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The Challenge of Obtaining Federal Employment and Advancement Opportunities

How many of you have applied for a federal job and didn’t even get a nibble? You have a college degree and possibly and M.B.A., you have the skills and abilities. You have the desire to work in the federal service and still no one has called you. No one can promise you a federal position or advancement opportunities. What can be done, though, is showing people how to navigate the civil service system. Once inside a federal agency, some people become bored and disillusioned because they are not using their skills to the best of their abilities. The person leaves with a bad taste regarding civil service employment. Yet, many others find success and their heart’s dream of a great career.

Before I start on my soapbox, I’d like to find out if there is a market for this type of information. If your searching for a position, have been in federal service for a few years or many and are searching for a better position, perhaps you want to advance in the agency your in now, let’s share thoughts, ideas, experiences and make it a better place.

I invite all of you to join me. If you wish to discuss other things that are dear to you or if you have some other type of concerns, let’s share. If I don’t know the answer, we can search for the answer together. As Joan Rivers used to say, Let’s talk.

Linda

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Profile Photo Jason Whetsell

I hope I’m not taking your post in the wrong direction, but I think agencies would attract better mid-level talent if they offered higher starting salaries. Right now, the fad seems to be hiring 1102s (i.e. contracting professionals) at a GS-7 with a target of GS-13. Meaning, in D.C. you start out at about $39K and in 5 years you’re making almost $90K (with the annual grade and cost of living increases). Where else can your pay increase this rapidly? I assume this helps with retention (for 5 years anyways), but I would be willing to bet agencies could attract more talent if they had the flexibility to offer higher starting salaries with a slower increase. Many people can’t live on $39K for a full year. The current GS salary in D.C. for GS-7, 9, 11, 12, 13 is $39K, $48K, $58K, $70K, $83K respectively. Alternatively, if an agency offered $50K, $51K, $56K, $62, and $79K would they be able to attract and retain top talent? My Excel spreadsheet tells me that both approaches offer approximately $298K over 5 years, but the second approach offers a competitive starting salary.

I’m also wondering if agencies currently have the flexibility to offer this alternative salary approach. If so, is anyone aware of agencies that offer higher starting salaries with a less rapid increase?

Profile Photo Laura Lundin

I am currently a contractor with a DoD agency in the DC metro area. For several years now, I have applied for federal positions and have had only one interview and no offers. I do make certs but not consistently with respect to similar jobs or I get the “Eligible, but not referred” caveat. Also, when I have made certs for certain jobs, they remain open beyond the 90 day period with no closure. I have posted with all of the government websites, including USAJobs and Quickhire, but I feel frustrated at the process. At this point in my job search, I am more marketable/desired with contract companies but working as a contractor with the government doesn’t offer the stability or professional development that are part of my overall career goals. I would gladly accept any pointers you may have.

Profile Photo Linda

Hi Laura,
I had a situation like yours a few years back trying to obtain a promotion. I told some close friends I was always the bridesmaid, never the bride. So, when I did get the promotion after about 6 interviews, I told my friends, “I’m getting married, I’m getting married”. They thought I was really getting married until I clarified what I meant.

You do seem to know about all the different agency websites and that is good. Perhaps I can give you a hint, if your not too discouraged yet. I’m not sure what position(s) your applying for but that’s ok. Here it is….Go to https://www.opm.gov/fedclass/html/gsseries.asp
This is the federal agencies (OPM’s) classification listing for all government positions. Let’s say I want to become a GS-1102-13. It tells me what experience I need to have. Check it out. I hope I can copy and paste the index. This is available for all GS-series in federal service. Let me know if your able to use this to your benefit.

