Getting into the Government?

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This topic contains 37 replies, has 23 voices, and was last updated by  Stephen Peteritas 10 years, 4 months ago.

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  • #113563

    Maggie McGary

    Apologies if this question has already been addressed–I did a quick search and didn’t see it but it could well already be here.

    My question is about breaking into the government…how do you do it? I’ve tried, on and off, for over 20 years now to get hired by the Federal Government and have never gotten so much as an interview. I try to be comprehensive in my answers on the application, I have tried going through personal connections, and I’ve read about how the process is supposed to be getting easier for applicants…and still, nothing. It’s so frustrating to be on the “outside” trying to get in, knowing you’re well qualified, only to never even get so much as an interview!

    Any advice would be appreciated. I live in Maryland, btw.

  • #113637

    Stephen Peteritas

    Maggie I would suggest checking out our Getting a Government Job section:

    Also I’m floating your question in a few groups right now to get you a better answer. You might also friend and message Doris Tirone and Kathleen Smith on GovLoop as they are HR rockstars and probably have tons of tips on breaking into the Gov.

  • #113635

    Maggie McGary

    Awesome–thanks so much!

  • #113633

    Sterling Whitehead

    Maggie: Meet a hiring manager first, then apply for a job. Not the other way around. I learned that the hard way. It’s an unspoken rule, but by the time a job announcement is out for a while, hiring managers probably know who they want. You have to get in the door early. Go to events and write a blog (P.S. the blog piece is very important; if you’re in writing, people take you more seriously. It’s a logical fallacy, but people think, “If it’s in writing, they know what they’re talking about.”).

  • #113631

    Maggie McGary

    Thanks–now to figure out how to do that! I’m good with the blog part at least.

    Is the hiring manager someone in HR or the person in the department you want to work for? And is it considered a faux pas to try to connect with these people on Linkedin?

    Then I’ve also heard that jobs are basically filled by the time they’re posted, or at least if the job is posted with an expiration date of 14 days that’s the case.

  • #113629


    Same here–Had one interview almost 4 years ago.
    I limit my apps to fed. positions and concentrate on contractors doing powerful, meaningful public service work.
    I think if I was a veteran and did not owe on a student loan, and active in the Republicrat Party, I’d already be hired.
    Frankly, there’s just too much unwarranted and unfair “good old Boy” bias/prejudice in the DC area by hiring authorities. Members of Congress and President Obama obviosly dont care enough to make rectifying these seemingly Un-American human resource injustices a priority to fix.

  • #113627

    Maggie McGary

    Depressing/funny you mention that about veterans because another friend who is a hiring manager at one of the agencies in Maryland said that it used to work the way Sterling said–they would find the person they liked/wanted to hire, then create or find a job for them. Now, however, he said that they are only allowed to hire veterans–so the old way doesn’t even work anymore.

    I totally agree about the weird bias/rules in the DC area–you’d think of anyplace it would be easiest to get into the Gov’t here, where all the agencies are. But even with a dad who’s worked for FDA for over 40 years, several other personal connections and multiple attempts on my own I STILL can’t even get an interview!

    But that’s why I’m glad GovLoop exists–because I know it’s only a matter of time until smart, motivated Fed employees figure out a way to get past these crazy hiring practices! The only way it can change is from the inside out.

  • #113625

    James J. Finkle

    Don’t give up. I suffered a similar track record until I took a course by Kathryn Troutman and used her book. I don’t want to plug her company here, but within a month of taking the one-day class I had two interviews and subsequent offers. So please don’t give up. The federal government is as good a place to work as anywhere else, maybe better!

  • #113623

    Maggie McGary

    Thanks–I’ll have to check out that book! I think the fed govt is a great place to work–if you can get in!

  • #113621

    Daniel J. Brown

    Keep searching You need to be persistent and willing to in some cases relocate to other areas of the country.

  • #113619

    Sarah Caramanica

    Hi Maggie,

    I would also encourage you to read a few of the articles listed online by two federal career coaches Kathryn Troutman and Lily Whiteman. Both of these individuals have vast experience with federal resume writing and career coaching. I hope some of these articles will help!

  • #113617

    Wendell Black

    Hi Dan:

    You definitely are correct, with the federal government you have to be persistent and willing to relocate in order to be a viable candidate. Unfortunately what I’m seeing with most federal jobs is that they are not paying for relocation and would rather hire within the local commuting area of where the job is located which makes it that much more difficult to get into fed service. Take if from someone who has relocated four times in my 18 year career with the federal government, relocating is not cheap, especially if you have a house and a family. I’ve been lucky enough where the government paid for all of my relocation, but with everyone in the country underwater on their mortgages, the government seems to be a little gunshy about hiring individuals outside local community areas.

