How a grade increase will boost your salary

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If you’re a fed working on the General Schedule  pay scale, you may, in most cases, be eligible for a grade increase once you’ve fulfilled your time-in-grade requirement, which is usually one year. Common ways to land a grade increase are to:

  • Earn a promotion on a job that has promotion potential.
  • Convince your supervisor to upgrade your current position if it doesn’t have promotion potential but has evolved into a higher level position since you were hired into it. Your supervisor may be able to justify such an upgrade on the basis of a so-called “accretion of duties.”
  • Land an entirely new federal job that is one grade above your current grade level.

If you move up a grade on the GS pay scale, your new, higher salary will be computed according to the so-called “two-step rule.” You may predict where on the GS career ladder the two-step rule would position you by obtaining from the Office of Personnel Management’s website the federal salary table that covers your current job’s location and finding your current grade/step/salary on the table. Identify the step/salary you would reach if you received two within-grade increases (this higher step/salary would be your “two-step salary.”) Scan the grade that is immediately above your current grade. Within that higher grade, find the step that has the salary immediately above your two-step salary; that would be your post-promotion step/salary.

For example, if you were a grade 14/step 8 in Washington, D.C., you may predict your post-grade increase step/salary under the two-step rule by:

  • Obtaining the salary table covering Washington, D.C.
  • Finding on the table the annual salary for grade 14/step 8, which is $132,368.
  • Identifying your two-step salary, which would be $139,523.
  • Finding the step in grade 15 whose salary is immediately above $139,523. This is step 5, which pays $143,079 — which would be your post-promotion step/salary.

If you’re currently at your grade’s highest step (step 10), you may predict your post-grade increase step/salary under the two-step rule by:

  • Subtracting the salary for step 9 from that of step 10 in your current grade. This calculation  reveals the salary difference between steps in your current grade.
  • Doubling the number derived in the above step.
  • Adding the sum calculated in the above step to your current salary to derive your two-step salary.
  • Scanning the grade that is immediately above your current grade. Within that higher grade, find the step that has the salary immediately above your two-step salary; and that would be your post-promotion step/salary.

Some tips:

After you receive a grade increase, your minimum waiting period for your next within-grade step increase will depend on which step you arrived at after your promotion. For specifics about such waiting periods search for “within-grade increase” at opm.gov.

Mid-level and senior-level feds on the GS scale usually cannot skip grades as they advance. However, in some cases, grade 14s or equivalent may be admitted straight into Senior Executive Service certification programs or land SES jobs without ever serving in grade 15 jobs.

Agencies in the excepted service generally pay higher and have more flexibility in setting salaries than do competitive service agencies on the GS scale. Therefore, if you move from a competitive service agency to an excepted service agency, you may receive a far higher pay increase than afforded under the two-step rule — particularly if you negotiate your salary.

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About Author

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Ask your career questions by email to lwhiteman@federaltimes.com or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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