How to Get a Federal Job by Networking: The Ultimate Guide

Two business professionals talking about federal job opportunities and government contracts

How a Meditation Class Led to a Federal Job

 Once upon a time, I had a friend—let’s call her Julia—who wanted to talk to a certain federal executive for guidance on how to get a federal job, but she was too shy. To become a success, her inner game and networking skills needed work. The story of how she bridged this gap comes later.

Each year, our team speaks to hundreds of professionals who want to know how to get US government jobs. Many ask, “How do I find federal jobs near me?” Some are not sure if they can match their private sector experience to a federal job requirement. You hear things like, “I am willing to settle for an entry-level government job near me, because the benefits and security are worth it.”

Many have already discovered how to apply for government jobs through USAJobs. Most candidates spend dozens of hours applying for federal jobs. Sadly, many next discover that how to get a government job is a lot more involved than applying for federal jobs on the site.

On the Internet, you can find great articles about how to get one of the over 90,000 federal jobs that are open at any time. Yet, when you study these excellent sources, you find out that all of them focus on a few similar ideas. These articles cover topics like what is USAJobs, how to write a federal resume, and how to apply for a federal job. These are the same ways that well over 10,000,000 other people apply every year.

Don't get me wrong. Topics like …

  • how to find suitable jobs through USAJOBS,
  • how to adapt your federal-style resume to a specific position, and
  • how to apply using USAJOBS

are very important and are well covered.

I work with all categories of professionals. Some are trying to get a federal job. Others are trying to leave the federal government. But in all cases, there is a critical element that deserves more detailed coverage: the guerilla networking aspect of finding and getting a federal job. This could prove to be your competitive advantage.

So, this article will cover the networking aspect of finding and getting a federal job. Using guerrilla networking, you can set yourself apart from the competition and land a federal job fast.

Why do you want to get a federal job anyway?

The process of application for government jobs from starting to getting an offer can be lengthy and test your patience, but many people think the effort is worth making. These are some of the common reasons people think of working for the government:

Federal Job as a Calling

The federal government is uniquely positioned to address challenges like …

  • national security,
  • air and water quality,
  • food safety,
  • international peace,
  • transportation,
  • information infrastructure,
  • healthcare, and
  • many others of similar scale and significance.

Many professionals are passionate about these areas. They seek employment with the federal government so they can work on these challenges. Most consider public service a calling.

The Benefits

Long congressional budget negotiations can affect a federal employee by furloughs. But benefits like the following outweigh that inconvenience:

  • greatly reduced chances of layoff
  • healthcare
  • vacation
  • sick leave
  • training
  • life insurance
  • Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS)

FERS consists of a pension in the form of a basic benefit plan, Social Security, and the Thrift Saving Plan. There are over 400 occupational specialties in the government. Many now provide salaries competitive to those in the private sector.

Who Can Get a Federal Job with This Approach?

Most of the ideas covered in this article are relevant to the following categories:

  • Professionals in almost all categories from dentist to IT specialist
  • Senior executives
  • Federal employees and former federal employees
  • Students
  • Veterans, including those with service-connected disabilities
  • Military spouses
  • Non-veterans with disabilities
  • Peace Corps and AmeriCorps Vista alumni

That said, some of the categories can leverage more privileges: non-competitive eligibility (NCE), veterans’ preference, Schedule A, and the excepted service categories.

Tune up Your Inner Game

When the topic of federal employment comes up, some of our clients dismiss it outright. The most common excuse is the need for a security clearance.

Indeed, depending on the type of position you are applying for, you may need to go through extensive investigations. But in many instances, this is no more than a criminal and credit check. This is comparable to what many private-sector employers conduct these days.

But this is not the only excuse I hear. The other one is that all the positions on USAJobs are already earmarked for someone. My answer is, “If that is the case, then let’s work on getting you earmarked for a future opportunity!”

The truth is that the federal job search process is not for the faint of heart. But if the calling and the benefits excite you, then you should keep your eyes on the prize!

Using USAJobs as a Market Research Tool

While—sooner or later—you will want to create a USAJOBS account for searching for federal job openings, you do not need to be logged in.

Having said that, I recommend that you …

  • Create a USAJOBS account
  • Populate your profile
  • Conduct some searches to become familiar with the system, and
  • Set up automated job searches based on your criteria of interest.

At this stage, your goal is market research. You want to familiarize yourself with typical requirements for best government jobs as well as entry level government jobs and even government jobs without degree, as well as govt job salaries. You should review the occupational questionnaires and the required qualifications. You will start to get a feel for what you need to have in place to maximize your chances to get a federal job near you.

You can also use our  Target Position Self-Assessment Tool to help you determine how you stack up against a particular job opportunity.

By now, you should also start to develop a better feel for which agencies (there are several hundred) are the best match for your skills and interest.

While some skills are better suited to certain agencies, almost any federal agency can be a potential employer for many occupations, such as …

  • legal,
  • information technology,
  • finance,
  • HR,
  • communications,
  • and many others.

You need to make sure the agency fulfills your other selection criteria.

Outreach Strategies to Get a Federal Job

Recently, a client of mine we’ll call Barbara was preparing for her interview with an agency. She was familiar with the environment, terminology, culture, and what she would need to do to be succeed in the position.

We were expecting no less from Barbara. She had already developed an impressive network of contacts, mentors, and advocates within the agency, even though none were on the panel.

Negotiating her federal job offer was the last milestone on a long journey to a position that she felt would be rewarding and that would open up new challenges for her. So, let’s take a closer look at what we mean by networking to get a federal job.

Pre-requisite to an Effective Networking Campaign

Stepping back, thinking through, and coming up with a list of the most important criteria in choosing your next position is important. For most people, compensation will be one of the items on the list, but there are a lot more criteria to consider.

