I have only worked in the private sector and do not know how to equate my experience to the GS scale. How can I figure this out?

The amount of experience required varies for each job. Some entry-level jobs require no specialized experience, while other jobs require years of specialized experience. 

If you have questions related to how much experience you need for a job, review the Job Requirements > Qualifications section of the job announcement. For additional questions, contact the hiring agency listed in the job opportunity announcement. 

The Basics

Like any employer, the federal government needs individuals to be well-qualified for the jobs they hold. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) publishes qualification standards to help ensure federal employees can successfully and safely perform the work of the position. Whatever your background has been, it is likely that you are basically qualified for many different jobs, and highly qualified for some. 

When meeting the basic eligibility requirements, the agency evaluates and then ranks your work experience, accomplishments, education, training and overall qualifications background against the qualification requirements of the position. You will receive a score or ranking based on how closely your background matches with the requirements of the position. Job applicants who receive the highest scores or rank in the top category are referred to the selecting official. 

Qualifying With Higher Education

Some federal occupations require a college degree with a certain major field of study or completion of specific academic courses at the baccalaureate or graduate level. Such occupations tend to involve research, scientific or professional work (such as a specialist in contracts, medicine, engineering, biology, psychology or accounting). To qualify, all college-level courses must have been completed at a college or university that has obtained accreditation or preaccreditation status from an accrediting body recognized by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. 

There are many occupations where a baccalaureate degree in any field is acceptable. Job applicants usually enter such occupations at the entry grade levels (typically GS-5 or GS-7 grade levels [or equivalent]) and acquire on-the-job training and work experience before advancing to higher grade levels. Such occupations are sometimes advertised as “trainee,” “intern” or “student program” positions. 

You may qualify for a GS-9 grade (or equivalent) level position on the basis of a master’s degree, and for the GS-11 grade (or equivalent) level on the basis of a doctoral degree. At these levels, however, the advanced degree must be directly related to the work of the job to be filled.

Specialized experience, or experience closely related to the work to be performed in the job for which you are applying, can often be substituted for an educational requirement or qualify you for a higher grade. Generally, for jobs at the GS-7 grade (or equivalent) level and higher, your background must have included specialized experience. At least one year of the specialized experience must have been equivalent to the level of the next lower grade in the federal service. This means, for example, to qualify for a GS-12 grade (or equivalent) level, you must have had a minimum of one year of specialized experience equivalent to a GS-11 grade (or equivalent) level.

Qualifying for a Non-Degreed Job

If you have been in the job market for a while and have accumulated an extensive work history, you may be well qualified for many positions even without a college degree. Except for certain professional and scientific positions, a college education may not be necessary. The nature of your work experience is what really counts.

Job applicants can qualify for most federal occupations based on job-related work experience. If you are just starting out, you can qualify for jobs at the GS-2 level with just a high school diploma or as little as three months of general work experience for most clerical and assistant positions. “General experience” is a type of work experience that is not necessarily directly related to the position but demonstrates the ability to acquire the particular competencies/knowledge, skills and abilities to perform the work of the position.

At higher grade (or equivalent) levels, additional work experience is required. Starting at the GS-5 grade (or equivalent) level, positions generally require one year of specialized experience equal to the next lower grade. “Specialized experience” is a type of work experience that is directly related to the position for which you are applying. This means, for example, to qualify for a GS-6 grade (or equivalent) level, you must have had a minimum of one year of specialized experience equivalent to a GS-5 grade (or equivalent) level.

For more information, consult the General Schedule qualification standards.

Last Reviewed February 29, 2024