Although government positions are often lumped together, there is a wide range of careers available at the federal level. In fact, the U.S. government is the nation's largest employer, and that's even the case when the U.S. Postal Service is excluded from the statistics. Ninety percent of those available jobs will not require you to relocate to the Washington D.C. area, either. You can find positions available throughout the country. Before applying for a position in the federal government, you may want to look at the job outlook for 2008 and the future.
The federal government has a wide range of open positions. These jobs are often attractive because they are perceived to be more stable and secure than private sector jobs.
Given the wealth of services provided by the federal government, you are likely to find at least some type of position that meets your experience and education qualifications.
Many government positions are support staff for the three braches of government. For example, Congressional members have their own staffs, including advisors, secretaries, and public relations people. However, these positions represent only a portion of all the government jobs available annually.
About 98% of the employees working for the government are employed under the executive branch. These numbers do not include the U.S. Postal Service, which employs an additional 615,000 people across the country. Employees in the executive branch are spread out through 15 Cabinet and 90 independent government departments. Cabinet departments include the Defense and Education departments. Independent agencies include the Social Security Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Requirements for Government Employment
The training and experience requirements needed to secure a government position will vary depending on the specific field. Almost all of the positions do require U.S. citizenship. Most requirements for positions are not much different than what you would find for similar positions in the private sector. For example, for a position as a manager, one would probably need a bachelor's degree in a field that would provide sufficient preparation for the type of work.
Although many government jobs may not require more than a high school degree, having a vocational degree or private sector experience in a similar position will give an applicant a competitive advantage. A civil service examination is required for applicants interested in postal service positions.
While not a prerequisite for obtaining a government position, veterans do receive preference over non-veterans for government positions. This is considered a way of repaying veterans for their sacrifices for the country's protection. However, veterans must also meet the specified requirements for each position.
Some government jobs will also require a thorough background investigation. Many positions require various levels of security clearance. Depending on the required level, investigation of criminal, employment, and credit records will be reviewed. For even higher level clearance, the individual's family and acquaintances may also be investigated.
After being hired, most government employees do undergo a period of training that varies from department to department. Such a training period is very similar to the private sector.
Advancement and Pay for Government Positions
One difference between government jobs and private sector positions is the way advancements are handled. Each person is hired at a certain grade, or pay level. The grade is determined not only by the job but also by the individual's education and employment level. After specific intervals pass, workers usually rise to the next highest grade until the maximum grade is reached for that specific level. Because advancement is almost guaranteed, government jobs are considered highly desirable for individuals looking for entry-level positions that offer plenty of potential.
The pay level for government positions varies greatly. For the lowest grade, pay begins at just over $16,000/year with a maximum of nearly $21,000/year. On the other hand, the highest grade starts employees at just over $93,000/year and tops out at almost $121,000/year. In 2007, the average pay for a government worker was about $65,000/year.
Government Jobs Outlook
Although employment in the federal government has long been considered stable, available jobs in this sector are expected to decline by over 4% by 2016. Part of the reason for the decline is the government's increasing use of private contractors and services for its needs. This often allows for cost savings. In efforts to trim costs, some federal jobs have been eliminated or combined.
An even more important cause for the decline is that the budgets for many of the departments are likely to be cut by Congress in the coming years as a way to slow government spending. When these decreases occur, positions—not workers—are eliminated. That means when someone leaves a job they are not replaced; the position is simply removed or incorporated into other government jobs.
One bright point is that approximately half of all government workers will be eligible to retire in 2010. While some of the vacated positions will likely be eliminated, most will need to be filled. These openings can provide welcome opportunities for people looking to enter government employment. However, the demand for the positions will be great, so beginning preparations now is critical for those interested in employment with the government.