You want to be clear about your criteria, and you want to be able to clearly articulate them for others. The better you do that, the better results you can expect from our networking efforts. I call these criteria your filters.

With your filters defined, you can start enlisting those who can help with your campaign for getting a federal job.

Your Existing Network

The immediate response from many of my clients is, “I don’t have a network,” and my response to that is, “So you don’t go to the dentist.” After letting their bewildered look last for a few seconds, I add, “Do you have a dentist?” Why not ask your dentist if he can introduce you to any of his patients who are federal employees?

Back to my client Julia— she claimed she didn’t have a network, and yet she happened to be taking a meditation class with the executive she wanted to meet.

Unless you are a bona fide hermit, you do have a network. Our network can be helpful to us with insights, information, and even introductions. But first, we need to improve our inner game and open up to the idea that our network can be a treasure trove.

Some of my most successful networking students are the younger professionals. They have none of the more conservative reservations of my baby boomer generation about networking. Chief among those is the outdated belief that we have to make things happen all by ourselves or any progress we may make is illegitimate.

Your New Network

Besides your existing network, you can now leverage the following to land US government jobs:

  • LinkedIn,
  • many federal directories,
  • other online resources,
  • professional associations and groups,
  • federal government networking events,
  • industry days, etc.

You no longer have to limit yourself to your existing network.

Earlier, we talked about the first step of your market research, using USAJOBS to …

  1. find what kind of jobs you are qualified and for and
  2. what agencies you should consider as your top targets.

The next step is to start expanding your network. You want to connect to people who can either make introductions for you or provide you with additional insight.

You want to aim for including the following in your new network:

  • Individuals introduced to you through your network
  • Employees of the target agency (which we will cover in more detail in the next section)
  • Employees at other federal agencies that work with your target agency
  • Employees at other federal agencies who have worked at your target agency
  • Individuals whose organization provides services to your target agency

Agency Personnel

People working at federal agencies, like the rest of us, are very busy. Many are under daily bombardment by sales professionals who want to do business with the agency. This constant stream of requests makes them hesitant to quickly accept a request to meet or even take a call.

But the truth is that despite what you just read, you can connect with employees of federal agencies through at least four strategies. You would want to try each out and compare the results to see which ones work best for you.

  1. Make your ask simple, sweet, cheap, and appealing.
  2. Create fear of missing out (FOMO).
  3. Get introduced through your network.
  4. Take part in networking opportunities with federal employees.

One thing’s for sure: You are not going to get a federal job by email or a phone call. So, that being the case, why put too much pressure on the person you are reaching out to in your initial contact? You should aim to make your ask as simple as a brief 15-minute call. The person should feel good about taking the call, or they should feel they would miss out by not taking the call.

Federal employees want to know those in other agencies who cope with similar challenges. Also, they are eager to learn how new technology can help them spend more time at the fishing hole  or spending time with family and friends (i.e., enjoying their lives). These are opportunities to encourage a federal employee to take your call or even meet with you.

The third bullet is self-explanatory, and we have talked about it enough, so I will skip it for now.

Federal employees take part in many organizations and venues. Networking in these settings allows you to build rapport and trust, so I will expand on this in the following section.

Network with Federal Government Executives

There are many organizations where you can meet federal employees, including senior executives. You can collaborate with them in working groups, on panels, and in various initiatives. These are some of them:

Some of these organizations like the Senior Executives Association are for government executives. But they work with the public through …

  • their Corporate Advisory Council,
  • strategic partnerships, and
  • other forms of collaboration.

Federal Contractors

At my last count, there were around 2 million federal employees. But the actual number of people who help the government run its business is almost double that number, somewhere around 3.7 million!

The remaining folks are employed by federal contractors. This is the group to which you should pay special attention, for the following reasons:

Some of these professionals, like program managers and program directors, meet federal employees weekly. In many cases, the employees of these companies sit and work in federal government offices. Sometimes the institutional knowledge of this crowd exceeds that of federal employees.

The relationship that develops between federal employees and their contractors makes it easier for you to get a federal job at the agency if you are a contractor. The transition happens frequently, in both directions.

In some (if not all) instances, you could even be happier working for the contractor than the federal agency.

Today, I have former colleagues who work directly for the agencies they once supported, and I have even a larger network of former feds who work for federal contractors. Networking with a federal contractor can lead to more possibilities for you. These include insight, intel, introductions, non-competitive positioning, and employment.

When I was a federal contractor employee, I knew Jim, who was fed up with his 2-hour commute and longing for a job with an agency that was much closer to his home. I put his resume in front of my customer, who gratefully hired him.

Conclusion

Networking can significantly increase your chances to get a federal job. To learn more about the nuts and bolts of doing it, you can schedule a free consultation with our team. Sooner or later, you will need to use USAJobs to submit your federal resume for the job for which you have been positioning yourself. After having worked so hard to get there, the last thing you want is for your federal resume to fail you. Work with a certified federal career coach and a team of professional federal resume writers who can ensure that …

  • Your application gets referred,
  • You ace the interviews,
  • You receive the offer,
  • You successfully negotiate your compensation, and that
  • You will rapidly climb the GS levels or the SES opportunities that are presented to you.

What About Julia?

Finally, with some coaching, my client Julia struck up a conversation with her classmate, and that eventually led to other introductions and a successful executive service career. Not a bad outcome along with the stress relief of meditation! Networking is amazing.

 To learn more about our federal career transformation services, schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our career success managers.

About the Author   -   Michael Akbar is an Accredited Business Advisor and Certified Career Coach with YES Career Coaching & Resume Writing Services.

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