Quick trivia question: Who employs the most people in the United States? Is it United Airlines? McDonalds? AT&T? AOL Time-Warner? Nope. It's Sam. And not the late Sam Walton of Wal-Mart fame. It's your Uncle Sam.
The federal government is the largest employer in the United States. Factor in all the states and municipalities throughout America, and the number of employees hired with taxpayer money quickly adds up. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 20 million Americans worked for state, local or federal governments in 2000. Growth in the public sector is expected to hold steady at about 0.8 percent until the end of the decade.
If you're looking to land a federal or state government job, keep in mind that you're dealing with a bureaucracy. The rules and guidelines are strict, and some of the methods that may work when job hunting in the private sector, like follow-up phone calls or a nice cover letter, may not be effective.
Finding Federal Openings
What kinds of jobs are available at the federal level? Just about everything, according to Ellen Tunstall, assistant director for Employment Policy at the Office of Personnel Management in Washington, DC. "The federal government does sidewalks to satellites and everything in between," she says.
The place to start is the Office of Personnel Management website at www.usajobs.opm.gov. On an average day, there are about 14,000 federal jobs listed, and not all of them are in Washington, DC. Go to the "First Timers Start Here" box to get rolling. Use the website's search engine to check on openings in your field. You can also search by department or region.
"We're obviously looking for the best and brightest people in all fields," Tunstall says. Auditors and law enforcement related to homeland security are some of the big demands right now.
Postal jobs may also be available in your hometown. Go to the US Postal Service's website at www.usps.com/employment/ if you're interested in becoming one of the 800,000 workers undaunted by rain, sleet or snow. You can search for job openings and information on the testing process.
Every job and government department has different procedures, Tunstall emphasizes. It's important to follow the instructions carefully and get your application in before the deadline. Remember, this is the world's biggest bureaucracy.
Don't pay fees to services claiming they can get you a high-paying job with Uncle Sam, Tunstall warns. Applying for federal jobs and using the website is free.
Whether you're applying for work as an office assistant, correctional officer, or a high-ranking administrator, the state places great emphasis on written, oral and skills tests, which are different for every position, according to State Personnel Board spokesperson Evan Gerbeding.
Check the SPB website www.spb.ca.gov/jobsrd.cfm to find out when and where the various tests are being administered.
Because of the budget shortfall there is a hiring freeze in California, but the application process is ongoing, Gerbeding says. Public safety jobs at the penitentiaries or with the highway patrol, for example, are exempt from the freeze, but other departments are giving tests and taking applications so they can be ready to hire when the freeze is lifted.
Every job has an "eligibility list," she says, so the more tests you take and the more lists you're on, the better chance you have of getting your foot in the door.
Then it's a waiting game. Even without a hiring freeze, it takes six months to a year to land a state job. Follow-up calls won't do you any good if your score is too low or there's nothing open. It's a "don't call us, we'll call you," situation.
Unlike the private sector where it might be "who you know," the State of California hires on merit and experience. "The days when [political appointees] hired their friends and neighbors to fill jobs are long gone," Gerbeding notes.
Stability and Job Security
One of the rewards of going through such a laborious application process is that the position lighting the end of the tunnel probably comes with a high level of stability and job security.
Rose, an office assistant with the state government in Sacramento, was in the computer training industry before landing a job with the state. In the private sector, she worked for a series of employers, as her computer school was bought, sold and merged several times. A wage freeze seemed to accompany each change of ownership.
"Here, we always get paid no matter what. No matter how ugly it gets," she says.
Rose's recommendation to government job hopefuls is to be persistent - not with the state, but with yourself. If you don't pass the test the first time, she suggests getting additional training so you can achieve a better score. There are no study guides for the state tests, but you should read the job notice for clues as to what will be covered. You may take the test again after a year if your score is too low.
After passing the written test, Rose accepted a job in a rural community because there was more demand there. "Go rural," she advises. "Everyone wants to work in Los Angeles or Sacramento." If you're set on big city life, you can transfer after you've put in your time in a smaller office and passed your probationary period.
Tunstall believes the challenge of landing a government job is well worth the effort. "It's a challenging career and you're serving the people of your country. And we have wonderful benefits."
Gerbeding concurs. "It's a great feeling and very satisfying knowing that you're serving your friends and neighbors."
For more information on government careers:
- FederalJobs.net - In addition to current opportunities, the website offers links, resources and an overview of government employment, exams, how to apply to certain agencies, etc.
- FedWorld.gov/jobs/jobsearch.html - This site, managed by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), offers a search of open federal jobs gathered from hundreds of government human resource offices. The database is updated every Tuesday through Saturday at about 6:30am. (703) 605-6000.
- GovtJobs.com - Lists government job openings and links to other resources for municipal, city and county government websites, state leagues and associations, statewide newspapers, etc. (641) 791-9019.
- PSE-net.com - Offers job listings, resources, information on how to find and apply for government jobs, and links to state jobs. Topics include FAQs on federal jobs, sample exam questions, resume tips, etc.
- SCILOG.org - Southern California Institute for Local Government offers links and current listings of state, county, and city jobs (not just for Southern California). Click "Jobs On-Line" for a list of current openings.