Government Jobs: Cracking the GS Code

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In nearly all cases, Federal employees must be U.S. citizens. Beyond that, qualifications vary.

Qualifications. The Government hires people with nearly every level of education and experience—from high school students with no experience to Ph.D.’s with established careers. Jobs in some occupations, such as engineer, ecologist, and lawyer, require that workers have a bachelor’s or graduate degree and credit for specific college classes. Other occupations require experience, education, or a combination of both. A few, such as office clerk, require no education or experience to start.

The qualifications needed for each job are described in detail in the vacancy announcements that advertise job openings. Each job also has a code that corresponds to its minimum requirements. Understanding these codes will speed your search.

Shortcut to matching your qualifications: Cracking the GS code. The coding systems used to classify jobs vary by agency, but the most common system is the General Schedule (GS). The GS assigns every job a grade level from 1 to 15, according to the minimum level of education and experience its workers need. Jobs that require no experience or education are graded a GS-1, for example. Jobs that require a bachelor’s degree and no experience are graded a GS-5 or GS-7, depending on an applicant’s academic credentials and an agency’s policies. The table below shows the GS levels for entry-level workers with different amounts of education and little or no work experience.

College degrees only qualify you for a particular grade level if they are related to the job. For occupations requiring general college-level skills, a bachelor’s degree in any subject can qualify you. But other occupations require a specific major.

After gaining work experience, people often qualify for higher GS levels. In general, 1 year of experience related to the job could raise your grade by one GS level in most clerical and technician positions. In administrative, professional, and scientific positions, GS level increases in increments of two until you reach a GS-12. After that, GS level increases one level at a time. With each additional year of experience at a higher level of responsibility, your GS level could continue to increase
until it reaches the maximum for your occupation.

GS levels by education

GS-1 No high school diploma
GS-2
(GS-3 for clerk-steno positions)
High school diploma
GS-3 1 year of full-time study after high school
GS-4 Associate degree or 2 years of
full-time study after high school
GS-5 or GS-7,
depending on agency policy and applicant’s
academic credentials
Bachelor’s degree or 4 years of
full-time study after high school
GS-7 Bachelor’s degree plus 1 year of
full-time graduate study
GS-9
(GS-11 for some research positions)
Master’s degree or 2 years of
full-time graduate study
GS-9 Law degree (J.D. or LL.B.)
GS-11
(GS-12 for some research positions)
Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate or
advanced law degree (LL.M.)

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