Scientific Research Jobs in the Federal Workforce

March 24, 2008

The U.S. government is hiring in many areas of science as employees from the Baby Boomer generation begin to retire. Below are some resources and tips to use in the Federal application process.

#1 Source. The number one source for all federal jobs is where you can search all advertisements for every level and type of service. Students (high school, college or graduate) might prefer to locate internships, coops or temporary jobs. Both sites allow you to conduct advanced searches, post resumes, apply online for posted jobs and track your application through the system. You can also receive notification of new listings.

General Schedule Salary. Most federal service workers, the science fields included, are employed on the General Schedule or GS scale. Salary ranges from $20K to more than $150K depending on the level. Internships are usually between GS-1 and GS-4. Most college graduates start at the GS-5 level with promotion potential through GS-9. Postdoctoral research positions usually begin at GS-11. Permanent scientists begin at GS-12 and go through GS-15.

Attention to Keywords. Knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) are essential to determine whether your qualifications (experience and education) match the requirements of the job. Most scientific jobs have KSAs to evaluate candidates. If a job posting has KSAs listed, you must supply a narrative description of the experience and/or training that demonstrates your possession of a particular element. If the KSA lists experience in High Performance Liquid Chromatography, you should write it out in your response: “High Performance Liquid Chromatography” not HPLC and not LC or chromatography. The evaluator (human or computer) may not know the acronyms or the definitions. Keep in mind that the primary supervisor only sees screened applications so your application has to make the initial cut based on what you submit electronically or in hard copy.

Ask yourself. Can the evaluator/supervisor see your qualifications within 15 seconds of looking at your resume? Does the critical information (KSAs!!) leap off the page? Take some time and use keyword headers on your resume. Don’t be redundant and don’t write science fiction. Your supervisor will, in all probability, be a scientist and can spot it. Do convey your willingness to learn new skills.

It’s worth a look. Read the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has a guide entitled, “USAJOBS Ten Tips for Letting Federal Employers Know Your Worth”.

This article was written by Victoria Finkenstadt, Ph.D., a research scientist in the Plant Polymer Research Unit at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (USDA) in Peoria, IL.