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Learn about Working for the Federal Government

Many Federal agencies fill their jobs like private industry by allowing applicants to contact the agency directly for job information and application processing. Previously the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) maintained large standing registers of eligibles and required applicants to take standardized written tests.

Today OPM no longer maintains registers of eligibles and only a few positions require a written test. The new Federal application form is Optional Application for Federal Employment, OF-612. In lieu of submitting an OF-612, applicants may submit a resume. Another change is that job seekers do not need a rating from OPM to enable them to apply for non-clerical vacancies. But, while the process is now very similar to that in private industry, there are still significant differences due to the many laws, executive orders, and regulations that govern Federal employment.


There are two classes of jobs in the Federal Government: 1) those that are in the competitive civil service, and 2) those that are in the excepted service.

Competitive service jobs are under OPM's jurisdiction and subject to the civil service laws passed by Congress to ensure that applicants and employees receive fair and equal treatment in the hiring process. These laws give selecting officials broad authority to review more than one applicant source before determining the best-qualified candidate based on job-related criteria. A basic principle of Federal employment is that all candidates must meet the qualification requirements for the position for which they receive an appointment.

Excepted service agencies set their own qualification requirements and are not subject to the appointment, pay, and classification rules in title 5, United States Code. However, they are subject to veterans' preference. Some Federal agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have only excepted service positions. In other instances, certain organizations within an agency or even specific jobs may be excepted from civil service procedures. Positions may be in the excepted service by law, by executive order, or by action of OPM.


In filling competitive service jobs, agencies can generally choose from among 3 groups of candidates:

  1. A competitive list of eligibles administered by OPM or by an agency under OPM's direction. This list consists of applicants who have applied and met the qualification requirements for a specific vacancy announcement. It is the most common method of entry for new employees.
  2. A list of eligibles who have civil service status consist of applicants who are eligible for noncompetitive movement within the competitive service because they either now are or were serving under career-type appointments in the competitive service. These individuals are selected under agency merit promotion procedures and can receive an appointment by promotion, reassignment, transfer, or reinstatement.
  3. A list of eligibles that qualify for a special noncompetitive appointing authority established by law or executive order. Examples of special noncompetitive appointing authorities include the Veterans' Recruitment Appointment (VRA) and Peace Corps.

- Agencies in the competitive service are required by law and OPM regulation to post vacancies with OPM whenever they are seeking candidates from outside their own workforce for positions lasting more than 120 days. (Agency, in this context, means the parent agency -- i.e., Treasury, not the Internal Revenue Service.) These vacancies are posted on OPM's USAJOBS.

USAJOBS, the Federal Government's Employment Information System, provides worldwide job vacancy information, employment information fact sheets, job applications and forms on-line. It has on-line resume development and electronic transmission capabilities. Job seekers can apply for some positions on-line. USAJOBS is updated every business day from a database of more than 30,000 worldwide job opportunities and is available to job seekers in a variety of formats to ensure access for customers with differing physical and technological capabilities. It is convenient, user friendly, accessible through the computer or telephone and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

USAJOBS consists of:

INTERNET - The official world-wide-web site for jobs and employment information is

The Online Resume Builder feature allows job seekers to create on-line resumes specifically designed for applying for Federal jobs. Applicants can use the resume builder to create, print, save, edit for future use, or send by fax or mail to employers. Many of the hiring agencies will accept electronic submissions of resumes created through USAJOBS for vacancies listed on the web site.

AUTOMATED TELEPHONE SYSTEM - An interactive voice response telephone system which can be reached at 1/703-724-1850 or TDD 1/978-461-8404. By telephone, job seekers can access current job vacancies, employment information fact sheets, applications, forms, and apply for some jobs.


A posted vacancy is an agency's decision to seek qualified candidates for a particular vacancy. The agency is under no obligation to make a selection. In some instances, an agency may cancel the posting and choose to reannounce the vacancy later.