How To Navigate The Federal Hiring Process




Many people want to find federal jobs not for the pay but for the benefits and the job security. As most of us know though, the government is a massive machine that can be complex, and doing anything takes time. What you also probably know about the federal government is that if you know how to navigate it properly, you can speed almost anything up.

Today we are going to take a look at how to properly navigate the federal hiring process so you can not only have the best chances of getting the job but expedite the process too. Make sure that you read every step.

A Brief Overview

Before we go any further we want to give you a brief overview of the process. For most government jobs the process has nine different steps. These steps can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Not only that, but job postings can remain posted for up to 60 days and they must close before human resources look at the applicants. Here are the nine steps that happen after a posting has reached its closing time:

  • The posting officially closes
  • Applications are reviewed by human resources
  • Qualifications are reviewed and used to filter applicants
  • Interviews are planned
  • A basic background check is conducted
  • Interviews are conducted
  •  The Hiring Manager selects the best applicant for the job
  • A job offer is extended to the applicant
  • Theoretically, the applicant accepts the offer

While we review these steps and the process a few of them may be merged together to simplify the explanation. This is one of the reasons it is important to read every step we cover.

Submit Your Application

application form for job

The first step to getting hired at a federal job is to submit your application. Jobs are announced and applied for on USAJOBS. You will need to sign up and create a profile here: USAJOBS doesn’t just host the applications it simplifies the application process so you can reuse information for future applications. Before you continue to submit your application we highly recommend selecting to have the job search feature automated so you receive emails with any relevant job.

Once you find a job on USAJOBS start the application process. Make sure to fill out everything as requested by the website. If a form element or other instruction contains something specific follow it. The government is very picky about how they want things done and if you don’t do it their way, you will risk not being a real candidate for the position.

Take the time to double-check everything. Make sure all attachments are present, instructions are followed, and that you have proofread everything. With everything done and double-checked to click the submit button at the bottom and follow any additional instructions provided.

Behind The Scenes Part 1

As soon as the application period closes the first series of behind-the-scenes steps begin. During this step, all of the applications are reviewed by human resources from the agency that is doing the hiring. At this stage, they are looking for any glaring or straightforward problems with an application.

Out of the yes pile that HR has created, the hiring manager shortens that pile even further. The hiring manager looks at qualifications and experience to determine whether the person will be a good candidate or not. These steps depend on the number of applicants and the number of people dedicated to working on vetting candidates.

The Interview Scheduling

Now that the yes pile has been filtered down a fair amount the hiring manager will start one of the harder processes, contacting candidates to schedule interviews. Not only does the agency need to find times that work for both the candidates and the agency, but getting a hold of candidates can take a good amount of time. Factor in the need for some candidates to travel and it can be quite obvious why it can take weeks or more to schedule all of the interviews.

After an interview has been scheduled and before the interview is conducted, a member of human resources conducts a basic background check. This check is to verify the information you put on your resume and ensure that there are no glaring red flags that may not be on your resume. For entry-level jobs at many agencies, this background check may be enough. However, for jobs that need a security clearance or are higher level, you will likely need another background check after the interview.

The Interview

federal job interview


Interviews will vary depending on the job that you are applying for. Some jobs may have one interview while others may have several levels of interviews. It is essential to do some research into what kind of interview and how many interviews are customary for the position you are applying for. Having this information before the interview will help you to be prepared.

A decent amount of time can go by between when the interviews are all arranged and when they are all conducted. Again, this varies greatly on the number of people who applied and ended up in the yes pile.

Behind The Scenes Part 2

As long as no further interviews need to be conducted, it is time for the second set of behind-the-scenes steps. The first step is to finalize any information had on the candidates. This step does not happen with every interview but will happen when multiple people are involved in the interview or there are multiple interviews.

Once all of the information is available, the hiring manager has to make a decision on which candidate best matches the job and the job requirements. Typically this step only takes a few days as a fair amount of the candidates will be ruled out during the interview.

For jobs with more than one interview, the process will still look relatively the same. The main difference is that before this step the multiple interviews will be conducted. While the interviews might mean more time in between the first interview and an offer being extended, with more interviews, more candidates are eliminated.

A Job Offer Is Extended


Once the best candidate for the job, also referred to as the preferred candidate, is found, a job offer will be extended. This job offer means that the government is interested in hiring that person. In most cases, the government will not notify every candidate that an offer has been extended to someone. In some cases, you will get an email that you are no longer in the running for the position.

A job offer being extended doesn’t mean that a position is necessarily off the board yet. The preferred candidate then has to accept the job offer. Sometimes this happens right away. For example, when the job is something that they have always wanted they will accept the job right away. Others may take longer to choose, such as when the person might be waiting to see if they get any other offers. Negotiations over the job offer may also further extend the amount of time that the offer sits out there.

If the person declines the job offer the hiring manager will decide whether there is another preferred candidate or if they have to start part or all of the process over again. This will also involve department policy and whether or not there are enough candidates. Rarely will you know if this happens In many cases they will either relist the position or reach out to you for another interview.

Specific Job Hiring Processes

Wondering whether your job has one interview or goes straight to the process of picking the preferred candidate? A little research can be done into a position to help find more information on the hiring process for a specific position. You may have to look off USAJOBS and on the Agency’s website under the career section. 

Occasionally you might find a job that doesn’t have specifics about the hiring process. If this happens and you have put effort into finding the process you can contact the agency you want to apply for. When you contact them make sure to word the email politely and mention that you attempted to find the information elsewhere. Also, make sure to word the email in a way that makes you seem interested in the position.

Applying for a government job has gotten a lot easier since the introduction of USAJOBS. Even with the hiring website though, there is still an air of mystery around the process. We hope that this article has helped to make the process clearer for you. The most important tip that we can leave for you is to read everything available on the position. Much of the information you need during the application process can be found either in the application instructions, on the agency website, or in the job listing.


Make Sure to Read My New Book



  • Why you should ditch most resume-writing tips that focus on business resumes
  • Analyze federal job announcements and read between the lines
  • How to make your skills and work experience really stand out
  • How to avoid the typical mistakes that make most resumes look unprofessional
  • And much more!

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