January 24, 2020


By Alex Harrington, Executive Director

When considering a federal career for the first time – whether you are a recent college graduate (including skilled trade), a seasoned professional, or a career changer – the very thought of attempting to navigate all the career opportunities and application requirements can overwhelm and dampen the most hopeful and energetic job seeker. Not only do you have to research and find federal careers that interest you, but then you have to learn how to apply for each one because most federal agencies have a slightly different application process. 

To help you plan, and most importantly, to keep your tenacious spirits high, the following three tips can help you, as a first-time federal job seeker, to effectively navigate the federal hiring process.

1. Research and Identify Career Fields to Target 

Before you can apply for a federal job, you have to first find those careers that match your knowledge, skills and abilities…yep, those infamous KSAs that most human resources and hiring managers use in job announcements. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) calls them Assessment & Selection factors, or competencies. A good resource to add to your online favorites is OPM’s MOSAIC Competencies guide, which supports nearly 200 federal occupations and spans across 15 career fields! 

If you are not sure what type of federal job you would be qualified for, or for that matter, are not too sure what to do, try looking at federal occupations by college major on USAJOBS®. This may be a good start for recent grads and job seekers looking for a career change into the federal government. 

To learn more about federal occupations and career fields, I would start with OPM’s Position Classification Standards for White Collar Work and Job Grading Standards for Trades, Craft, and Labor Positions. You can also check out O*NET OnLine list of federal jobs (there are 202 occupations listed on this site for federal jobs). And one of my favorite sites is the Partnership for Public Service’s Go Government, an online digital resource that provides helpful information to help everyday jobseekers to understand the federal hiring process.

2. Match Your Transferable Skills to Your Top Fed Careers 

Second, after you have identified and targeted your top federal career fields (I would recommend no more than three), then you must match your transferable skills to them. 

As I mentioned above, you can start with federal occupations by college major on USAJOBS®, OPM’s Position Classification Standards for White Collar Work and Job Grading Standards for Trades, Craft, and Labor Positions, and O*NET OnLine list of federal jobs as good resources to begin learning how to match your experiences with your selected career fields. 

I’d also recommend that you review some job announcements for the federal career field that you’re interested in. As you review each job announcement, pay particular attention to the position’s qualification requirements and knowledge, skills, and abilities sections. Both of these sections will provide you with the position’s critical functions that the hiring official needs. This step will also help you identify the common career characteristics of that career field so that you can tailor your résumé and cover letter.

3. Find and Apply for Federal Jobs

Finally, although USAJOBS® is the federal government’s primary location to look for federal jobs, you cannot rest on your laurels by depending on this site alone. When looking for a federal job, or for that matter, just looking for any job, you must employ (no pun intended) a comprehensive job search strategy to maximize your individual marketability. In other words, you must also integrate some other useful methods in your job search. Remember, your success on landing a federal job, or for that matter any job, directly depends on your proactive labors to turn over as many stones as possible to find job openings, and then apply for them with ferocious tenacity! Once you’ve decided to take the plunge to look for a federal government job, a simple approach is: 

  • Networking
  • Contacting HR offices
  • Researching agency web sites
  • Using USAJOBS® to its full potential

My hope is that this blog instilled a sense of importance to plan first before you begin applying for federal jobs. By starting with research and identification of those federal careers of interest, then matching your transferable skills to those careers, you can then begin a federal job search that may lead to more interviews than a hit-and-miss type of job search.

Please follow us on Twitter @FedCareer and join our Federal Career Connection LinkedIn Group or find us on Meetup at meetup.com/mbc-cnm.  To get updates on upcoming workshops and career coaching sessions, visit https://federalcareerconnection.com.

Alex Harrington
Chair & Founder
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