Civil Service Employment: Working for the Government

Government Jobs in the U.S.

Civil service workers
Hill Street Studios / Blend Images / Getty Images

When someone says they are a civil service employee or a civil servant, it means that person works for a government agency, whether it be federal, state, or local. Each government entity is responsible for its own employment system, takes care of its own personnel needs, and engages in different hiring practices.

Pros and Cons of Public Employment

Believed by many to be among the most secure work environments, jobs in government are highly sought after. Excellent retirement and health benefits are what attract many people to these jobs. Not all governments, though, are generous with the benefits they offer. Also, government agencies have faced some of the same problems, including downsizing, the private sector has faced in recent years.

Salaries in the public sector often are competitive with those in the private sector. If you add benefits to these salaries, they often come out ahead. Wages increase with time spent in a particular government agency. In many systems, these increases in salary are called steps.

Types of Jobs

Jobs are as varied in government as they are in the private sector. Every occupation imaginable can be performed in a civil service environment, and many jobs are predominantly public by nature. For example, the majority of teachers, librarians, and public safety professionals work in the public sector. As well, some jobs not traditionally thought of as government jobs are abundant in the public sector. For example, government agencies need accountants and public relations professionals as much as employers in the private sector need them.

Searching for a Civil Service Job

The federal government has made it relatively simple to search for a job within its system. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management developed USAJOBS, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Job seekers can view vacancies, submit applications, and get facts about federal employment.

Unfortunately, there is no official, centralized location like this to find state and local jobs. The best way to search for those jobs is by job title or by locations. For example, teachers, firefighters, police officers, among many others, will have the best luck finding available positions by searching job sites dedicated to the career path in question. Another method is to search by location. States and local municipalities, including school districts, can be expected to have their own job listings, so a search can be limited to a particular area by searching only the surrounding government agencies.

Testing and Applying

Civil Service Exams once were more common for jobs in the federal government, but they were phased out decades ago because of concerns about discrimination. Some jobs still include a test as part of the application process. Such jobs include law enforcement, air traffic control, and postal service jobs, according to the Federal Government Jobs' website.

For the most part, the hiring process for government jobs is much like it is in any other profession. Jobs are posted internally and/or externally, and the application process usually includes a cover letter, a resume, and an application, usually filled out online. Finalists for interviews are selected from that standard practice.