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Looking for a federal government job? Here's what you need to know

The pros and cons of working for the federal government, plus tips on how and where to start the search.

As of 2022, there are more than two million federal government employees, most working within the U.S., and some stationed overseas. For recent college graduates, working for the government could offer many opportunities with great benefits. These jobs aren’t reserved for students with public affairs-related majors, so students can find almost any type of job for every major.

Of course, a federal government job comes with its pros and cons.

Why you should consider a federal job

Competitive benefits: Expect a full package including health, dental, vision, and life insurance and retirement benefits. You’ll also have 13 to 26 days of paid time off each year — for those earning 26 days a year, this is almost double the 15-day average in the United States.

Tuition waivers and continuing education: Depending on the agency and availability, some federal jobs will pay you to further your education (in some cases, to earn your master’s or doctoral degree).

Location: Commuting to work can be a serious damper on overall work and life satisfaction. Fortunately, government jobs are available all over the U.S. and not always concentrated in metropolitan areas like jobs from many other industries are.

Job security: Federal jobs typically offer more security than the private sector. If you find a job working for the government, your chances of losing your job are comparably lower.

Why you may want to avoid a federal job

Salary: Federal work salaries are based on General Schedules (GS), or levels that determine experience and education. The GS ranges from 1 - 15, with 1 indicating no experience, to 15 indicating the most. Bachelor's degrees fall under GS-5, with salaries starting between $29,350 and $38,152 in 2019. This range is significantly lower than the average $48,400 that recent grads make with no experience.

Politics: The political state of the country can have a huge impact on job availability and pay. Recent grads may avoid federal jobs for this reason.

Limited upward mobility: Promotions in the public sector are not as common as they are in the private sector. While salary does increase based on time spent at your job, promotions bearing title and responsibility changes are much rarer.

Ready to apply?

For an easy experience, search for opportunities on Handshake to compare federal and non-federal opportunities. When you find the right federal job, just upload your resume and you’ll be redirected to USAJOBS, the only official site to apply for federal work. Avoid any other sites promising government work, as many will try to charge you for the same info available on Handshake and USAJOBS.

If searching on USAJOBS, use the search function to find careers you’re interested in. The advanced search option allows you to filter by attributes like agency, location, and salary. For some extra help, you can use this tool on USAJOBS to find jobs based on major.

When you find a job that interests you, review as many of the fields possible. This includes position information, salary range based on GS, application dates and deadlines, security clearance, and more.

If you want to find out more about working for the federal government as a student or recent grad, visit the U.S. Department of Labor website.

Before you apply, consider checking out our cover letter tips, and don’t forget that your campus’s career services center has tons of helpful resources.

Find the right jobs for you. Get hired.