Expert Advice on How to Get a Government Job

Jobs with local, state and federal agencies are some of the most stable out there. These positions carry a very low risk of termination compared to private-sector jobs, and they often come with generous benefits packages and pension plans. The process of finding and applying for these jobs is different from that of private-sector job-seeking. Another approach is required. We’ve asked experts in public-sector careers to outline the basics of that approach and give you some ideas for landing a job with a government agency.

Get Specific

While the application process for many federal jobs starts with the mega-jobs website, applying for positions in state and local government often is facilitated by a personal relationship with the person (or people) responsible for filling them. Still, you should search for these jobs online so you know who to talk to about them and what they are.

You can start with a simple online search for “[name of your city or state] + careers.” It’s also a good idea to supplement your search on your city or state general careers website with more specific searches in the departments where you think your skills will be useful. In addition, you can also search for government jobs with the jobs search engine Simply Hired.

If you’ve got experience in conservation, for example, you could search for “[name of your city or state] + parks department careers.” If you’re trained in engineering, you could try “[name of your city or state] + public works department careers.” Even if these department-specific sites don’t list a lot of jobs—and in smaller towns, they may not—they’ll still give you contact info for people in the department who can let you know what’s available.

“Knowing someone on the inside probably won’t land you the position on its own,” said Phil Windley, chief technology officer of Kynetx, a social-media company that works closely with government agencies. “But you might still glean vital information about what the hiring manager is looking for and what to emphasize on your application.”

Read up on Trends

Like any job sector, the public sector offers opportunities that change over time. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted effort if you check out the areas where job growth is happening versus those where very few new employees are getting hired.

“There are few government entry-level positions being advertised today,” said Gerald Pecinovsky of Falcon Associates, the company that manages the online government job board “Seasoned government employees are choosing to delay retirement, and the fiscal condition of government budgets does not allow for many entry-level positions.”

Experts say that local governments located in areas that weren’t hit as hard by the recession tend to offer more low-level positions than state and federal agencies do.

Certain areas of government work seem to be holding steady. Among these are information technology (IT) and public safety jobs such as law enforcement.

“Public safety continues to be a core service citizens want at all cost,” Pecinovsky said. “You may hear cases where the public safety workforce is significantly reduced, but it’s usually because of extreme circumstances like bankruptcy. On the whole that field is very stable.”

Spend time on the jobs websites of your local and state governments to get a feel for which types of positions they’re working to keep filled.

Follow Your Experience

Whether you’re pursuing a job at the local, state or federal level, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting a foot in the door if you’ve already got the appropriate certifications and experience in jobs where you’ve used relevant skills. This is because, unlike in the private sector, the entire application process is extremely bureaucratic.

“That means there’s probably not much wiggle room on posted requirements, end dates and so on,” Windley said.

Depending on the specifics of the job, research experience may be necessary. Other jobs may require you to have passed a specific certification test or complete a training course.

“So follow all the steps in the application process,” Windley said, “and don’t take shortcuts.”

Landing a government job takes a willingness to play by the rules. Simply knowing the right person might not land you the position unless you’re qualified. If you devote some time to browsing government job websites and investigate where the jobs are in your state, local and federal government and selectively apply for positions you’re trained to hold, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

Ben Thomas, a member of the Riley Guide writing team, is an expert on many topics related to the job hunt. You can follow Ben on Google+.