How to Get a High-Paying Job with the Government

"What really qualifies you to hold a government job is not your job skills or past work experience, but your determination." One common misconception about government jobs is that they are hard to obtain. that is just not true. They are, however, hard to find out about. In fact, the most difficult part about getting a government job is finding out about it. In some cases a government position may go unfilled for weeks or even months because word never gets out that it is available. What really qualifies you to hold a government job is not your job skills or past work experience, but your determination. First, find a position that interest you and, keep trying for it--even if is currently filled by someone else. (You'll want to be prepared in the event they quit, move, or get promoted.)

So, where do you go to find a government job? And if they are so hard to locate, how do you find out about them? Once you find out a job you are interested in, how do you go about applying for it? The answers are so simple that they may surprise you. Once you find a position your are interested in, you'll need to fill out STANDARD FORM 171., better known in the government as SF-171. This is the standard federal government application form. No matter what other forms you are required to fill out during your application process, you'll need SF-171, but more on that application later.

Where to Look

People tend to think that the only jobs advertised in the newspaper are for car salesmen and welders, but this is just not the case. in fact, if you look through the want ads in a typical Sunday newspaper, you will find a good number of "white-collar" jobs. Sometimes the government uses the newspaper to advertise position openings, both blue and white collar, but only when they have a special reason for doing so.*

However, though some jobs are advertised in the newspaper, most are not. In fact, less than 10 percent of all government jobs are advertised outside the government offices. When the government places a newspaper ad, it is usually for a specialized position. Because of the nature of the position, there may not be enough qualified personnel within the department to fill the job, yet too many potential applicants to go on a search nationwide. In this case, the government will place an ad in the newspaper to bring in as many applicants from the local area as possible.

When you apply for a civil service position through a newspaper ad, you can be assured that you will have plenty of competition. Your chances will be much better if you start your government job search at a Federal Job Information Center. To locate a Federal Job Information Center in your area, call information or look in the white Pages of your telephone book under U.S. Government Offices.

Federal Job Information Centers

The government operates Federal Job Information Centers (FJIC's) in nearly every major city in the country. These centers are operated by the Office of Personnel Management and were created to locate people for government employment. In a FJIC you will find announcements of every federal job in your area. In some centers you will also find announcements of jobs with the state, city, and county governments in the area. Often, the centers cooperate with local university and college job placement offices to fill vacant positions. however, if you are looking for a job outside your area, you will need to contact the center in the city of the area your are interested in.

State Employment Security Offices

Another place to look for government job listings is the Employment Development Office, more often referred to as the "unemployment office." While most people think of the unemployment office as the place to go for money when they are between jobs, they do not realize that government agencies are required to place job announcements at the Employment Development Offices in their areas. They also keep listings of every federal job available. So, they can be an excellent source for finding government employment.

Federal Agency Announcements

The easiest way to locate a federal job is to investigate openings at each particular agency. Most federal agencies have offices in each of the 10 federal regions of the United States. Each of these offices has announcements of jobs within their own agency, and often announcements from others. If you want to know what government positions are open within a particular agency, the regional office will furnish you with that information regarding their region.

No matter how you discover the particular job you will be applying for with the government, you should acquire a copy of the Vacancy Announcements Bulletin before you attempt to apply for the job. This bulletin is a vital source of information that may make the difference between landing a government job and being lost in the shuffle.

The vacancy announcements, or "job postings" as thy are sometimes called, are available form you local Office of Personnel Management, Federal Job Information Center, State Employment Security Office, or the government agency that is in need of personnel. Each vacancy announcement will provide you with such information as:

THE ANNOUNCEMENT NUMBER: This number, sometimes called the "identifying number,: is the code that designates the job opening within the agency. For example, there may be many job openings for a waste handler within the government, and many within the confines of the Navy, but the announcement number identifies the particular job you will be applying for.

THE DATE ISSUES: this is the date that the job opened for application. It is sometimes referred to as the :issue date: or "opening date.:

CLOSING DATE: Some agencies require that your application (SF-171) be in their hands by this date, others only that your application be postmarked by this date. If you have any doubt about the needs of the agency you are applying to, call them and find out. Sometimes the agency will accept a telegram stating that the application will follow shortly if you cannot get it to them in time.

