Land a Government Job Now

Kiplinger

Most of the new jobs being created by the President's economic-stimulus package are outside the Washington, D.C., area. Here's how to benefit, no matter where you live.

President Obama's budget projects hundreds of thousands of new job openings in government and for government contractors during his first term. How do you find and land one well suited to you? Here's a guide.

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Where Are the Jobs?

Especially when aiming for a government job, I reject the standard career-counselor advice to use your network to gain access to people with the power to hire you. My clients increasingly find that it's more time-effective to search the best job Web sites regularly by keyword and zip code for on-target job openings and then craft a top-notch application for each.

So where are the jobs?

  • About 85% of federal jobs are not in D.C. They're typically in major cities, both around the country and overseas.
  • To access the federal-job postings, start with www.usajobs.gov, which, as of this writing, lists 47,059 openings. That site has recently added a link for positions created by the stimulus package. Many of those positions will be filled through accelerated hiring procedures. To access that directly, go to http://jobsearch.usajobs.gov/a9recoveryjobs.asp.
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  • Visit the individual Web sites of your favorite federal agencies. You can access the major ones from http://dcjobsource.com/fed.html. An agency may have special positions and recruitment programs listed only on its site. That means you'll be competing with fewer job seekers. Also, some federal agencies -- for example, the FBI, Federal Reserve, Government Accountability Office and CIA -- don't have to advertise their jobs on www.usajobs.gov.
  • An even more under-the-radar source of federal jobs is www.fedbizopps.gov. It lists positions, including many overseas (Iraq or Afghanistan, anyone?), that are filled via personal service contracts. Those jobs are less secure than government jobs but usually pay more.
  • Federal agencies, especially the EPA, State Department, FBI, FDIC and Treasury Department, often fill unadvertised openings at job fairs. Some are listed at www.govcentral.com/careers/articles/1871 and at www.fedjobs.com/chat/jobfairs.html.
  • Some private temporary agencies staff federal temp positions. Some of those agencies are listed on www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c21666.htm.
  • If you're a student, a good route to a permanent government job is a federal internship. The site www.makingthedifference.org lists 200 federal internship programs. Also see www.studentjobs.gov.
  • There's a directory of federal jobs set aside for veterans and people with disabilities: apps.opm.gov/sppc_directory.
  • For state, county and city jobs, visit your local government's Web site. To find yours, enter, for example, "government jobs" and "Chicago" in a search engine.
  • Lots of stimulus dollars are going to federal contractors -- independent firms that the government hires to do its bidding. Want to become one? The government's portal for potential contractors is www.fedbizopps.gov. Also see www.recovery.gov, which reports where stimulus dollars are going. Want to work for a government contractor? The 100 largest are listed at www.usaspending.gov. Smaller contractors list openings on their own site. The good news is that many or most such openings are aggregated, along with literally millions of other job openings, at www.indeed.com and www.simplyhired.com. Another approach: Regularly check the business section of your local newspaper or a dedicated business periodical, such as Crain's or Business Times, for announcements or articles about companies that have just received government contracts.

Which Jobs Should You Apply For?

  1. Because there are so many applicants for most government jobs, you probably won't stand a chance unless you at least minimally meet most or all the requirements listed in the job announcement. Save your energy for the good fits. There are so many government openings, for everything from chef to chief, you'll likely find plenty.
  2. Federal jobs will be most abundant in areas the Obama administration has listed as priorities: renewable energy, the environment, infrastructure, health care and education. Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job, says jobs are particularly plentiful for contracts and grants managers, procurement officers, financial managers/auditors, IT specialists, intelligence experts, and people with knowledge of the culture and language of Middle East countries.
  3. Don't worry if your first government job isn't perfect -- your priority should probably be just to get into the government. That means applying for jobs you're fully or even overqualified for. Once you're a government employee, you'll find it easier to transfer to something you'll like better.

Landing the Job

Finding on-target job openings is the easy part. The challenge is to become the winning candidate -- especially now, with all the publicity around ObamaJobs and the private sector offering so few full-time, long-term positions with benefits.

Applying for a government job is usually cumbersome. That's good news for you. So many people get frustrated with the application process that they do a shoddy job. If you craft a solid application for all the jobs you can, you'll likely prevail. And remember, the pot at the end of the rainbow is quite golden: moderate work hours, unmatched job security, great benefits, and ample vacation and holidays. Thank you, taxpayers.

My job-seeking clients are finding these to be the most potent approaches to beating out the competition:

  • Research your target agency. Whiteman suggests you review its Web site and, particularly, its recent press releases. Then reflect your knowledge of the agency in your application.
  • Call the hiring manager to get application tips. Yes, there's a chance you'll be viewed as pushy, but there's a greater chance you'll get inside information or even develop enough of a relationship to gain an edge against the competition.
  • Use a two-column cover letter. Hiring managers are overwhelmed with applications, so yours should quickly and clearly demonstrate that you're a great fit for the position: On the left side, list the job's major qualifications; on the right, say how you meet each requirement.
  • Tell PAR stories. In interviews and in job-application essays (in federal job applications they're usually called KSAs, which stands for knowledge, skills and abilities), tell one or more anecdotes that demonstrate you have one or more key attributes listed in the job announcement. Each anecdote should usually follow the PAR formula: a problem you faced, how you approached it, and its positive resolution.
  • Create a portfolio. Consider creating a Web site consisting of your work products and resume. Of course, include its URL on your job applications.
  • Make sure your message is clear. Whiteman says that before submitting an application, it must pass the "30-second-test." Ask a person you trust to identify your best attributes from your application in 30 seconds. If he or she can't, it's unlikely a hiring manager will be able to do so.

Marty Nemko (bio) is a career coach and author of Cool Careers for Dummies.

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