  • #113615

    Wendell Black

    Hi Maggie:

    Usually if a job has a posting for only five (5) days, that agency usually already has someone in mind for the position.

  • #113613

    michael brinkley

    Something I haven’t seen addressed, what does your resume look like?

    Are you selling your skills relevant to the position you are applying to/for?

    Most of the things listed here are true however, if you don’t have the skills that an agency is looking for or your resume does a poor job of selling those skills and qualifications then these could obstacles to your getting an interview, veteran or not.

    If you have contacts within the federal government, compare your resume with theirs to see if their is something you are missing.

    I hope this helps.


  • #113611

    Maggie McGary

    That’s something I’ve been thinking about–I don’t think my resume is very strong. Ironic that I write other people’s resumes but I don’t think I do a very good job on my own. I need to work on it/have someone else do it.


  • #113609

    James J. Finkle

    Kathryn Troutman’s company writes resumes for federal employment. That exercise is what caused me to re-write my information and resulted in two interviews.

  • #113607

    Esther Dacanay


    A great service you might want to try is Don’t give up. Yes, mobility is something you may want to consider to increase your chances. If you’re allowing yourself to be “tethered” to one geographic location, that really narrows your chances of getting in. Sometimes you have to “do the time” in an undesireable location for a time prior to applying for a transfer. And yes, if that job is in the U.S., typically, the government does not pay for relocation expenses. Let that be your first “in”. Once you land a job in the U.S., apply to overseas positions, of which, most do offer relocation expenses. The key is in your resume and in knowing where to “place” that resume, as in, which government agency Web site, since there are quite a few out there. USAjobs does not process all resumes for all government agencies. You really have to know which agency Web site will process your resume for that particular announcement, otherwise, it could be floating in cyberspace….

  • #113605

    Robert Cox

    My first admin assistant told me what he did — he moved to MD (2001) and then applied for over 100 Federal jobs. I was the first one to interview him (I was new myself, and didn’t realize I was “supposed” to move slowly), and so he came to work for me as a GS-7. Now he’s a GS-11 in a bigger and better job.

    It is absolutely imperative that your resume be typo free — this is what the hirer sees.
    Work the buzzwords for the position announcement into your resume or essays — this helps get past the first filter in HR.
    Don’t apply for any jobs whose open-to-close interval is a week or less — these are taped for somebody internal. Two weeks may or may not be a reasonable open period.

  • #113603

    Richard Abrams, CEM

    Hi there. I know it’s trite, but internships may be another avenue to enter into postions, or fields of interest. Some internships are grant funded and may lead to other positions or provide a foot in the door. As you know searching is a painful process that creates doubt about our abilities. Hang in there. I speak from personal experience.

  • #113601

    Dan Schmidt

    Maggie–be persistent, but realize that the game is rigged. It’s not about how much experience you have, it’s whether or not you know how to play the game. And by that I mean, do you know how to “beat” the KSAs and maximize your points? That is what will get you the interview, and ultimately, the job. I don’t want to give too many pointers here in the message boards, but let’s just say there’s a science to USAjobs. Sometimes you just can’t win because there are a lot of shenanigans going on behind the scenes. Oftentimes these hiring managers will close job postings if they don’t get their desired candidates. My suggestion is continue looking elsewhere outside of government, and when you do apply for fed jobs, put in only for jobs you really want. Don’t waste too much of your time on this nonsense.

  • #113599

    Chris IRS Recruiter


    I joined the IRS Recruitment Office in January 2010, as a management assistant and I’ve recently transitioned to an analyst position. The three years I spent searching through job announcements and applying were worth it. Some great opportunities have come my way, and I LOVE my job.

    There wasn’t any one thing that I did that was key to landing my job. I checked USAjobs two or three times a week and applied for anything that sounded interesting, even if I was over qualified. I also let friends who work for the Federal Government know that I was looking for a position. Be patient and persistent!

    PS-If you’re curious about IRS jobs visit our careers website: We also have a facebook page where applicants ask questions and we share tips on how to get your foot in the door-feel free to check it out : Good Luck!

  • #113597

    Maggie McGary

    Thanks so much, everyone, for all the great tips and encouragement! Unfortunately relocationg is not an option for me as I have shared custody of my kids, but I live in Maryland so I know there are tons of great opportunities in this area. I’ll definitely be following all the advice I’ve gotten here and will come back and share my success story!

  • #113595

    Carol Davison

    Maggie I work in HR. Very few of the jobs I’ve seen were filled by someone groomed for the position. I obtained mine by sending in many applications and eventually being most qualified. So write a great resume such as “Served as Loaned Executive to the Combined Federal Campaign and raised 103% of goal during a recession inspite of new administraitons unfamiliarity with the campaign. Initiated awards ceremonies to reward performers and motivate others to ensure volunteer campaigners continued working.” Regardless of what you are told develop great answers to questions regarding your competency answering these questions:
    challenge, context, activity, results, impact. Save it in a word document and cut and paste answers. Ensure you say leader, chief, division head, training, development, etc when they do. Are you determined to be qualified? Good fine tune your appliation. Not qualified? Re write your resume.

