Sifting through applications is tedious work for hiring managers. For the public servant hopefuls, finding ways to ensure your application doesn’t get tossed aside is a critical step on the path to government employment. While you could just play the numbers game and simply try to blast out as many applications as possible, it is wise to spend more time on less job openings.

Of course, the process for applying to the federal government is tedious and confusing. Patience through the tiresome process doesn’t guarantee an interview or a job. A stellar resume still needs to be in the right place at the right time with the right someone pushing the resume through the system.

This is a good time to check out the federal landscape. Budget cuts and employee morale are not ideal right now; however, with over 2 million federal employees and about a quarter of them eligible for retirement, the odds are in your favor. It will require patience, but it will also require careful navigation through the confusing elements of the system. Federal hiring managers have to sort through large volumes of applications, so they have every right to narrow the selection when candidates overlook items. Here are five tips for applying for a federal government job.

1. Know the landscape.

The government is big. Consider your interests and skills and find an agency that is a good fit. Research each agency like you would an individual company – before you apply. Get an idea of the mission of the agency. If you’re unsure, check out Identify your preferred agencies, then do your homework to make sure they’re looking for candidates like you.

2. Search on the right sites.

Federal agencies are required to list job openings on public sites – with some exceptions. While is the starting point, it’s good to check out or agency specific sites. Don’t assume is a one-stop shop to government employment. Agency internship programs, special access programs and other unique positions are often not listed there.

3. Decode the government’s job posting to see if it is worth your time to apply.

  • First, make sure you qualify for the job series. Check out USAJOBS’ list of job series by college major to see where you fit. The comparison of credentials to job is pretty cut and dry when submitting an application without anyone on the inside to help you navigate.
  • Second, understand what grades you qualify for and where you fall within each grade. This one is a little trickier, but not impossible. A little upfront work will ensure you are only applying for positions that are within your pay grade. Don’t waste your time applying for a GS/9 position, thinking you can negotiate your way to a GS/13 – it won’t happen.
  • Third, determine if the job is open to outsiders. Just because a job is posted, it doesn’t mean that someone on the inside isn’t already lined up for the spot. The listing should indicate whether it’s open to all citizens, current feds, or employees at the agency. If only one vacancy is posted or the posting is only open for a week, then the chances are greater that the position is as good as filled already. It’s one thing to practice patience with the process, but it’s another thing to practice exercises in futility.

4. Be thorough with every hoop you have to jump through.

Take time on the writing assignments to make sure you are using varied examples and you are meeting the key words with those examples. Tailor your résumé for federal positions by including the words that are in the job description’s duties, qualifications, and requirements sections in your résumé. Agencies are seeking to simplify the application process, so the résumé is becoming more important. Do not get bogged down by the redundancies and overlook simple mistakes. Double-check your work. A careless mistake could be the reason your application gets put in the ‘do not hire’ pile.

5. Network with your federal friends or acquaintances.

Your network could potentially provide valuable insight for the application and interview process. It’s true that it’s not what you know but who you know. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to get a job as long as you know the right person, but it does mean that connecting with the right person can be helpful to getting in the system.

Of course, you don’t have to get your paycheck directly from the government in order to work for them. Consulting companies offer plenty of opportunities to interact with the federal government and ways to have a positive impact. Public service is worth pursuing; however, if the process has been discouraging, it is a good idea to check out contracting opportunities. An on-site government contractor job could be the ticket to making the necessary connections to make the cross from private sector to public servant.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.