The federal government is hiring! That certainly is good news in an economy that has offered little more than bad news for the better part of a year. Baby boomer retirements, along with increased federal budget and stimulus money, have converged to make this a good time to apply for a federal job. Yet despite this rosy forecast, the mystique remains about how to find a federal job, never mind land one.

As in any other job and career search, it is important to find a job that fits your interests, personality, talents, and skills. As retired federal employees and current career counselors, we emphasize the importance of seeking federal employment as a career, not just a job for security and benefits. As the current economic conditions have shown, there is no such thing as true job security. In any occupation, your relative security resides in being employable. That is, keep your skills current, your interests visible, and yourself challenged.

Here are the primary topics most people want to know about federal employment - the how, who, and where of a government job.

How do I find a federal job?

USAJOBS is the official job site of the U.S. Government and the one-stop source for federal jobs and employment information. It is free. The law enforcement-type agencies do not need to advertise their jobs on USAJOBS; they post their openings on their own websites.

A federal position is advertised as a vacancy announcement, which is divided into five sections.

  • The overview indicates who is eligible to apply for the position, the geographical location, salary, application deadline (called the "closing date"), and the federal agency in which the position is located.
  • "Duties" describes what the applicant will do if selected for the job.
  • The qualifications and evaluations section describes what qualifications an applicant must possess to be competitive. If you do not meet at least 80 percent of the qualifying criteria described here, it may not be worth the time and effort it will require for you to complete the application process. Overall, the process to apply requires a 10- to 12-hour time commitment.
  • "Benefits and other information" describes the federal benefits ascribed to the position and other information not included in the rest of the vacancy announcement.
  • "How to apply" provides step-by-step instructions on the application procedure to be followed, and states whether additional information, such as college transcripts, should be included.

Study each section of the vacancy announcement in detail to determine your eligibility and qualifications for the position.

How do I know which federal jobs I am qualified for?

USAJOBS offers much information about the federal job search process, particularly under the information center tab. This area is set up like a one-stop center to provide job seekers with a basic understanding of the federal application process. It details how federal jobs are filled, defines federal lingo, and gives tips on writing a federal resume and application essays. The career exploration section includes a career interest center, where you can discover your interests, explore job descriptions, and match your skills to federal positions.

USAJOBS also lists occupations that are most in demand. The top 10 occupations in demand at this writing are

  • office clerk/assistant
  • administration and program staff
  • information technology management specialist
  • management and program analyst
  • contract specialist
  • business and industry specialist
  • human resource specialist
  • nurse
  • secretary
  • engineer, general.

Who is hiring?

The top 10 agencies hiring presently include

  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Air Force Personnel Center
  • Army Medical Command
  • Forest Service
  • Army Installation Management Command
  • Army Reserve Command
  • Social Security Administration
  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • Customs and Border Protection.

Where are the jobs?

Contrary to popular belief, most federal jobs are not located in Washington, D.C. In fact, only about 11 percent of all federal jobs are located in the Nation's Capital.

The current top 10 federal locations with the most postings in this calendar year are

  • Washington, D.C.
  • Alexandria, Arlington, and Falls Church, Virginia
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • Colorado Springs/Pueblo, Colorado
  • Montgomery County, Maryland
  • Aurora/Denver
  • Albuquerque & Kirtland AFB, New Mexico
  • Aberdeen Proving Ground & Edgewood areas of Maryland
  • Heidelberg, Stuttgart & Southern Germany
  • Charleston, South Carolina.

I've heard that the government is hiring because of retirements and the stimulus package. How can I find out about these jobs?

2010 Presidential Budget Proposal: Between 100,000 and 200,000 federal employees could be hired under President Obama's FY 2010 budget proposal. This includes hires for the President's Contracting Reform Proposal - 50,000 (and growing) new positions in contracts and acquisitions and 7,000 Homeland Security jobs to boost border security, improve enforcement of immigration laws, and expand the national cyber-security protection program.

Projected Stimulus Package Hiring

(some are term or temporary positions)

  • Veterans Administration: 17,000+ nurses/doctors/clerks/practical nurses
  • Social Security Administration: 5,500 claims representatives
  • Army Corps of Engineers: 730 engineers, architects, project managers, and program analysts; and 200 contract specialists, administrative and blue collar workers
  • Department of Defense: 7,000 new jobs in acquisitions
  • Food and Drug Administration: 600 inspectors and contract officers

In addition, the website lists government agencies and federal contractors that have received stimulus money.

There are as many opportunities for interesting and challenging federal work as there are different cultures and missions of each federal department and agency. Take the time to assess yourself and your skills and then match them to a federal job for maximum career satisfaction.