Usually, being presented with a job offer means you know you've been hired and will begin working on a particular day. Federal jobs, though, are offered in a two-step process. You will be given a tentative job offer, meaning that if you're able to pass a rigorous background check, you will be presented with a final offer.
Regardless of how well your job interview goes, there can be no final offer until the federal government runs a background check. Unlike a standard background check, government jobs regularly require investigators to speak with your friends, neighbors, former employers and colleagues to get a sense of your general character. While this can feel intimidating, it is a hoop that you must jump through to move toward that final offer.
Playing the Waiting Game
Just as you had to patiently wait for the results of your written skills test and for your interview to be scheduled, you'll have to wait for the final results of your background check and drug-screening test. As you wait for your final offer, investigators will be compiling a thorough file that gives them a sense of confidence that you are up to the job.
Keep Your Day Job
The number of steps the government takes to check your background can take months, depending upon how backed up their investigation schedule is. Although you might use this time to mentally prepare yourself for your new job or to learn a new skill that will help you in your new job, hold onto your current position until receiving final word that you've been cleared and have that final job offer in hand.
Keep a copy of the original job posting, including the salary range. You won't know for certain how much how much the job is going to pay until you receive that final offer. If that offer is less than expected, be prepared to make a case for why you should begin at a higher salary, including any special skills you bring to the job and experience that can make you a more valuable employee. Unlike much of the corporate world, you may find that government budget constraints prevent an agency from paying you what you feel you're worth. It is at this point that you'll have to determine whether the challenge of the job and other perks offset the higher salary you were hoping for.