If you are weighing your options for employment after the military, joining the ranks of the federal Civil Service can be a great way to continue to serve in another capacity. With almost 2 million members, you have undoubtedly served with many of these men and women. In fact, some of your fellow veterans may have slipped out of uniform and right into civil service jobs over the years, however, this process is far from being quick or an “easy button.” There are several important things to consider before you start applying for positions in the civil service. Here are a few pointers to get you started:
First, a few basic terms: General Schedule or “GS” employees account for the majority of positions within the U. S. civil service and federal agencies. General Grade or “GG” are used to denote Defense Department Intelligence positions. GS & GG use identical pay scales that are separated into 15 grades (ex: GS-1 up to GS-15), and each grade is separated into 10 Steps. The higher the grade and step, the higher the pay. Fair warning– most GS positions are competitive service while almost none of the GG positions are. GG are excepted service and you should understand the differences between these two classifications before applying/accepting either.
Beware the 180 Day Rule. While there are no restrictions on applying for civil service positions in other federal agencies, if you are a retired member of the armed forces, you cannot be appointed to a civilian position in DoD within 180 days after retirement (NOT the start of terminal leave). While some DoD positions may be eligible to get a special waiver, this is a rare exception to the rule. So what does this 180 Day Rule mean in practical terms? You can either plan on taking a 6-month vacation after retirement and then hope the right GS job opportunity opens up, or you can seek employment outside of the DoD until the ‘cooling off’ period ends. For most, finding other employment first is the only viable option, as 6 months unemployed assumes quite a lot of risk, financial burden, opportunity costs, and other downsides.
USAJOBS. All Federal service job openings are posted to www.usajobs.gov. You must first create an account and profile. With a profile you can apply to any job on USAJOBS. You can upload and save your resume and other required documents, or there is also a feature on the site to help you build a resume. You can search and save jobs you are interested in, and automate job searches to your preferences.
VA benefits are critical. If you are a veteran who served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces and were separated under honorable conditions, you may be eligible for veteran’s preferences as well as other veteran specific hiring options. Veterans with a service-related disability rating from the VA are eligible for additional preferences, so strongly consider filing a disability claim while you are transitioning and still in uniform. Military retirees at the grade of O-4 or higher are NOT eligible for preference in appointment unless they are disabled veterans (this does not apply to Reservists who will not begin drawing military retired pay until age 60).
Federal Resume. A Federal resume is not the same as a typical two-page corporate resume; it’s much more comprehensive and requires additional information like former supervisor contact information, previous salary info and hours per week. Kathryn Troutman’s book, “Federal Resume Guidebook” is a helpful resource for this. Don’t wait until the last minute to start compiling this information.
A few more thoughts. Thomas Braden, author of “A Veteran’s Guide to Transition: Active Duty to Government Service” (available on Amazon) has some additional words of wisdom when considering civil service employment:
· Highly recommended that you avoid retiring while serving overseas as this comes with additional difficulties for finding employment. If you can’t avoid it, whenever possible, fly home and get ‘officially stamped out of the service’ from CONUS.
· You can negotiate your starting salary (somewhat). While you can’t negotiate up a pay grade (a GS-13 will not get GS-15 pay), if you have “exceptional qualifications” and exceed minimums education/qualifications for the position you may negotiate a step or three above the usual Step 1 starting salary.
· You can negotiate for more leave (request enhanced leave accrual).
· While the military does not match your TSP contributions, the US Government provides up to a 5% salary match toward your TSP – on top of your Federal Employee Retirement System.
Getting hired into the Federal workforce takes time, but the Federal Government does hire people everyday. Be patient and always keep your options open.
Kirk Windmueller is a retired Green Beret and Army veteran with over 22 years of service. He is a senior manager at Avantus Federal and a volunteer for Project Transition USA, a non-profit organization that teaches veterans how to use LinkedIn to network and find their next career. He lives in Fayetteville, NC, with his wife and three kids.
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