Volume 91 Issue 9 | p. 6 | Letters
Issue Date: March 4, 2013

Pointers And Warnings About USAJobs

Department: Letters

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.

Chemical & Engineering News
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M (Wed Mar 06 21:42:32 EST 2013)
This story is very much true. I've heard various stories, but one that comes to mind is a friend of mine working at the Naval Research Lab. We was trying to get hired fulltime as a fed, and so NRL put out one of these bogus USAJobs ads you are referring. Well, low and behold, someone with a spot-on match to all of the requirements comes alongs and applies, and on paper he is actually better qualified than my friend! What does the NRL do? Well, they re-write the job application and put in a specific skill that my friend has and the other guy does (use of a particular software). Bam! Problem solved.

This is how the government works; e.g. it doesn't work, and is often successful at siphoning away public funds in order to pay government employees; that's the main reason govt jobs exist; not to get something done in the rest of the tax payer's interest, but to give people jobs. Don't get me wrong, my friend was/is a very qualified and talented guy, and NRL is lucky to have him. I'm just pointing out the flaw with the government, and that there are plenty of cases where the person is not that qualified. Either change of aim/vision of government employment to reflect the reality, or start actually enforcing competitive hiring. The benefit of the latter is that the govt might actually see the caliber of their workforce increase, rather than maintaining their current public perception, which a lot of people see as 'ineffective use of taxpayer dollars'.
» Reply
Anu (Tue Sep 17 14:06:44 EDT 2013)
Glad that someone is honest about the reality of USAJobs. Speaking as someone who has submitted MANY applications and never received a response, what you've said makes a lot of sense. I've found it to be relatively easy to obtain a position in the private sector, but a federal job remains elusive.
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