aim for, see Chapter 16.

The Federal Jobs Web Site

USAJOBS ( is the official jobs Web site of the federal government. Clicking on USAJOBS is like hitting the mother lode of federal job openings; the site announces more than 15,000 jobs per day and is continuously updated throughout the day, every business day.

Included among USAJOBS's listings are jobs located all over the world and jobs that are at every level of almost every conceivable occupation. USAJOBS also announces some state, local, and private-sector job openings and features links to the employment Web sites of many federal and state organizations.

Vacancy Announcements

Federal job openings are advertised in vacancy announcements—the government's version of "Help Wanted" signs. You can search USAJOBS's collection of vacancy announcements by various criteria, including keywords, salary, geographic location, job title, and hiring agency. See Chapter 6 for more info on vacancy announcements.

If you are unsure of which federal job titles best match your skills and interests, conduct keyword searches on USAJOBS's job listings using common job titles in your field and words representing your areas of expertise. Also, consult the Federal Classification and Job Grading Systems, which can be obtained by typing that term into the search window at

The Window of Opportunity

The window of opportunity for applying for federal job openings varies. Some jobs are advertised for several weeks or longer. But others are advertised for the minimum amount of time required by law: five business days for jobs that are open to all applicants and three business days for jobs that are open only to current federal employees. Surf through USAJOBS every few days so that you don't miss out on any hot openings.

Which Jobs Are Not Posted on USAJOBS?

Most federal agencies are required to advertise most of their job openings that are open to the public (i.e., are not just open to their own employees). They usually meet such advertising requirements by posting their announcements on USAJOBS. Nevertheless, some types of federal jobs are not necessarily posted on USAJOBS. These jobs include:

* Jobs that the hiring agency opts to advertise in other venues instead of USAJOBS, such as their own Web sites, newspaper classifieds,, Facebook and other social media outlets, and online jobs boards

* Most of the internships, recruitment programs, and fellowships that are covered in Chapter 3

* Jobs in the legislative branch (Congress) and judicial branch (the courts)

* Jobs that are open only to the hiring agency's own employees

* Jobs that are filled exclusively by attendees of career fairs

* Most contract and temporary jobs

* Most jobs in the Foreign Service

* Jobs that are in the excepted service rather than the competitive service

What is the difference between competitive service jobs and excepted service jobs? Competitive service jobs—which account for the majority of federal jobs—must be advertised and filled through open competitions. By contrast, excepted service jobs can be filled through relatively flexible procedures that are designed by the hiring agency; these procedures do not always involve advertising openings and holding open competitions for them.


Excerpted from HOW TO LAND A TOP-PAYING FEDERAL JOB by LILY MADELEINE WHITEMAN Copyright © 2012 by Lily Madeleine Whiteman. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


What’s on the CD. . .

Foreword by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Preface: Common Myths About Federal Jobs



1 A Great Time to Go Federal

2 The Search Is On: Finding Openings

3 Fast Track into Management: Internships and Fellowships for Novices

and Experienced Professionals

4 Location . . . Location . . . Location: Working in Agency Headquarters

Offices vs. Field Offices

5 Into the Capitol Hill Power Vortex: Working for Congress

6 Those !@#! Vacancy Announcements

7 The Basics of Security Clearances



8 Think Like a Hiring Manager: How Applications Are Screened

9 Your Bragging Writes

10 Mastering Online Applications

11 Crafting Irresistible Résumés

12 Application Essays (KSAs and ECQs): Who Needs “Em?

13 Cover Letters That Open Doors

14 Waiting for a Response to Your Application



15 Acing Your Interviews

16 Commanding a Top-Dollar Salary

17 Responding to an Agency’s Decision



18 The Fed “Get Ahead” Guide


1 Tip Sheet for Veterans and Their Families

2 Tip Sheet for Applicants with Disabilities

3 Formatting Tips

4 Glossary


About the Author

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 26, 2012

    I thank this book for helping me land an excellent government jo

    I thank this book for helping me land an excellent government job. This is the most comprehensive guide to federal careers available anywhere--hands down.

    Because ths book's author is a career coach and very experienced federal writer, it is chock-full of insightful, insider information about every phase of a job search, including how to: 1) find job openings, internships and fellowships; 2) think like a hiring manager and impress hiring managers in applications and interviews; and 3) negotiate a top salary. Plus, the book has a one-of-a-kind chapter on how to accelerate your climb up the career ladder. Much of the guidance in this book is just as applicable to private sector careers as to government careers.

    What's more, "How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job" is written in a very easy-to-understand, engaging and sometimes even humorous style. I enthusastically recommend this unique book to job seekers of all levels--from students to executives.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 28, 2012

    I followed the advice given by the author (resume and cover lett

    I followed the advice given by the author (resume and cover letter), I
    got referred. However, two months after receiving the "cert"
    letter, I heard nothing and could not find out my application status
    (the contact person claimed that she belonged to "global
    recruiting" and knew nothing about the job or the hiring manager).
    In the book, the author gave an impression that once you got
    "cert" you 'd get interview (that's the biggest, unspoken
    lie), the reality is that only those who had a "backdoor" (or
    put in a nice phrase: "networking") would get calls----these
    people are way, way less qualified(in some case absolutely unqualified).
    There is no way one can fight this corrupted culture and practice in
    Fed. One has to somehow hope to get lucky or one's well-written resume
    will surely be ignored (the "cert" is the only
    "reward" they bestow you!) and unanswered. If the author has
    a way to clean up Fed corruption, she deserves a medal! But I think that
    she's just "one of them", and her goal is to hook you up and
    make money (she charges $40/question on her website----if she sincerely
    wants to help, she should advertise " no pay until you get the
    job")---so my conclusion: the book is well-written, but it does not
    help you at all---it is a part of the scam!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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