Understanding General Schedule (GS) Jobs

Government Jobs Pay Scale

There’s a little-known fact that Veterans seeking federal employment should know. Over 70% of government civilian pay jobs are classified under the General Schedule, also known as GS. This system was enacted in 1949 to standardize positions across federal agencies and ensure the lack of a pay gap with the private sector.

While it doesn’t take rocket science to understand the GS, an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) official states federal job applicants should have clarity on two things – the salary they desire and the skills they have.

The military professional resume writers at Empire Resume have helped thousands of Veterans transition into the civilian workforce and federal employment. So, we know a thing or two about the general schedule and how to apply it to your military experience. Today, you’ll learn the GS equivalent to military rank, how the GS scale works, and alternative government pay scales outside of the GS.

The General Schedule

The General Schedule (GS) is the principal pay scale for federal employees, especially white-collar federal employees in professional, technical, administrative, or clerical positions.

The system consists of 15 grades, from GS-1, the lowest level, to GS-15, the highest level. There are also 10 steps within each grade. The grade level assigned to a position determines the pay level for that job. The grade levels are below:

  • GS-1 to GS-4: Trainees and interns
  • GS-5 to GS-7: Most entry-level positions
  • GS-8 to GS-12: Mid-level positions
  • GS-13 to GS-15: Top-level supervisory positions
  • Positions beyond GS-15 are part of the Senior Executive Service

Military Rank to GS Conversion

Determining the federal grade based on your military rank can be a challenge. To determine your civilian grade equivalent based on the GS Pay Scale, remember the two main things you need clarity on:

  • Skills: Read the skills or specialized experience within the job announcement to determine whether you qualify for the grade level the agency is advertising.

The conversion table we created below will help you see where you stand:

Government Jobs Pay Scale

How the GS Scale Works

Calculating pay on the GS scale is done using three factors:

  1. Grade
  2. Step
  3. Locality

Within each GS grade is a series of 10 steps, sometimes called within-grade increases (WGIs), that enable employees to receive in-grade pay raises before they reach promotion potential. Salaries under the GS system have two categories — base pay and a locality pay adjustment. The GS base pay is adjusted to accommodate the cost of living in various geographical locations.

Pay can be boosted depending on the employee’s locality. If where the employee lives is designated by OPM as a locality pay area, the employee may be paid more. The locality pay helps offset the cost of living in more expensive parts of the U.S.

For example, a GS-7 employee working in Austin, Texas, will have a higher total pay than someone at the same level in Birmingham, Alabama, because the cost of living is higher.

Additionally, pay rates outside of the continental United States or OCONUS are generally 10 to 25 percent higher. That’s because the government also offers certain employees a Cost-of-Living Allowance (COLA). If you live and work in Alaska or Hawaii or in the U.S. territories, then, the government will give you a COLA to offset the high cost of living.

The OPM releases locality pay tables each year to assist with the calculation of pay. FederalPay.org has a nifty pay calculator as well.

Alternative Government Pay Scales

Government Jobs Pay Scale

Most government agencies use the GS pay scale. However, over 40 agencies use different pay schedules such as Foreign Service Pay. Below, we’ve provided a list of the primary civilian groups of pay.

Federal Wage System

The Federal Wage System (FWS) is a uniform pay-setting system that covers Federal appropriated fund and non-appropriated fund blue-collar employees who are paid by the hour.  This special pay system covers trade, craft, labor, and other blue-collar jobs.

These employees are hourly rate workers who receive annual wage adjustments based on a review of comparability pay by wage area. Each wage area pay scale is divided into three classes:

  • WG (worker)
  • WL (leader)
  • WS (supervisor)

The WG and WL classes of pay rates each have 15 grades with five steps in each, and the WS has 19 grades with 5 steps. Advancement to higher steps is a result of satisfactory job performance and length of service. For more information, access the Federal Wage System.

The system’s goal is to make sure that federal trade, craft, and laboring employees within a local wage area who perform the same duties receive the same rate of pay. The FWS includes 130 appropriated fund and 118 non-appropriated fund local wage areas. 

Under this uniform pay system:

  • Your pay will be the same as the pay of other federal jobs like yours in your wage area, and
  • Your pay will be in line with pay for private-sector jobs like yours in your wage area.

NAF Personnel System

Government Jobs Pay Scale

An employee under the NAF Personnel System is a person who is employed in and receives compensation from a Non-Appropriated Fund Instrumentality (NAFI). A non-appropriated fund instrumentality (NAFI) is an entity to which Congress has appropriated no funds, and for which it assumes no financial obligation. NAF employment is different from Civil Service federal employment because salaries for NAF employees are not allocated by Congress.

