Federal Jobs - USA Jobs Website

Original Content Created by Heather R. Houlton (heather dot houlton at gmail dot com)

If you are interested in pursuing a job with the federal government (think: NOAA, USGS, NASA...), then you will want to familiarize yourself with the hiring website specifically for these types of positions. We're going to walk you through some of the basics to get you started! 

The hiring website for federal careers is called USA Jobs. For every federal position, applicants MUST go through this website - it's the only way the federal government hires. Sometimes they'll post ads in other venues and market in other ways, but ultimately, if it's truly a federal position, you'll be routed to the USA Jobs website to apply formally. 

There are a few things you can do to learn more about federal opportunities. USA Jobs outlines several ways in which you can search for open positions: 

  1. By keyword or location search in the upper navigation bar.
  2. Through "Explore Opportunities" in the blue tab on the far right. 
  3. Through "Explore Hiring Paths" if you scroll down on the first page. Here, we recommend you take a look at "Students & Recent Graduates" - which leads you to the "Pathways" program. 

USA Jobs has a page where they acknowledge some of the "federal hiring myths" and discuss what is and isn't true. For more information about tips and secrets to getting through the USA Jobs system, check out this page with related articles. Please review these links and poke around the USA Jobs website before moving on to the next part of this section. 

Now that you've familiarized yourself with the USA Jobs website, we're going to walk you through a step-by-step activity to get you more acquainted with this resource. Let's say, hypothetically, you have graduated with your Bachelor's degree in geophysics and are interested in looking for federal positions. You're open to a variety of jobs and agencies. Where do you start? How would you go about narrowing down your search? What secrets do you need to know about federal government hiring that will help you get through the system? Let's find out below!

Step 1: See available opportunities that align with your skills, knowledge, and interests! Remember our Geoscience Careers Infographic? What were some of your transferable skills and interests that you discovered? Use those during this search! Now, go to usajobs.gov. Try typing in these terms and see all the different kinds of opportunities available.

*Remember, since you're a recent graduate in this activity, pay particular attention to "Pathways Recent Graduate Appointments." It will have a yellow graduation cap icon. As you search these different terms below, try playing with different filters as well (found on the right-hand side of the page). 

  • Geologist
  • Geophysicist
  • USGS
  • Environmental
  • Earth

You can even search for a specific state or city in which you want to be located. How did adding your location affect the search results? 

Important Notes: There are a few items that appear on your search results in which we want to pay particular attention: 

  1. Clock icon and "Open [date range]" found below job title. If the clock icon is gray, it means the window to apply for this position has a long deadline. If the clock is yellow, it means the deadline is shorter, and if it's in red, then you have only a few days to apply before it closes. 
    • However! Even if the posting states it has a long deadline, positions will usually close once they reach a certain number of applicants and will close before that posted deadline. So, if you want to apply to a particular position, do not wait. Put in your application materials as fast as you can because you never know when that mystery number of applications will be hit and the posting closes. 
  2. Starting salaries and the GS scale. What does GS mean? It stands for "General Schedule" - it is the pay scale for which 70% of federal employees are paid, and it is organized by grade level. To find out more about the GS scale and how to apply for positions appropriate to your level (internships or recent graduates), check out this page. 

Step 2: Now that you've searched a few different options, choose one that most interested you. Be sure to apply the "Students" and "Recent Graduates" filters (in yellow) on the right-hand-side filters bar so you find a position that matches your level of experience. When you identify the position that you want to (are pretending to) apply to, click on the position title and make note of the following information. 

  • Overview information: Application deadline, Salary information, Pay scale and grade (GS scale), and appointment type. All of these factors help tell you about the position and if it's right for you. 
  • On the right, you will see "This job is open to..." given these descriptions, are you able to apply for this job? Or is it to existing federal employees only? Some only allow applicants who are in the military. Pay attention to these types of details. 
  • Location: Explains where the position is located, if it's telework eligible (are you allowed to work from home?), and if the government will pay for the successful candidate to move to that location if not currently residing there (relocation expenses paid). 
  • Duties and Requirements: Remember the information about resumes, CVs, and cover letters earlier in this section? Those strategies and tips for integrating content from the posted job position into your application materials is EXTREMELY important when applying through USA Jobs. Pay particular attention to the vocabulary, key words and phrases in these two sections and be sure to include as many of them as possible in your application materials. Remember, a computer reads through your materials first before a human in HR ever gets to see them. If your materials don't match up with the job posting by a certain percentage, it will never be sent to the next round to HR. 

Step 3: How to Apply - if/when you apply to a federal position in real life, you will have to make a USA Jobs profile. It will ask you to fill out your personal information and upload a resume. Be sure to change that resume each time you apply to a new position. You can even upload multiple versions and select which one to use for each position. Do not use a generic resume to apply. Other tips for applying: 

  • Use the Agency contact information - do not be shy. Feel free to call or email that contact person to inquire about the position. If you are able to become acquainted with that individual, you might have a better chance of getting important information about the position that will help your application be passed through. Or, if that person gets to know you, they might be able to go into the system and find your application to pass it through to the next phase. Networking is highly important in every step of the process. 
  • Be sure to learn all you can about that agency, the position, and the work they do. Be informed so you can speak intelligently about how your skills and interests fit in with their needs. 
  • Be sure to track your application! Log in to your USA Jobs profile and keep an eye on your status. 

Searching, applying for, and landing a job is no easy task. There are many tools out there on the internet that give advice about best practices. Use these to your advantage. We hope that the information presented here about apply to federal appointments gives you a solid introduction to dive in when it's time for you to find your dream job.