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HOW TO LAND A TOP-PAYING FEDERAL JOBYour Complete Guide to Opportunities, Internships, Résumés and Cover Letters, Networking, Interviews, Salaries, Promotions, and More!
By LILY MADELEINE WHITEMAN
AMACOMCopyright © 2012 Lily Madeleine Whiteman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA 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 Feds work as spies, volcano watchers, park rangers, terrorist hunters, disease detectives, curators of precious historical documents, and diplomats.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.
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 Monster.com. In other words, the feds are registering lower and lower on the stodgy meter.
Chapter TwoThe Search Is On
"The best way to predict your future is to create it."
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 (usajobs.gov) 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.
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 opm.gov.
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, indeed.com, 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.
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