    IA part of the problem is that HR gets 100 applications for every job, at least half of them not qualified. Another part is that some vacancies are so poorly written they don’t screen in/screen out qualified people. I’m a veteran with a disability and I don’t get called for interviews each time I apply. Finally its not good business sense to pay for relocation if you don’t have to. I don’t want them spending my tax dollars that way do you?

  • #113593

    John F Myers

    Hi Maggie, There is a lot of good advise here. My name is John Myers and I am a government employee for DoD. Dan nailed an important fact. The KSA’s. Just in case you are not sure what those are, they are “Knowledge, Skill, Ability”. They are very important. Most of the jobs are listed on They also list the KSA’s required for that position. Your resume needs to reflect those KSA’s. All of them or as much of them as possible. Also, I have been trying to get my wife a job on the base here for a while now. Even with me working here it is difficult. One of the other things the HR people told me is apply for the job by the FIRST cutoff date. Those who apply by the first cutoff date have priority in the selection process. You will see something like this:

    Announcement Number: SW0-5306-08-P5840090-UDE-FL Open Date: 10/21/2010
    Closing Date: 11/03/2010 1st Cut-Off Date: 10/27/2010
    Initial consideration will be given to candidates whose applications have been received by midnight (Eastern Standard Time) on the first cut-off date.

    Another way to get into government service is the way I did. Keep in mind, I am a veteran as well. I started off as a contractor and spent a year working as a contractor, built up a reputation, skills, knowledge and experience and the program on the base that hired the contractor got to know me and my work ethic…After a year I transitioned over to government and have been here ever since. I hope this helps you. Let me know if you need any assistance regarding your resume. I can review it if you like.

  • #113591

    Maggie McGary

    Thanks for this–this is actually something I’ve heard before and am curious about. Not to be stupid, but if I live in MD, what are some gov’t contractors I could look at? I know Booz Allen, but not really any others.

  • #113589

    John F Myers

    The big ones I know of are Booz Allen, Jacobs-Sverdrup and Northrup Grumman and General Dynamics…You can check out this link:
    and probably do some similar searches for DoD contractors in your area or the area closest to you.

  • #113587

    Amy Taylor

    Regarding this: “I think if I was a veteran and did not owe on a student loan, and active in the Republicrat Party, I’d already be hired”

    I was hired a few months ago after doing an unpaid internship as part of my masters program. Even after interning and working closely with many people, I would have considered it a serious professional mistake if the people I worked with knew if I had student loans or was active politically, religiously, or___ …fill in the blank with anything other than professionally.

  • #113585

    I just purchased Kathryn Troutman’s book as well. She discusses a strategy that I really like. I will keep you posted on my status. I’m trying to learn all I can about getting into the federal government as well as working on enhancing my skills in the meantime. Good luck to you! Keep your hopes up!

  • #113583

    Kathryn Troutman

    Hi! This is my first time to write on govloop! I am pleased to answer your question about Breaking into Government! This is a very typical problem for many “first-timers”.

    I think that your problem could be your Federal Resume which is probably posted in USAJOBS now.
    Is that resume focused toward ONE occupational series in government?
    Does it have the keywords from the announcement DUTIES and SPECIALIZED EXPERIENCE SECTION?
    Did you include the KSAs in your resume for EACH announcement?
    Did you rate yourself very carefully in the Questionnaire?

    Since Federal Hiring Reform has NOT simplified the federal application yet, and especially the KSA writing process, now KSAS go in the resume, each resume has to be carefully matched to the announcement.

    GOOD NEWS is that you probably can get Best Qualified, if the resume is improved! Please try again with your federal resume. Kathryn Troutman, Author, Ten Steps to a Federal Job, 2nd Ed.

  • #113581

    Maggie McGary

    Thanks so much for the advice. My resume is definitely not optimized as you suggest–I guess I need to revisit that!

  • #113579

    Wow, Kathryn Troutman! What an honor to hear from you! I have your book and I’m halfway through reading its content. I just mentioned it in the discussion yesterday! The book has already proved extremely useful. I am in the process of gaining higher level skills on my current job and researching federal government agencies in order to find a good fit. I also began writing my accomplishments from past jobs like you indicated in your book and its making me excited about my own skills. Setting goals and having realistic expectations is a huge asset to my job search journey. You will be hearing from me around the beginning of the new year. Thanks again for gracing us with your input in this discussion today!