POSITION: This gives a detailed description of the job, including the federal schedule and grade classification. this listing will also tell you whether you are applying for a career position or a :dead end" job. The way to determine this is by the federal schedule number. If more than one job grade is listed (GS-11/12, for example) it means that you will start at the lower level and, depending on your performance, move up to the highest. If only one job grade is listed, it means that there is no chance for promotion (although this may still be a good "foot-in-the-door: if you are willing to transfer to another position). Some opportunity announcements may also include a statement saying that this position is part of a promotional ladder plan.

There is also an announcement as to how many positions are available under this particular job category. For highly specialized jobs there may only be one or two. Standard entry-level jobs may be quite plentiful or, if they are hiring on a continual basis, may be listed as :open".

LOCATION: Tells you where you will be working and which department or agency you will be working for

WHO MAY APPLY: Here you will learn what government employment status is required for application. Some positions, especially highly technical positions, require previous government service.

DESCRIPTION OF DUTIES: Here you will learn what government employment status is required for application. Some positions, especially highly technical positions, require previous government service.

DESCRIPTION OF DUTIES: Read this section very carefully. It describes the various duties and responsibilities of the job. In your resume and application you will need to compare these duties as closely as possible with your education and past jobs.

QUALIFICATIONS/EXPERIENCE: Described here are the minimum qualifications used to determine an applicant's basic eligibility. They are judged on a yes or no basis. Either you are qualified for the position or you are not.

EDUCATION: The minimum level of education required to hold the position is stated along with the educational equivalent, if any. In most cases there will be some type of experience you can substitute for college education. (Often you can offer college education as a trade-off for experience.)

BASIS OF RATING: this is where you will find out if you will be required to take any type of entrance exam, security clearance rating test, or any other specialized test for your position. Often the agency will accept the application if you have not taken the test as long as you complete it by a certain date (most likely by the date of the interview.) If you fail to complete the test with an acceptable score by that date, your application will be disregarded.

In order to make arrangements for these tests you will need to call the staffing specialist listed on the announcement. He will tell you where and when the government test will be administered. Remember that each agency will use its own format when sending out job opportunity announcements, but all must include the basic information in the form. If you have this any questions about the announcement, you should contact the personnel staffing specialist whose name appears on the form. Calling or writing the agency directly can harm your chances of getting the job because it is illegal for anyone in a supervisory position to discuss a job vacancy with an applicant.

FILLING OUT THE SF-171: Now that you have zeroed in on the agency and position that you want, it is time to go about getting that job, and there is only one sure way to do that: make yourself look better than everyone else who applies.

Of course, if you could take your prospective employer to your job site with you, you could show them how effectively you perform your duties, and they would be able to see how the job you are doing relates to what they want you to do. But you can't. That's where your STANDARD FORM 171 (SF-171) comes in.

Remember, this form will be speaking for you when you are not there to speak for yourself. A form which is handwritten, has fingerprints or chocolate stains on it, and several "white-out" corrections leaves a negative impression. A form which is neatly types shows your attention to thoroughness and detail and leaves a very positive impression. If you cannot type the form yourself, ask a friend to do it or hire a professional typist. If you are unable to have it typed, print the information very neatly in black ink.

When filling out the SF-171, don't leave any space blank. If you find something that doesn't apply to you, simply write "N/A" for " not applicable" in the space. This lets the hiring agent know that you read the instructions and did not just forget to fill in the blank. Generally, although it may seem like a lot of extra work, it is best to submit a separate SF-171 for each job you apply for ( unless those jobs are in the same job series with very similar job requirements). Otherwise, you should tailor each SF-171 to each job you apply for. Also, make answers brief and to the point. You don't want to alienate the reader by giving them too much to read.

Since many government jobs require that you deal directly with the public, having " people" skills is a big plus. Therefore, be sure to list all education and training that you have had dealing with people. This would include psychology, public speaking, stress management courses, etc. Also, be sure to list all related supervisory positions (i.e. being vice president of a club or other type of organizations) as well as the names of all organizations that you belong to. This indicates that you enjoy interacting with people.

Finally, make sure you understand every question before you make a mark on the paper. A sloppily or incorrectly completed SF-171 may indicate to the government hiring official that you do not follow instructions carefully. Filling this form out properly can make the difference between getting interviewed for your targeted position or not.

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