Crack the Code to Find the Right Job

Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C. in 2012 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Another Believer)
Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C. in 2012 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Another Believer)

Looking for federal employment can be confusing, but given that the US government typically advertises between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs a day, it's worth taking the time to learn the difference between a GS-0493 and a WG-2810.

There are 442 white-collar and 410 blue-collar occupations listed in the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM's) Occupations of Federal White-Collar and Blue-Collar Workers report. Each job title is identified by a unique job series number, and each job series is listed in a specific occupational group.

What the Numbers Mean

White-collar jobs are typically found in the administrative, management, science and professional fields, while blue-collar jobs are reserved for general labor and trades occupations. To further define jobs, Uncle Sam lists each job in an occupational group or family. There are 22 white-collar groups and 36 blue-collar families. A complete list of occupational groups and families can be found at Federal

For example, GS-300 is the occupational group for general administrative, clerical and office services. The job series, GS-0303, is for the job title clerk and assistants.

General Service vs. Wage Grade

Each job series is associated with an Occupational Group for white-collar jobs or Occupational Family for blue-collar jobs. Most white-collar jobs are in the General Schedule (GS) pay system and blue-collar jobs are in the Wage Grade (WG) pay system. Each job title has an associated job series number. All job announcements list the job title and series number and add a number that identifies the pay band for that position. To further understand, review the following job announcement summary that was taken from OPM's USAJOBS Web site:






OPENING DATE: Jan 15, 2004

CLOSING DATE: Jan 22, 2004

POSITION: SECRETARY (OA), GS - 0318 -05 / 05

SALARY: $25,697.00 - $33,402.00

THIS IS A Career/Career Conditional APPOINTMENT



This secretarial position, job series GS-0318, is advertised at the GS-5 pay range of $25,697 to $33,402 per year. There are 15 pay grades in the GS pay system. This position doesn't have career progression above the GS-5 pay grade, because the position is listed as a GS-0318-05/05. But if this position was listed GS–0318-05/07, that would mean there could be career progression from an entry-level GS-05 through the GS-07 pay grade. See this chart to view current pay tables.

USAJOBS links job summaries to job announcements that describe the specific position in detail and provide application instructions and links to required forms. You can now apply online for some positions.

Excepted Service

When searching federal jobs databases, you may find some job announcements with alpha characters other than GS or WG. These announcements are advertised by agencies that are in what is called the "Excepted Service" and may have a different pay system. The pay for this type of position will be listed on the job announcement. About 50 percent of all federal positions, are in the Competitive Service. Competitive Service jobs, for the most part, are advertised in the GS pay system. Excepted positions may have different alpha characters such as FV-0318 or FG-0318, and these agencies use different characters to differentiate their pay systems from the General Schedule system.

If you take the time to decipher the federal classification system, you're bound to discover lots of interesting job vacancies. Read the announcements thoroughly to ensure you submit all required forms and requested data by the closing date. Check out all occupations in the same occupational group and explore related opportunities in other groups as well.

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