March 9, 2022


This is the last blog of this series on how to effectively explore careers and opportunities in the federal government. The other blogs included: “Exploring The Federal Careers Landscape: An Introduction” (Feb. 20), “Where To Find Occupations That Make Up The Federal Government’s Civil Service System” (Feb. 26), “Federal Agencies Looking To Fill High Demand Positions” (Feb. 28), and “Decoding The Mysterious Nature Of Federal Recruitment and Hiring” (March 4). It is also partially extracted from federal senior manager and HR expert Angela Freeman’s recent webinar, “Exploring Federal Career Paths” held on Feb. 8, 2022.


By Alex Harrington

The federal government faces tremendous challenges in our nation today, especially contingencies and threats throughout the world. To deal with these complexities, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is working with federal agencies throughout the government to “recruit and hire a diverse and talented workforce from all across America.” In fact, they need a skillful workforce to meet the current challenges and threats today.

So, are you ready to serve your country to meet these moments? If you are, there may be a special recruitment, hiring, or placement program that you may be qualified for so that you can improve your odds in landing a federal job. 

Before I get into all the special recruitment, hiring, and placement programs, let me go over how the government hires most of its workforce.

Competitive Service (Competitive Examining)

In my previous blog, I discussed how the federal government recruits candidates through either the Competitive Service, the Excepted Service, and the Senior Executive Service

When it comes to Competitive Service, “individuals must go through a competitive process (i.e., competitive examining) which is open to all eligible applicants. This process may consist of a written test, an evaluation of the individual’s education and experience, and/or an evaluation of other attributes necessary for successful performance in the position to be filled” (Source: OPM). Basically, competitive examining is the most long-established and standard method the government uses to assess candidates.

As a hiring manager, I’ve used the competitive examining method to look for candidates outside the government, as well as internally—Merit Promotion (e.g., a current or former federal employee with reinstatement eligibility). And I must admit, despite the fact that competitive examining is the most laborious process for both the hiring manager and the applicant, it is the most effective assessment approach when selecting the best candidate from a large pool of applicants; moreover, it also supports the government’s Merit System Principles (5 USC § 2301) and ensures that a hiring manager does not violate lawful personnel practices. However, OPM does allow hiring managers to “choose to fill vacancies under a number of special hiring authorities that do not require competition.”

Special Recruitment, Hiring, and Placement Programs


Veterans' Recruitment Appointment (VRA)—is an excepted appointment authority that agencies can use to appoint an eligible veteran without competition to a position.

30 Percent or More Disabled Veteran—an agency may give a veteran who is 30% or more disabled, a temporary or term appointment to any position for which they are qualified.

Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 (VEOA)—The Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-339) allows an eligible veteran to apply for a merit promotion announcement.

Disabled Veterans Enrolled in a VA Training Program—disabled veterans who are eligible for training under the VA vocational rehabilitation program may enroll for training or work experience at a federal agency.

Schedule A Appointing Authority for People with Certain Disabilities—a veteran may be hired under Schedule A.

To learn more about veterans hiring, check out OPM’s veterans employment toolkit.

Military Spouses

The Noncompetitive Hiring Authority for Certain Military Spouses allows agencies to appoint certain military spouses without using traditional competitive examining procedures. It is considered a Derived Preference. It is a noncompetitive appointment for a spouse or widower to claim veterans’ preference if the veteran is unable to use the preference themselves. The spouse would receive 10 points if they are eligible and if they meet the criteria.

Military Spouse Appointing Authority applies to the following categories of military spouses.

  • Spouse of a member of the armed forces on active duty
  • Spouses of service members who incurred a 100% disability because of the service member's active-duty service, and
  • Spouses of service members killed while on active duty.

However, if a spouse or widower remarries, they are no longer qualified for the program.


Internship Program—The Internship Program replaces the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) and Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP). This Program is designed to provide students enrolled in a wide variety of educational institutions, from high school to graduate level, with opportunities to work in agencies and explore federal careers while still in school...and get paid for the work performed

Recent Graduates Program—The Recent Graduates Program provides developmental experiences in the federal government intended to promote possible careers in the civil service to recent graduates from qualifying educational institutions or programs.

Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program—the premier two-year leadership training program for students who have completed an advanced degree program.

For more information about student recruitment programs check out OPM’s list of reference materials.

Schedule A: Individuals with Disabilities

Schedule A Hiring Authority is a special appointing authority that agencies can use to non-competitively hire individuals, including eligible veterans, who have a severe physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disability.

There are three types of eligibility for Schedule A:

  1. Individuals with disabilities
  2. Disabled veterans enrolled in the VA training program
  3. 30% or more disabled veterans

Schedule A is not just for veterans, although it is a major component of how veterans can be hired. It is also open to any individual who wants to compete.

You are eligible for the program even if your disability is controlled by medication. For example, if you have epilepsy and it is controlled by medication, you are still deemed eligible to participate in this program.

You must be qualified for the position, and you must have the development of the knowledge, skills, and competencies to perform in the Schedule A position.

Learn more about Schedule A hiring at The ABCs of Schedule A Disability Program Managers & Selective Placement Program Coordinators.

Direct Hiring Authorities

A Direct-Hire Authority (DHA) allows agencies to quickly recruit and hire qualified candidates for certain critical positions in the government, such as nuclear scientists or pharmacists. 

This is good news to someone who may qualify for a DHA, because it is the most streamlined process for recruiting and hiring. There is no prescribed rating and ranking system. There is no category rating. There is no rule of three. It essentially allows an agency to recruit and hire without regard to competitive examination and other general provisions of hiring laws, including veterans' preference. 

Now, not all agencies are allowed to use DHA. OPM must determine if an agency is experiencing a severe shortage of candidates in a critical career field. For example, when it comes to recruiting cybersecurity specialists, if an agency has hosted job fairs, provided webinars, and posted public announcements, and they still are not able to generate enough cybersecurity candidates to interview, they may submit a request to OPM to use DHA. 

Other Federal Hiring Paths

The Federal Government offers hiring paths to help hire individuals that represent our diverse society. Agencies use these methods to tell us who they’re looking for when they’re hiring—whether it’s a current federal employee, a veteran, or a recent graduate. There are many different hiring paths including:

If you determine that you qualify for one or more of the special hiring paths, then consider tailoring your job search on USAJOBS. For example, if you’re a student or recent graduate, make sure that your USAJOBS filter targets students’ positions. If you are eligible for consideration as an individual with a disability, you should put the filter on your job search. You can have several different filters on your job search–targeting certain agencies, or aiming at some of these career paths.

Check out The Talent Surge Hiring Authorities Fact Sheet developed by the Chief Human Capital Officers Council. It is a one-stop-shop of special hiring authorities for agencies’ use.

Also, be sure to check out our other blogs in this series:

Please follow us on Twitter @FedCareer and join our Federal Career Connection page on LinkedIn or find us on Meetup at get updates on upcoming workshops and career coaching sessions, visit

Alex Harrington
Chair & Executive Director
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