Getting a Job in the Federal Government

It’s always been a traditional assumption that government jobs are some of the most stable jobs available. But in today’s economy, that assumption has been turned on its head—the government has had to cut services in many sectors, and with those service cuts come layoffs. Today, it’s just as common to assume the government isn’t as stable as any other employer.

But the picture is more complicated than that. While it’s true that some positions are being cut—especially in administrative support and production jobs, where automation and outsourcing is rendering a lot of positions obsolete—opportunities are growing in some agencies. In addition, a wave of retirements is expected to hit the government workforce in a few years. According to a 2004 estimation from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 58% of managers and 42% of non-managerial workers are expected to retire by the end of 2010—and new workers will be needed to replace them.

Jobs That Are Hiring

Law enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security is a new agency and much of the growth in government jobs stems from its expansion; it’s looking for inspectors, investigators, airport screeners, border patrol officers and other employees, preferably with law enforcement or military backgrounds. It’s also looking for those with language skills for use in intelligence positions, and employees with a tech background for work in cyber security.

Medical and public health. As our health care system undergoes upheavals, and insurance and Medicare policies become more complicated, the Department of Health and Human Services will need insurance specialists, customer service representatives and claims representatives to help implement and advise patients on insurance and Medicare issues.

Science. The government hires scientists in a variety of departments, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. These agencies are dedicated to protecting the environment, and as populations grow and demands become greater on our country’s soils, waterways and other natural resources, more and more scientists will be needed to analyze air and water quality, advise landowners on environmentally sound land use policies, maintain national parks and protected areas, and design ecologically friendly solutions to environmental problems. Scientists in demand include microbiologists, botanists, chemists, and environmental engineers.

Accounting and finance. There’s a “tax gap” between what actually gets paid to the Government in terms of taxes and what the government is actually owed, and it’s in the billions of dollars. The Federal Government is working hard to close the gap by stepping up enforcement to ensure taxpayers don’t fail to file returns, under-report their income, or hide money from the government in other ways. Because of this, the Federal Government is always hiring revenue agents, tax examiners and auditors for the Internal Revenue Service.

How to Get a Government Job

Get educated. Competition is fierce for most Federal jobs, particularly during economically unstable times when employees seek the security of a government position. You’ll be competing against applicants with Bachelor’s degrees and diplomas from areas relevant to the job, so unless you have a lot of on-the-job experience, you might have a hard time getting a foot in the door.

In addition, support positions that traditionally haven’t required degrees—including administrative support and production jobs—are increasingly being outsourced or automated. The current trend in government hiring leans toward professionals with degrees or extensive experience in business, finance, science, law enforcement, and other positions.

Pass a background check. Most government jobs require applicants to pass a background check that examines their criminal history, credit history, employment record, and other personal factors. In many cases you’ll also have to go through an interview process and pass a lie detector test to determine your mental soundness and fit for the job.

Be a U.S. citizen. It’s very rare for the government to hire personnel who are not U.S. citizens. There are some exceptions, however; citizens from certain countries who are lawfully in the U.S. and applying for citizenship may be eligible for government jobs, as well as those from countries who owe permanent allegiance to the U.S. A complete list of exceptions can be found here.

Despite current economic challenges, a government job is still more stable than other jobs—these positions don’t fluctuate as much along with economic conditions. However, some areas within the Federal government are hiring more than others—and competition is likely to be fierce for most positions. Give yourself an edge by getting a degree, and you might be able to start a long, stable career in service to your country.