How the Federal Hiring Process Works
The federal application process has more steps than the traditional hiring system which makes it a lengthy one. It’s important that you allow plenty of time and pack your patience when applying for federal jobs.
To understand the federal hiring process, begin with familiarizing yourself with the Office of Personnel Management. OPM is the human resources agency for the Federal Government. It maintains a central database, called USAJobs, which lists nearly every federal job opening.
Adopting the OPM hiring process model, below is how the government recruitment process generally works:
1. Announce Job Opening
Every federal job opportunity begins with an open announcement on USAJobs.gov. The government will clearly layout the following for its job vacancies:
- Basic information: At the top of an announcement, you will find the announcement number, agency name, position title, pay scale and grade, job family or series, job location, job duties or description, and application period (open and close dates). The name of a person to contact for more information may be included as well.
- Who may apply: This section tells you the category of people who can apply for the job. Most jobs are open to the general public or all U.S. citizens, while other jobs are reserved for people who are current or former federal employees, veterans, or individuals with disabilities who meet specific conditions.
When there’s a “government wide” opening, here’s who can apply:
- Current federal employees serving under a career or career-conditional appointment
- Former federal employees with reinstatement eligibility
- Current excepted service employees who previously held a permanent appointment in the competitive service
- Persons eligible for noncompetitive appointment under special hiring authorities and
- Veterans’ preference eligible or veterans who have been separated from the Armed Forces under honorable conditions after substantially completing at least 3 consecutive years of active duty.
- Key requirements: These requirements include statements regarding employment such as citizenship, security clearance levels, or drug testing.
- Qualification requirements: Qualifications are a description of the minimum requirements necessary to perform work of a particular occupation successfully and safely.
Minimum requirements may include specific job-related work experience, education, medical or physical standards, training, security, and/or licensure. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, they are not designed to rank candidates, identify the best qualified for a particular position, or substitute for an analysis of an applicant’s knowledge, skills, and abilities/competencies.
Qualifications may include:
- General Experience: This broad-based experience provides knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that may be useful in demonstrating your ability to perform the duties of the position that is being filled.
- Specialized Experience: Experience that has equipped the applicant with the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics to perform successfully the duties of the position and is typically in or related to the work of the position to be filled.
- Education: Applicants can qualify for some jobs based solely on education instead of experience. For other jobs, both education and experience are required to qualify; and for other jobs, applicants can qualify based on a combination of both experience and education.
- Additional qualifications: The additional qualifications describe further qualifications for the job. These additional criteria are used to determine an applicant’s eligibility for the position and to rank applicants and may include:
- Selective Placement Factors are job-related KSAs that are essential for satisfactory performance on the job. Only applicants that meet this requirement as of the closing date of the JOA receive further consideration for the job.
- Quality Ranking Factors are job-related KSAs and competencies that could be expected to significantly enhance performance in the position but are not essential for satisfactory performance. Qualified candidates are not rated ineligible solely for failure to possess a quality ranking factor.
- Required documents: Required documents include a federal resume, of course. But other documents may include a cover letter, high school or college transcripts, and your DD-214. Be sure to note all the documents that are required and how long it will take to gather those documents.
When applying for federal jobs, be sure to pay close attention to all the details in the job announcement. You want to make sure you are eligible and qualified for the position. Secondly, you need to confirm that you completed the entire application properly.
2. Receive Applications and Notify Candidates of Receipt
Once you apply for the job, you will receive an automated email alerting you that the agency has received your application.
3. Close Job Announcement
Keep in mind, when a job announcement closes, it means you can no longer apply. The job opportunity announcement will be removed from USAJobs based on the closing date. Job announcements can close one of three ways:
- Closing date: Most job announcements close on the closing date that’s in the job announcement.
- Open continuous: Some job announcements stay open indefinitely. You can submit your application at any time, but the job announcement will usually include one or more dates when the hiring agency will select a group of applicants to review.
For example, the job announcement may say it will review applications on April 30, May 30 and so on. So, if you apply on April 1, the hiring agency will review your application starting on April 30.
- Applicant cut-off: Some job announcements close when the hiring agency receives a certain number of applications. If the ‘cut-off’ number is reached during the day, the job announcement will usually close that night at midnight.
For example, a job announcement may say it will close after the hiring agency receives 500 applications. If they receive 500 applications by 3:30 p.m. ET, the job will close that same day at 11:59 p.m. ET.
After submitting your application, you must wait for the job announcement to close before you hear a response.
4. Evaluate Applications
Once the application period closes, the human resources representatives will evaluate your application and assess your qualifications based on the responses you provided in the occupational questionnaire as well as all supporting documentation submitted with your application package.
