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

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

by Lily Madeleine Whiteman


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How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job: Your Complete Guide to Opportunities, Internships, Resumes and Cover Letters, Application Essays (KSAs), Interviews, Salaries, Promotions, and More! by Lily Madeleine Whiteman

With over 40 per cent of the federal government's 1.6 million employees retiring over the next 10 years (including about 90 per cent of senior managers), this is the perfect time for job seekers to land top-paying, secure and dynamic federal jobs and for current federal employees to quickly climb the federal career ladder. Yet until now, no truly up-to-date or comprehensive book has existed to give readers comprehensive, practical advice on how to land a federal job, internship, or fellowship and how to land federal promotions.

Entertainingly written by a successful career coach who has climbed the federal career ladder herself as a hiring manager, this reader-friendly book steers prospective applicants through every stage of their job search — from finding unadvertised openings to sealing enviable deals. This book draws on interviews with more than 100 other hiring managers. Including a companion CD filled with sample resumes and worksheets, this is the book to have whether you are seeking an internship, your first federal job or an executive promotion.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814401729
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 09/03/2008
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 8.40(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Lily Whiteman (Washington, D.C.) 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.

Read an Excerpt



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

— Unknown

With about 2.7 million civilian employees, the federal government is the nation’s largest employer. Every year, about 200,000 new hires join the federal workforce and hundreds of thousands of current feds are promoted.

Do you want to land an interesting job that provides a top salary, unbeatable job security and opportunities to advance the public good? 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. It safeguards the strength and vitality of the US economy…manages precious natural resources…predicts tornados and hurricanes…manages the nation’s planes, trains and highways…protects our food and water supplies safe…polices the banks…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 engineers, teachers, IT experts, scientists, business managers, lawyers, PR specialists, policy wonks, medical professionals, accountants, auto mechanics, electricians, property managers — and 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 non-governmental 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: Many types of feds earn more than their private sector counterparts. Plus, federal employees receive regularly scheduled promotions, merit-based promotions, and annual cost-of-living salary increases. For more information about federal salaries, see Chapter 14.

 Generous Vacations: Full-time federal employees enjoy 10 paid holidays, and 9, 13, 20 or 26 days of vacation each year, depending on their previous work experience. 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.

 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 child care and up to $5,000 annually for adult dependent care expenses from tax-free set aside accounts. This option helps feds save up to 40 percent in out-of-pocket health care and dependent care expenses.

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

 Flexible Schedules: Flexible work schedules and telecommuting options are freeing feds from the straight jacket of nine-to-five schedules. Such programs, for example, currently enable about 20 percent of federal workers to work from home or from a nearby telework center at least one day per week —a figure that is increasing as telecommuting programs mature. In addition, many feds can opt to work nine hours per day in exchange for taking off every other Friday.

 Loose Academic Loans: Some feds receive up to $60,000 in the student loan repayments.

 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.


Linda Springer, the federal government’s top personnel manager, says that the federal government is about to be hit by an unprecedented “retirement tsunami.” During the next ten years, 60 percent of federal employees — including 90 percent of senior federal managers — will be eligible to retire, and about 40 percent of employees are expected to retire, according to Springer.

To backfill for the impending retirement tsunami, 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 mid-career 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, school-marmish women and frumpy, pocket protector-clad men toiling in musty offices? If so, your perceptions are due for an update.

Indeed, the Office of Personnel Management’s statistics show that the federal workforce is steadily becoming more skilled and more educated. Largely because of the approaching retirement wave and because of renewed interest in government service inspired by 9/11, “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 In other words, the feds are registering lower and lower on the stodgy-meter.

