Understanding the Federal Hiring Process

two men talking on a computer

While the process may be similar to that in private industry, there are still significant differences due to the many laws, executive orders and regulations that govern federal employment.

There are two types of non-executive positions in the federal government: 1) those that are in the competitive service, and 2) those that are in the excepted service.

  • Competitive Service – Competitive service positions are subject to the civil service laws passed by Congress. The laws help to ensure fair and open competition, recruitment from all segments of society, and selection on the basis of the applicants’ competencies or knowledge, skills, and abilities.
  • Excepted Service – Excepted service positions are defined by statute, by the President, or by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) as excepted. These positions are not subject to the appointment, pay and classification rules of the competitive service.

NOTE: DOL agencies have both competitive service and excepted service positions.

In the competitive service, individuals must go through a competitive hiring process (i.e., competitive examining) before being appointed to a vacant position. This process may include a written test, an evaluation of the individual’s education and experience, an interview, and/or an evaluation of other attributes necessary for successful performance in the position to be filled.

  • Merit Promotion – This system is used to consider current and former federal employees for positions on the basis of personal merit. Positions are usually filled through competition with applicants being evaluated and ranked for positions based on their experience, education, skills, and performance record.

    When a vacancy announcement or job opportunity announcement (JOA) indicates that “Status” candidates are eligible to apply, federal government career employees and career-conditional employees who have served at least 90 days after being placed in a competitive appointment may apply. (To determine whether you are a “career employee” or a “career-conditional employee,” see Job Opportunity Announcement Highlights).

    Under the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 (VEOA) eligible veterans can also apply for positions announced under merit promotion procedures when a DOL agency’s job announcements are open to candidates from outside of its own workforce. These veterans are allowed to compete through the competitive process, however, VEOA candidates are not accorded veterans’ preference as a factor.

  • Delegated Examining – Delegated Examining (DE) applies to competitive examining only and not merit promotion, or non-competitive service processes. DE is an authority OPM grants to agencies to fill competitive civil service jobs with:
    • Applicants applying from outside the federal workforce,
    • Federal employees who do not have competitive service status, or
    • Federal employees with competitive service status.
    Appointments made through the DE authority are subject to civil service laws and regulations.

  • Noncompetitive Action – A noncompetitive action is an appointment to, or placement in a position in the competitive service. This action is not made by selection from an open competitive examination and it is usually based on current or prior federal service. Note - Special non-competitive appointing authorities are established by law or Executive Order. Veterans, persons with disabilities, many current and former Federal employees, and returning Peace Corps volunteers are examples of individuals eligible for noncompetitive appointment.

OPM maintains a central database, called USAJOBS, which lists nearly every federal job opening. Available job opportunity announcements (JOAs) provide applicants with information about job qualifications, duties, salary, duty location, benefits and security requirements. The JOA can be used to help you determine if your interests, education, and professional background match the vacant position which could possibly make you a good candidate for the job. A list of common terms is available to assist you in understanding the terms used in job announcements.

You can also find DOL only specific jobs at DOL Jobs. Most jobs in the Department require U.S. citizenship and successful completion of a full background investigation and drug screening.

All JOAs have the same basic sections, although the order, style, and wording vary. Becoming familiar with these sections may help you to zero in on key facts

  • Basic information – At the top of an announcement, you will find the announcement number, position title, grade, and duty location. The name of a person to contact for more information is generally listed at the end of the announcement.

  • Who May Apply – Most jobs are open to the general public (e.g., all U.S. citizens) while other jobs are reserved for people who are current or former federal employees (i.e., “Status” candidates) and/or who are veterans or individuals with disabilities who meet specific conditions.

    Jobs open “government-wide” are open to:
    • Current federal employees serving under a career or career-conditional appointment;
    • Former federal employees with reinstatement eligibility;
    • Current excepted service employees who previously held a permanent appointment in the competitive service;
    • Persons eligible for noncompetitive appointment under special hiring authorities and,
    • Veterans’ preference eligibles or veterans who have been separated from the Armed Forces under honorable conditions after substantially completing at least three consecutive years of active duty (view information on veteran hiring authorities).