Contracting Series, GS-1102 TS-71 December 1983
Position Classification Standard for
Contracting Series, GS-1102
Table of Contents
SERIES DEFINITION…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..3
SERIES COVERAGE………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….3
EXCLUSIONS…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….3
OCCUPATIONAL INFORMATION…………………………………………………………………………………………………7
TITLES…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….15
GRADING OF POSITIONS…………………………………………………………………………………………………………16
NOTES TO USERS……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………17
GRADE CONVERSION TABLE…………………………………………………………………………………………………..18
FACTOR LEVEL DESCRIPTIONS……………………………………………………………………………………………….19
FACTOR 1, KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED BY THE POSITION……………………………………………….19
FACTOR 2, SUPERVISORY CONTROLS…………………………………………………………………………25
FACTOR 3, GUIDELINES……………………………………………………………………………………………….28
FACTOR 4, COMPLEXITY………………………………………………………………………………………………31
FACTOR 5, SCOPE AND EFFECT…………………………………………………………………………………..37
FACTOR 6, PERSONAL CONTACTS………………………………………………………………………………39
FACTOR 7, PURPOSE OF CONTACTS……………………………………………………………………………40
FACTOR 8, PHYSICAL DEMANDS………………………………………………………………………………….42
FACTOR 9, WORK ENVIRONMENT………………………………………………………………………………..43
OPM BENCHMARK DESCRIPTIONS………………………………………………………………………………………….43
CONTRACT SPECIALIST, GS-1102-07, BMK #1………………………………………………………………43
CONTRACT SPECIALIST, GS-1102-09, BMK #1………………………………………………………………46
CONTRACT ADMINISTRATOR, GS-1102-09, BMK #2………………………………………………………49
CONTRACT SPECIALIST, GS-1102-11, BMK #1………………………………………………………………52
CONTRACT SPECIALIST, GS-1102-11, BMK #2………………………………………………………………56
CONTRACT ADMINISTRATOR, GS-1102-11, BMK #3………………………………………………………60
CONTRACT PRICE/COST ANALYST, GS-1102-11, BMK #4……………………………………………..64
CONTRACT SPECIALIST, GS-1102-11, BMK #5………………………………………………………………67
PROCUREMENT ANALYST, GS-1102-11, BMK #6…………………………………………………………..71
CONTRACT SPECIALIST, GS-1102-12, BMK #1………………………………………………………………75
CONTRACT NEGOTIATOR, GS-1102-12, BMK #2……………………………………………………………79
CONTRACT SPECIALIST, GS-1102-12, BMK #3………………………………………………………………82
CONTRACT ADMINISTRATOR, GS-1102-12, BMK #4………………………………………………………86
CONTRACT TERMINATION SPECIALIST, GS-1102-12, BMK #5……………………………………….90 U.S. Office of Personnel Management 1

Will write more tonight..

Linda

Profile Photo Linda

Jason,
You have a great idea. What or how do you think we can change current policy to allow agencies to truly attract highly qualified and educated people by starting them off with a higher salary? Any more ideas? You sound very interesting. I think you could start something positive with this idea.

Profile Photo Linda

Jason,
As I said earlier today, you have a great idea. I do not beleive any U.S government agency is authorized to offer a bigger salary than the GS series allow for and even if a person was hired under the NSPS system, they would earn even less as a starting salary. (Anyone, tell me if I’m incorrect) There are many intern positions available at different times of the year. with various agencies. They either start at GS-05/07/09 but most start at GS-07/09/11. Right now is the best time to get into the higher grades after someone passes the GS-11 stage because there are many people retiring.

I beleive a grassroot movement would have to begin Now in order to institute your idea. I guess my problem is that I beleive from the government’s/various agency’s words is they want to pay less to get less. (This is my own personal perception according to my experience(s))

There are some people with some great ideas but they are not in positions of authority at this time. Government services has changed a great deal from 15/20 years ago. Now, the higher ranking management is asking for everyones input.

What would you do to institute your idea? Remember all the funds agencys use comes from taxpayer funds.

Linda

Profile Photo Jay Kress

Coming up on twenty years of service, my perspective is that both getting hired, and getting promoted has more to do with who you know than what you know. It’s about networking. Sometimes what you know leads to developments that change who you know, but more frequently, the soft skills- how you present yourself, and more importantly, how you’re preceived (whether or not incorrectly) have bigger impacts.

Profile Photo Margaret Salazar

Hi everyone,
Thanks for the good discussion. I have a couple of thoughts on attracting people to government service, and getting in the door. I don’t think that salaries are that big of a detractor, especially because I think we should be actively recruiting the same talent pool that now has a huge nonprofit sector in which to work (which didn’t exist a generation ago). Our peers choose nonprofit over government, eschewing the higher and more secure government salary for a nonprofit career that fulfills a mission and offers more flexibility. I recently became very frustrated because I referred two friends from graduate school to jobs in my federal agency. Both are exceptionally smart and accomplished, and have experience in local government and nonprofits. The jobs being posted are written in such a narrow, technical and specific fashion that good candidates don’t even make it to the list for an interview. We need to change how we define and categorize these government jobs and loosen up on the gatekeeping! We youngsters are trained to be analytical and expect to hop around to different sectors, roles and agencies. Narrowly written, widget-centric job postings are just going to turn our peers away from government. It seems like “once you’re in, you’re in” — but why is this such an exclusive club?

Profile Photo Steve Ressler

I couldn’t agree more Margaret. When you see the success of programs such as Teach for America and Peace Corps, the challenge with gov’t recruiting is not the salary. Gov’t has a great mission and people would love to join and help out if we asked. The problem is there is no clear mechanism to employment, job postings are narrow-focused, and we don’t market the great work and mission we have.

Profile Photo Linda

I have to tell you all, Your great!!! I never imagined this GovLoop would really work well. I just didn’t know and still don’t know where all this is going but all of you are blowing my mind away.