Table of Contents


Preface: Common Myths About Federal Jobs, ix



1 A Great Time to Go Federal, 3

2 The Search Is On: Finding Openings, 7

3 Oodles of Internships, Student Jobs, and Fellowships for Experienced

Professionals, 27

4 Into the Capitol Hill Power Vortex: Working for Congress, 33

5 Those !@#! Vacancy Announcements, 43

6 Think Like a Hiring Manager: How Applications Are Screened, 53



7 Your Bragging Writes, 65

8 Mastering Online Applications, 89

9 Crafting Irresistible Résumés, 97

10 Writing Killer Application Essays (KSAs and ECQs), 117

11 Cover Letters That Open Doors, 173

12 Waiting for a Response to Your Application, 185



13 Interviews That Nail the Job, 191

14 Commanding a Top-Dollar Salary, 215

15 Responding to an Agency’s Decision, 227



16 The Fed “Get Ahead” Guide, 237

Appendix 1: Tip Sheet for Veterans and Their Families, 259

Appendix 2: Tip Sheet for Applicants with Disabilities, 265

Appendix 3: Formatting Tips, 271

Appendix 4: Glossary, 281

Index, 287

About the Author, 293


Directory of Internships and Special Recruitment Programs for Young Professionals

Directory of Internships That Are Specially Recruiting Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities

Directory of Fellowships for Experienced Professionals (Nonfeds and Current Feds)

Cheat Sheets for Application and Interview Prep

KSA & Interview Prep Cheat Sheets

Résumé Prep Cheat Sheets

Going Global in Government

Get Ahead Cheat Sheets

Lily Whiteman’s Washington Post articles on Federal Internships, Interview Skills,

International Opportunities, and Networking in Professional Organizations

What People are Saying About This

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, 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

This is the perfect book for anyone wanting to get into the federal government for the first time or, for those already in the federal government, to get promoted within the federal system…This book has it all ? from creating a federal resume, writing KSAs and ECQs, interviewing and negotiating a salary ? to job leads and special hiring programs. Uses a fresh writing style that entertains and educates. If you buy only one book to help you get a federal job, make it this one! --Association of Career Professionals

This book pulls together needed and hard to find information on ways to get a job in federal government. It is a very helpful resource. --Sandy Hessler, Director of Career Advancement, Harvard Kennedy School

This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to decipher the federal government's hiring system. Don't apply for a federal job without it. --Paul C. Light, Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service, Robert Wagner School of Public Service, New York University

Peppered with cartoons and a touch of wit, Whiteman's book is the layman's field guide to a federal job search…. The book is based on hundreds of interviews with federal hiring managers and job hunters. Unlike other similar guides, it focuses on process rather than just aggregating information about agencies. This book provides step-by-step instructions on crafting successful résumés, cover letters and essays that get applicants out of the pile and into the interview. As readers gear up for the hot seat, Whiteman lets them in on the do's and don'ts of interviewing for a federal job. And when an offer does roll around, readers can find tips on negotiating salary and climbing the ranks. --Roll Call, the Newspaper of Capitol Hill

This book is a must read. Anyone who aspires to a federal position or promotion within the federal service will find Whiteman's advice invaluable as they prevail over obstacles of entry and advancement throughout their federal careers. Whiteman gives her readers access to a wide range of information on the federal service application process, interview techniques, and how to successfully sell your resume to hiring managers. Her hot tips are excellent resources that are appropriately positioned throughout the book to help the reader gain additional insights. This is a superb reference book and action plan for all prospective and current federal employees. --Farrell J. Chiles, former Chairman of the Board, National Organization of Blacks in Government

An excellent resource for undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in securing an internship in the public sector… A great resource for new career professionals and mid-career professionals who seek a federal career and are interested in 'insider' tips to navigate the federal hiring process…describes the myriad diversity programs for women, minorities and disabled job seekers…provides for easy reading and a straightforward approach…will almost certainly ensure that job-seekers submit an A+ application…. Anyone looking for a federal job, or any job for that matter, would definitely benefit by reading this book. --Journal of Public Management & Social Policy

Most books on how to find a federal job are about as interesting as the tax code. But [this book] offers a mountain of helpful advice in a visually appealing, easy-to-read format. --Government Leader Magazine

Whiteman's enlightening, entertaining book will teach you everything you need to know about how to put the right spin on your credentials on paper and in person. --Ray Kurzweil, Recipient of the National Medal of Technology, author of The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

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