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Pointers And Warnings About USAJobs

March 4, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 9

Regarding “Defense Research: Recruitment, management overhaul needed to prevent scientist shortage” (C&EN, Nov. 5, 2012, page 11), I’m happy to see federal employment highlighted as an option for ACS members. I feel compelled, however, to share my experiences so others are more informed about the hiring process for federal employment.

First, many positions posted on USAJobs, the federal government’s official job list, are geared toward either a specific person already working for the recruiting agency or a contractor working for that agency. Despite rules requiring a competitive hiring process, the position descriptions are written to fit specific candidates. This practice excludes ~98% of candidates from consideration, although exceptions are made for “status candidates,” such as veterans, laid-off federal employees, military spouses, or disabled persons.

To be a real contender for any scientific position, you must have a large body of previous experience, and you must write your résumé so that it matches your experience to the description verbatim. For recent graduates, this means it is next to impossible to get hired without a “recent grads” opening or exceptional luck.

Next, pay close attention to the announcement details: “series and grade” and “promotion potential.” In the federal system, Ph.D. graduates fall in the GS-11 to -13 series; master’s, GS-7 to -11, and bachelor’s, GS-5 to -9. To move past your maximum promotion potential, your supervisor and the human resources department must post a new job opening on USAJobs and go through the “competitive hiring process.” Some supervisors see no incentive to do this, and they are not required to do so.

Additionally, unless you can clearly and conclusively show that your experience matches the position, don’t waste your time applying for jobs above GS-11 if you’re not already working in the federal government. Positions posted at GS-12 to -15 require “a year of experience at the next lower grade level.” Typically, there is no substitute for this federal experience. Applicants should read that as, “This is someone’s promotion.”

As for the 37.6% of the Department of Defense’s scientific labor force being eligible for retirement, they’re likely the last vestiges of people covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Under CSRS, employees try to work for 43 years to reach their maximum pension. CSRS was phased out in 1986; those who were hired then are likely to stick around for another 16 years so they can collect the nearly 90% salary annuity given under CSRS.

Richard Helmich
Lakewood, Colo.



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