If you’re a Veteran looking for your first civilian career at VA, you might have seen the term General Schedule (GS) in our job ads. What is it, and what does it mean for you?

At first glance, the GS classification system can be difficult to understand for those looking to translate their military skills to civilian government employment. Here, we’ll break down some of those classifications and help you figure out just what you’re looking at – and looking for.

The GS system

First, the basics. The GS classification system covers the majority of civilian federal employees, of which there are about 1.5 million worldwide, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

They work in all manner of professional, technical, administrative and clerical positions.

The system consists of 15 grades – from GS-1, the lowest level, to GS-15, the highest level.

A GS level is how the federal government ranks the qualifications and compensation for a position. In other words, a GS level defines who should be applying for a job, as well as what the hiring agency is willing to pay.

Each level also has 10 internal steps, which can be increased through positive performance and experience on the job. But if you’re just starting out, there are 4 easy ways to compare your qualifications to the appropriate GS level: your education, your experience, your military rank, and by the advertised position.

Translating your education

If you’re going by education, a GS-1 is the kind of job that requires no formal education. As you move up, GS-2 and GS-3 positions require a high school diploma or equivalent.

For GS-4 through GS-7 positions, you’re going to want college credit of some kind, whether it’s an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.

Once you start looking into GS-9 and above, a master’s degree may be required, though positions beyond the GS-11 level are often (though not always) reserved for advanced degrees or even doctorates, depending on the position.

Experience matters

Just like a formal education, experience matters. Like any employer, we need individuals who are well qualified for the jobs they hold, and we’ll evaluate how closely your background matches with the job qualifications and requirements.

This evaluation can include your work experience, accomplishments and training. In some cases, you can substitute experience related to the job for education or to qualify for a higher grade.

Using your military rank

There is also a way to apply rough outline of rank structure to GS level. GS-1 through GS-4 is equivalent the rank E-1 through E-4. A GS-5 position would equate to E-5 or E-6, depending on the position. GS-6 then compares to E-7, GS-7 to E-8, and GS-8 to E-9.

Above GS-8 begins incorporating the knowledge and experience of officer classes. An O-1 roughly translates to GS-9, and O-2 to GS-10 or GS-11. The rank of O-3 compares to a GS-12 level, while O-4, O-5, and O-6 translate to GS-13, GS-14, and GS-15, respectively.

Warrant officers (WO-1 through WO-5) can fall anywhere between GS-9 and GS-12, depending on your career and the parameters of the job.

Categorization by position

You can also look at how GS classifications translate into the kind of work you’ll be doing within your agency. While there is room for interpretation based on the agency and its needs, the following is a good rule of thumb when you’re first digging into government jobs.

  • GS-3 or GS-4: Typically internships or student jobs
  • GS-5 to GS-7: Most entry-level positions
  • GS-8 to GS-12: Mid-level positions
  • GS-13 to GS-15: Top-level supervisory positions

Positions beyond GS-15 are part of the Senior Executive Service, which is for executive management and agency oversight within the government.

Work at VA

Now that you’ve got a better grip on what you’re looking at when you search through jobs listings, it’s time to translate that into a new opportunity!

NOTE: Positions listed in this post were open at the time of publication. All current available positions are listed at USAJobs.gov.

By VA Careers

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Published on Sep. 7, 2021

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