Introduction to Federal Jobs
The Organization of the Federal Government
Most federal jobs are located within cabinet-level departments (such as the Department of the Interior), which have various agencies under their responsibility (such as the National Park Service). There are a few environmentally related agencies that are independent of this structure, such as the Peace Corps. It’s important to learn what these agencies are and what they do.
There is a standard list of job titles within the federal government, such as Cartographer or Park Ranger. In some cases, a job title may have more detailed specifications. A Park Ranger, for instance, may have the following specializations: Cultural, Horse Patrol, Interpretation, Law Enforcement, and Protection. Each job title has a specific four digit number (e.g., 0025). Jobs are also organized in “series” of related jobs, those with the same first two digits (e.g., 00). In addition, jobs are organized in terms of categories, such as Biological Sciences or Education. Each specific job opening has a unique “vacancy announcement number.” As a result, for the job of Park Ranger (job #0025), there may be several openings, each with its own announcement number (e.g., IMDE-05-150).
One good thing about searching for federal employment: there is one comprehensive website for all jobs (“USA Jobs”). The search engine allows you to search for jobs by using one or more of the following:
- agencies (e.g. Department of Interior or National Park Service)
- job titles (e.g., Park Ranger)
- job numbers (e.g., 0025)
- series (e.g., 00)
- categories (e.g., Safety, Health, Physical and Resource Protection)
- vacancy announcement number (e.g., IMDE-05-150)
- state (e.g., Michigan)
- SCEP, STEP, Intern (see below)
It will probably take a little time before you get used to the different search methods, but it’s worth the effort.
When searching, note at the top of the page there are different folders: Basic Search, Agency Search, Series Search, Advanced Search, and Executive Search. In most cases you will probably use Basic Search, but if you are interested in working for one agency (say the Forest Service) go to Agency Search, and if you want to look at a series of related jobs, go to Series Search. I have found the search engine to be not as efficient as it could be, sometimes listing jobs unrelated to the search parameters.
Job openings are posted for a specific length of time, and occasionally the time period is fairly short (e.g., four weeks). This means that if you are interested in a federal job, you need to search fairly regularly. Some summer jobs are open for applications only in December.
Student Career Experience Program (SCEP)
SCEP is a planned, progressive education program that provides for the integration of a student’s academic studies with target positions in the Federal workforce. The SCEP Program allows students to gain real, paid work experience while pursuing a college degree in a particular career field. The duties and locations are designed to provide hands-on experience and training in the specific discipline for which hired. At the agency’s option, students who successfully complete all work, study, qualifications, and other eligibility requirements may be offered permanent positions with our agency upon graduation. This program is intended for students interested in long-term, permanent employment only. The SCEP program is also not appropriate for college juniors or seniors or those who have already graduated.
Student Titan Employment Program (STEP)
STEP provides an opportunity for students to earn money, continue their education, train with professionals, and combine academic study with on-the-job experience. Work does not have to be related to the student's academic or career goals. Students may work part time when school is in session and full time during vacation periods. The one-year STEP employment can be renewed at the supervisor's discretion.
Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP)
The Federal Career Intern Program is designed to help agencies recruit and attract exceptional individuals into a variety of occupations. It is intended for positions at grade levels GS-5, 7, and 9. In general, individuals are appointed to a 2-year internship. Upon successful completion of the internships, the interns may be eligible for permanent placement within an agency. Individuals interested in Career Intern opportunities must contact specific agencies directly. The Office of Personnel Management will not be the central source for career intern opportunities.
The federal government has a complex array of qualifications for different levels (e.g., GS-4 or GS-9). The specific qualifications for each level differ depending on the job. Entry level jobs for people without graduate school work or specialized experience are usually GS-4 (which expects at least two years of college education) and GS-5 (which expects a Bachelors Degree).
For a brief general overview of qualifications for entry level jobs, see our Federal Job Qualifications Web page. More detailed information can be found in the Operating Manual of the Office of Personnel Management.
Here are two helpful indexes for specific job qualifications: