Tips for Individuals with Disabilities Seeking Federal Employment

Applying and interviewing for a job can be difficult and stressful. The frustration can be more pronounced for a job seeker with a disability because biases may make it harder to gain employment, particularly over an individual who is not disabled. Fortunately, the federal government has made it a priority to maintain a diverse workforce, including embracing the employment of individuals who are disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA).

Background of Federal Hiring Process

Most federal jobs are filled using the competitive service process. This means a job is open to any applicant and hiring decisions are based on the results of a service exam. These jobs must be posted and open to all interested individuals. Other federal jobs are filled based on “excepted service”, where other factors are more important than the results of the service exam. These positions tend to be more senior-level positions.

To increase the number of federal employees who have a disability, the government created a targeted employment process. Schedule A employment modifies the hiring process so individuals can easily apply. The Schedule A process also allows officials to hire qualified applicants without posting the job opening. Hiring officials are also permitted to fill a position solely from a list of qualified applicants with a disability.

Learn more about Schedule A by reading our blog post “Using Schedule A to Expedite Employment.”

Even with these advantages, applying for federal employment can be a daunting process. Below are a few tips that can make the process less stressful and more successful for applicants.

Create a Resume for Federal Employment Jobs

Obviously, a resume is a requirement for most job searches, regardless of whether the applicant is seeking employment in the public or private sector. However, the resume for a federal job should look different from a resume used in the private sector.

Generally, resumes for federal jobs should be detailed and include a thorough explanation of employment history, duties, skills, accomplishments and competencies. The resume should align past job accomplishments and responsibilities with the requirements of the potential job. It is important to document the depth and breadth of your experience and abilities. And, keep in mind the information conveyed on the resume can be a determining factor in establishing a starting salary.

Applicants should make sure their resume includes keywords regarding experience, knowledge, education and abilities; many hiring managers look for specific keywords when compiling a list of potential hires. Reviewing the job posting (if available) or job description can be useful in choosing keywords. Applicants may want to mirror certain language to match the job posting.

The Interview Process

If selected for an interview, an applicant may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation if the individual’s disability would make attending or completing the interview difficult or impractical. Each job vacancy listing should state contact information for the hiring manager who can assist with accommodations. Applicants will want to research the hiring agency and personnel, as well as the specific job posting, to prepare for the interview. This preparation should include compiling a list of relevant and intelligent questions regarding the job, potential for growth, and the agency filling the position.

Utilize the Government’s Pathways Programs

To increase the quantity and quality of the federal government’s recruitment base, the Pathways Program was created to provide opportunities for high school and college students to explore working for the federal government. The Pathways Program is for any individual looking to enter federal employment, including veterans and individuals with a disability. There are three types of positions under the Pathways Program:

  • Internship Programs
  • Recent Graduates Program
  • Presidential Management Fellows Program

These programs, referred to as Schedule D excepted service programs, are designed to promote a diverse and capable workforce by creating an efficient hiring process and can be found on the USAJOBS website and at certain job fairs. These programs are an excepted service, which means the applicant does not need to go through the competitive service process. Hiring managers can consider a person’s background, including disabilities, so the federal government’s workforce is a diverse representation of the nation’s population.

The Internship Program is open to high school students, vocational and technical school students, and college students who want to learn about federal employment and earn money while still in school. After the successful completion of 640 hours, the internship can be converted to a permanent federal civil service position.

The Recent Graduates Program provides a one-year career development program for college or other educational program graduates. To be eligible the applicant must apply within two years of graduation unless they were serving in the military. In this case the applicant has six years from the date of graduation to apply for the Recent Graduates Program. Ideally, a participant in the Recent Graduates Program will become a permanent federal employee within two years of employment.

Similarly, the Presidential Management Fellows Program is a two-year, paid federal assignment for individuals who have received an advanced graduate or professional degree within the previous two years. The program provides senior level training and 80 hours of mentoring. After two years of service, the candidate may be offered a permanent position or to a one to four-year term position.

Obtain a Paid Internship

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) internship program focuses on individuals with disabilities and is available to undergraduate and graduate school students, law students and other recent graduates. The program provides 10-week summer internships in Washington, D.C.  Participants receive a stipend, transportation and accessible housing. Positions are available in various Congressional offices and federal agencies, as well as with various for-profit and not-for-profit institutions.

Consider Volunteer Opportunities

If an applicant does not meet the requirements for any of the above-mentioned programs, it may be possible to obtain federal employment experience and gain an inside edge on hiring by participating in one of the federal government’s volunteer programs. Volunteer Programs include:

The Student Volunteer Service provides unpaid training and work experience programs for high school and college students. While the positions are unpaid, interns will receive credit towards high school or college graduation requirements.

Hiring Programs for Veterans

For veterans who are interested in obtaining federal employment, the Feds Hire Vets program provides a preference and special hiring authority for veterans. The Feds Hire Vets program creates another form of excepted service, the Veterans Recruitment Authority, that allows hiring managers at federal agencies to appoint veterans without needing to go through the competitive service process. Veterans with a disability who are honorably discharged are automatically eligible.


There are many benefits to federal employment, including competitive wages and benefits, advancement opportunities, and job security. The process can be intimidating, especially for individuals with disabilities who may feel that the competitive process puts them at a significant disadvantage. However, counselors who are familiar with the specific government programs that attempt to level the playing field for individuals with a disability can make the process more appealing and successful for their clients.


Photo courtesy of Healthy Community Living