Description of the Field
To make the best policy decisions, the federal government needs analysts to study and predict the effects of specific taxes, laws, and expenditure programs. Economic experts can also advise the government in areas like education, transportation, trade, foreign relations, and national security.
From analyzing unemployment data for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to forecasting the economic impacts of a pesticide regulation for the Environmental Protection Agency, economics majors have a wide variety of options when seeking a government job. The U.S. Department of Commerce is a major employer for those with training in economics. It oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Economics and Statistics Administration and Economic Development Administration. The departments of labor and agriculture are other major employers, along with agencies such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Federal Trade Commission. The bulk of U.S. government jobs are located in the United States, but opportunities also exist overseas. (Government agencies in other countries are often referred to as Ministries with similar titles.)
Among its wide range of services to society, the federal government contributes statistics which help guide public policy.
On the Job
Economics jobs can be found in among many fields and disciplines within the government. Below are a few of the many jobs that are essential to government operations and that may employ economic experts.
Actuaries use mathematics, statistics, and financial theory to analyze the costs of risk and uncertainty and help the government develop policies to respond.
Budget Analysts help government agencies organize and analyze finances. They prepare budget reports and monitor institutional spending, among other duties.
Economists study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services. They serve the government in many departments as economic analysts and policy advisers. Approximately one-third of all economists are employed by the government.
Financial Institution Examiners ensure compliance with laws governing financial institutions and transactions. They review balance sheets, evaluate the risk level of loans, and assess bank management.
Loan Officers / Specialists evaluate, authorize, or recommend approval of loan applications for the government.
Policy Analysts gather data, make recommendations, or provide insight to the government on certain pieces of legislation. (These analysts may work for think tanks or for government.)
Most entry-level analyst jobs require a bachelor’s degree. New employees will typically apply for jobs at the General Service (GS) level between GS 5 and GS 7, listed on the federal government’s job opening statement, or “vacancy notice.” After gaining experience and connections, new employees may find additional opportunities in other departments or areas of the government.
Alternatively, you may also consider a government job after working in the private sector. Many consulting firms and employment agencies regularly place employees on contract jobs in federal agencies. These jobs, which are available in many fields, often segue into permanent federal jobs or yield networking contacts that provide inside tracks to federal jobs.
Special programs for entry-level applicants are also available from the federal government. These include:
- Internship Program – provides students in high schools, colleges, trade schools and other qualifying educational institutions with paid federal agency internships while completing their education. See usajobs.gov/studentsandgrads/
- Recent Graduates Program – this one-year program provides experience that is intended to promote possible careers to graduates from qualifying educational institutions in the past two years (or for veterans, the past six years). See usajobs.gov/studentsandgrads/
- Presidential Management Fellows Program – a leadership development program for entry-level candidates with advanced degrees. This competitive program is designed to develop potential leaders. See http://www.pmf.gov/
Demand for government jobs in economics is expected to remain relatively stable, with a growing demand for jobs in the IT and health services sector. As the economy is always a high priority, governments always need analysts, advisors, and actuaries to report data and predict policy effects.
Qualifications Necessary to Enter the Field
Applicants can search for jobs on the government’s national jobs site, USAjobs.gov, or go directly to the website of the desired government agency. Government employers also recruit heavily through college job fairs and networking events.
Most government jobs require a lengthy application and resume, and many agencies require and provide a resume template. Resumes are screened for specific key words and phrases before they are forwarded to a hiring manager, so it is important to mirror resume content with the vacancy notice. For example, if the word “organize” is posted several times in the notice, applications should contain that word in the first few lines of the "Employment History" section.
Sample resumes for government jobs typically contain the following headings:
- Objective – position title and series number
- Profile – a brief personal statement
- Education – include high school, college degree, and GPA
- Employment History – list of previous relevant employers; includes duties and accomplishments
- Leadership Experience
Many government jobs will require you to complete a Knowledge, Skills and Abilities Assessment (KSA). They provide a series of questions that require you to write a couple of paragraphs illustrating how you meet certain job requirements. Applications may also require you to complete tests and questionnaires relevant to the job, and you may also be required to provide additional documentation like college transcripts, writing samples, or job-related certificates.
At the interview, the best candidates will reflect their knowledge of the government agency and be able to highlight knowledge and past experiences that make them competitive candidates for the position. Interview candidates should remember to bring a photo ID to the interview.
Government workers in the United States generally must be U.S. citizens, with few exceptions. Government applicants will often be required to complete a background check. Most national governments hold the same requirements of their government staffs.
Besides outstanding academic records, governments want employees who are dependable, consistent, good problem solvers and communicators, and those who have a keen understanding of and interest in their work.
Top candidates will also have previous experience in their field (whether inside or outside of government) as well as extracurricular involvement. Different agencies may require technical skills and specialized experience, such as knowledge of insurance policies for careers in healthcare or knowledge of agriculture practices for jobs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Generally, economists working for the federal government hold advanced degrees or are required to pursue an advanced degree to move up in the system. However, many jobs that economics majors may pursue do not require advanced degrees at the entry level.
For careers in state and local government, see the handout by the same name.
Sample Group of Employers
For a full list of Federal Government Departments and Agencies, visit
Department of Labor
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Department of Commerce
Bureau of Economic Analysis
Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Research Service
Department of State
Department of Health
Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Policy, Planning and Development
Securities and Exchange Commission
Small Business Administration
Congressional Budget Office
Selected U.Va. Organizations/CIOS
For a full list of organizations at UVA, please see: https://atuva.student.virginia.edu/Organizations
The Alexander Hamilton Society
Legislators of Tomorrow
Virginia Policy Review
Sample UVA Career Programs
Government Careers Conference
Public Service and Government Community Office Hours
Resources for Additional Information
- For students and recent graduates – www.USAjobs.gov/studentsandgrads
- Office of Personnel Management – www.opm.gov
- GovLoop, Networking for Government jobs – jobs.govloop.com
- Vault Insider Guide to Government Jobs
- Vault Insider Guide to Government Agency Careers
- Troutman, Kathryn and Paul Binkley, Student’s Federal Career Guide, 2nd Ed. The Resume Place, Inc. 2012