Should I take this job just to be able to have a job with the Federal government?
August 24, 2011 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm interviewing for a job with the Federal government that is far below the qualifications I have. What to do if I get an offer?

I've been scheduled for an interview as a contact representative for the Social Security Administration. It's a GS-7 position. I'd work in a call center position where I would be explaining benefits to people who call in. The maximum promotion potential for the job is GS-8.

I'm an attorney with 6 years of experience, so this job is lower on the ladder than I would like to start. But, I do want to get a foothold into the Federal government.

My question is whether it makes sense from a career standpoint to take this position if offered or to hold out for something with a higher starting rank. I currently have unemployment coming in, which covers almost all my expenses. That should keep going for another 5-6 months. The job pays about as much as I made while working for my last employer here in Kansas.

Also, the job would necessitate a move from Kansas to NYC, which means I'd have to downgrade my lifestyle for a couple of years.

Any thoughts or advice is most welcome.
posted by reenum to Work & Money (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
GS-8 and you're an attorney and you want to live in NYC?

Hell no.
posted by k8t at 5:10 PM on August 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, I have no intention of being an attorney with the Fed government. I'm trying to get a job that can enable me to use the skills I have developed as an attorney without making me want to shoot myself in the morning before going to work.
posted by reenum at 5:22 PM on August 24, 2011

There are fed attorney jobs that will not make you want to shoot yourself! And anecdotally, I have heard that it is hard to jump up grades when moving between agencies, so you might be stuck at 7 or 8 or 9 for a lonnnnng time. Which might suck in New York. On the other hand, federal hiring and salaries are extremely mysterious, so you could have a different experience.
posted by yarly at 5:27 PM on August 24, 2011

also, what do you hate about being a lawyer? Help us help you.
posted by yarly at 5:28 PM on August 24, 2011

I'm an attorney with 6 years of experience, so this job is lower on the ladder than I would like to start. But, I do want to get a foothold into the Federal government.

I was in your position a year ago. I went to the Australian Federal gov. as a policy advisor. It uses my skills pretty well.

But this?:

I'd work in a call center position where I would be explaining benefits to people who call in.

This is sounds like counter monkey work that is likely repetitive, unchallenging and boring. This will not be the foothold that you need. This won't get to you a position where your (likely considerable) skills will be utilised. The experience you gain will be nigh on useless.

if you can - find something else. It looks like you are way over qualified.

Also, I would posit that costs of living in NYC are way higher than in Kansas. The same wage will not deliver the purchasing power.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:36 PM on August 24, 2011

Response by poster: also, what do you hate about being a lawyer? Help us help you.

It's really the nature of the profession and my limited chances for advancement as an attorney.

I'm tired of dealing with smarmy and smug opposing counsel, imperious judges, and clients who never follow my advice.

My grades in law school weren't very good, so I'm essentially shut out of a lot of jobs. It's also caused me to have to work with small firms. All of my bosses save one have had Napoleon complexes and run their firms in nonsensical ways. I was recently laid off from a small firm after 2 years of listening about how the firm was in trouble, while the partners continued to do very well financially.

I tried to make a go of solo practice a few years back, and hated it. So, I'm likely going to have to work for someone.

The Federal government is a large organization where I may actually be able to have a decent shot at career advancement and job security.
posted by reenum at 5:42 PM on August 24, 2011

Was there anything you liked about being a lawyer? Fact gathering? I know a couple of ex-lawyers who became investigators for the government because they didn't like other aspects of lawyering.

The problem with the social security job is that ... you may hate it, and it may give you no room for advancement. You really need to explore the advancement angle with people who work in the division.

And you will no doubt be often dealing with very upset/stupid/angry people who blame you personally for problems with benefits. Also, government work culture can be truly absurd.

