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Timelines for Federal Hiring

Federal hiring can often be an opaque, lengthy process that easily frustrates and confuses applicants. When you have been applying to federal job postings regularly and hear nothing for a while, it’s understandable to feel stuck and question whether you’re on the right path. This is a common experience for those starting out in public service, in particular because of how highly competitive federal careers are, so don’t be discouraged if this happens to you. After all, applying is the hard part, so here are few things to keep in mind:

Understanding Federal Hiring Timelines

Though there are exceptions to this, the federal hiring process is often longer than in the private sector. This is primarily due to the fact that numerous laws and regulations govern federal hiring, so agencies must adhere to strict guidelines through every step of a job announcement. Theses guidelines also differ depending on the hiring authority under which an announcement is posted, be it for veterans, applicants with disabilities, or exemption authorities. If you aren’t aware of these regulations or hiring authorities, a good first step is to visit the Office of Personnel Management’s website.

Moreover, while the overall structure of the process is similar to the private sector, federal agencies can take anywhere from one to six months to fill a vacancy, depending on the position type and staffing needs of the agency (sometimes, it can be shorter or longer!). So, when you apply to a federal posting, it’s important to keep all of this in mind so as not to get easily frustrated. Submitting your application is the first of many steps to properly vet, interview, and select a candidate that meets the agency’s needs. If a job piques your interest, and you’ve put the time and effort into a solid application, trust that the process will get you through the door.

Setting Expectations

Once you understand factors that impact federal hiring timelines, it’s important to ground yourself in reality and recognize where the process diverges from private industry. Federal agencies are not going to operate like private companies in many ways. The initial phase of hiring involves screening your application through specific criteria to ensure you meet both regulations governing the posted position, as well as agency criteria for the position itself. So, contacting someone you know at the organization to reaffirm your interest, or applying to every open position at an agency won’t increase your odds of being noticed, let alone hired. The process is the same for every position, and largely out of your hands in the initial stages. Once your application is in, just sit back and wait. If you meet the initial criteria for the position, you will be referred to the hiring agency and given further consideration for the position. Past this “Referred” stage is when this process looks more like other industries, but you’ve still got a ways to go. Set some expectations for yourself by researching the position, the hiring authorities the agency is provided, and the staffing requirements for the agency itself. This will give you the best idea of your qualifications, and more importantly, the timeline for the position.

Make a Plan

It never hurts to sketch out a plan to get you to a career you truly want. Once you better understand timelines for federal hiring, note the most common authorities being used for postings/agencies that interest you. That will give you an idea of the mechanisms these agencies prefer using, and how broad/urgent their staffing needs are. Then, make a schedule for applying to jobs that interest you. This will likely differ depending on your employment situation. In general, pick a few jobs each week and apply. This way, you’ll have multiple irons in the fire, evenly distributed over a regular interval. It will give you time to learn as you go, better understand the process, and get you in the habit of knowing when to survey federal postings to find that one job you’ve always wanted.

Questions for Alan? You can reach him at


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