How to Become a Civil Servant in the US

US Civil Servant wikimedia

A civil servant is any person who is appointed or hired by the federal, state or local government. The servant, whether he or she is an executive administrator of a federal agency, director of a state authority or a clerk in county government, has a duty to serve the public. Read on to learn how you can become a civil servant.


1. What Do Civil Servants Do?

The civil service has several job positions in it. Civil servants can work in the executive, legislative or judicial arm of the government. As such, specific duties vary widely by position. For instance, the executive administrator of federal agency oversees all facets of running the agency, from staffing to budget control. On the other hand, an entry-level clerk in a local authority handles office-support duties such as answering phone calls and filing documents.

In general, however, civil servants are expected to:

  • Serve the public to the best of their capabilities
  • Uphold the US constitution
  • Protect US interests
  • Executing decisions made by the government
  • Support the government.

Important facts about the civil service:

  • The federal government is the single-largest employer in the US
  • Members of the uniformed service (military) are not civil servants
  • State and local civil service systems are largely similar to the federal civil service
  • Popular civil service positions include the attorney general, federal agency heads, procurement officers and general accountants and administrators
  • Federal civil servants are managed by the US. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

2. Work Environment

Generally, civil servants work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday (40 hours a week). Many of them work in an office environment.

Top-ranking civil servants, such as agency heads, travel regularly to attend meetings within and outside of the US.

3. Salary

According to OPM, the lowest earning federal civil servant earns $18,161 annually, while the highest earning employee gets $132,122.
Civil servants are also entitled to paid leave and other employment benefits.

4. Entry Requirements

The education and experience requirements for civil service positions vary from job to job.

In general, entry-level positions (clerical and administrative) require at least a high school diploma. Applicants must also complete a civil service exam to prove that they’re able to competently perform the jobs they’re seeking.

Professional-level jobs typically require a combination of post-secondary education and experience. For example, if you want to become the procurement officer of a government agency, then you will need at least a bachelor’s degree in procurement, finance or business and procurement experience.

Top-level positions may require a master’s degree and vast occupational and public service experience.

Depending on the position, you may also need to be an American citizen with a security clearance.

5. Career Advancement in the Civil Service

Like in any other employment system, advancing your career in the civil service requires a combination of advanced education, experience and professional competence.

If you start as a purchasing clerk, for instance, you can advance to the position of procurement officer by gaining substantial experience and earning a bachelor’s degree in procurement.

However, this may not be the cause for top-level positions. To be hired as an agency head, you need more than education and experience. A solid professional reputation and good connections in the government of the day are also very crucial.

6. Important Qualities

To succeed in the civil service, you need:

  • Excellent communications skills
  • Strong skills in public relations
  • Decision-making skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Coordination skills
  • An awareness of current affairs
  • A reasonable understanding of government policies
  • The desire to serve the public
  • A passion for your country

7. Job Opportunities

The employers of civil servants include:

  • The federal government
  • State governments
  • Local governments

The government remains an attractive employer. Thousands of jobs are created within the civil service at various levels of government, so is certainly an attainable goal.

If you’re interested in serving the public, and you’re passionate about your country, then a career as a civil servant will suit you.