  • Key Requirements – These requirements include statements regarding employment (e.g., U.S. citizenship, clearance level, drug testing, residency requirements, time-in-grade requirements, etc.)

  • Qualification Requirements – Qualifications are a description of the minimum requirements necessary to perform work of a particular occupation successfully and safely. The minimum requirements may include specific job-related work experience, education, medical or physical standards, training, security, and/or licensure. They are not designed to rank candidates, identify the best qualified for a particular position, or substitute for an analysis of an applicant's knowledge, skills, and abilities/competencies.
    • General Experience - This broad-based experience provides knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that may be useful in demonstrating your ability to perform the duties of the position that is being filled.
    • Specialized Experience - Experience that has equipped the applicant with the particular knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics to perform successfully the duties of the position and is typically in or related to the work of the position to be filled. .
    • Education - Applicants can qualify for some jobs based solely on education instead of experience. For other jobs, both education and experience are required to qualify; and for other jobs, applicants can qualify based on a combination of both experience and education.

  • Additional Qualifications – The additional qualifications describe further qualifications for the job. These additional criteria are used to determine an applicant’s eligibility for the position and to rank applicants.
    • Selective Placement Factors are job-related KSAs that are essential for satisfactory performance on the job. Only applicants that meet this requirement as of the closing date of the JOA receive further consideration for the job.
    • Quality Ranking Factors are job-related KSAs and competencies that could be expected to significantly enhance performance in the position but are not essential for satisfactory performance. Qualified candidates are not rated ineligible solely for failure to possess a quality ranking factor.

  1. Complete Application or Resume – Employee applications should accurately represent the skills and competencies applicable to the position announced. For each past job, give the standard information found in most resumes. Begin with your current position and list all other positions held in chronological order. Specifically, state the job title, starting and ending dates (including month and year), prior employer’s name and address (or write “self-employed,” if that applies), and major duties and accomplishments. Include any positions temporarily held. In addition, show the average number of hours worked per week or simply state “full-time”; salary or wage earned; supervisor’s name, address, and telephone number; and whether you’re most recent supervisor may be contacted. Include the occupational series numbers and the starting and ending grades of the federal government positions held. Include any relevant volunteer experience.

    Most importantly, describe job duties and accomplishments in a way that demonstrates how you are qualified. Study the JOA and emphasize the parts of your work history that match the qualifications listed there. Remember, human resources specialists might not be familiar with your career field. To help them understand how your experience matches what is required for the vacant position, make sure that you describe your experience in laymen’s terms. For more information, see Tips for Writing a Federal Resume.

  2. Apply for the Job – Submit your application by the “closing date” of the JOA. Sometimes, applications only need to be postmarked by the due date. Applications usually, must arrive at their specified destination by either 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST) or by the close of business.

    Submit any additional documentation outlined in the JOA that verifies all qualifications such as transcripts, SF-50 Notification of Personnel Action (as proof of eligibility to apply), performance appraisals and/or Veterans’ Form DD-214. If you fail to submit a required document, you may be found ineligible for consideration. Refer to How to Apply for more detailed information.

  3. Interview for the Job – The names of the best-qualified candidates are forwarded to the supervisor or hiring official. If you are one of the best-qualified candidates, the supervisor or hiring official may interview you in person or by telephone, which ensures that all applicants receive fair and equal treatment in the hiring process.

    Interviews are tests designed to measure a variety of competencies important to performance on the job. Interviews may include scenario-based questions that measure selected competencies, e.g., Leading Others, Team Building, Performance and Results Management, Decision-Making and Problem Solving, Oral Communication, Interpersonal Skills, Technical Questions, etc. See Interview Tips for more information.

  4. What to Expect Next – The application that you submit will go through many levels of review. First, human resources specialists will screen it to see if you meet the basic eligibility requirements for the position. Then, the human resources specialists or a panel of experts will rate your application according to the additional qualifications listed on the JOA. If your application rates among the best qualified, it will be forwarded to the hiring manager, who will make the final selection. For more information, refer to What to Expect after You Apply.

  5. Questions – If you have questions regarding a position to which you are applying or to find out the status of your application, please speak to the point of contact listed for each JOA. For more information about the hiring and selection process, please contact the point of contact listed on the announcement.