How to Negotiate a Federal Job Offer

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As of 2011, more than 2.15 million Americans are employed by the U.S. federal government, but around 800,000 of those are military jobs, so that means there are around 1.35 millions civilians working for the federal government. These individuals perform every imaginable type of job, from serving in Congress or the judiciary branch to acting as park rangers to serving as clerks, administrators or professionals in one of hundreds of government agencies. However, each federal agency establishes its own hiring process and sets its own standards for employees, working within overall federal regulations. Over time, the hiring process for federal jobs became very complex, so to streamline federal hiring, the United States Office of Personnel Management created the USAJOBS website.

  • Prepare for your interview. Thoroughly research the federal agency or department and the job you're applying for, including typical salary range. Read the job description and qualifications very carefully, and consider how well you meet each criteria. Prepare detailed answers to address any weak spots in your resume or training. Federal jobs often require professional certifications and ongoing continuing education, so be prepared to provide any necessary documentation to that effect.

  • Write a brief outline of the important points you want to cover in the interview, including pay and benefits. Remember that almost all salaried, or noncontractor, jobs at federal agencies are based on the federal pay scale, so it's important to ensure that all of your education and training is considered in determining your initial pay scale. Prepare a list of thoughtful questions to ask at various points in the interview --- don't save all questions until the end.

  • Remember all of the basics of a good interview: appropriate dress and grooming, a firm handshake at the beginning and end, good eye contact throughout, and keeping the interview as a conversation --- not a monologue on the part of either yourself or the interviewer. Unlike certain workplaces in the private sector, an interview for a job at a federal agency is almost sure to be a formal-dress situation.

  • Don't let the interviewer completely control the interview to the extent that you're simply answering her questions. Elaborate on your answers to develop questions of your own. Try to lead the interviewer into introducing the topic of pay and benefits, but don't hesitate to bring it up late in the interview as long as it fits naturally in the conversational flow. If directly asked how much you expect, reply with a range reflecting the lowest you'd be willing to accept and what you think would be excellent pay for the job.

  • Take your time. Unless the job is perfect for you and the pay is great, it's usually best to request 24 to 48 hours, or even more, to consider the job offer. Although certain aspects of federal jobs aren't negotiable, there are almost always areas that are open to negotiation, including initial pay-scale classification, which is important; travel; and the possibility of working at home. Getting back in touch the next day with a counteroffer, especially for higher-paying professional positions, isn't uncommon.

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