Non-Appropriated Fund (NAF) Compensation covers pay policy for NAF white-collar, and Child and Youth pay bands as well as for NAF Crafts and Trades positions. The Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Service (DCPAS) is responsible for the policies that govern NAF pay, awards, and allowances.

You can apply for many NAF positions on military installations at the Non-Appropriated Funds (NAF) Human Resources Personnel office. Many NAF jobs are located at the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR), and Child & Youth Services (CYS) offices on military installations.

Wondering if you need a resume and cover letter to apply? Check out how to get a job on a military base.

Even AAFES jobs fall under the non-appropriated fund, under Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations part 280. In fact, AAFES or The Exchange employees make up the largest part of NAF. The Exchange is a non-appropriated funded government entity that is part of the Department of Defense. The Exchange associates are actually DoD Federal employees.  Job listings can be found at ApplyMyExchange.com.

A pay band system covers NAF employees working in white-collar positions. Six pay bands, NF-1 through NF-6 (General Schedule (GS)-1 through Senior Executive Service (SES) equivalent), cover most NAF white-collar jobs. A separate pay band structure, CY-I, and CY-II covers child and youth program caregivers.

For detailed information on NAF pay, check out DoDI 1400.25 Non-Appropriated Fund Pay, Awards, and Allowances.

Teaching Position Pay Plan

Government Jobs Pay Scale

The pay for Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) overseas educators and administrators in the Teaching Position (TP) pay plan is based on the pay for similar positions in urban school districts in the United States of 100,000 or more population. An educator’s pay is based upon the educational level of the employee and the number of years of creditable experience.

Title 20, United States Code Sections 901-907 governs the salaries and personnel practices applicable to educators employed overseas by the Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) on a school-year basis. The pay and personnel practices are implemented by policies and regulations issued by the DoDEA under the authority and direction of the Secretary of Defense.

The regulations on pay include Department of Defense Directive (DoDD) 1400.13, “Salaries and Personnel Practices Applicable to Teachers and Other Employees of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools” and DS Regulation 5301.4, “Salaries and Personnel Practices Applicable to Principals and Assistant Principals.” These policies and regulations differ considerably from those applicable to other federal civilian employees paid under Title 5 of the U.S. Code or other statutes.

Senior Executive Service

The Senior Executive Service (SES) is a performance-based pay system. The SES pay range has a minimum rate of basic pay equal to 120 percent of the rate for GS-15, step 1, and a maximum rate of basic pay equal to the rate for Level III of the Executive Schedule.

The SES covers most of the managerial, supervisory, and policy positions in the executive branch that are classified above the GS-15 except those that require Senate confirmation.

Now that you know the civilian grade groups of pay, check out the Civilian Geneva Categories and Equivalent Grades table to see how all pay scales stack up each other at DoDI 1000.01 page 15!

Over to You! Convert Your Military Rank to the General Schedule!

Government Jobs Pay Scale

Take advantage of the tools we provided above to convert your military rank and experience into the General Schedule. But first, make sure you convert your military rank into civilian equivalents. If you need assistance, check out our six-part mini-series on understanding military rank.

We also discuss:

Once you understand how the rank and grade conversions work, you can begin your how to get a federal job hunt and be walking into the federal agency of your dreams in no time.

We hope you enjoyed today’s article from Empire Resume’s military blog. Join us next week for more information you need to transition into the civilian or private sector successfully.

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 Ph.D. in Finance.

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2 thoughts on “Understanding General Schedule (GS) Jobs

  1. Hi, Good info on the gs pay scale. It states it was done in 1949 it needs to be upgraded to 2022 pay to reflect the private sector. The gs pay is 23% less than the private sector. Once you have reached step 10 you are not bumped to the next grade ( gs 6 step 10). The only way to move to step 7 you have to leave the position to achieve step 7 or higher.
    Nurses are the only ones who gets raises/5 weeks vacation plus a step raise. Everyone else gets a step raise every 2 years ( gs 6 step 1) (gs 6 step 3) 3 weeks vacation.
    The pay is so low they are losing experience staff for higher pay. ( VA nursing assistant $30.000 vs private sector $45.000).

  2. My wife was a DODEA school teacher overseas for 7 years. Her pay scale was TP CD, which I believe is equivalent to about a GS11. I only say that because my dad DODEA school teacher for 20 years when they were considered GS workers and he was a GS11. She currently took a job, which she will hold for one year, as a GS7. We are moving back overseas and she would like to stay in the GS system. Can she apply for GS11 jobs or only GS9 because she has been working for the last year as a GS7? Thank you

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