The Ins and Outs of Applying for a Federal Job

Holding a resume

Applying for a federal job can seem daunting: lots of questions, confusing terminology and applications with more pages to read than Moby-Dick. Consider this concise guide the Reader's Digest or Cliffs Notes version.

There are two steps to applying for a federal job. The first is reading a federal vacancy announcement, which describes the job opening and contains specific application instructions, and the second is actually applying. Here's how to do both.

Related: Search for Government jobs.

What to Look for in a Federal Vacancy Posting

First things first: Read carefully. All the information you need is usually provided in the posting, but not always in a way that makes sense. Try reading the posting in this order (if you get stuck on a word, our glossary of federal employment terms can help):

  • Major duties or job description: This will help you decide whether you want to apply for the job.
  • Areas of consideration: This states who can apply for the job. Unless you're a current or former federal employee, in the military or a veteran, look for jobs open to all US citizens, non-status candidates or all qualified candidates.
  • Qualifications required: A careful reading will tell you if you're in the ballpark.
  • Knowledge, skills or abilities (KSAs): These are the necessary characteristics an applicant must possess for a particular job. Reading these will give you more information to determine whether you are qualified or interested.

Some parts of the vacancy posting may not apply to you. Knowing the following terms can help you make an educated choice to merely glance over those sections:

  • Basis of rating: This section is intended to help guide your application process, but the sections listed above may be of greater help.
  • Veterans preference in hiring: As a veteran, you get certain extra considerations when applying for federal jobs.
  • Career Transition Assistance Plan (CTAP)/Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan (ICTAP): These workers are eligible for special preference because they have been downsized out of federal jobs or otherwise lost them for reasons not related to poor performance.
  • Conditions of employment: This will tell you whether you'll need to undergo a background examination or a drug test. Unless you have something in your background to worry about, simply glance over this section.

What to Include in Your Application

Along with the vacancy announcement number, you'll need to submit a resume containing specific information that your existing resume may not have, a written description of your relevant knowledge, skills and abilities, and any supporting information called for by the vacancy announcement. Unlike in the private sector, you won't need a cover letter.

Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a FREE assessment.

Some federal agencies will also require a multiple-choice test, your college or graduate school transcripts, copies of professional licenses, writing samples, and performance evaluations or letters of recommendations from previous jobs.

To ensure your application is processed correctly, be sure to include on all forms: your name, the title and General Schedule (GS) pay grade level of the position you're applying for, the vacancy announcement number listed on the front of the announcement, your Social Security number and your contact information.

Another way to make sure you've got all your bases covered is to print an Optional Application for Federal Employment (OF-612) form. This OPM document is the closest thing to a federal resume and can be used as part of your application for virtually any federal job.

Last but not least, it's up to you to send your application and all supporting materials listed above to the mailing address, email address or fax number on the individual job announcement.

This may seem like a lot of work, but don't feel overwhelmed. Moby-Dick may not have had a happy ending -- well, unless you're a whale -- but your search will when you land a great job working for Uncle Sam.

Related: Discover your perfect career path and get customized job recommendations based on your military experience and vocational interests with's Military Skills Translator + Personality Assessment.

The Next Step: Find the Right Veteran Job

Whether you want to polish up your resume, find veteran job fairs in your area, or connect with employers looking to hire veterans, can help. Sign up for a free membership to have job postings, guides and advice, and more delivered directly to your inbox.

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