Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Federal Job Qualifications and Eligibility

How do you know if you are qualified for a federal job? What level should you even begin to look for? After you have found the dream job, are you even eligible to apply?

Unfortunately, or fortunately, the federal government can only hire applicants based on their current level of education and experience. As you probably have noticed, most federal jobs are advertised, starting with a GS and a few numbers. The last two numbers in the GS-0132-09, are the grade level. Each GS grade has specific education and/or experience requirements regulated by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). You can click on to reach the complete index of the “qualification standards,” which most federal agencies are required to use. You must know the job series, which is the set of four numbers on the Series & Grade line of the vacancy announcement to look up a specific position. For example, in GS-0132-09/09 you will need to click on the 0100 group, followed by 0132.

Most people with a bachelor’s degree and little to no experience enter the federal system at the GS-05 level. GS-05 level positions require three years of general experience OR a bachelor’s degree. If you are applying to be an engineer or a scientist, there may be required coursework or majors. After the GS-05 level, the qualifications requirements change for assistant, support and clerical positions. The following will be only related to professional, scientific, administrative and management positions. For example, a Management Analyst would gather and analyze data and statistics, coordinate with various high-level officials and perform work without close supervision. A Management Assistant may assist with the above duties, while performing office support work and doing basic research for their organizations. To determine if a specific series is covered by the following, please click on the following link:

With a Bachelor’s degree and an outstanding academic record, you could qualify for the GS-07 level, skipping the GS-05 altogether after undergrad, if you meet the definition of “Superior Academic Achievement.” Superior Academic Achievement requires a 3.0/4.0 cumulative GPA or 3.5/4.0 major GPA. There are additional alternatives for determining eligibility on the hyperlink. If you do not meet these cut-offs, you can still qualify for the GS-07 with one year of specialized experience directly related to the position or one year of graduate school. All grade levels after the GS-05 level include the option for qualifying based on specialized experience and after GS-11, you cannot use education as a substitute for direct specialized experience.

What exactly is “one year of specialized experience”? It is often difficult to glean from the vacancy announcement. Generally speaking the experience would have to come from a similar position or where you performed a lower level of the duties in another environment. If the duties ask the incumbent to perform independent analysis of budget information, then one year of specialized experience could be budget analysis performed with direct guidance from a supervisor. Unless education is an acceptable substitute, agencies cannot hire you on the potential to perform successfully. Many agencies will hire “developmental” positions, where new hires can start with just a degree and no experience and be promoted into the higher grades in the same field.

The GS-09 level requires one year of specialized experience at the GS-07 level or private sector equivalent OR completion of two years of graduate school leading to a degree (includes JD and LLB). The GS-11 level requires one year of specialized experience at the GS-09 level or equivalent OR 3 years of graduate school leading to a degree (including PhD and LLM). After the GS-11 level, there are no educational substitutes and you must have qualifying experience at the next lower grade level. After this point, the positions progress one grade at a time, GS-11 to GS-12 to GS-13, etc.


Some jobs posted on USAJobs only accept applications from “status applicants.” If you are in the advanced search window, you will see this box. These five bullet points sum up the people that can apply to positions only open to status candidates. If you have already completed a search and are looking at a list of positions that met your criteria, in the upper left hand corner there is a column that starts with “Current Search.” Here you can see that I have clicked jobs that are only open to Public candidates, which is everyone else that doesn’t mean the criteria above. Unfortunately, there are many more jobs open to status candidates that you will be unable to apply for. There are a variety of reasons why an agency might recruit for status candidates, but I will not get into those here.

If you are confused about your eligibility, there are a few key things you can consider about yourself. If you think you may be one of these, you could be a status candidate.

1) Do you have a disability?

2) Have you recently completed Peace Corps or AmeriCorps service?

3) Have you served on active duty in the military?

4) Are you married to someone on active duty in the military?

5) Have you ever worked for the federal government in a non-temporary position? For example, summer student work would not qualify you.

Many of these categories should be fairly straightforward to answer.

For more information, feel free to email me at brownea2 at uw dot edu.