How Federal Jobs are Filled

Businessman outdoors with colleagues.

Many Federal agencies fill their jobs like private industry by allowing applicants to contact the agency directly for additional job information and in understanding the application process.

While the process may be similar to that in private industry, there are still significant differences due to the many laws, executive orders, and regulations that govern Federal employment.

Related: Search for Government jobs.

COMPETITIVE, EXCEPTED, AND SENIOR EXECUTIVE SERVICE - Federal jobs in the Executive Branch fall into three categories: 1) those that are in the competitive service, 2) those that are in the excepted service, and 3) those that are in the senior executive service.

Competitive service jobs are under OPM's jurisdiction and subject to the civil service laws passed by Congress to ensure that applicants and employees receive fair and equal treatment in the hiring process. These laws give selecting officials broad authority to review more than one applicant source before determining the best-qualified candidate based on job-related criteria. A basic principle of Federal employment is that all candidates must meet the qualification requirements for the position for which they receive an appointment.

Excepted service positions are excepted by law, by executive order, or by action of OPM placing a position or group of positions in excepted service Schedules A, B, or C. For example, certain entire agencies such as the Postal Service and the Central Intelligence Agency are excepted by law. In other cases, certain jobs or classes of jobs in an agency are excepted by OPM. This includes positions such as attorneys, chaplains, student trainees, and others.

NOTE: The excepted service is subject to the provisions of veterans' preference unless otherwise exempted. Some Federal agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have only excepted service positions. In other instances, certain organizations within an agency or even specific jobs may be excepted from civil service procedures.

Related: To apply for jobs that match your skills, visit the Military Skills Translator.

The Senior Executive Service (SES) was established by Title IV of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978. The SES was set up as a "third" service, completely separate from the competitive and excepted services. Top management positions are joined into a unified and distinct personnel system that provides for considerable agency authority and flexibility. SES positions are classified above GS-15 or equivalent. All SES vacancies are advertised on OPM's USAJOBS. From this site, you may download announcements for vacancies of interest to you. Veterans do not receive hiring preference for SES positions because 5 USC 2108(3) which defines the term "preference eligible" provides that this term does not include applicants for, or members of, the Senior Executive Service.

Vacancy Announcements

A posted vacancy announcement is an agency's decision to seek qualified candidates for a particular vacancy. The agency is under no obligation to make a selection. In some instances, an agency may cancel the posting and choose to re-announce the vacancy later.

Sources of Eligibles

In filling competitive service jobs, agencies can generally choose from among 3 groups of candidates:

  1. competitive list of eligibles administered by OPM or by an agency under OPM's direction. This list consists of applicants who have applied and met the qualification requirements for a specific vacancy announcement. It is the most common method of entry for new employees.
  2. A list of eligibles who have civil service status consist of applicants who are eligible for noncompetitive movement within the competitive service because they either now are or were serving under career-type appointments in the competitive service. These individuals are selected under agency merit promotion procedures and can receive an appointment by promotion, reassignment, transfer, or reinstatement.
  3. A list of eligibles that qualify for a special noncompetitive appointing authority established by law or executive order. Examples of special noncompetitive appointing authorities include the Veterans' Recruitment Appointment (VRA) and Peace Corps.

Agencies in the competitive service are required by law and OPM regulation to post vacancies with OPM whenever they are seeking candidates from outside their own workforce for positions lasting more than 120 days. (Agency, in this context, means the parent agency -- i.e., Treasury, not the Internal Revenue Service.) These vacancies are posted on OPM's USAJOBS.

If you are interested in excepted service positions and do not find any posted on USAJOBS, you should contact the respective Federal agency directly. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management does not provide application forms or information on jobs in the excepted service.


The Federal Government's Employment Information System, provides worldwide job vacancy information, employment information fact sheets, job applications and forms on-line. It has on-line resume development and electronic transmission capabilities. Job seekers can apply for some positions on-line.

USAJOBS is updated every business day from a database of more than 30,000 worldwide job opportunities and is available to job seekers in a variety of formats to ensure access for customers with differing physical and technological capabilities. It is convenient, user friendly, accessible through the computer or telephone and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For resources, resume builders, and other tools to help you in your civilian career, visit the VA for Vets website.

Related: For the latest veteran jobs postings around the country, including jobs related to law enforcement, visit the Job Search section.

The Next Step: Find the Right Veteran Job

Whether you want to polish up your resume, find veteran job fairs in your area, or connect with employers looking to hire veterans, can help. Sign up for a free membership to have job postings, guides and advice, and more delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues

Most Recent Government Job Posts

  • PKI Cyber Consultant
    Zachary Piper LLC - Ft Meade, MD, 20755 - Compliance, Federal Contracts, State Contracts, Local Government, Government Affairs, RFPs, RFQs,...The PKI Cyber Consultant will help the...
  • Master Planning Analyst
    BWX Technologies - Mt. Vernon, IN, 47620 - As a federal government contractor, BWX Technologies, Inc. and any subsidiaries,......
  • Electrician
    BWX Technologies, Inc. - Mt. Vernon, IN, 47620 - As a federal government contractor, BWX Technologies, Inc. and any subsidiaries,...As a federal government contractor, BWX Technolo...
  • Active Directory Systems Engineer
    Leidos - null - technical and non-technical audiences (both contractor and federal government employees) - Establish and maintain strong...employees) - Establish and maintain s...
  • Technical Program Manager
    Peraton - Washington, DC - - Federal or Government contracting and consulting experience is a plus...serves as a valued partner to essential government agencies and supports every ...
View More