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The Book of U.S. Government Jobs - 11th edition

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Government Employment Update

The federal sector hired 162,839 new federal employees nationwide and overseas in 2013. Almost a third, 31 percent, were veterans. The Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration were the two largest hiring agencies. The Affordable Health Care Act includes over 100 new regulatory agencies and commissions and more federal regulators will be needed to administer new EPA and OSHA regulations and to manage the many other federal programs that have been implemented by the current administration. Immigration reform will potentially increase hiring of Border Patrol Agents and Customs Officers. Even with the projected growth and hiring some agencies continue to offer voluntary early retirements to address budget shortfalls.

There is considerable competition for anyone seeking federal employment and those interested in working for Uncle Sam must develop a professional federal style resume and application to remain competitive and start the process early to improve their chances of success.



Federal Civil Service Exams


Page updated 10/27/201

Civil Service Exams | Civil Service Jobs | Federal Civil Service Tests

Civil service exams are required for specific groups including foreign service officers, customs, some secretarial and clerical, air traffic control, law enforcement, postal service, and for certain entry level jobs. The majority — approximately 80% — of government jobs are filled through a competitive examination of your background, work experience, and education, not through a written civil service test. It is important to read the job announcement thoroughly to determine if a civil service exam or self certification or a skill is necessary.


Mandatory civil service testing for administrative careers was eliminated years ago. OPM and individual agencies advertise professional and administrative job vacancies and interested parties request and receive application material online. Now that most entrance written tests aren’t used, applicants typically complete an occupational questionnaire and a federal resume or an optional application form. Most agencies want applicants to apply online. Federal civil service jobs are posted online and individuals complete their application, federal resume, and questionnaire online. If a civil service exam is required, you will be notified of the testing date and location.

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Personnel offices rate applications and generate hiring lists within two to six weeks from the job announcement’s closing date. The “Best Qualified” applicants are referred to a selection official for consideration. The occupational questionnaire is used frequently to evaluate an applicant's ability to perform the duties of the position.

Notice that I mentioned federal style résumé several times. I emphasize “federal style” because a resume in the federal sector is nothing like most private sector one-page résumés. A federal style résumé is highly structured and may contain 43 specific blocks of information and the format is standardized. A typical federal style résumé is between three and six pages long and if Knowledge, Skills, Abilities statements are required your résumé could easily reach seven to 10 pages or more. If you submit an improperly formatted résumé it may be rejected or at the very least you may not rate “Best Qualified” for the job.

Most people who first approach the federal sector are taken aback by the amount of time, energy, and paperwork required to apply for federal civil service jobs. Applicants who put the extra effort and time into compiling their own unique federal style résumé and tailor it to the civil service job announcement are more likely to succeed. 

The Book of U.S. Government Jobs describes the federal employment process with easy to use checklists,
sample resumes, and job hunting resources. Recommended by LIBRARY JOURNAL.

Clerical Exams and Jobs

Clerical and administrative support written civil service exams were used to measure the clerical and verbal abilities needed to design, organize, and use a filing system, organize effectively the clerical process in an office, make travel, meeting and conference arrangements, locate and assemble information for reports and briefings, compose non-technical correspondence, be effective in oral communication, and use office equipment.

Most agencies choose to use the occupational questionnaire and self certification instead of the federal civil service exam. Clerical civil service tests and other written exams were made optional by OPM years ago. Applicants, for the most part today, complete an occupational questionnaire, submit a federal style résumé, and self certify typing speed.

In addition to meeting experience or education requirements, applicants for clerical and administrative positions must show possession of the skills listed in the job announcement. Applicants may meet these requirements by presenting a certificate of proficiency from a school or other organization, self-certify their proficiency, or in rare cases pass the appropriate written performance test. Agencies may verify proficiency skills of self-certified applicants by administering performance tests as well. Read the job announcement’s “How to Apply” section to determine what is required and submit your application prior to the closing date. The key is to be rated “Best Qualified.” Prepare a federal style resume that rating officials can easily determine that you possess the required education, skills and work experience to be effective in the position.

To find a clerical job announcement review the Administrative & Clerical GS-300 Job Series for clerical job vacancy announcements. You first must identify a clerical job announcement in your area and then you apply online. You will be notified by the agency if a civil service exam is required or they will direct you to complete an Occupational Questionnaire online.

Clerical Job Announcements:


General Experience: High school graduation or the equivalent may be substituted for experience at the GS-2 level for all listed occupations except Clerk-Stenographer, where it maybe substituted for experience at the GS-3 level. Equivalent combinations of successfully completed education and experience requirements may be used to meet total experience requirements at grades GS-5 and below.

Typing Proficiency

Typing proficiency is determined one of several ways. You can present a speed certification statement from a typing course, take a typing test with OPM, or personally certify that you type 40 or more words per minute and later take a test upon reporting for duty.

Testing Process

If a written federal civil service test is required it will consist of two parts, clerical aptitude and verbal abilities. To pass the written test, applicants must make a minimum score of 33 on the verbal abilities and a minimum combined total score of 80 on both the clerical and verbal parts. A score of 80 converts to a numerical rating of 70. In addition to federal civil service exams, applicants must complete an online Occupational Supplement that is used to determine an applicants' minimum qualifications based on a review of their education and work experience.

Must all applicants pass a civil service test?

Everyone who applies for a federal job is tested however the vast majority of testing is conducted through a thorough evaluation of your application, occupational questionnaire, and federal resume, not through a written civil service test. Notice that I mentioned federal resume frequently. I emphasize “federal” because a resume in the federal sector is totally different from the typical one page private sector equivalent. A federal resume is highly structured and may contain 43 specific blocks of information, and the format is standardized. A typical federal style resume is between three and six pages long and if Knowledge, Skills, Abilities statements (KSAs) are required your resume could easily reach seven to 10 pages or more. If you submit an improperly formatted federal resume it may be rejected or at the very least you may not rate “Best Qualified” for the job    

Some occupations require specialized testing and assessments and careers with mandatory testing are listed on this site. The tests are used to validate physical and mental ability and skills required for the position. The exams vary in length from several hours to half a day or more.

Clerical Jobs

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