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Veterans & Government Jobs – Decoding the General Schedule (GS)

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By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, Edge

As a veteran, going back to work for Uncle Sam can be tempting. After all, you know what to expect: steady pay and predictable hours without all of the shenanigans that go along with active-duty military service.

The government needs employees (there are about 1.5 million worldwide) of every stripe to continue to function. From engineers, ecologists, and lawyers to healthcare workers, office clerks, and federal law enforcement agents, all federal government positions can be found on USAJobs.gov.

Yet, the government does a good job of making its coding system used to classify federal jobs as complicated as possible. At USAJobs.gov, the qualifications needed for each job are described in the vacancy announcements that advertise job openings. Each job also has a code that equates to its minimum requirements. Deciphering these codes will speed up your search.

What Is the General Schedule and How Do You Translate It?

The General Schedule (GS) assigns every job a grade level from 1 to 15, according to the minimum level of education and experience its workers need. Jobs that require no experience or education are graded a GS-1, for example. Jobs that require a bachelor’s degree and no experience are graded a GS-5 or GS-7, depending on the applicant’s academic credentials.

On top of the GS grade level, every level has “steps.”

Each grade has 10 step rates (steps 1-10) that are each worth approximately 3% of the employee’s salary. Within-grade step increases are based on an acceptable level of performance and longevity (waiting periods of 1 year at steps 1-3, 2 years at steps 4-6, and 3 years at steps 7-9).

It typically takes 18 years to advance from step 1 to step 10 within a single GS grade if an employee remains in that single grade. However, employees with outstanding performance ratings may be considered for quality step increases (maximum of one per year).

Each GS level also has certain education requirements.

GS-1 No high school diploma
GS-2 (GS-3 for clerk-steno positions) High school diploma or equivalent
GS-3 High school graduation or 1 year of full-time study after high school
GS-4 Associate degree or 2 years of full-time study after high school
GS-5 or GS-7, depending on agency policy and applicant’s academic credentials Bachelor’s degree or 4 years of full-time study after high school
GS-7 Bachelor’s degree plus 1 year of full-time graduate study
GS-9 (GS-11 for some research positions) Master’s degree or 2 years of full-time graduate study
GS-9 Law degree (J.D. or LL.B.)
GS-11 (GS-12 for some research positions) Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate or advanced law degree (LL.M.)

Below is the GS Grade pay chart for 2022.

  Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 Step 6 Step 7 Step 8 Step 9 Step 10
GS-1 $19,738 $20,400 $21,056 $21,709 $22,365 $22,749 $23,398 $24,052 $24,078 $24,690
GS-2 $22,194 $22,722 $23,457 $24,078 $24,349 $25,065 $25,781 $26,497 $27,213 $27,929
GS-3 $24,216 $25,023 $25,830 $26,637 $27,444 $28,251 $29,058 $29,865 $30,672 $31,479
GS-4 $27,184 $28,090 $28,996 $29,902 $30,808 $31,714 $32,620 $33,526 $34,432 $35,338
GS-5 $30,414 $31,428 $32,442 $33,456 $34,470 $35,484 $36,498 $37,512 $38,526 $39,540
GS-6 $33,903 $35,033 $36,163 $37,293 $38,423 $39,553 $40,683 $41,813 $42,943 $44,073
GS-7 $37,674 $38,930 $40,186 $41,442 $42,698 $43,954 $45,210 $46,466 $47,722 $48,978
GS-8 $41,723 $43,114 $44,505 $45,896 $47,287 $48,678 $50,069 $51,460 $52,851 $54,242
GS-9 $46,083 $47,619 $49,155 $50,691 $52,227 $53,763 $55,299 $56,835 $58,371 $59,907
GS-10 $50,748 $52,440 $54,132 $55,824 $57,516 $59,208 $60,900 $62,592 $64,284 $65,976
GS-11 $55,756 $57,615 $59,474 $61,333 $63,192 $65,051 $66,910 $68,769 $70,628 $72,487
GS-12 $66,829 $69,057 $71,285 $73,513 $75,741 $77,969 $80,197 $82,425 $84,653 $86,881
GS-13 $79,468 $82,117 $84,766 $87,415 $90,064 $92,713 $95,362 $98,011 $100,660 $103,309
GS-14 $93,907 $97,037 $100,167 $103,297 $106,427 $109,557 $112,687 $115,817 $118,947 $122,077
GS-15 $110,460 $114,142 $117,824 $121,506 $125,188 $128,870 $132,552 $136,234 $139,916 $143,598

This table shows the base pay amounts for all General Schedule employees based on the 2022 GS Pay Scale, as published by the Office of Personnel Management.

General Schedule base pay tables are revised yearly, effective each January, to reflect inflation and increasing costs of living.

Furthermore, your GS pay may be affected by where in the country (or the world) you live. This handy pay calculator helps you see how much a particular GS grade gets at a particular location.

Check out the GS location calculator

So, a GS-6 (roughly equivalent to the rank of a Staff Sergeant or Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army), at step 1, located in the State of Michigan (a 13.9% locality adjustment), in 2022, means you’ll be taking home $40,262.14/year (gross) which is equivalent to about $20/ hour.

To cap it all off, if you’re a veteran who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and were separated under honorable conditions, you may be eligible for veterans’ preference, as well as other veteran-specific hiring options. With veterans’ preference, you may receive preference over non-veteran applicants in the hiring process. Veterans’ preference can be used when applying to permanent and temporary positions in both the competitive and excepted service (of the executive branch).

There are three types of veterans’ preference:

Disabled (10-point preference)

Non-disabled (5-point preference)

Sole Survivorship (0-point preference)

Even though the sole survivorship preference says zero points, you are entitled to be listed ahead of non-preference eligible candidates with the same score on an examination, or in the same quality category.

That’s it! Now you’re the bona fide expert in the general schedule. Start your search over at USAJobs.gov and get hired!

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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