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Today's #1 Hirer: The U.S. Government

By Marty Nemko

In today’s era of relentless corporate downsizing and state hiring freezes, it’s easy to think no one’s hiring. Well, one entity certainly is: the federal government. According to Kathryn Troutman, author of Ten Steps to a Federal Job, in the next two years alone, the federal government is expected to hire more than 250,000 people!

I can already hear your doubts:

But aren’t most of those jobs in homeland security? I just can’t see myself in law enforcement.” Troutman says federal hiring is extending far beyond Homeland Security, especially in information technology, administration, middle management, and human resources. Also, the feds are expected to hire hundreds of experts in Asian, Middle Eastern, and other languages.

But I don’t want to be a bureaucratic pencil pusher. Yes, some federal jobs are like that, but many others are at least as dynamic and cutting-edge as those in the private sector. And in working for the government, your mission is often more rewarding than “making your number,” which is the main goal of many private sector jobs. And remember, once you’re in the federal system, you get an edge when applying for other federal jobs. Don’t like what you first land in? Chances are there’s something better you might qualify for.

But isn’t the pay worse than in the private sector? Only at the top end. And unlike in the private sector, most federal jobs are full-time, with benefits and lots of paid vacation and holidays. Plus the federal government is restructuring thousands of jobs to accommodate telecommuting and flex time.

Doesn’t it take forever to get hired by the government? Almost forever. It typically takes two to six months, which, today, isn’t much different than the private sector. These days, many corporations subject applicants to three or four interviews, after which, the employer too often decides not to hire or to reopen the search.

Okay, so how do I land a federal job?

Consider focusing on just a few of the federal government’s 140+ agencies plus many more sub-agencies. These days, everyone’s applying to the FBI, CIA, and State Department, so it may be easier to get your foot into the federal door if you focus on more obscure ones. The Railroad Retirement Board, anyone? Tip: If you’d enjoy a job doing research, check out the National Archives. Troutman says that it offers many interesting positions.

If you’re willing to relocate, visit It has links to all of the federal agencies’ websites. Each of those sites lists that agency’s job openings plus a wealth of information about the agency that can be valuable when you apply for a job.

Most federal jobs are listed not just at the agency’s website but at But because that site is so visited, jobs listed there tend to get more applicants. So, focus on listings at the target agency’s website.

If you want to stay in the Bay Area, go to the blue-tipped federal government section of your White Pages. It lists federal agencies that have a local office. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy has an office in Oakland. Then do a search to find its website.

Once you’ve identified a target agency, ask everyone you know if they know someone who works for that agency. An insider could give you a real edge in landing a job. The selection process isn’t as objective as it may seem. Yes, your application gets scored on a numerical scale, but as in the private sector, who you know can matter as much as what you know. You might even walk into the human resources department of that agency and ask for some advice on how to maximize your chances of getting hired.

When applying for a federal job, your regular resume won’t do. Create the special federal resume. Also take great care in writing the usually required KSA (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) narrative. For help in creating a federal resume and KSA, see Troutman’s book, Ten Steps to a Federal Job.

Local government is hiring too!

Don’t get fooled by statements that there is a freeze on state government jobs. Plenty of hiring is going on. Go to and click on jobs. And for Bay Area city and county job listings, go to and, on the right side, click on “cities” or “counties.”

Advice I'd Give My Child

Unless you’re a real go-getter, consider a career in government. It may be the best deal out there.

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