Have an itch to switch to a new job? If so, here is some information about federal salaries to help you strategize your move:
- The one-year rule: Once you have been in your current federal job for one year, you will be eligible to move up a grade. If you’re looking for a job that would and don’t want your current boss to know about your job search, use other managers, colleagues and other professional associates as references; reasonable hiring managers will understand your desire for confidentiality.
- Go for promotion potential: During your job search, favor job openings that offer promotion potential. Why? Because in order to advance to a higher grade from a job without promotion potential, you would either have to land another job or your job would have to be upgraded. Your job could be upgraded through a so-called “accretion of duties’ that would have to be formally justified by a significant increase in the level of your responsibilities or through a process that would require you to reapply for your job. Either way, a protracted processes would be involved.
- The value of a grade increase: If you receive a grade increase on your current or a new job, your new salary will probably be determined by the so-called two-step rule. Here’s how it would work for you: Find your current grade and step on the salary table that covers your current job. (Salary tables are posted at opm.gov.) Then, find the step that is two steps above your current step at your current grade; this is your “two-step salary.” Next, go to the grade that is immediately above your current grade, and find the step that provides the salary that is equal to, or immediately above, your two-step salary; that would be your grade and step after the two-step rule were applied. After being promoted, you would receive another within-grade step increase in one, two or three years, depending on what step you landed at after the two-step rule.
- Go for a Quality Step Increase (QSI): You may increase your salary on your current job by earning a QSI, which is a faster than normal within-grade increase awarded for high-quality performance. If you have gone the extra mile for a sustained time period on your job, ask your boss for a QSI. Also, sometimes, an employee who receives a superior performance evaluation may choose between receiving a QSI or a cash award. If you are given such a choice, consider that the long-term value of a QSI—which is a gift that keeps on giving—will almost always exceed that of a one-time bonus, unless you plan to imminently leave the federal government.
- The competitive vs. excepted service: Jobs in the excepted service often pay significantly higher salaries than comparable jobs in the competitive service—sometimes even tens of thousands of dollars higher! So if you switch from the competitive service to the excepted service, you may get a significant salary boost beyond what would be dictated by the two-step rule, particularly if you negotiate your salary. (Google “competitive service” and “excepted service” to find out which agencies are in each service.)
- Lateralling: You may be willing to accept a positon at your current step and grade without a promotion if, for example, another job may be more interesting, offer a more appealing work environment or provide a stepping stone to better opportunities. It is a little-known fact that you can be lateraled into an equivalent position in your current agency or another agency without competition. That is, a manager can select you without considering any other applicants. But unfortunately, even many managers don’t know about this option. So if you would like to work for a particular manager who might want to hire you, consider tactfully informing him about lateralling opportunities.
- Zooming into the Senior Excepted Service (SES): Some SES jobs are open to GS-14s. So you could apply to such SES jobs directly from a GS-14 position without first serving as a GS-15. The minimum SES salary is 120 percent of the salary for GS-15, step 1. Some agencies always offer new SESers a set percentage increase (usually 10 to 15 percent) over their pervious salary; other agencies are free of such restrictions.
- Big pay differences in the SES: Agencies that have been certified by OPM for adopting performance-based appraisal systems for SESers can pay higher SES salaries that can uncertified agencies. The performance-based systems of certified agencies reward high performers with raises but eliminate automatic annual raises. And SESers receive annual bonuses between 5 and 20 percent of basic pay.