By Eric Goldman, CMA, CPA
Member of IMA Young Professionals Committee
I’ve worked for the federal government for eight years, and I can say with confidence that the hardest part is getting hired into the system. There are three keys to getting a government accounting job; know what to look for, know how to apply and be persistent.
Know what to look for
The first step is to go to the policies page of USAJOBS.gov and determine what “grade” you fall into based on your prior experience. Jobs are categorized on a 1-15 scale, and most college graduates fall under the GS-5 or GS-7 categories. Those with a master’s degree can target a GS-9. Above the GS-12 level, experience is the primary determinate of qualification.
As you will see, a prerequisite for a GS-7 category job is having “superior academic achievement.” To easily find these jobs, go to the advanced search and search for keywords such as “intern” and “superior academic achievement.” These positions will be most relevant for a recent college graduate or young professional.
It is important to pay attention to these categories in the job listings, as they can denote whether there is potential for you to be promoted. When multiple categories are listed, i.e., “GS-07/09,” these jobs have non-competitive promotions each year until you reach the full promotion potential. Each of these promotions is worth about a 20 percent pay increase.
Know how to apply
Remember how you were taught to write a resume in college and perhaps business school? Forget that. When applying for a government job, first include the job description in your resume followed by your relevant qualifications and accomplishments.
Do not use a generic resume. Include specific keywords that are listed in the job description so that your resume gets sufficient points from computer scoring. The hardest part of this process is actually getting a human to look at your resume. Even if you are the most qualified candidate, if the computer can’t find it then you will never be considered.
Persistence is important in life and imperative for getting a job with the federal government. The hiring process can be very long, so start at the beginning of senior year if you’re in college. If you are out of college, don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back immediately.
I applied to over 200 federal positions when I was a senior in college, and with the current economy it is even more competitive. There are many military veterans applying for jobs and they will have preference over you. As long as you meet the minimum qualifications, apply and move on to the next application. Remember, you’ll never get a job you don’t apply for.
Benefit of Certifications
Having both a CPA and a CMA, I’ve found people appreciate your certifications. Computers only do when they are listed in the job description. In terms of on-the-job applications, I have been on the side of analyzing accounting data and find the skills I learned useful in my day-to-day job functions.