When you’re confused by federal terminology, refer to this alphabetical listing of government-related terms. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Check also the glossary on USAJOBS.gov.
Adjudication: The decision process that produces a judgment for whether or not you are suitable for the security clearance required by your position.
Application questionnaires: Questionnaires commonly used by federal agencies to select top candidates. They vary in length, but may have anywhere from 20 to 100 questions in a varied combination of multiple-choice and short-answer format.
Banded system: A type of government pay system that combines grades from the GS system to create broader pay bands or “clusters.” They are less specific than the GS pay scale and are promotion-based. Each agency sets its own band expectations and salaries.
Career appointment: A professional position that a government employee achieves after working as a career-conditional appointment for three consecutive years within government. As a career appointment, the individual gains competitive status and greater job stability.
Career Transition Assistance Plan (CTAP): Program intended for federal employees who are being laid off and have been given special preference to find another position in a different part of their agency.
Category rating: Category rating is a method of categorizing job applicants as “Best Qualified,” “Well Qualified,” and “Qualified” based on their sets of knowledge, skills and abilities demonstrated in their application. This rating system does not rely on a numerical rating of candidates. This way of grouping applicants into quality categories give hiring managers access to a wider pool of potential hires while still satisfying veterans’ preference requirements.
Civil service: A category of employment that includes all employees in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Unites States government, excluding military employees, political appointees, and elected officials.
Competitive (status, appointment, service): A category of employment that includes the majority of federal civilian positions. Individuals applying to federal positions that do not have a special, or excepted, hiring authority have competitive status, and, if selected for a position, these individual will receive a competitive appointment. Competitive service employees are hired through the regular application and hiring process outlined by the Office of Personnel Management and are subject to the civil service laws passed by Congress. Competitive service announcements are open to the general public and must be posted on USAJOBS.gov.
Cost of Living Allowance (COLA): A federal monetary allowance given to even out difference in the cost of living for workers residing in over 600 locations overseas, including the states of Alaska and Hawaii.
Direct Hire Authority: A hiring authority that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) can give to Federal agencies for filling vacancies when a critical hiring need or severe shortage of candidates exists. This gives hiring managers’ authorization to make job offers to applicants without having to go through the full application process. Direct hire authority can be used for permanent, nonpermanent, or group positions for grades GS-1 through GS-15.
Entry-level: Under the General Schedule (GS), this term refers to jobs listed under GS-1 through GS-7 pay scales. Most jobs from the GS-1 to GS-4 levels are clerical and administrative. GS-5 is reserved for those with a Bachelor’s degree, GS-7 for those with some graduate education or superior academic achievement, and GS-9 for those with a Graduate degree.
Excepted service: A non-competitive category of employment for which agencies can use a streamlined hiring process rather than the regular competitive process to meet a special or critical hiring need. Agencies use this process to hire individuals with specific backgrounds or for hard-to-recruit occupations, such as attorneys, chaplains and medical doctors. Excepted service positions are not always posted on USAJOBS.gov. Schedule A and C appointments are considered a part of excepted service. OPM explains Excepted Service Appointing Authorities in more detail.
Federal resume: A resume altered specifically for federal jobs that contain information required by federal agencies. A federal resume is longer than a general resume, ranging from one to five pages. Individuals can expand information on their general resume and go into greater depth about their skills, duties, and accomplishments.
Foreign Service Exam: An exam required for employment within the Foreign Service of the State Department. The exam is given several times a year in multiple locations throughout the world. The exam includes a written test, personal narrative, oral assessment, and final review.
General Schedule (GS): A federal pay system geared toward white-collar jobs, which are typically office-related professional, administrative, and managerial positions with yearly salaries. This system consists of 15 levels, beginning with GS-1 and continuing up to GS-15. Your GS level will depend on a number of factors, from your education and experience to the job itself.
Government contractor: A private company that conducts government work and projects under contract.
Hiring managers: Individuals who work to fill open positions at the department or office they oversee. Hiring new employees isn’t their sole function, but rather a duty added to their regular job, which could be anything from botanist to accountant. Often the hiring manager will be the direct supervisor of the new employee.
