Starting Your Career at the U.S. Department of Labor
A Reference Guide for College Students and College Placement Officers
IV. The Merit System Process
The majority of jobs in the Federal government are in the "competitive service," which means that they are filled in accordance with a merit system. Under this process, you must compete for selection consideration with other, similarly qualified applicants and must be found to be among the best qualified applicants in order to be referred to the hiring manager for further consideration. The initial form of competition is accomplished based upon review of your application, and occurs before the interview process. Again, this is why it is so critically important to submit a full and complete application when applying for a Federal position.
If you have never held a permanent job in the Federal competitive service, you are a nonstatus applicant and may apply only to vacancy announcements that are accepting applications from nonstatus applicants, i.e., jobs advertised as "open to all sources," or "open to all qualified persons." There are exceptions to this rule that apply to certain veterans, persons with disabilities, and persons who qualify under other special appointing authorities described on page 5 in this guide.
The interview process in the Federal service is generally no different than interviewing in the private sector. Your College Career Services Office can offer assistance on interview techniques.