Strategies for increasing salary


Have an itch to switch to a new job?  If so, here is some information about federal salaries that may help you inform your move:

Favor job openings that offer promotion potential. Why? Because in order to advance to a higher grade from a job without promotion potential, you would either have to land another job, or your job would have to be upgraded. Your job could be upgraded through a so-called “accretion of duties” that would have to be formally justified by a significant increase in the level of your responsibilities or through a process that would require you to reapply for your job. Either way, a protracted, bureaucratic processes would be involved.

If you’re in the competitive service and you receive a grade increase, your new salary will be determined by the so called two-step rule. Here’s how to predict where the two-step rule would take you: Find your current step and grade on the salary table that covers your current job. (Salary tables are posted at  Then, find the step that is two steps above your current step at your current grade; this is your “two-step salary.”  Next, go to the grade that is immediately above your current grade, and find the step that provides the salary that is equal to, or immediately above, your two-step salary; that would be your grade and step after the two-step rule was applied.

After being promoted, you would receive another within-grade step increase in one, two or three years, depending on what step you landed at after the two-step rule.

Jobs in the excepted service often pay significantly higher salaries than comparable jobs in the competitive service. So if you switch from the competitive service to the excepted service, you may get a significant salary boost beyond what would be dictated by the two-step rule, particularly if you negotiate your salary.

Some SES jobs are open to GS-14s. You could apply to such SES jobs directly from a GS-14 position without first serving as a GS-15. The minimum SES salary is 120 percent of the salary for GS-15, step 1.  Some agencies always offer new SESers a set percentage increase (usually 10 to 15 percent) over their pervious salary; other agencies are free of such restrictions.

Agencies that have been certified by OPM for adopting performance-based appraisal systems for SESers can pay higher SES salaries that can uncertified agencies.  The performance-based systems of certified agencies reward high performers with raises but eliminate automatic annual raises. And SESers receive annual bonuses between 5 and 20 percent of basic pay.

If you’re willing to accept a positon at your current step and grade without a promotion, you can be lateraled into an equivalent position in your agency or another agency without competition. That is, a manager can select you without considering any other applicants. Unfortunately, even many managers don’t know about this option. So if you would like to work for a particular manager who might want to hire you, consider tactfully informing him about lateral opportunities.

You may increase your salary for your current job by earning a Quality Step Increase (QSI), which is a faster-than-normal increase within your grade awarded for high-quality performance. Sometimes, employees may choose between receiving a QSI or a cash award for a superior performance evaluation.  If you are given such a choice, consider that the long-term value of a QSI — which is a gift that keeps on giving — will probably exceed that of a one-time bonus.


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 Ask your career questions by email to or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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