My sense is that if you just want a job, any job, and like the idea of moving to nyc, go for it. But you are going to have to keep looking harder for a good ft.
posted by yarly at 5:49 PM on August 24, 2011

Not exactly an answer to your question, but there are lots of law-type folks in my (DoD) office that make their livings as contracts officers. You get paid to, well, write contracts, in this case for military acquisitions. I'm sure other branches have similar needs. Of course, with the upcoming cutbacks I'm not sure what the job market for these positions is like. I believe the more senior contracts people in the office are at about GS-12 or -13.

On the other hand, I do know people who have taken a job, any job (actually, working as TSA agents) with the US government because lateral transitions are easier once you're in the system. So, it might be beneficial to take the job you can get now with the understanding that you can move to another part of the government when you want to.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:50 PM on August 24, 2011

Is DC an option for you? Many more fed positions there and as an attorney I think you'd make a hella policy analyst and could look at higher GS positions. A 7 is a job and the benefits are good, but with your degree I think maybe you have better options.

I have a post grad degree (librarian, not lawyer) and work in a policy job for the fed. I am very happy with my decision to work for the fed but really considered money/advancement/etc. Your decision probably depends a lot on your circumstances.

Please Memail me if you like.
posted by pointystick at 5:58 PM on August 24, 2011

Response by poster: Was there anything you liked about being a lawyer? Fact gathering? I know a couple of ex-lawyers who became investigators for the government because they didn't like other aspects of lawyering.

Funny you bring this up, because fact gathering is one of the few things about the law I truly enjoy. I've checked into some investigator positions on USA Jobs, but it seems like they want a person in such a position to have substantive experience.

Any current Fed investigators, please feel free to correct me.
posted by reenum at 6:29 PM on August 24, 2011

How much does this job pay? NYC is far more expensive than where you're moving from. I don't understand why you'd want to work in a call center.

If your heart is set on living in NYC, find a well-paying non-government job. If your heart is set on working for the Federal Government, look at jobs located anywhere but NYC.

Sorry if this does not adequately answer your question but there seems to be a disconnect between your expectations for a new job and the reality of living and working in NYC on a government salary.
posted by dfriedman at 6:31 PM on August 24, 2011

Response by poster: dfriedman, my main goal is to get a position with the Federal government. It just so happens that this job is in NYC. While I'd love to live in NYC, one of the drawbacks would be living on a salary ($43k) that would force me to downgrade my already Spartan lifestyle.

It's the first interview I've gotten after 3 months of steadily applying for positions.
posted by reenum at 6:34 PM on August 24, 2011

$43,000 per year in NYC is...well...Spartan begins to approximate it. Good luck finding what you want. Hope it works well for you.
posted by dfriedman at 6:36 PM on August 24, 2011

I don't work in the SSA, but where I am there is a huge gap in potential advancement between a GS-8 and a GS-9. Is there any way you could hold out for a GS-9 position?
posted by Quonab at 6:43 PM on August 24, 2011

I don't know enough about working in the federal to speak to whether you should hold out for a better federal position, although as a layperson, I'd say don't take the job. But I want to throw an additional idea out there (because I heart the public sector): you may not be considering it, but there are many nonprofit organizations that do great work that need people with law skills/legal degrees. If you haven't had much luck in the job search finding something appropriate to your level so far, would you consider the non-profit sector, with the hopes of parlaying that into federal work when the economy is better?

I say this because it would be a way to use your legal skills without necessarily dealing with judges/clients/etc. Many organizations that do advocacy have need for someone who can do legal research. Sorry if this is too far afield of what you're looking for, but i had to mention it!
posted by aka burlap at 7:07 PM on August 24, 2011

This really doesn't seem like a good idea to be honest. NYC is tremendously expensive. DC is not a cheap place to live either. Six years of work experience and you are going to start at the bottom of the ladder at a call center? I know you can find something better. Also, the Obama administration is requesting that federal agencies submit budget requests for 2013 that have 5-10% budget cutbacks. Advancement opportunities and job security in government is not exactly a guarantee right now and civil servants are currently having a 2-year pay freeze!
posted by citron at 7:10 PM on August 24, 2011

To be honest, someone with even a mediocre law school education and six years' experience should be entering at something more like GS-9 or even GS-10 at a bare minimum. I wouldn't look twice at a GS-7 that would be, as others said, a desk monkey job. Not to sound elitist or anything, but GS-7s (or their equivalent) tend to go to folks who have an undergrad degree with meh grades and a year or two of experience.