  • #113577

    Kathryn Troutman

    Hi Ruth, Yes, ACCOMPLISHMENTS are your Accomplishment Record. The HR specialists look at the Accomplishment Record to determine your future performance.

    So, if you have a great example about how you solved a big problem for your organization, saved money or set up a new system … the HR specialist and manager will think: GREAT. this person can save US money and make our organization more efficient. I’D LIKE TO MEET HER !!! Seriously, this kind of example can get you an interview. Alot of people don’t add accomplishments, can you believe it? NOT impressive.

    You need to brag (sorry about that), but if you have great skills, SAY IT IN WRITING! Kathryn

  • #113575

    John F Myers

    She is right. Bragging is a good thing when it comes to your resume…In the Navy we have to write evaluations and the hardest part I find when collaborating with all of the other senior petty officers is we have come to the same conclusion. That is, it is easy to brag on your junior personnel but extremely difficult bragging on yourself…So what we do is we bounce the topics off of each other which lets the other person brag for you and you just write it down. Just a little extra assistance.

  • #113573

    Anita Perkins


    Thanks for posting this questions. I’m in the same position. As daunting as it is I keep applying and have been consistently for over a year. I’m determined and committed to transition from the private sector to the federal public sector. This website have been a very helpful resource.

  • #113571

    Ward Purcell

    Why would you want to work for the federal government? We can’t even hope to do the jobs that we were hired for and our goals are so optimistic that they are out of reach. We have a thin veneer of competence holding us together and a thick underlayer of marginal competence that is holding us back. We are old and tired and need a skills upgrade but don’t see any hope of that in the near future. Did you hear that our pay is frozen for two years?

    We are so incompetent that our Personnel Regulator — the Office of Personnel Management — communicates to us via cartoons developed by contractors. I’m serious.

    Also, the contractors revel in our thin competence by sneaking racist and other insulting references into those cartoons. Look at this one and you will be shocked. OPM’s Hiring Reform Cartoon ( is full of subtle and not so subtle racial references and negative stereotypes.

    The subliminal messaging seems to connect resistance to change to black females in HR. How could OPM ever approve this? I believe that OPM was snookered by a contractor who is laughing about the fact that they delivered something so covertly racist and OPM didn’t notice.

    All of the “positive” characters in the cartoon are white and tall and look and sound like Caucasians. However, many of the “negative” characters are figurative representations of the “negative opinions” (like the KSA-lovers and the Rule of Three) and speak with a slight southern drawl with a black female-like sounding voice.

    The “Rule of Three” vignette is BLATENT RACISM. The illogical and intransigent “Rule of Three” characters speak with the southern, black female voices and are drawn with HUGE LIPS. They are being lectured and reasoned with by a massive white “hiring manager” speaking slowly and in two syllable words.

    The contractor even slipped in a “hip” talking cat in a tree that evokes thoughts of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. This is another covert message saying that the entire discussion of hiring reform is MAD and that all of the dialogue in the cartoon is MAD.

    Remember the Alice discussion went like this:

    “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

    “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

    “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

    “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

  • #113569

    Bill Alzcabar

    Despite what some people have said on here, not all 5 day postings are for insider hires. I applied to a 5 day posting and I’ll be starting as a new fed on Monday. I’m not a veteran and I didn’t have any connections. I would suggest you apply to every posting that looks like it might fit your skill set. Go to at least once a week and make sure you update your resume for EVERY position you apply for. Your resume needs to be tailored specifically for that position you are applying.

    Good luck.

  • #113567

    Anita Perkins

    Congratulations Bill on your new position!

    I will not be deterred no matter what, I’m committed. I have went from many “Not Eligibles” to “Eligible But Not Selected” to many “Referred to the Selecting Officer” and a couple of interviews. The way I see it is, it can only go up from here, I can’t be anymore unemployed than I already am. I know that there are different variables to getting public or private sector employment but I am extremely optimistic when it comes to being hired. I’ve had positive things happen just by joining this forum. Bill you are right, you have to keep your resume updated and apply, apply, apply! It will happen.

  • #113565

    Rob Baker

    Hello Everyone – I’m new to Govloop and just joining the discussion (a little late). Thanks for the great advice and I hope that since this posting there have been some positive outcomes.

    I’m in the same boat. I am hoping to get into the government or a federal contractor (for the experience) I have more than 20 years of private sector experience, two post-graduate degrees (most recently in Homeland Security). I am volunteering for additional experience and networking with anyone and everyone. I’m attending job fairs and have been fortunate enough to be sponsored for TS clearance (in process). I continue to update my resume for each position, e.g.adding related keywords, etc. To date, I have had no response to my applications on USAjobs..nothing, nada.

    Thanks for letting me vent. Again, thank you for the great advice. I look forward to being a contributor on Govloop.


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