Federal Government Terms, Defined

Announcement, Job Opportunity Announcement (JOA), Vacancy Announcement
A posting, usually on a jobs website or an internal agency website that notifies potential applicants that a job opening is now open for the receipt of applications. It contains information about the job duties, qualifications and application instructions.

Category Rating
This term is used in vacancy announcements to let you know that your application will be rated and placed with others who have similar levels of education and experience, as opposed to ranking all applicants in order by score. The vacancy announcement will indicate that this rating method is being used. Veterans are given preference in this method, but there is no numerical score given to each applicant.

Closed (in reference to a job posting)
When the employer is no longer recruiting, the posting is closed and applications are no longer accepted.

Competitive Service
The term “Competitive Service” defines a category of employment that covers most civilian jobs in the federal government. Generally, it means that these jobs are initially filled by members of the general public who go through an application process and compete for the position to enter the federal service.

Excepted Service
This term refers to a type of federal government service (another being the “competitive service”). Generally, the excepted service covers civilian jobs in the federal government that are not in the competitive service. Most often, employees of an entire agency (FBI, for example), are in the excepted service or all members of a particular occupational group (attorneys) are designated for the excepted service.

A number, usually two digits, representing the level of work performed in a position in relation to all other levels within the occupation. Pay is tied to grade level. The most common grades are “General Schedule” or GS, grades 1-15, with one representing the lowest level of pay for an occupation, and 15 representing the highest level of technical work in the occupation.

KSA refers to the “knowledge, skills, and abilities,” required to perform the duties of a position. Sometimes called “competencies,” these are the factors on which applicants are rated to determine their qualifications for the position relative to other applicants.

Merit System
Process by which the federal government hires employees based on their ability to perform the job rather than by their political affiliation. 

Usually refers to the status of a job posting. The open period is when the agency is actively recruiting and accepting applications for a position. The term can also be used to indicate who may apply for the job, as in: “The position is open to all U. S. citizens.”

Pathways Program
Suite of three programs aimed at offering meaningful training and career development opportunities for individuals who are at the beginning of their federal service. Learn more at the pathways website.

Pathways Internships
Internship opportunities, often paid, offered at various federal agencies for current full or part-time students pursuing a qualifying degree or certificate. After 640 internship hours, interns are eligible to be hired into the federal government without further competition.

Pathways Recent Graduate Program
Paid, entry-level employment opportunities at various agencies for people no more than two years after graduation out of a qualifying degree or certificate program. Typically a one-year training program with opportunity to be converted to a permanent position afterwards.

Presidential Management Fellows Program
A pathways program administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that serves as a flagship developmental program for students completing advanced degrees. This program has an extensive application, assessment and selection process.

Referral List; Certificate of Eligibles
A list of eligible applicants provided to hiring managers from which they may make a selection. The list may be ordered in a variety of ways, and many have rules concerning the order in which the manager must consider the applicants. This is usually the last stop for an applicant before being selected (or not) for a position.

A 4-digit number representing an occupation found in the Federal government. For example, the 0500 series includes positions related to budget and accounting. Series numbers between 0500 and 0599 will represent some specialization within the budget and accounting occupational family. The same series may be used in different pay plans. Typically, when referring to jobs, you will see the pay plan acronym (GS), followed by the series (501) indicating the occupation, then the grade level (13, for example) For example, the 0500 series includes positions related to budget and accounting. Series designations between 0500 and 0600 will represent some specialization within the budget and accounting occupational family.

Temporary Appointment
A temporary appointment is given when a person is hired to be a federal employee for a limited period of time. These appointments are often for students who work in the summer. Sometimes temporary positions are created to address short-term needs in a federal agency. Temporary employees receive the same pay as others working at the same grade level, but not all of the same benefits. The pay and benefits are spelled out in the documents a temporary employee receives when hired.

Term Appointment
A term appointment is given to a person who is hired for at least one year, but, typically, not more than four years. This appointment is more closely related to a permanent appointment and has more benefits that other time-limited appointments such as “Temporary.” The pay and benefits offered to a person accepting a term appointment will be specified in the vacancy announcement and on any documents the person receives when accepting the position.

Veteran Preference
A designation, based in law, that describes the extra consideration federal agencies give in the hiring process to those who have served in the military, and, in some cases, their family members. Usually, the preference involves adding a specified number of points added to a ranking score. Different kinds of military service entitle an individual to preference (a Purple Heart, for example, gives the recipient preference in hiring and retention). Some military service does not carry eligibility for preference. Each vacancy announcement will specify when veterans preference is to be applied. Applicants may find out if they are entitled to veteran preference be referring to their DD-214, or other, similar document and reading the requirements for preference described in each announcement.