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10 Things You Want to Know about Federal Government Employment

1. The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government for People with Disabilities. Two new reports now make it easier for people with disabilities to assess various agencies in the federal government as possible employers. Last month, the Partnership for Public Service released its 2014 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report, which ranks federal agencies across 10 workplace categories, such as support for diversity, and demographics, including age, gender, race and ethnicity. Rankings and scores were based on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and other agency data. Among some of the highest ranked agencies are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Surface Transportation Board.

OPM also released a revised report detailing agency improvements in recruiting, hiring and retaining people with disabilities in the federal workforce. Due in part to Executive Order 13548, the federal government has set a goal to become a model employer of individuals with disabilities. The report shows that in Fiscal Year 2013, more people with disabilities were hired by the federal government than at any other point in the past 33 years. Additionally, more people with targeted disabilities were hired than at any time in the past 18 years.

2. Getting Your Foot in the Door at a Federal Agency. Several internship programs can help people with disabilities get their “foot in the door” in federal employment. One example is the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), a recruitment and referral program that connects federal and private sector employers to motivated college students and recent graduates with disabilities. Candidates who apply to WRP are pre-screened through interviews by federal recruiters. Qualified candidates are then added to the WRP database, which includes information about each applicant’s skills and notes from recruiter interviews. Federal and private sector employers can also search the database for capabilities tailored to specific job requirements. The program works, too. Check out these two success stories featuring employees with disabilities who were hired after completing their internships, one at the Pentagon and the other at the FDIC.

Another valuable program is Project SEARCH, which helps students with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities secure competitive employment, including in federal agencies. Project SEARCH is a one-year school-to-work internship program that takes place entirely in the workplace setting and includes a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, hands-on work experiences and on-the-job training. To get started, use the interactive map to find a program in your area.

3. Where Do I Apply? All federal government jobs are posted on USAJOBS.gov. There are four basic steps to using the site:

  • Search for jobs and carefully review the “Qualifications and Evaluation” section to make sure you meet the criteria.
  • Apply for jobs by following the instructions in the “How to Apply” section of each listing. Keep in mind that job openings on USAJOBS.gov expire at 11:59 p.m., Eastern Time on the published closing date, meaning that the agency will no longer accept applications.
  • Check the status of your application or contact agencies for specific follow-up questions.

USAJOBS.gov offers a number of tutorials and tips on writing your federal resume, applying for federal jobs if you are someone with a disability and communicating your worth. You may also want to read these six tips about finding a job with the federal government and how to avoid government job scams. You should never pay to find information on government employment – it’s free.

4. Resumes and Cover Letters. Like any other opportunity, your federal resume and cover letter should showcase your skills and employment experience, as well as prove to the hiring manager that you are the best candidate for the job. For some helpful advice, read the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ guide on applications, cover letters and resumes. Since resumes for government jobs are structured differently, browse the Resume Builder on USAJOBS.gov, which explains what information you should include in each section. Look closely at the job description and use its keywords and phrases in your resume, as long as they are consistent with your past experience. Review these federal resume writing tips for more information on how to stand out. It’s normal for jobseekers to feel like their resumes are in a “black hole,” but Job-Hunt.org suggests avoiding small mistakes that may impede your success.

5. Federal General Schedule and Pay Grades. The federal government has different classifications and pay systems that determine an employee’s position and compensation in federal jobs. Having an understanding of them will help you decide before you apply whether you are qualified for a particular position. The General Schedule or “GS” classification and pay system covers most professional, technical, administrative and clerical positions for civilian federal employees. The GS system has 15 grades, starting from GS-1 (the lowest) to GS-15 (the highest), each with 10 salary steps. Federal agencies classify the grade of each job based on its level of difficulty, responsibility and required qualifications. Individuals with a high school diploma and no additional experience typically qualify for GS-2 positions; those with a Bachelor’s degree qualify for GS-5 positions; and those with a Master’s degree qualify for GS-9 positions. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), jobs at a GS-7 level or higher typically require an advanced degree that is directly related to the work of the job opening. Military.com offers an easy-to-understand chart that breaks down the GS levels by education, while the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) website simplifies information on the GS and Federal Wage System.

