1. Follow your passion
The federal government is a colossal collection of hundreds of agencies and departments. Search for job openings by agency, job type, location or salary range on the USAJobs site. There's a smorgasbord of openings for people with a variety of skills and experience — from accountants, attorneys and architects to information technology (IT) workers, vendor management specialists and health care workers at agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (which came in first on AARP's 2013 Best Employers for Workers Over 50 list of companies and organizations that value an experienced workforce).
See also: Growing job fields
One way to cut through the clutter is to consider what matters most to you and where your know-how will best fit. If you're passionate about the environment, use that as a starting place to figure out what agency will be the most compatible for you. Look for openings at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other agencies dealing with environmental issues.
"When we talk to our 100,000-plus members about what they love most about their government job, it comes down to mission and a sense of purpose," says Steve Ressler, founder and president of GovLoop, a social networking and resource site for government workers. Learn about the various agencies by attending events sponsored by government-related associations such as the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), the Partnership for Public Service and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), to name a few. You can also tap into government-related websites such as Government Executive.
Two other useful sites sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service are Go Government, which can help you research federal agencies and government careers, and Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, which in 2013 drew on responses from more than 376,000 civil servants to produce a detailed view of employee satisfaction with their jobs and workplaces across 371 federal agencies.
"Don't simply say I'm an accountant and want to go to work as an accountant in government," McManus says. "Frankly, every agency has a need for accountants and budget analysts, so narrow your scope a little bit."