For those who aren’t familiar with USAJobs, usajobs.gov is a single, centralized site devoted to finding federal jobs. It is a cross-departmental and cross-agency platform, meaning that it lists jobs with the EPA, FDA, USDA, and many other departments and agencies. There’s a wide variety of criteria that you can use to search the database, including salary (or pay grade, if you prefer, and they’re not the same thing), geographic location, and job series. You can set alerts for jobs posted that meet any of these criteria. I have an alert set for all jobs posted for my location, so that I can keep on top of when we might be getting someone new in the building, and so I can tell my friends locally when a position is posted for my location.
On one hand, I’m regularly impressed by the huge variety of interesting jobs that USAJobs returns. In fact, the number of job locations alone is pretty staggering. It’s made me realize that federal employees are in every corner and every nook and cranny of the country. While the job listings do favor the east coast (as does actual federal employment, as you can see here), if you are willing to relocate to some non-intuitive places, you can find federal jobs in some exciting places (like the Ivory Coast), doing some pretty exciting things . I also have to admit that in addition to “oohing” and “ahhing” over some neat places, like Hawaii, I’ve been enticed by some pretty fun job descriptions as well.
On the other hand, one thing that is a downer about USAJobs is that it is somewhat difficult (okay, really difficult) to figure out who is actually eligible to apply for that position. It’s not that this information isn’t included in the job listing. It’s that this information is shrouded in pages and pages of administrative jargon, loaded with either/or statements and terms with which only seasoned, current federal employees would be familiar. To make matters worse, there are many categories of candidates (current federal employees and veterans often have different eligibilities than the general population), and it’s hard to know where you, as an applicant, fit in. It’s even harder to know if you, as an applicant, would be at an advantage or disadvantage in the applicant pool unless you’re already familiar with the federal hiring process and perhaps even that particular agency’s hiring practices as well.
I know that some federal HR managers would argue that this confusion isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the number of applications received for each and every job announcement is pretty exorbitant. Perhaps forcing an applicant to sort through such jargon is an effective weeding-out process that tests the critical thinking skills of prospective applicants…or is it? Are we keeping valuable talent out of the federal government applicant pool by making jobs difficult to apply for?
Here are a couple of tips for those searching on USAJobs:
- Don’t be afraid to use advanced criteria to narrow your search. The ability to limit your search results to a single job series or pay grade can help trim the number of hits to a more manageable number. I’ve had great success narrowing my search result by job series in particular, because it ensures that I can view jobs that are closely tailored to my skill set.
- Pay attention to the open dates of the job posting. Many federal jobs are only advertised for a short amount of time. This cuts down on the number of applications received for each position, and it streamlines the hiring process, since it can cut the waiting time considerably for all parties involved. The downside to this practice is that if you blink, you’ll miss the job opening, which brings me to my third tip:
- Set alerts. If there’s particular federal position that you want, make sure you don’t accidentally miss it. Set an alert that is specific for what you want, and have your resume ready so that when that magic job does actually post, you’ll be ready to apply before the window closes.