You mentioned that the postings at wanted "substantive" experience, but what exactly do they say? Because to me, that means 5 years or more in a related field, which it sounds like you qualify for. And they should also have similar jobs all over the country, although they will be focused in big (read: expensive) cities with a cost of living 2-3 times that of the rest of the country. To live in DC or NYC on $43k won't be fun, and if that's a step down from your current lifestyle, I'd consider it essentially impossible if you have any significant debt.

Have you looked into contract firms that work with the government? Many of them will pay some degree of better than the government, and while I've never done it myself, I've seen people move back and forth between contractor and government jobs pretty easily.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:30 PM on August 24, 2011

Do not take a job that you are seriously overqualified for (except from sheer financial desperation). Not only are you likely to hate it, but you will probably not perform the way your bosses want you to, because you will be bored and craving more responsibility. I learned that the hard way.

I hope you don't mind me saying this, but it sounds like you know what you don't want to do, but aren't very clear on what you do want to do. "Working for the federal government" isn't really much of an answer -- the government does lots of things!

Since you're willing to start low on the ladder, maybe you could think about an entry-level position in a completely different field from the one you've worked in - something that would suit other interests or skills of yours? For example, if you enjoy being outdoors, you could apply for a low-level position with the Fish & Wildlife Service (if it still exists). I just think that you'll need a job to provide some kind of challenge, or you'll go mad.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 12:15 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most government attorney positions are in the GS-11 - 15 range, so you'd be taking quite a pay cut to work a menial job, and limited job security with current federal budget issues.

Also, most gov't attorney positions (OGC offices) never deal with court rooms, they mainly deal with interpreting laws for their agency and giving their opinions for various business... and ensuring employees follow proper procedure.

I work in the OIG and our OGC deals mainly with answering our questions, occasionally working on IG Subpoena's and ensuring we do our job legally correct. Further, these positions are often direct hires, so you don't have to go through standard federal employment process...

I'm actually surprised you got an interview, if i had seen your resume and application for a GS-8 position, i wouldn't want to hire you, as you are over qualified for the position...
posted by fozzie33 at 4:28 AM on August 25, 2011

I don't mean to pile on, but as others have stated above, for federal government jobs you definitely want to get in as high as you can.

Why? Because once you're in, that's what you are. Full stop. You can advance, sure, but only step by step and grade by grade, and there are minimum time-in-grade requirements before you can move on.

Even if you switched from one government job to a completely different, unrelated government job, you will face time-in-grade requirements. A GS-13 position will require x amount of time as a GS-12. If you take this job, you will be a GS-7. If you later apply for a GS-13 position, they will not care that you are an overqualified-GS-7-who-really-should-have-been-a-13, especially since there will be plenty of current GS-12s applying for the same job. In fact, the automated systems that do the initial sort will bounce you before a human ever sees your application.

There is no advantage to getting in super-low "just to get in."
posted by somanyamys at 5:15 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

For investigator work, off-hand, I just found this OSHA whistleblower investigation job in Florida which I am SURE you would be qualified for. It's still a 7/9, but I think it would suit you much better:

Other investigator jobs might require more of a law enforcement background.

Memail me if you want more info on what these guys do. (I have experience from my previous private sector job working with them.)
posted by yarly at 6:28 AM on August 25, 2011

Oh, and here is another one: FOREST SERVICE INVESTIGATOR, in California! It sounds like a dream job, actually!
posted by yarly at 6:32 AM on August 25, 2011

The maximum promotion potential is G-8. There's basically no way in hell you can work your way up beyond that.
posted by valkyryn at 9:57 AM on August 25, 2011

look at 1811 series... you should be qualified as long as you can do the PT requirements.... and don't mind 4-6 months in georgia for training.
posted by fozzie33 at 11:57 AM on August 25, 2011

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