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5 Tips on USAJOBS for Current Feds

Each week I pick the top 10 jobs by category (IT to HR to entry-level to $100k)from USAJOBS for our site jobs.govloop.com (sign up to receive our top picks by email).

I’m kind of a jobs nerd so I actually love doing it. I’ve learned a lot by doing this week in terms of what type of jobs are available and what to look for.

Here are my top 5 observations:

1) # of openings by agency varies greatly – Guess what – I bet 60-70% of all vacancies on USAJOBS are DOD or VA vacancies. If you are focused on civilian agencies only, you have cut your chances a ton. Additionally, the financial agencies that are dealing with new regulations are hiring a ton – CFPB, OCC, SEC, etc

So if you are only looking for jobs at State Department or Department of Education or NSF, I hate to break the news – there’s not that many openings each week.

2) # of opening by type varies great – Each week there are only between 8-10 public affairs openings while there are a minimum of 100 IT openings. Just simple math, you are going to have a much harder job finding a communication opening than a new IT job. Other fields that have lots of openings (and good grades) – budget, acquisitions, program management (HR is okay)

3) Seasonality matters – I’ve been doing this for probably 5 months now. While there are consistencies like IT always having a ton of jobs, I’ve seen a lot of changes in number of openings in the HR, budget, and auditing classification. There are some better statistics somewhere but my sense is there are lot more job openings in Feb/March than December/beginning of January for example

4) Financial agencies pay 25% more – I always knew financial agencies paid 25% more than other government agencies. But seeing it week after week really shows how much that can matter. When I see SES jobs cap out at $160k but GS-14, step 10 in financial agencies making the same money – it pops out at you

5) Acquisition for outside DC – Let’s be straight-forward – most of the high-paying federal jobs are in DC – most of the GS-14/15 and SES are there. But a lot of people hate DC (the traffic, it’s very expensive) – so how do you get ahead in government and live outside DC. I have noticed acquisition seems the best field to live outside DC and make good grades. I see a lot of GS-13, 14, 15s in acquisition in great locations (Charlottesville to Indianapolis to Omaha) where you could have a great cost of living

Bonus tip – Most jobs seem to be in the GS-12 to 15 range – I see a lot more jobs in mid-senior range than at entry level. Generally there are just a lot more interesting jobs once you are in government and have worked a couple years than the entry level jobs

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Doris Tirone

In the past 10 years, so many jobs have been “contracted out” – jobs that are not considered “inherently governmental”. What jobs were they? They’re the blue collar and lower-level administrative positions. Why? There are people (e.g., elected officials, lobbyists, members of the general public) who believe that because these types of positions are overseen by higher graded positions, their potential to have a direct effect on the general public is mitigated by the opportunity for higher level positions to shield the government from causing “great harm” to the public.

Andy Lowenthal

Interesting observations, Steve. From a talent pipeline perspective, it’s actually of great concern that so few positions are at the GS-5/7/9/11 levels because there are relatively few opportunities for talented college graduates to enter federal service. This speaks to the popularity of programs like the now-defunct Federal Career Internship Program (FCIP) and the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF, for graduate students only).

Why not replace a GS-13 position with two GS-7s? This is especially relevant in IT, where the average age of an IT specialist at some agencies is late forties or early fifties. Perhaps there would be fewer IT openings if agencies were keen to scoop up the latest talent coming out of the nation’s top computer science programs.

Emi Whittle

Heard an interesting statistic that the largest collective group of government employees – federal, state, or local – resides at the local government level. Might not be the same as working “fed” but for folks looking towards government employment, this could be a great place to start (and maybe stay!).

Doris Tirone

While the “largest collective group” of employees may be found at the local government level, we have to remember that there are thousands of “local governments” in the United States, more than can be enumerated here; but there are a finite number of organizations in the Federal government and the jobs within each organization are shrinking. Perhaps that’s how one was able to defend this statistic.

Nevertheless (and absent my military experience), I began my government career at the local level and moved into Federal employment after “seasoning my professional credentials” with experience in a smaller governmental environment.

Avatar photo Katelyn Keegan

I think once Pathways is finalized and published you may start to see more GS-5/7/9/11s posted on USAJobs. I am under the impression that DoD wants to advertise them as openly as possible and that includes using USAJobs.

Dorothy Ramienski Amatucci

I think this might be more of a career question than a specific jobs question, but what resources are available out there for those who might want to change careers within the federal government? For example, if you have a background in communications, is there anything you can do to garner acquisition or IT experience, other than going back to school?

Sterling Whitehead

A few other things: When I look at other jobs, I pay attention to the political rhetoric and general reputation of agencies. DHS doesn’t have a great reputation; GSA gets bashed regularly now. Departments of Energy and Education are hated by the Republican-dominated House, so there’s a real risk if you took a job at either one — you just don’t know if you’re job would be cut b/c you’re the new person.

Also on acquisition, NCMA‘s annual salary survey shows that 20% of contracting (a subset of acquisition) professionals are located in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Also another side note, ~80% of the federal workforce is outside the Beltway, so remember those stats. Opportunities abound in other states.


Interesting on politics. Definitely a key thing to look at. I also look at Best places to work rankings

Cool on NCMA. I’ve heard the 80% stat – my only caveat when I tell people that stat is I think it gets skewed a little by style of jobs. A lot of agencies have the mission folks in field – border patrol agents, TSA screeners, ICE immigration officers, FBI agents – and these numbers are much higher than # of budget analysts so really depends what type of job you are looking for


Dorothy – cool idea. I haven’t seen much on changing career series. Each job series has “requirements” that require schooling often…but at same time I don’t think they should and often you can change series if you network and get right jobs. I moved from program analyst to IT specialist without schooling