Jay, I want to address this to you first. I have 23 years experience in civil service and the first half was a real pain. I tried to resign but they wouldn’t accept my resignation letters. Seems there’s a different way to resign…little did I know.

My perception is the same as yours; it’s not so much what you know but who you know. In my case, I didn’t know anyone so I had to change my perspective and thinking. When I apply for a promotion, I think, I only need one job…just one. The general perception is sometimes agencies already know who they want to select. (This is illegal) People have been know to place their bid before selections are made… and they are correct 80% of the time. I just watch and listen. I’m competing internally as well as externally. So I have to interview a lot better than anyone else and I have to hope that something happens that will let me inch my way in.

Another thing that helps is knowing what works in the system and what doesn’t. So we have choices:
1. Change the system dynamics.
2. Get out of the system and do something else.
3. Find out (information) how the system works and doesn’t work and make it work for you. (This was my choice and it worked for me.)
4. Others you all may think of that I haven’t. Maybe start a grassroots something or other.

Profile Photo Linda

Hi Margaret, Welcome.
I’d be interested to learn about your non-profit experiences. I thought of starting up a non-profit organization that would allow disabled people (my son is disabled but has a certain degree of functionality) to live on their own with mild supervision; allowing them to make their own decisions.,,it’s just a thought because I have no idea how to go about this but I guess I could do some research….

Back to federal employment. Yes, position descriptions are narrowly written, I agree. You might want to have your friends, who are interested, check out https://www.opm.gov/fedclass/html/gsseries.asp
This is a job classification listing of all federal GS positions and what kinds of experience and education requirements must be met.
You might also want to check out/read about the new NSPS system rolling throughout government at http://www.cpms.osd.mil/nsps/ and if you take out the /nsps/ at the end and go to http://www.cpms.osd.mil you can learn about the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Dept. of Defense, Civilian Personnel Management Service. With the kind of education & experience your friends have, they really shouldn’t have to much trouble…if they knew the system a little bit better. No guarantees. Anyway good luck to your friends and to you regardless of what dreams you wish to fulfill.
Sorry I ran at the mouth with too much information.

Linda

Profile Photo ResultsPronto

I have recently posted two replies to “New Ideas for Government” which I think may be beneficial to this discussion. The first is a response to a suggestion to simply ‘get rid of’ excess or unecessary employees, or to rotate people around so they can learn more (like private industry does)- which unfortunately with current legislation and policy restrictions could not work. (…so act of Congress??). The second touches on Linda’s practical suggestions and offers some ‘hands-on’ advice for applying to a Federal position- and was posted in response to comments on the Feds seeming inability or unwillingness to hire mid-level talent. This is also due (I think) to that same current legislation and policy.

The bottom line difficulty and challenge facing the Feds is the ability to see how long standing practices -based on legislation and therefore not easily changed without enacting new laws- hold the US Government back as a group, and as individual Federal employees and Fed job applicants (internal or external). Everything can be changed, but the rules Feds work under have been continuously piled on top of each other without ever cleaning out the rotting mess underneath…but all are still the law. What we end up with is an inefficient mix of law and institutional culture that is incomprehensible to the outsider, and overwhelming to the insider. Many of the ‘stupid’ things Feds do are in compliance with outdated law.

I have about 25 years- including some in Federal Recruitment (outreach, not HR). I will post each response to “New Ideas…” separately, hopefully it will add to this discussion.

Profile Photo ResultsPronto

“The first is a response to a suggestion to simply ‘get rid of’ excess or unecessary employees, or to rotate people around so they can learn more (like private industry does)- which unfortunately with current legislation and policy restrictions could not work. (…so act of Congress??).

Two problems I observe as a Federal manager that I think are a root problem related to many of the suggestions posted here:

1. Personnel regulations PREVENT employees from moving on or up:
a. The job series ‘classification’ system. HR will not even consider/review the job application of a current Federal employee if his/her current job classification number isn’t the same, or in the same occupational ‘family’ as the new job being applied for- Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities aside. Now, the same qualifications from a non-Federal employee will be considered. That’s how I moved into Federal management, by LEAVING the government and coming back. I would not have had the opportunities to grow and serve in the positions I have for the past 6 years otherwise- I had capped out in my series.
b. The time-in-grade restrictions for advancement don’t reflect modern management based on merit, not seniority. This was instituted in the 30’s/40’s (I think) to slow the advancement of Federal employees. It is doing the job. It demorilizes hangers on, and gives a reason to leave for the most capable Federal employees. We can hope they will come back too…

2. The balance of power between employees and management is too lenient to employees. When serious employee problems with conduct or performance crop up, Agencies usually settle the case and provide the offending employee with a new job, and sometimes monetary benefits- even in clear cut cases of employee poor performance or conduct. Out of an inordinate fear of merely ‘seeming’ unfair, the Feds extend the benefit of every doubt, and much more in cases where in private industry the person would have been fired almost immediately- or at least within a few months of trying to fix the problem with no success. In government, the problems go on for years. Once a case is settled, it can never be brought up again. Ask any long-time Federal employee, most all can relay a story or two of a ‘badmitton birdie’ employee they know of (without mentioning names or details), who goes from unit to unit to unit- for whatever reason, causing trouble each time.

