For your first career after leaving the military, what if you could work for an organization that offers great benefits and job security, lets you build on the skills you learned in uniform and has a workforce that is nearly one-third veterans?
That organization exists, and it’s called the federal government. More than 633,000 veterans worked for federal agencies in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the Office of Personnel Management, or OPM.
By law, government agencies must give veterans’ preference over other applicants in the hiring process. It does not guarantee you’ll get the job, but it’s an excellent reason to explore your options in the federal workforce. And if you get hired, your time in prior military service would carry over to accrual of future benefits.
“It’s a natural fit, I think in a lot of instances, for veterans … or transitioning service members to look at federal employment,” said Hakeem Basheerud-Deen, program director for veterans services at OPM.
Military Times asked Basheerud-Deen for tips and advice to help service members interested in joining the federal government. Here’s what he told us:
1. Get on the USAJOBS.gov website now
USAJOBS is the federal government’s main portal for listing and accepting job applications for open positions. This can make it easy to search for jobs across many federal agencies at once.
But you’ll need to enter a lot of information to create a profile in USAJOBS, and the process of setting up your account can be time-consuming.
Basheerud-Deen advised service members and vets to create their USAJOBS profiles early in the job search process.
“Establish an account, that way all of your information is in there,” he said. “You never have to go looking for it again.”
You’ll also need to make sure that you collect your DD-214 and other official paperwork that documents your military service, training and discharge.
The USAJOBS site allows users to create several different resumes, making it easier to apply for jobs requiring different skill sets with custom-tailored resumes. The site can also send email alerts that automatically let you know when new positions that fit your interest come open across the federal government. That can be a huge time-saver, Basheerud-Deen said.
“Now I’ve got USAJOBS looking for jobs for me, which cuts down on my time and effort,” he said.
2. Create a longer, federal-style resume
You’ve probably already heard that you’ll need to write a new resume for civilian employers that translates military jargon into language civilians can understand. If you plan to pursue federal jobs, then get ready to make yet another version of your resume.
“The federal resume is entirely different,” Basheerud-Deen said.
For most civilian jobs, a 1- or 2-page resume is standard. But to land a federal job, you’ll need to provide much more detailed descriptions of your experience. The typical federal resume will run about 5 pages, Basheerud-Deen said. He recommended that vets use the resume builder on USAJOBS for step-by-step help.
As part of this more detailed resume, vets will need to explain the knowledge, skills and abilities — KSAs for short — that they’ve acquired through military service, education or other experiences. Your resume and application should mirror the language in the particular job posting that you’re applying for, so that federal hiring officials can clearly see how you’re qualified for the job.
Vets can also find video tutorials from OPM that will explain federal resumes and help with many other aspects of the federal job search.
“We have qualification standards,” he said. “You really have to demonstrate how you meet those qualifications of that job.”
3. Keep in mind which agencies hire the most vets
Which federal agency are vets most likely to join? It shouldn’t come as a shock that the answer is the Department of Defense.
DoD employed more than 324,000 vets in 2017, according to OPM data. Sometimes when service members separate from the military and then go to work for DoD as civilians, they end up working alongside the same people they worked with in uniform and doing very similar jobs.
The Veterans Affairs Department is the second biggest destination for vets in the federal government, with nearly 124,000 military veteran employees.
“A lot of veterans, when they get out, want to help other veterans, so they gravitate toward VA,” Basheerud-Deen said.
Veterans also often help other veterans find jobs — and the federal workforce is no exception. If your battle buddy is working in a federal agency you’re considering, reach out to them. They may be able to offer advice on how to get your application noticed or even put in a good word for you with the hiring manager.
The other agencies employing vets in very large numbers include the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and Department of Transportation.
4. Take advantage of veterans’ preference and special hiring authorities
As a veteran, you have a head start over civilians in the competition for federal jobs.
Veterans’ preference doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to land a job, and it can’t help you get a promotion when you’re already in the federal workforce. But if you’re looking to get started with the federal government, it can give you a huge boost.
Veterans with a Purple Heart or service-connected disability are eligible for a 10-point boost to their applicant rating. Honorably discharged veterans who are not disabled can receive a 5-point boost depending on when and where they served.
In addition, the federal government has established special hiring authorities for veterans, including one for vets with a disability rating of 30 percent or more and another that gives jobs to vets without a competitive process, called a Veterans Recruitment Appointment.
5. Get ready for stiff competition
You have veterans’ preference, so landing a federal job should be quick and easy, right? Not so fast.
The problem: You’re probably going to be vying for jobs alongside fellow vets who have their own veterans’ preference advantage, which could equal or surpass yours.
For some positions, Basheerud-Deen said, 100 veterans will apply for just one opening.
“They’re competing against other very highly qualified veterans,” he said. “The competition, among just the veteran community itself, is very high.”
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t land the first job you apply for. And if you need more help and information, check out OPM’s veteran employment page, FedsHireVets.gov.
Detailing your military training that is relevant to the federal job you’re applying for can help your application stand out from the competition.
But be careful not to confuse military rules and procedures with federal rules that may be different. For example, the federal workforce classifies and pays workers according to the General Schedule system, so you’ll see positions labeled as GS-8 and GS-9. But even though these look similar to the pay grades you’re used to seeing in the military, the system is completely different.
Confuse the two and you could end up in a job that you’re vastly overqualified for. Here’s a guide.
6. Consider a federal agency you’ve never heard of
If you’re having trouble landing a federal job, consider applying to lesser-known agencies.
“A lot of transitioning service members, they have international experience,” Basheerud-Deen said. The best-known federal agency for international relations is the Department of State. But “if you go to the State Department (for a job), the line is long.”
Instead, vets could consider the Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture or one of the many other federal agencies that have international relations roles. The same concept applies to many other job types.
In addition to such opportunities at executive branch agencies, which are the bulk of the federal workforce, there are also opportunities in the judicial and legislative branches, he said.
“I think that there are limitless possibilities with the federal government.”
7. Don’t forget about your spouse
The push to hire veterans into the federal workforce, through veterans’ preference and other efforts, is well known at this point. But did you know that federal agencies are embarking on a similar effort to hire military spouses?
An executive order signed last year established the Military Spouse Noncompetitive Appointing Authority. This applies to spouses of active duty troops who are killed in the line of duty or who have a 100 percent disability rating due to a service-connected disability. Through this program, qualifying spouses can land federal jobs without a competitive hiring process.
“In addition to what we do to help veterans and transitioning service members, this administration has taken it upon itself to put a special emphasis on our active duty military spouses,” Basheerud-Deen said. “We’re challenging agencies to do more to hire military spouses.”
Links and resources
- Main government information page on federal hiring
- USAJOBS.gov job posting and application site
- Video tutorials on federal resume writing
- Information on which agencies hire the most vets
- Veterans preference information
- Other special hiring authorities for veterans
- Special hiring authorities for military spouses
- Help with veterans preference
- Information on careers at VA