Finding a civilian job within the federal government can seem like a difficult task. With so many agencies, so many jobs and so many ways to apply, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. But keep in mind that your military qualifications may give you an advantage when you apply for a federal job. Not only are many of your military skills transferable to civilian jobs but the federal government gives military veterans certain preferences in applying for jobs. The following information will help you understand the benefits of federal employment and help you navigate the hiring system for competitive civil service positions.
Benefits of a federal job
In order to attract top candidates, the federal government offers benefits that rival those of the military - something you might not find with a corporate job. The Office of Personnel Management provides detailed information about the benefits of working for the federal government, including:
- Health and life insurance - You can usually choose from several health benefit plans with a federal job but you may be required to pay a part of the premium.
- Paid vacation - Most veterans receive full credit for their military service time when accruing vacation in their federal civilian job. This means you could be earning about the same amount of vacation time that you earned while on active duty. For military retirees, credit is given only under certain circumstances.
- Retirement - As a former military member, you may be able to "buy back" your military service years and apply them to your federal civilian retirement. Full credit for uniformed service performed under honorable conditions may be given for retirement, provided a payment (or "buy back") is made to the retirement fund. This may not be cost effective for retired military members because, in many cases, they must forfeit their military retired pay. More information is available from the Office of Personnel Management.
- Paid military leave - If you join the National Guard or Reserve after leaving active duty, your federal employer provides 15 days of paid military leave per fiscal year.
Understanding federal job preferences
Veterans are given preference when applying for jobs with the federal government. Generally, eligible veterans must have served on active duty and received an honorable or general discharge. Although the following preferences won't guarantee you a job with the federal government, they may help you to apply for jobs not open to the general public or to get hired for a job if you're one of the most qualified applicants.
- Veterans' preference - Veteran's preference allows veterans may receive a five-point or 10-point preference for hiring if they are among the most qualified applicants for a position. To be eligible for the five-point preference, the veteran must have served on active duty during a war, in a campaign expedition or during a period defined by specific dates. Those veterans disabled during their military service may be eligible for a 10-point preference. For detailed information on hiring preferences, visit the Department of Labor's website for veterans or the Office of Personnel Management website.
- Veterans' Recruitment Appointment - The Veterans' Recruitment Appointment allows a federal agency to appoint a veteran to a position (through GS-11) without competition as long as the veteran is qualified for the job. Those who are eligible include disabled veterans, veterans who served in a war or in a campaign expedition, veterans who were awarded an Armed Forces Service Medal and veterans who separated from the military within the last three years.
- Veterans' Employment Opportunity Act - The VEOA lets veterans apply for jobs that are otherwise open only to current federal civilian employees. To be eligible for VEOA, a veteran must be preference-eligible or have separated from the military under honorable conditions after completing a three-year term of active service.
Searching for federal jobs
There are thousands of federal positions available but finding your way through the federal hiring system can take a significant amount of time. These tips will help you get started:
- Practice networking - Networking is one of the most effective tools you can use when you're searching for a federal job. Family members, friends and former colleagues who work for the federal government may be able to give you important information including specific information about potential job openings.
- Know your occupational group and series - Each federal agency chooses how it will recruit for open positions but most jobs are posted on job-vacancy websites and sometimes on several sites. Navigating the websites might seem tiring but you can easily search for jobs that match your qualifications once you know the occupational group and series numbers. The career section of the Office of Personnel Management website provides a listing of series numbers and job descriptions. When applying for federal jobs, stick to those series that best suit your skills and experience and don't waste your time on ones that don't.
- Follow the instructions - It may sound simple, but many job applicants don't follow the instructions described in the job announcement. Be sure to submit your résumé and any additional information (such as your DD-214) by the closing date on the job announcement and in the method requested. It's possible that your résumé won't be considered if you haven't followed the instructions carefully.
Creating your federal résumé
A federal résumé is different from a civilian or corporate résumé - it's longer, more detailed and includes specific military terminology. Different hiring agencies may require different submission formats. For example, some federal agencies accept résumés online through specific résumé-building websites but others may require hard copies sent by mail or fax. These tips can help as you create a federal résumé:
- Get organized - Before you sit down to write your résumé, you'll want to pull together some important information, including your DD-214, letters or other documentation showing disability or preference eligibility, contact information for former supervisors and commanders, performance appraisals, Verification of Military Experience and Training, military course transcripts available through the Army ACE Registry Transcript Service or the Sailor/Marine ACE Registry Transcript and copies of awards, certificates of commendation or letters of recommendation.
- Create a master résumé - By creating a master résumé, you'll have a comprehensive worksheet that includes your work history, skills, accomplishments, volunteer work and training. You can copy and paste from this worksheet as you build your résumé in an online résumé builder or as you create a hard copy résumé. Some résumé builders only allow six work histories so your master résumé will allow you to combine job experiences or eliminate information that isn't relevant to a particular position.
- Use key words - In many cases, a human resources staff member or a computer will screen your résumé for predetermined key words or phrases. You should try to include key words in your résumé to get it pulled for review. Key words may be found in the actual job announcement, so be sure to read it carefully. The transition office on your installation may be able to help you find key words to include in your résumé. Another good source is the job descriptions found in the career information section of the Office of Personnel Management website.
- Focus on your accomplishments - Instead of simply listing job duties, take a look at your successes. If possible, use numbers to legitimize them. For example, "Managed budget of $100K" or "Reduced training time from 26 weeks to 24 weeks."
- Follow up - Once you've submitted your résumé, be sure to follow up with the agency to confirm that your résumé arrived. In many cases, you will receive email alerts letting you know the status of your résumé. As you wait to hear about an open position, be sure to continue to search and apply for other job vacancies.