6. Schedule A. Job applicants with intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities or severe physical disabilities, who are interested in federal employment, can use the Schedule A Hiring Authority, often referred to as “Schedule A.” To be considered for employment through Schedule A, you must provide documentation of your disability in a Schedule A Letter, which is prepared by your licensed medical provider, licensed vocational rehabilitation specialist or a state or federal agency that provides disability benefits. Keep in mind that Schedule A does not guarantee that you will be hired for the job; you must meet the qualifications and be able to do the work. A guide from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, The ABCs of Schedule A, provides tips for applicants with disabilities on getting federal jobs. Young adults with disabilities who are seeking employment in the federal government should take note of this factsheet on Schedule A hiring for youth. Finally, watch the bite-sized training on applying for federal jobs using Schedule A to make sure you are familiar with the whole process.

7. Hiring America’s Heroes. A key piece of the federal government hiring strategy is recruiting and employing veterans, including those with disabilities. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13518 to help the men and women of the armed forces find jobs; FedsHireVets.gov is a direct result of that order. There you can find information on Veterans’ Preference, which moves eligible veterans to the top of the applicant pile, although it does not guarantee a job. In addition to Schedule A, learn about special hiring authorities for veterans, such as Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment (VRA). You can also review the Federal Employment training module and test your knowledge. The VA, in partnership with DoD, manages a Veterans Employment Center and offers support for transitioning service members with disabilities. For more information on other federal hiring initiatives and resources for disabled veterans, visit the American Job Center.

8. Job Accommodations. Congratulations, you got the job! Now you have to do it. For many people with disabilities this means working with your employer to create workplace supports and accommodations, so you can be as productive as possible. There are many resources that guide employees on how to ask for accommodations and what to ask for based on particular disabilities. One such resource is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which is a full service employment accommodation resource center for people with disabilities and employers. JAN offers information by disability, as well as comprehensive resources on topics affecting the entire employment life cycle. Another great resource is the DoD’s Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP). CAP specializes in technology accommodations, including assistive technology, for people with disabilities and wounded Service members throughout the federal government. The fastest way to request an accommodation is online. Visitors can browse possible technology accommodation solutions for various disabilities, as well as get answers to frequently asked questions. CAP also has an onsite demonstration and assessment facility at the Pentagon called CAPTEC, where employees with disabilities can receive a personalized needs assessment and compare different solutions.

9. Other resources. For those seeking employment with the federal government, there are a multitude of resources that can help you get on your way. DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is your first stop for information on federal government programs and other employment issues that affect people with disabilities, including transitioning youth. This past year, a large emphasis has been placed on the employment and career advancement of people with disabilities through accessible technology – a key tenet of the ODEP-funded Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), which is a consortium of leaders who are working with employers and technology providers to encourage the widespread adoption of accessible workplace technology practices. People with disabilities who want to learn how to return to work while receiving disability benefits should register for Work Incentive Seminar Events (WISE) or watch the archived versions to learn about the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work program. Finally, read Disability.gov’s Guide to Employment, which covers all aspects of the job hunt from finding a job to applying for reasonable accommodations.

10. Disability as Part of Diversity. Employers, including federal agencies, increasingly view disability as a part of their diversity and inclusion efforts. Fostering a culture that values individuals’ different attributes and experiences can help an employer benefit from varied perspectives. The 2011 Government-Wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan outlines how the federal government will promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce. Federal employers can review the Guidance for Agency-Specific Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plans, as well as the Toolkit for Federal Agencies on Implementing Executive Order 13548, which outlines a five-step process for hiring people with disabilities. Another helpful resource is the Employer Assistance and Resource Network’s (EARN) Disability Is Diversity: Effective Hiring Practices for Federal Employers research-to-practice brief. Federal hiring managers also can create an account on eFedLink to access resources, promising practices and information on federal initiatives.

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