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Navigating USAJobs and the federal hiring process

This is part of Federal Times’ ongoing series about the federal hiring process. For more information on how to get a federal job, read here.

Almost all federal job openings are listed through the official USAJobs website, which was created in 1996 to replace a paper-based system that required applicants to visit federal buildings to view job announcements. The website has gone through several redesigns and enhancements since that time to make the system more user-friendly.

According to an Office of Personnel Management official who spoke to Federal Times, USAJobs has between 6,000 and 10,000 job announcements posted at any one time, with some job listings attracting over a thousand applications each.

Creating an account

Creating a USAJobs profile first requires a login.gov account, which is a service run by the General Services Administration that enables users to access over 60 government programs through one account.

The service, which requires two-factor authentication and encrypts user data from unauthorized access, was launched in early 2017, just two years after the 2015 OPM data breach that exposed millions of government-held records.

Even if applicants have no other uses for a login.gov account, they must establish one to create a USAJobs profile. Those who already had a USAJobs account prior to the launch of login.gov will still have to create a login.gov account and link it to their existing profile.

The USAJobs profile then allows applicants to list their personal information — including demographics like race and national origin, which are used to track agency hiring data — and to either upload or build a resume.

“I would highly recommend making the resume searchable. Agencies do regularly search our resume databank, they’ll contact applicants when they find a good match and encourage them to apply for their opportunities,” the OPM official said.

How to use the search

On top of search functions that turn up positions with a certain title or at a specific agency, USAJobs is also designed for users to be able to refine searches by pay, grade, appointment type and work schedule.

The site is also designed with hiring path icons to represent the different types of applicants the positions are open to. A blue icon with three heads on it means that the position is open to the public, for example, while a green icon with a shield means that it is open to veterans.

(via:USAJobs)
(via:USAJobs)

Many jobs have several icons at once, meaning that a position could theoretically be open to current and former federal employees, veterans and military spouses but not the general public.

“Let’s say you’re looking for an economist position within the federal government, and you go onto USAJobs, and there’s nothing that matches your search criteria. That doesn’t mean that next week or next month there won’t be,” the OPM official said. “So you can go onto USAJobs, create your search criteria and USAJobs will notify you when there is a match.”

Some highly sought-after positions may also have specific landing pages for interested applicants. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the site currently has a page dedicated entirely to pandemic response positions.

According to the OPM official, the agency plans to have a cyber-specific jobs page available early in the 2021 fiscal year.

Applying for a job

Open positions will include an “Apply” button to begin the application process using an established account. Each job may require different documents, such as a cover letter, transcript or proof of current federal employment.

The federal government is also in the process of transitioning from a degree-requirement model to an assessment-based model, meaning that many jobs will lose their requirements for a bachelor’s or higher level education over the next few months and instead ask applicants to prove that they possess a certain degree of knowledge or skills needed for the position.

“Do not be afraid of taking the assessments,” the OPM official said. “They’re not there to trick applicants, it’s truly just to assess their background, their experience. A lot of the applicants that I’ve interviewed have said that they’ve really appreciated the opportunity to go through those assessments. They felt that they were fair and gave them an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities.”

Application status

Once an application has been submitted with all of the required documentation listed in the job posting, the status of that application is listed on the USAJobs profile. Some agencies send notification when an application has been received and reviewed, but these are not mandatory.

Applicants will be notified whether they have been deemed one of the highest-qualified candidates and “referred” or are “not referred” and therefore not considered further for the position.

Applicants that are chosen for interviews are notified directly by the hiring manager, at which point the type and number of interviews depends on each agency policy.

Agencies then list applicants as either “not selected” or extend a tentative job offer and pass the applicant on to background investigations. A final job offer is made after the applicant has cleared the requisite security checks.

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