I am about to graduate with a
liberal arts degree. Do I have any hope of qualifying for Federal jobs?
The hot degrees in our school are in health care, accounting, and technology.
What chance do I have of a good job in government with a liberal arts degree? I
have always wanted to work for the Federal government, because I believe
government helps those who need help. The Agencies I have approached do not seem
to be as receptive to me as they are to my classmates with hot degrees. Also, I
haven’t worked in a full time position before. What are my chances of getting
into a Federal agency? What occupations are appropriate and how do I apply? And
finally, with the Federal government in perpetual budget crisis, are there any
jobs to begin with?
San Antonio TX
Dear John Ross.:
Starting with your last question: Yes, there will be Federal jobs as long as
there is a Federal government. Many positions are mission critical. In the past
even a freeze of Federal hiring exempted many positions. The best approach is to
continue to apply regardless of the political climate at the moment. You have
nothing to lose. Applications are kept on file for months. So even if no jobs
are open in a given week, the next week may be different. Let’s move onto your
In the last several years hiring pathways for entry level professional
positions, exclusive of the sciences, have changed. The Office of Personnel
Management (OPM) eliminated written exams for professional candidates and the
central registers, which is to say applicant inventories or waiting lists (also
called Job Registries), that went with them. In years past thousands of liberal
arts graduates entered Federal service by way of the written exam for
professional positions. They are no more, mainly because written exams and test
scores were found to be discriminatory.
Instead, other hiring pathways are in use for the liberal arts graduate.
Science, business, or medical graduates have usually been hired directly, by an
Agency with a job, into a GS-5 or GS-7 professional position. This same approach
now applies to all graduates. It is called ‘direct hire’ or ‘case examining'
which means the Agency decides who it wants to hire for a given position.
Direct Hire/Case Examining
Case examining means each opening is decided on a case-by-case basis, that
is, no general approach to openings is taken. As part of the latest efforts to
streamline the Federal hiring process, Agencies have been given more of this
case examining authority. As a result, they are able to hire candidates directly
on their own authority, for the entry level professional grades, grades 5 and 7,
Candidates who have good credentials, but who do not qualify for VRA (see
below), may find an Agency with the authority to hire an entry level liberal
arts graduate under case examining. In these situations the job is listed by the
Agency as a professional level job, i.e., GS-5 or GS-7 (not clerical level, GS-3
To apply under ‘Direct Hire/Case Examing’ just follow the application
instructions for any given vacancy for which you believe you are qualified.
The difference between this approach, and programs of the past, is that past
programs did not specify a given position with a given Agency at a given
location. Those past programs applied you for many openings in many Agencies
simultaneously. That was certainly a convenience, but it was also very slow.
Sometimes years passed before applicants were called for an interview. The new
system means you must apply for many positions, for any position, that seems
right. That’s more work, but it is faster.
Veterans Readjustment Appointment
Still another approach for the library arts grad who has also served in the
military is a program called VRA or Veterans Readjustment Appointment. If you
have served at least 180 days in the military and do not have a dishonorable
discharge, you can apply under this program for any job up to GS-7. The program
is non-competitive meaning you do not have to compete against non-vets, but also
you do not get tenure. You can work for up to 2 years and apply at any time for
a regular competitive service position. If you have a good work record, your
chances of successful appointment to a tenured, competitive service job are
Another way into Federal service is to take a position at the clerical
level, that is at GS-4 or less. Sometimes this may mean taking the clerical exam
which is not originally intended for professional job candidates, but can be
used by anybody. Having passed the clerical exam or been hired on the basis of a
good resume, applicants are then eligible to be hired into a clerical position,
that is a GS-2 to GS-4 position.
Once you have secured a GS 4 position, you may be able to move quickly
(sometimes in only a few months) up the ladder to a professional level GS 5 or
GS 7 position through internal or Merit promotion.
Recent hiring statistics show that more and more college graduates are taking
the clerical exam just to get a foot in the door.
Which Hiring Pathway
How do you determine which hiring pathway, VRA, clerical level or case
examining is applicable to a given job? You must study the Vacancy Announcement
and read the section called “Who May Apply”. It may say, “All qualified U.S.
citizens” for a professional level job which means that case examining may
apply. Vacancy Announcements can be read on this website.
One of the keys to landing a job directly with an Agency is good application
and interview preparation. Get to know something about and be able to express an
interest in the Agency with the job openings. Do not simply express an interest
in working for the Federal government.
Be sure that your resume meets the requirements for Federal resumes. You can use
for this purpose also.
All Agencies have a web site where interesting information about the Agency,
including its mission statement, can be found. Demonstrate a personal interest
in the Agency’s mission. Also show specifically that you have the knowledge,
skills and abilities (KSA’s) to handle the job that is open. A good background
at school and good applicant preparation will most likely result in a good
outcome for you.
To submit questions to the Federal Jobs Advisor, write to: Federal Jobs
Advisor, Federal Jobs Digest, 1503 Radcliff Court, Newtown Square PA 19073. We
regret that not all questions may be answered. •