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What Can I Apply For?

At NIH we understand that applying for a federal position can be confusing. The following is information to help you, the applicant, navigate the federal personnel system as you pursue a career in the Federal service.

General Schedule

The "General Schedule" (GS) is the basic classification and compensation schedule for white collar federal jobs. (For salary information, visit the Office of Personnel Management's pay tables.) The "Federal Wage System" (FWS) covers Federal blue collar occupations.

In the Federal GS classification system, "occupational groups" consist of related occupations grouped together numerically within the same multiple of 100. Under each group are a number of "occupational series." For example, "GS-600" is the Medical, Hospital, Dental, and Public Health Group. Included in this Group is the Nurse Series, GS-610, the Pharmacist Series, GS-660, and the Environmental Health Technician Series, GS-698.

The duties and responsibilities assigned to most positions are covered by one occupational series. Some positions are a mix of duties and responsibilities covered by two or more series. Often the appropriate series for these positions is a general series for the occupational group covering the type of work performed. The Office of Personnel Management's Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families (.pdf) describes each occupational group and series.

An interdisciplinary professional position is a position involving duties and responsibilities closely related to more than one professional occupation. For example, the duties of a position assigned research work in the environmental responses of certain living organisms may be accomplished by an employee trained in either biology or physiology. Thus, the position could be classified to either the General Biological Sciences Series, GS-401, or to the Physiology Series, GS-413.

Examples of an occupational series in a job announcement

  • Public Health Analyst, GS-0685-14

This position is classified under the General Schedule, as indicated by the "GS". The occupational series is 0685, which is in the Medical, Hospital, Dental, and Public Health Group, GS-600. The grade level for the position is a GS-14.

  • Contract Specialist, GS-1102-05/07

This position is also classified under the General Schedule, as indicated by the "GS". The occupational series, 1102, is the Contracting Series, under the Business and Industry Group, GS-1100. This example is being offered at the GS-5 and GS-7 grade levels.

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Federal Wage System

The "Federal Wage System" (FWS) is the classification and compensation system for trades and labor occupations in the Federal government. A "Job Family" is a broad grouping of occupations related in one or more ways such as: similarity of functions performed, transferability of knowledge and skills from one occupation to another, or similarity of materials or equipment. For example, 4600 is the Woodwork Family and 5000 is the Plant and Animal Work Family. An "occupation" is a subgroup of a job family that includes all jobs at the various skill levels in a particular kind of work. For example, 4607 is Carpentry and 5048 is Animal Caretaking. The Office of Personnel Management's Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families (.pdf) describes each job family and occupation.

Example of an FWS occupation in a job announcement

  1. Electrician, WG-2805-10

This position is classified under the Federal Wage System, as indicated by the "WG", for "Wage Grade". The occupation is 2805, an Electrician, which under the Electrical Installation and Maintenance Family, 2800. The position is at a Grade 10 under the Federal Wage System. For more information, visit:

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Position Titles

Generally, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) prescribes official position titles, which must be used on official documents relating to the position, such as position descriptions. However, agencies may, in addition, choose to use unofficial titles that better describe the duties of the position, for purposes such as recruitment.

OPM has prescribed certain parenthetical titles to be used for some occupational series. Parenthetical titles are also used when it would be helpful to further identify the duties and responsibilities involved. In addition, a parenthetical title of Typing, Stenography, Office Automation (OA), or Data Transcribing, must be added to the official position title if the duties require proficiency at or above competitive level standards for one of these skills. For more information, see OPM's Introduction to the Position Classification Standards (.pdf).

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The "General Schedule" (GS) is the general classification and compensation system for white collar federal jobs; the pay scale contains 15 grades and 10 steps within each grade. (For salary information, visit the Office of Personnel Management's pay tables.)

Normally, if you are just starting out, you can qualify for jobs at the GS-2 level with just a high school diploma or as little as 3 months of general work experience. At GS-3 and GS-4 levels, you can qualify with more months of general experience. Starting at GS-5, jobs generally require one year of specialized experience to qualify. When you have a degree but no specialized experience in a career field, you are eligible for appointment at the GS-5 pay scale. (If you maintained a B average, or met other academic credentials in college, you can start out at the GS-7 pay scale.) To qualify for jobs at the GS-7 and higher grades, your background must have included experience closely related to the work to be performed in the job for which you are applying. You can qualify for GS-9 positions on the basis of a master's degree, and for GS-11 positions on the basis of a doctorate.

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Veterans Preference

If you served on active duty in the United States Military and were separated under honorable conditions, you may be eligible for veterans' preference. To receive preference if your service began after October 15, 1976, you must have a Campaign Badge, Expeditionary Medal, served on active duty during the Gulf War from August 2, 1990, through January 2, 1992, or have a service-connected disability. For more information see the Office of Personnel Management's VetGuide:

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Appointment Authorities

There are several mechanisms for appointing an individual to a career or career-conditional appointment. ( Permanent federal career status is automatically gained upon completion of the mandatory three-year career-conditional period.) If the Office for Personnel Management determines that there is a severe shortage of candidates or a critical hiring need, an Agency may use direct-hire authorities to appoint candidates directly to jobs. Competitive examining is the traditional method for entering the Federal service. Some appointments allow an employee to be converted to a career-conditional appointment noncompetitively, including the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), the Presidential Management Fellows Program, and Schedule A appointments.

The Schedule A Appointing Authority allows qualified people with physical disabilities to obtain employment in positions consistent with their level of skills and abilities. After completing two years of satisfactory performance, employees may be converted to appointments in the competitive service.

For more information on other Excepted Service Appointing Authorities, visit:

For more information on Appointing Authorities, visit:

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Reinstatement Eligibility

Reinstatement allows an individual to reenter the Federal competitive service workforce without competing with the public by applying for Federal jobs open only to status candidates. (However, reinstatement eligibility does not guarantee you a job offer.) In order to have reinstatement eligibility an applicant must have held a career or career-conditional appointment at some time in the past. If so, there is no time limit on reinstatement eligibility for those who:

  • Have veterans' preference, or
  • Acquired career tenure by completing 3 years of substantially continuous creditable service.

If you do not have veterans' preference (see the Office of Personnel Management's VetGuide) or did not acquire career tenure, you may be reinstated within 3 years after the date of your separation. Reinstatement eligibility may be extended by certain activities that occur during the 3-year period after separation from your last career or career-conditional appointment. For more information visit:

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This page was last reviewed on June 20, 2008.
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