Determining the Right Career Path for You


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The first step to determine which career path is best for you is to understand the differences between the federal services:

  • Competitive Service
  • Excepted Service
  • Senior Executive

Below includes information on each service to help you determine which service is right for you.

Competitive Service

The competitive service includes all civilian positions in the Federal Government that are not specifically excepted from the civil service laws by or pursuant to statute, by the President, or by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) under Rule VI (5 Code of Federal Regulations Part 6), and that are not in the Senior Executive Service.

Search for jobs in the competitive service.

Senior Executive Service The Senior Executive Service (SES) is comprised of the men and women charged with leading the continuing transformation of government. These leaders possess well-honed executive skills and share a broad perspective of government and a public service commitment which is grounded in the Constitution. The keystone of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the SES was designed to be a corps of executives selected for their leadership qualifications. Members of the SES serve in the key positions just below the top Presidential appointees. SES members are the major link between these appointees and the rest of the Federal workforce.

To look for positions in the SES, visit or conduct an advanced search by electing to show only senior executive positions.

Excepted Service

Excepted service positions are any federal or civil service positions, which are not in the competitive service or the Senior Executive Service. Excepted service agencies set their own qualification requirements and are not subject to the appointment, pay, and classification rules in title 5, United States Code. However, they are subject to veterans' preference. Some Federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), only have excepted service positions. In other instances, certain organizations or even specific positions within an agency may be excepted service. Positions may be in the excepted service by law, by executive order, or by action of OPM.

If you are a first-timer seeking federal employment, you may find it easier to enter a federal career through the excepted service, as excepted service positions tend to be open and advertised publically to more applicants. Conversely, many excepted positions within certain agencies of offices may have lengthy hiring processes (e.g., the background checks for positions in the CIA can take up to or as long as a year). Moreover, some excepted service agencies offer better pay scales and benefits packages than the competitive service; thus, it is definitely worth comparing these factors to comparable jobs in the competitive service. Lastly, even though there can be some challenges in transferring from the excepted service, you may still find it easier to move into a competitive service job later on.

Excepted Service Agencies are not required to post their job opportunity announcements on A list of some Excepted Service Agencies and a link to their job posting site is provided. This list is not all-inclusive. Excepted Service Agencies having an established merit system may have an Interchange Agreement with the Office of Personnel Management, which allows employees of such agencies to move to the competitive service without further competition. View a current list of such agreements here.

Mission Agency Home Page Employment Information Page
Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (USDA)
U.S. Botanic Garden
Foreign Agriculture Service (USDA)
U.S. Botanic Garden
International Trade Administration (DOC)
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (DOC)
Supreme Court of the United States
Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation
U.S. Bankruptcy Courts
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
U.S. Court of International Trade
U.S. Courts of Appeals
U.S. District Courts
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
U.S. Court of Federal Claims
U.S. Tax Court
Administrative Office of the United States Courts
Federal Judicial Center
U.S. Sentencing Commission
White House Commission on Presidential Scholars [Presidential Scholars Program]
National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE)
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (DOE)
Tennessee Valley Authority
Northwest Power Planning Council
Delaware River Basin Commission
National Park Foundation
Susquehanna River Basin Commission
Valles Caldera Trust & Preserve
Federal Mgt / Oversight
Office of Government Ethics
General Services Administration
Postal Regulatory Commission
Social Security Advisory Board
Federal Reserve System
Health Research Service Administration (VA)
Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer
U.S. Agency for International Development
U.S. Foreign Service (U.S. Department of State)
U.S. Mission to the United Nations ( U.S. Department of State)
Panama Canal Commission
International Broadcasting Bureau
Peace Corps
Election Assistance Commission
Library of Congress
U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Senate
Federal Air Marshall Service (DHS)
Federal Emergency Management Agency (DHS)
Transportation Security Administration (DHS)
U.S. Secret Service (DHS)
Central Intelligence Agency
Defense Intelligence Agency (DOD)
National Security Agency (DOD)
United States Capitol Police
Federal Bureau of Investigation (DOJ)
Federal Aviation Administration (DOT)
AMTRAK (National Railroad Passenger Corporation)
U.S. Postal Service

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This page was last modified on 15 December 2015, at 15:04.

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