The problems they cause, the morale busting they do to co-workers and supervisors who have to deal with them, and the money wasted re-documenting or investigating the repeating issues that cannot be re-told in each unit are a drain on all that is tangible, and intangible. The true workers have to cover for this problem in terms of work load and tension at work, while the problem employees give all Federal workers a bad wrap with the public. THIS bad impression of Federal workers I believe- for some outstanding folks- is another reason to NOT consider a job with the Feds. (Though- it’s not ALL bad…I did come back!) But to get back to the question, to ‘get rid of’ an employee in the Federal sector- it’s not as easy as it sounds. And while I believe in fairness for employees (I am one too!), some reform is needed to balance the employee’s needs, and the duty we have to taxpayers.

Profile Photo ResultsPronto

“The second touches on Linda’s practical suggestions and offers some ‘hands-on’ advice for applying to a Federal position- and was posted in response to comments on the Feds seeming inability or unwillingness to hire mid-level talent. This is also due (I think) to that same current legislation and policy.”

This gets to the problem of the classification system, which actually limits people trying to advance to these positions within government too believe it or not! HR specialists are trained to look for that ‘occupation classification number’. As an outsider, if you learn this principle, you actually have a major ADVANTAGE over insiders trying to jump to a new occupation series code. What you are describing here is the fact that the easiest way to qualify for a higher level job is to already be working in the same series. HR will just take pretty much anything you have in the application as relevent (and that’s probably right). This is why Federal employees don’t (CAN’T) ‘move around’ easily as has been one of the suggestions in another thread.

My advice- get the occupational code, for example GS-1000-13, the code would be the 1000, that stands for “Information and Arts group”. The OPM website will provide a complete written classification standard for what is needed to be successful in that series at that grade (13). Those are the things the HR specialist will look for in an application. You can find the classification information on the OPM web site at: https://www.opm.gov/fedclass/index.asp.

Now, applying for a any job is a skill you will NOT use at any other time. That is why it is so frustrating. BUT- what it boils down to is as succinctly as possible, tell the stories of your career that illustrate that you have what it takes to succeed. This is NOT a listing of past duties- boring. Do this by listing EXAMPLES of how you DEMONSTRATED that fact, with impact in numbers or awards or something else tangible whenever you can (like % increased production, $ sales, efficiency, any idea you proposed and was adopted, and KEPT is even better, etc.) You can’t tell every great thing you’ve ever done, and it’s probably not all relevent. If you look up the classification on OPM, it will guide you with what stories you should tell, and possibly what to highlight in those stories! NEVER LIE ON A FEDERAL APPLICATION! Also, in the Federal application, every Agency is different, not all are online yet- and you DO NOT have to limit to one or even two pages. One old joke of insiders- the first cut is by weight, heaviest wins.

So, it’s probably more about already being in the system for career Feds already working in the occupational code. Feds not working in that code are even more limited than an outsider, with grade caps, time served in lower grade requirements before being eligible for promotions, and the inability to move to other occupational fields mainly because that’s just how HR is trained and cultured to look at applications. As an ‘outsider’ you do not have the prejudice of a current (wrong) occupational code or Federal pay grade like an insider might have.

I left the government, and came back and overcame capping out in my series. I then learned about occupational code and how to write my stories to highlight why I knew I could do a job in a DIFFERENT series code that I had failed many times before to be rated eligible for…and it worked!

Profile Photo Linda

Thank you Results Pronto, for you insightful thoughts and comments. You don’t know how much you have helped me. It just so happens I’m attempting to go to another series for a position I’ve never done before but that I’m confident I could do. This is a first for me and I will see how successful I will be. How would you recommend we get our legislature to clean and clear up past laws and regulations? It would be great to understand what they really want us to accomplish, if anything?

Thanks.
Linda Dilliplane

Profile Photo Karin Bues

Hi Linda,
My name is Karin and I see that this blog hasn’t been active for about a year now. I am currently going through the same process as Laura above but I have to say not as aggressive as she was because I get confused about applying for a govt job. I am a DOD contractor working in the Tech area and I see lots of jobs on USA jobs that sound like wonderful opportunities. But when I start filling them out on-line I have to say I get really confused. A couple months ago I was filling out a couple of applications on USA jobs and then I get redirected to other systems so then I have to create another accounts with this agency or that agency and fill out additional paper work. Sometimes I am not sure if I even have correctly answered the questions. I have to say it was overwhelming and so confusing. Any advise would be great. I hope you are still on here.
Thanks,
Karin