Money and Main Street

Hired! Working for Uncle Sam

After serving his country as an electronics technician, Jon Leitzinger was hired by the Federal Aviation Administration.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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Jon Leitzinger and his wife Liz have recently relocated to Spokane, Wash. for his new job with the Federal Aviation Administration.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- For those concluding their service in the Armed Forces this year, facing a bleak job market can be a tough assignment.

But the U.S. government offers many opportunities for both civilians and military veterans - and it's still hiring.

The government is the nation's largest employer, employing about 2% of the nation's work force. Even during the downturn, government hiring has stayed steady. Over the past 12 months, the government has added 97,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department.

Jon Leitzinger managed to snag a job with Uncle Sam. Leitzinger, 29, served over seven years in the Navy as an electronics technician, in charge of maintaining and repairing communications systems, before his enlistment ended in February, just as the unemployment rate hit a 25-year high.

"I was nervous about starting a civilian career during a downturn in the economy." Leitzinger said. "I hadn't looked for a job in eight years."

So Leitzinger decided to get an early start. In September, he met with the career transition personnel on base, revised his resume and practiced interview questions.

Over the course of the next few months, Leitzinger started applying to all sorts of jobs, staying open to a career in either the public or private sectors.

"My original plan was to stay within the government; I'm comfortable with the environment," he said.

But fearing a long stretch of unemployment, he cast his net in the private sector as well. He pursued a job at a water treatment plant that built on his experience as an electronics technician, but the salary was less than Leitzinger was making in the military and there was extensive travel involved.

Eventually Leitzinger talked to a military contact who was working at the Federal Aviation Administration and suggested that he contact someone at the FAA. The application process was extensive - Leitzinger submitted his resume in October, first interviewed in December and, in February, he was finally offered a job.

With the military's assistance, Leitzinger relocated with his wife, Liz, and two dogs to Spokane, Wash. - where the new job is located - from his home in California.

Leitzinger starts working with the FAA on communications and navigation systems next week and is currently in the process of buying a new home.

"I definitely feel fortunate," he said of his successful transition into the workforce.

Getting a government gig

The U.S. government is a great choice for former military personnel as well as job seekers in general, according to John O'Connor, president and CEO of Career Pro Inc. in Raleigh, N.C., which specializes in helping military personnel transition into the workforce or begin a career with the federal government.

In general, "government jobs are much less cyclical" than jobs in other industries, explained Heidi Shierholz an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a research group based in Washington.

Veterans, in particular, have an advantage here, O'Connor said, thanks to the Veterans' Employment Opportunity Act (VEOA), which allows vets to apply to jobs that are otherwise only open to federal employees, and not to the general public.

Veterans who have served on active duty and were honorably discharged also usually have an advantage over other applicants, he added.

To get started, job seekers can find an extensive list of opportunities on usajobs.com, the official site of the U.S. government. There are also resources on the site especially for veterans, including job listings, forms, benefits and training assistance for private sector employment.

In addition, "networking is key," O'Connor said, "the military is maybe the biggest alumni organization in the world."

To increase the odds of success, O'Connor recommends that those in the military join professional associations before their service ends and reach out to other alumni already in the workforce. "You need to lay the ground work that will lead you to an opportunity," he said.

But, unlike Leitzinger's experience, "it doesn't always happen this fast," O'Connor warned. "[The employment process] often can take many months, so patience is the key when applying for federal jobs."

Read updates on the people previously profiled in Hired! Join the Hired! group on Facebook.

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