If you meet the basic qualifications, your name may be referred to the hiring official. He or she will choose applicants to interview from the list of highly qualified candidates.
On the flip side, if it is determined that you are unqualified for the position, you will be notified. For instance, if the posting required a bachelor’s degree, and you do not have one, your application will be removed from the candidacy list.
At this point, you may receive an email that says, “We have reviewed your application and found you were not among the most qualified candidates. Therefore, your name will not be referred to the employing agency at this time.”
The evaluation process alone can take up to 15 days.
5. Schedule and Conduct Interviews
Once the applications have been screened for the minimum requirements, the hiring manager will narrow down a list of people to interview.
To keep the hiring process fair, the interviewing decision is solely based on the information included in the applications. Depending on the agency you’re applying to, you may receive a phone call or email.
The types of interviews that may be conducted during the federal recruiting process includes:
- One-on-one interview: Just as the name implies, this is an interview between you and the hiring manager or another decision-maker.
- Panel interview: Panel interviews are preferred at some agencies because multiple team members can learn about the candidate at once, making the decision-making process more efficient.
- Phone interview: Many agencies use a phone call as an initial screen to learn some basic information about candidates.
- Video interview: Some agencies may choose to conduct interviews via live video conference, especially if you or any of the interviewers have significant travel barriers.
With the COVID pandemic, many agencies are conducting phone and virtual or video interviews. If getting a federal job offer without an interview sounds like music to your ears, you’ll love what we have to say next.
Landing a job as a federal employee by bypassing the jitters of an interview, whether face to face, phone, or video is not too good to be true. In fact, it happens more than you think.
The key to landing a job with the federal government without the interview is to first make sure you have an eye-catching, targeted federal resume.
6. Check References and Background
Reference checking is an objective evaluation of an applicant’s past job performance based on information collected from key individuals such as supervisors, peers, and subordinates who have known and worked with the applicant. Reference checking is primarily used to:
- Verify the accuracy of information given by job applicants through other selection processes such as resumes, questionnaires and interviews.
- Predict the success of job applicants by comparing their experience to the competencies required by the job
- Uncover background information on applicants that may not have been identified by other selection procedures
At this point in the process, many organizations conduct background and reference checks. Some organizations wait until they are ready to make a job offer until they run the checks so they do not incur the cost of running checks on individuals they will not hire.
7. Select New Hire and Extend Tentative Job Offer
After conducting interviewers, the hiring authority decides who will receive the job offer. Next, they will also rank the order of other finalists just in case the chosen hire declines the job offer.
A job offer is extended to the chosen finalist, either verbally or by email, and then salary negotiations can begin. A letter is prepared to document what was agreed upon and is sent to the chosen finalist to accept.
Keep in mind, this is just a tentative offer. If you receive a tentative offer, you should delay notices to your current employer until you receive a final offer. This may include pre-hire paperwork and background investigation.
8. Official Offer and Acceptance
Once investigations are complete, you may receive an official offer letter welcoming you aboard. At this time, you may accept or decline job offer and make necessary arrangements with your current employer.
9. Notify Unselected Candidates
Once the final offer and the terms of employment are agreed upon, the organization or agency will notify all the other applicants to let them know that the position is filled. Unfortunately, some agencies do not notify candidates.
10. Onboarding and Orientation
The federal government onboarding process is designed to welcome you in a comfortable and productive manner. Orientation programs assist employees to establish and understand the role in which they were hired to fulfill.
As part of the introduction, you’ll learn the aspects of company history, culture, and values. In addition, an orientation provides guidance and expectations on the days, weeks, and months ahead.
This is the time to fill out information for your federal health benefits, get setup with software, attend trainings and webinars, and become familiar with the people you will work alongside.
How Long Does the Federal Hiring Process Take?
The federal hiring process can take up to 80 days in total. After the job is posted and closed, the agency should make a hiring decision within 6-8 weeks.
If you do not receive any communication within 15-20 days after the closing date, you should contact the person listed on the job announcement to inquire about the position. In the event you do not hear back at all, it’s safe to say that it’s time to move on to another position.
Here’s a sample timeline of the government hiring process
- Job opening and posting: 5 days up to 2 weeks
- Application evaluation: 10 to 15 days
- Interviewing: 30 days
- Offer and background checks: 30 to 45 days or more
The above is just an example of the timeline. Each agency may have a different approach and timeline, and the same goes for if you’re looking to get a job on a military base.
At the end of the day, if you have an outstanding resume, have the requested documentation readily available, are well qualified for the job, and submit your application on time, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a federal employee.
Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for both professionals and servicemembers transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and was responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance.