Cyberspace Analyst | Information Assurance | Security Policy, Risk, and Compliance Manager | Mentor | Veteran
Published Nov 27, 2020
One of the most frequent questions I get about federal government employment is whether you can negotiate your step level as stated in your initial conditional job offer. The short answer is yes, you can definitely negotiate and ask for a higher step level.
Initially you will get a conditional job offer after you go thru the whole process of applying for a job in USAJOBS, civilian human resources personnel making the initial selection (referred to the hiring officials), getting interviewed by the hiring officials, and scoring high enough to be selected as the number one candidate for the position.
There are other ways to get to this point. Consider one or more of the many special hiring authorities available to veterans, persons with disabilities, military spouses, and other. Hopefully at some point in the process you will get a conditional job offer and you will have to decide whether to accept it or negotiate for more pay.
This is also the point in the federal government employment process where you can request to be considered for a higher step. Most of the time (not always) your initial conditional offer will be set to step 1.
When you look in USAJOBS and you see the salary range, let use GS-12 step 1 as an example, you will see something like this “Salary $79,109 to $102,847 per year.” This example is for a position in Hawaii and the salary range will already include locality pay. So, the GG-12 step 1 for this location will be set at $79,109 per year in the lower pay range and the GS-12 step 10 will be set at $102,847 per year at the top of the pay range.
Most veterans and transitioning service members have additional experience and education that could help to justify a second look at your qualifications to get a higher step level. If you are not familiar with how the GS/GG pay scale is broken down, you need to go to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) page and get familiar with it.
There is something else you have to be mindful of. The one time (for the most part) where you can negotiate your pay is when you are a new federal government employee. This is important to know because accepting a lower pay grade and/or step level might set your pay back for years to come.
Having said that, sometimes taking what is initially offered might make sense depending on your situation, so when you need to make that decision look at all the possibilities and definitely consider your personal situation before you say yes or no, there is no one size fits all strategy.
So straight out of the USAJOBS page, this is how pay is set for new federal government employees in the GS/GG pay system:
If you have no previous civilian service in the federal government:
“A new General Schedule (GS) employee is entitled to have pay set at step 1 of the employee’s grade. An agency may also opt to use the superior qualifications and special needs pay-setting authority to hire you with at a higher pay step. Under this authority, an agency may set pay up to step 10. An agency may use this authority based on the candidate’s superior qualifications or a special need of the agency for the candidate’s services. An agency must approve each determination to use the superior qualifications and special needs pay-setting authority prior to the candidate entering on duty. Contact the employing agencyfor information about its policy.”
If you have previous civilian service in the federal government:
“A re-employed GS employee is entitled to have pay set at step 1 of the grade. An agency may use the maximum payable rate ruleor the Superior Qualification and Special Needs Pay-Setting Authorityto set pay up to step 10. Contact the employing agency for information about its policy.”
If your agency does not use the General Schedule pay system:
“Contact the employing agency for information on how pay is set for an employee who isn’t under the General Schedule.”
Circling back to the question of whether you can negotiate your salary when you first get an offer to work for the federal government the answer is yes, you can. I would always recommend that you negotiate for a higher step that initially offered, the conditional job offer will not be withdrawn for requesting a second look at your qualifications.
If you think about it, filling an open requisition for a job in the federal government is a long process for all parties involved. It takes a long time for the agency looking to fill the vacancy and it takes a long time for the job seeker to navigate the process, so when the agency decides you are the person they want just asking for more money based on your qualifications will not end the process. Take your shot and ask for a higher step level, the only thing the agency can say is they cannot grant your request!
Next article will review how to use your qualifications, education, and additional training to request a higher step using the “Superior Qualification and Special Needs Pay-Setting Authority” and how to leverage that to your advantage when negotiating for a higher step level.