Individual Development Plan (IDP): A tool used by many agencies to highlight the needs and goals of their employees. It is the responsibility of employees to document their own IDP and review it with their supervisors. IDPs are a powerful motivator for employees and help set professional development as a priority.
Interagency Career Transition Assistance Program (ICTAP): Program intended for federal employees who are being laid off and have been given special preference to find another position at an agency that isn’t downsizing the same type of position.
Job/vacancy announcement: Job opening posted on USAJOBS.gov to give notice to the public. Like a want-ad, the job or vacancy announcement lists the conditions specific to the position and explains how to apply.
Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs): List of special qualifications and personal attributes that you need to have for a particular job. These are the unique requirements that an agency wants to find in applicants for a job. KSAs are defined as the factors that identify the better candidates from a group of people basically qualified for a position.
Locality pay scales: Scales that maintain a standard rate of government pay that is then used to scale salaries according to various regions in all 50 states.
Merit promotion: Promotional announcements that are typically available to full-time permanent employees.
Merit system: Process by which the federal government hires employees based on their ability to perform a specific job function.
Mission-critical job: A position that must be filled for the agency to be able to meet its obligations to the American people. These positions are considered critical by the agency and vary based on the agency’s mission. Mission-critical job openings are often excepted service positions, allowing agencies to quickly fill vital positions.
Non-competitive appointment: Jobs open to select candidates, as opposed to the general public – typically those who have been a federal employee for at least three years. Under this authority, hiring managers may hire candidates without having to go through the full application process. USAJOBS.gov job announcements specify whether a position is competitive or non-competitive under the “Who May Apply” title.
Political appointee: Individual hired by the political party holding office. Political appointees do not go through the regular hiring process and do not have the same job security as permanent federal employees.
Preference-eligible: The ability of a veteran and selected family member of veterans to qualify to have 5 to 10 extra points added to his or her total job application score. Preference-eligible candidates are appointed through the excepted service, not the competitive service.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program: A program providing student loan forgiveness to selected federal, public service, and nonprofit employees.
Schedule A appointment: A special hiring authority under the excepted service for positions requiring a streamlined hiring process. Individuals with disabilities or mental handicaps frequently apply for Schedule A appointment. This appointment can be used for a critical hiring need, such as attorneys, chaplains and doctors.
Schedule C appointment: A special hiring authority under the excepted service, for the use of hiring political appointees, when deemed appropriate by the Office of Personnel Management.
Senior Executive Service (SES): Positions beyond the highest level of the General Schedule, GS-15. Such positions involve heightened managerial and policy-making skills and responsibility and are set apart from most other positions in the competitive service.
Special hiring authority: Special permission given to federal hiring managers to bypass the regular hiring process for certain qualified applicants. Qualified applicants include those hired through Pathways Programs; those with veterans preference; AmeriCorps or Peace Corps alumni; and individuals with disabilities. This list is not all-inclusive, and other special hiring authorities may be used at the agency’s discretion.
Superior academic achievement: Provision that allows applicants with a Bachelor’s degree to advance from GS-5 to at least a GS-7 level. If you graduated in the upper third of your class, maintained at least a 3.0 overall GPA or 3.5 GPA within your major, or held membership with a national scholastic honor society, you are considered eligible for superior academic achievement.
Telework: To work from home or a remote location.
Temporary appointment: An appointment lasting one year or less, with a specific expiration date. Temporary appointment is typically used to fill a short-term position due to reorganization or to fill positions that involve irregular or seasonal work schedules.
Term appointment: Nonpermanent position similar to a temporary appointment. Term appointments begin with a trial year during which the employee can be let go. After the trial year, the position can last up to four years beyond the initial start date.
USAJOBS.gov: Official government website that posts virtually all government job openings found at USAJOBS.gov. Jobseekers can post up to five federal resumes and apply for jobs directly from the site. The USAJOBS.gov Resource Center provides additional information about this site.
Veterans’ preference: Special hiring authority established for veterans who served on active duty for at least two years during a time of war or who were disabled as a result of their service. Under veterans’ preference, candidates receive an additional 5 to 10 points on their total application score or put at the top of their category rating. Veterans’ preference does not guarantee federal employment. For detailed information or to see if you qualify, please visit FedsHireVets.gov.