News & Politics

How to Apply to a Government Job

Illustration by Mark Matcho.

Hoping to get a job with Uncle Sam? Piece of cake. The process for applying for and landing a federal position is streamlined and quick and . . . yes, we’re kidding.

Trying to join the US government workforce can make you feel like a dog jumping through endless digital hoops, all amid a swamp of acronyms and jargon. But look on the bright side: It used to be worse. Folks of a certain age may remember the SF-171 form, the green-box beast, with nearly 50 blanks you filled in. More good news: The tedious civil-service exam was killed off for most positions years ago (though a new online version may be in the offing).

On any given day, there are more than 1,000 federal-job openings in this area alone. Want to snag one? We asked experts for advice.

Work wisely.

This site is the mega-portal for government jobs around the globe. “It can be a bit of a black hole,” warns Steve Ressler, founder of, a social-network group for government employees. Together with the Robertson Foundation for Government, penned the 88-page “Getting Into Government” guidebook, which is free on its website.

A powerful feature not to miss on is Saved Searches, in which you can have the system e-mail you when openings appear. “Saved Searches can save hundreds of hours over manually searching for jobs,” says Camille Carboneau Roberts, founder of CC Career Services.

RELATED: The best places to work in DC. Plus, they’re hiring.

Rethink the résumé.

Your CV is probably one or two pages, as tight and shiny as a diamond. Now put it in a drawer. Federal positions require a special résumé that’s an average of five pages long.

“Don’t upload your two-page résumé thinking you are applying for the job, because it will not have enough content,” says Kathryn Troutman, author of Federal Resume Guidebook.

You can build a federal CV right on Be sure to customize each one for the position by using key words from the announcement, and don’t skip any fields. (Some people might balk at giving their GPA or current salary.) This includes the “additional information” section at the end, where you have free rein to tout your glory. Now’s not the time for modesty or brevity.

Networking still works.

Federal hiring is about strict protocols, but old-fashioned connections help. “In this town, you probably know half a dozen people in public service,” says Ressler. Use them to find out who’s hiring.

This article appears in our November 2015 issue of Washingtonian.