The Step-by-Step Guide to Any .Gov Job Search

Well, hey, hey, the working man, the working man like me
I ain’t never been on welfare, that’s one place I won’t be
Cause I’ll be working long as my two hands are fit to use
I drink my beer in a tavern
Sing a little bit of these workin’ man blues

-“Workin’ Man Blues” by Merle Haggard (1969)


The Great Recession put a lot of people out of work, and it prevented many recent graduates from finding work, too. I was among those poor souls trapped on the job application carousel in 2009-11, having just emerged from grad school with a naive sense of purpose and value.

Washington D.C. offered a tiny island of employment opportunities following the market crash in 2008, mainly because it’s impossible for the government to downsize that fast and quantitative easing dollars had begun flooding into local vendors in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Unfortunately, countless other recent grads joined me in the mad scramble for a paying job, so I spent a lot of time bumming internet from coffee shops and working odd jobs to support my pasta and whiskey budget. When I couldn’t afford food, I circled meeting rooms at my internship like a vulture, waiting for the participants to leave behind their cheese platters and fruit salads.

All the while, I was applying to perhaps 3-4 jobs a day, and I became the closest thing to a professional job applicant that there is. So, for those interested, here’s my secret.


Step-by-Step Process for a Government Job Search

Step 1: Prove you can do simple data entry by migrating your entire fucking resume, letters of recommendation, and other relevant documents into their system.

Step 2: Repeat Step 1 because the site crashed and none of your information was saved.

Step 3: Search for jobs, which aren’t listed by function and salary, but rather by obscure title and federal pay grades 1-15 and steps 1-10, meaning there are 150 different iterations of a salaried employee. Of course, you have no clue what that shit means because you speak English.

Step 4: Fill out application for a job you think you’re qualified for, only to realize that you didn’t score enough “points” on the application to even be considered. Try to read about this point system, and the analyst inside you wants to ask the creators what the fuck they were smoking and can you have some.

Step 5: Realize that you only needed 10 more points to be considered for that last job, and that Veteran Preference is worth 10 pts… meaning the homeless xenophobe sitting in Starbucks next to you has a default advantage for that foreign policy job you’ve been coveting all week.

Step 6: Have a nervous breakdown.

Step 7: Give up and try the private sector again. Send angry, anonymous emails to scam jobs like “Get Paid to Work From Home” and various multi-level marketing cabals. Try federal website again because at least those jobs are real.

Step 8: Start drinking. Heavily.

Step 9: Get tantalizing email 3 months later regarding the job you thought you weren’t qualified for, saying you had moved on to the interview stage. This leaves you with a feeling of hope so rich that you recant your previous denunciations of the process.

Step 10: Email #2 stating that email #1 was a system malfunction. Hope shattered, denunciations reinstated.

Step 11: Start applying to all jobs, regardless of function, title, pay grade, required experience, etc. You find it comical that you move on to the second review stage for a GS-12 job, while being denied immediately for a custodial position at the Department of Commerce. Realize that nobody knows what the hell is going on, especially you.

Step 12: At last! Make it to the interview stage of a job you don’t want and for which you are clearly overqualified. You still bomb the interview because you have more personality than the interviewer and they’re clearly seeking a robot, who walks in right after you. It’s ok, you wouldn’t have passed the drug test anyway.

Step 13: Finally bail on the public sector. Ironically get two calls in the same day to interview for a research position at a nuclear thinktank and a research position at a financial firm. The former is closer to what you want to do, but the latter pays better.

Step 14: Decision time. You realize you’re so fed up with academic snobs and the federal government’s applicant bureaucracy that you sell-out for a broker desk in the suburbs instead of that enviable research position downtown with security pass and .Gov email address.

Step 15: Struggle with that decision the rest of your life.


I hope none of you went into this list hoping for legitimate advice on your job search. I think Step 16 involves suicide, but I haven’t gotten there yet. If I do, don’t expect a revised list.

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