Sound the bottle rockets. Uncle Sam may be the new "it" employer. Private sector hiring freezes and blind patriotism aside, the U.S. government truly may be where it’s at for today’s job seekers.
"Anyone who wants to work an interesting job, earn a generous salary, enjoy unbeatable, rock-solid job security and, most importantly, advance the public good in pivotal ways would probably favor the federal sector," says Lily Whiteman, federal careers expert and author of "How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job" (Amacom, $25) "Federal jobs offer opportunities to help run the country. Feds help run this country by doing everything that private sector employees do — and more."
From the outside, government employees seem to work shorter hours, have more vacation time, access unbelievable health care, never worry about job security and even make more money than people slugging it out in the private sector.
Whiteman, who also runs the website, IGotTheJob.net, says such stereotypes are there for good reason.
"Federal employers provide one of the precious few workplaces where you can work exciting jobs, earn competitive salaries and still have a life," Whiteman says. "Most feds stick to a 40-hour work week. Because feds work for the public and generally not for a profit motive and are generally secure in their jobs, in my experience, federal workplaces are much less competitive, backbiting and generally fearful than private sector offices."
Uncle Sam wants who?
The good news is that Uncle Sam hires employees of every skill set, from terrorism specialists and disease detectives to historical document archivists and park rangers. Only 15 percent of federal jobs are based in Washington, D.C., so the world is a government employee’s oyster.
"There are many professional and varied careers available with the opportunity to be on a team and/or lead and manage," says Cecilia Evans, senior vice president and federal sector practice leader for Aon Consulting.
And, there will be even more opportunities becoming available soon. "Baby boomers will be retiring in the federal space, as in the private sector, so there will be brain drains and labor shortages — in fact, there already are."
"This is a great time to go federal," Whiteman says. "A huge impending retirement wave will make it easier than ever to land promotions. Also, because of the impending hiring wave, federal agencies have been creating career-boosting, well-paying internships for students and young professionals almost as fast as Starbucks used to open new cafes."
If you’re thinking of applying to the U.S. government, it’s nice to know there’s no cookie cutter personality requirement to becoming a government employee, but possessing one particular quality doesn’t hurt.
"The one overriding commonality is that most feds are genuinely dedicated to the public good," Whiteman says. "And after working in six agencies over the last 18 years, if my Rolodex is any indication, it is filled with feds who are energetic, intelligent, innovative and hard-working go-getters."
Private skills go public
Indeed, despite some less savory stereotypes of government employees, Evans insists the same expectations apply in public and private sectors.
"The same attributes that make a private sector employee valuable apply to federal employees: dedication and results in your role, continuous learning and being a strong teammate," Evans says. "Depending upon the role and agency you are applying to work with, however, you may have additional assessments and/or clearances to qualify you for the job."
For example, depending on the role you seek, you might be required to take a vision or business reasoning assessment, or a physical assessment, or obtain a certain level of security clearance.
Where to look
The easiest place to start when looking for a job with Uncle Sam is USAJobs.gov, and the career sections of agency websites if you’re looking to work for a specific government agency. (See www.usa.gov/agencies/federal/all_agencies/index/shtml for a list of all government agencies.)
"Be sure to complete all information on the application and follow the instructions carefully to be sure you make it to the qualified pool for further review," Evans recommends. "Feel free to check on the status of your application 10 to 15 days after the application deadline."
"There are also many backdoor routes into the federal government," Whiteman hints. "For example, many participants in federal internships for young professionals, federal contractors, temp workers and holders of federal fellowships seamlessly segue into federal jobs. Others network into federal jobs."
Evans also suggests embracing social media to network your way into a government job.
"Social media is everywhere and, just like it can work in the private sector, it’s a valuable tool those interested in federal roles should leverage," Evans says, referring to the many government organizations that have Facebook or LinkedIn pages. "Both are great ways to explore the organization, its leaders and members and projects they are focused on. You can read and subscribe to blogs of interest in a particular organization or agency, and don’t forget about Twitter. Research roles and agencies of interest and you are likely to find someone with a Twitter page you can follow and introduce yourself to."