Insider Tips: Applying to Federal Government Jobs

Are you interested in working for the federal government? Or perhaps you are exploring government vs private sectors jobs. Federal agencies hire the best and brightest, and getting a federal job is often very competitive. Some agencies do not advertise, so you should go directly to their websites. In general, you must be a U.S. citizen or national (residents of American Samoa and Swains Island) to work for the Federal Government, but there are some exceptions. There are steps you can take to increase your chances of being hired when searching for potential opportunities and on specific agencies’ websites. When applying for government jobs, be sure to allow plenty of time to complete your application. It’s also a good idea to learn more about the fed’s specific application process (note: application process procedures can vary across agencies!).


Preparing your federal resume is a good first step to set yourself up for success. Federal resumes require some items not normally included in private sector resumes (citizenship, for example). For more about writing your federal resume, check out these tips from the US Office of Personnel Management. You can also use the USAJobs Resource Center if you need help with creating a resume on USA JOBS. Your resume should demonstrate that you have the specialized experience necessary for the position. If it does not, you are found not qualified. There are also competency questions as part of the overall application, and the answers to the competency questions should be reflected in your resume. If they are not, points could be subtracted from your application score.


To begin the process of applying for federal jobs, you must create an account with Once you set up a account, it will be linked to your USAJOBS profile. You can explore the unique hiring pathways available in the federal government for current students and recent graduates. You can also search federal occupations by college majors (note: in this case, “major” can be synonymous with “program,” for grad students).

You can set yourself up for success if you:

  • Create search agents to receive new jobs by email
  • Follow application directions carefully
  • Read the job announcement. It will ensure a complete application and make sure you’re eligible to apply and meet the qualifications for experience, education, language, special skills, etc. It will provide you with examples of the types of specialized experience you need (and for how long you need it). It will tell you if you can substitute education for experience and what documentation is needed (copies of college transcripts, etc.)
  • Create a tailored application for each vacancy you select and apply for. When it comes to competencies, select the one response for each question that most accurately describes your current level of experience and capacity. Describe your experiences in accomplishment statements that include what you did, how you did it (details), and the impact. For example: I developed an innovative online marketing platform that produced top-three results on all targeted keywords, yielding a 40% increase in organic search traffic and $20,000 of increased sales.
  • Remember that an application closing date arrives, you cannot edit your application

In addition:

  • If you fall under one of these groups of people, you may be eligible to receive preference when applying for jobs, for example: Students & Recent Graduates, individuals with a disability, Native Americans (American Indian or Alaskan Native), Peace Corps alumni & more.

Did you know you can contact an agency representative if you have questions? Under the “How to Apply” section of the job announcement there is a name, phone number, and email for inquiries regarding application status and the vacancy announcement. Best to have the vacancy announcement number available when you contact someone!


After the closing date for applications, the agency evaluates candidate qualifications, and from this assessment, they produce a list of qualified candidates. From the list of qualified applicants, agencies select candidates for interviews and then pursue any security clearances if required. Make an appointment with a Career Center advisor to discuss interviewing strategies and/or use Big Interview to practice.


Applying to federal jobs is all about details, depth, scope, and being able to prove you possess the requirements, minimum qualifications, specialized experience, and competencies. This will decide what type of candidate you are. Make it clear for whoever is reading the application that you meet the required amount of experience. Nothing can be inferred!

By Susannah Krenn
Susannah Krenn Assistant Director, Communications & Marketing / Career Advisor