How to Take the Civil Service Exam
Growth Trends for Related Jobs
Some federal jobs require you an exam to determine if you’re qualified for certain positions. However, most federal jobs don’t require a written test or exam.
Is Testing Required?
For many years, before a federal agency could hire you, you were required to take a civil service exam. However, this exam hasn’t been used since the 1980s.
A new version of the exam exists called USA Hire, and up to 10 percent of those who apply for a federal jobs must take this test. However, you can’t just show up and take the exam. Instead, applicants first submit their application to USA Staffing, and they are then invited to take the USA Hire Assessment.
Three dozen agencies, including the departments of Defense, Justice and Health and Human Services, use these tests to screen applicants and promote existing employees, according to the Washington Post. The online exams take advantage of technology to test reasoning and problem-solving skills. Soft skills like teamwork and judgment also are measured in the tests.
Other Federal Jobs
Most federal jobs, however, still don’t require testing. If you apply for a federal job, the agency will let you know if a test is necessary and whom to contact to learn more about the test. This information is free.
Scammers may try to get you to take a course or test with the false guarantee that you will get you a federal job after doing so. This isn’t true. You cannot be guaranteed a federal job by completing a course, test, workshop, training or certificate.
No application or test fees are required to take any exam for a federal job. Hidden federal jobs don’t exist. Postal Service jobs, may, however, require an exam, but there’s no guarantee that you will get a job if you complete training.
Postal Service Jobs
If you submit an application for a U.S. Postal Service job, you may be required to complete an assessment. To take this test, however, you must be invited, usually by an email notification. Each job has a pre-determined number of applicants who will be tested, and once that number is reached, no more invitations are granted.
If you’re not invited, however, you may be invited later, or you may be invited if you apply to a different job posting. If you’re invited, you should follow all the instructions. Exceptions may be made for veterans and people with special needs.
Your score is good for up to six years if you’re not hired. If you need to retake the test because of a low score, you’ll have to wait until after the retest period.
Everything Is Free
Information and the application process for federal jobs don’t cost anything. The Federal Trade Commission’s Government Job Scams webpage cautions people about schemes that promise federal jobs if you pay for training or certification.
Some of these scams even use names that sound like federal agencies. Always check with the federal agency you want to work for as to their actual requirements. For example, if you want to work for the U.S. Postal Service, go to the employment section of the website to find out if they’re hiring.
If an agency or the Postal Service requires a competitive exam, the hiring agency will offer free sample questions to help familiarize you with the process.
The FTC and the Office of Personnel Management want job seekers to be aware of common scams in these forms:
- Classified ads, online ads or telephone sales pitches
- Ads that offer information about “hidden” federal jobs
- Ads that refer you to a toll-free number
- Toll-free numbers that direct you to pay-per-call (900) numbers
Federal job information is available through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s website.
- Washington Post: For Federal Worker Hopefuls, the Civil Service Exam is Making a Comeback
- Office of Personnel Management: What is USA Hire?
- USA.gov: Find a Federal Government Job
- United States Postal Service: USPS Online Job Application System – Assessment & Examination
- Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information: Government Job Scams
- Do some research about the kinds of jobs available before scheduling a Civil Service Exam. There are different tests for different areas. Identify the kind of work you want to do before you sign up.
- The pursuit of government jobs can be pretty competitive. If you don't do well the first time you take the exam, don't be discouraged. Try again when you are better prepared.
Karen Gardner is a writer and editor who spent many years in community journalism. Her worklife began as a Library Page, shelving books in a local library, and selling children's clothing in a department store. Those early customer service experiences gave her the foundation she needed to navigate through tricky office situations in later jobs.