5 Tips to transition from private sector to federal employment


1. Discover your GS level

Unlike private-sector jobs, federal jobs have distinct levels known as General Schedule (GS) levels. This government employee pay scale designates the earnings for over 70% of federal civilian employees. These fifteen grades form the GS with GS-1 being the lowest paying grade and GS-15 being the highest paying grade. The GS grade for a job posting will be prominently displayed on job postings.

There is also the Senior Executive Service (SES) in the federal hiring scheme, which is above and outside the GS system. These are the equivalent of a senior executive or C-suite professional in the private sector.

government breaks this down accurately here:

  • GS-3 or GS-4: Usually internships or student jobs
  • GS-5 to GS-7: Entry-level positions
  • GS-8 to GS-12: Mid-level positions
  • GS-13 to GS-15: Top-level supervisory positions
  • Positions beyond GS-15 are part of the Senior Executive Service

Think about your current career-level and determine what GS level would be the equivalent.

It’s tempting to look at the compensation and pick a GS level based on equivalent compensation but it’s important to remember that federal and private sector jobs do not always pay the same.

You can learn more about the salary expectations for GS 1-15 here. You can also learn more about SES salary expectations here.

2. Get started with USAJOBS

USAJOBS is an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website. It is an official website of the United States government and the #1 resource for finding federal job postings. OPM is an independent agency of the federal government that manages the government’s civilian workforce.

Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Monster – these sites are not needed when applying for federal employment, as USAJOBS is the official job site of the U.S. federal government and is a comprehensive compendium of open federal positions.

The first step to using USAJOBS is creating an account on their website. The process is fairly detailed and will take you through a series of questions to create your profile. Once your profile is created, you will be able to browse thousands of vetted federal jobs.

You can search by position title, salary, GS level, department & agency, series, and many other filters, including location. We recommend searching by series, but it’s entirely up to you.

3. Define your job series

Your series is essentially the type of job you will have in the federal government. What private sector would call the “human resources” or “engineering” team, the federal government calls 0200 and 0800.

Understanding your series will help you navigate USAJOBS, ensuring the most success in your search for federal employment.

OPM has provided an excellent resource breaking down each position classification as well as the individual series. Take a look at their classification & qualifications resource to find the series you are interested in.

4. Create a federal resume

Federal and private sector resumes are drastically different. While most private-sector resumes are between 1-2 pages, the average federal resume may run 4 to 5-pages, or more. Federal resumes require extreme detail and follow very strict standards compared to private sector resumes. It is an adage among federal resume writers that “if it isn’t in there, you didn’t do it.”

Whether you craft your own federal resume or hire a federal resume writing service, it’s important to understand some key differences.

First, federal resumes require more detail such as salary and work hours.

An example format for a federal resume would look like this:

Program Analyst

January 2009 – Present
40 Hours/Week

Second, depending on the requirements in the job description, you will need to provide detailed examples of relevant work experiences and accomplishments that prove you can perform the necessary tasks. These require much more detail than the typical bullet point that might be included in a private sector resume.

USAJOBS provides additional tips on writing a federal resume.

5. Understand the job requirements

If you thought private-sector job postings were particular, you are in for a surprise with federal jobs. Federal jobs often have strict requirements in order to submit your application. In addition to needing a federal resume, different job postings will have different requirements.

In USAJOBS there are usually a handful of sections in each job post. There is the overview, locations, duties, requirements, required documents, benefits, and more.

The “requirements” and “required documents” section is where the bulk of the work comes in. Federal jobs can often ask for detailed narrative statements.

Narrative statements are supplemental application materials that the federal government uses to evaluate an applicant. They are designed to evaluate a candidate’s background and skills in a more detailed fashion and demonstrate his or her ability to succeed in a specific position.

When the federal government says “requirements” you can be sure that they are required to be considered. While it does take a bit of work, there are many benefits of working with the federal government to make it all worth it.

Bruce Hillman is a federal resume writer and career coach at Find My Profession.

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