What Kind of Background Does FEMA Look For in Employees?

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how hard is it to get a job with femaYou’ve finally figured it out. You think you’ve found work that is meaningful, interesting, and speaks to your passions. You want to work for FEMA, to be intimately involved in helping those impacted before, during, and after disasters. But what do you do next? How hard is it to get a job with FEMA? What are the FEMA job requirements? What kind of person does FEMA want as their employee? And are you the right fit?

Understanding the FEMA Employment Structure

Though active year round, the emergency nature of FEMA’s work means that many of their nearly 10,000 workers are temporary, transitional and/or have additional careers. However, dependent on your background, your education, and your current stage of life, there are many employment options for one to consider, including student work, full time work, and part time work.

Jobs at FEMA are classified by work type. The work types are differentiated by the duration of the job, the type of work, and other additional factors.


Permanent Full Time (PFT): If you desire a permanent full time position, expect a competitive hiring process including an extensive application and interview. FEMA classifies PFT jobs as “competitive service” jobs, which are filled based on availability. As a PFT employee, you are on probation during your first year of work and may be terminated at anytime. After your first year, you have earned competitive status. After three years of continuous work you will gain full career status, which you never lose for any future Federal employment opportunities you pursue.

Cadre of On Call Response/Recovery Employees (CORE): FEMA CORE workers are hired for specific work in a limited period of time, usually between 2-4 years, through a competitive or non-competitive process. These positions may be renewed for ongoing work, though they never gain competitive status or tenure.

Temporary Local Hires: If you are a disaster survivor and local resident, you may be eligible for this temporary work, aiding in the long-term recovery of your community. These positions are hired for in 120-day increments, with the option(s) for renewal for an additional 120 days.

Senior Executive Service (SES): SES employees are hired to lead the FEMA workforce. These men and women are hired for their leadership qualifications and hold executive managerial, supervisory and policy positions. They are adept at managing people, building partnerships, and communicating with customer. Core qualifications for these positions include leading change, leading people, results driven, business acumen, and building coalitions.


Reservists (On-Call): Reservist employees work on an on-call basis during an emergency or a disaster. These employees must be able to travel within 24-48 hours and be deployed for 30 days. The period of hire is two years and may be renewed for additional 30-day increments.


Pathways Program: Internships, Recent Graduates, Presidential Management Fellows (PMF): The Pathways program offers paid and unpaid opportunities for students and graduates in high school through doctorate level studies. Opportunities differ depending on educational level and graduation status.

FEMA Corps: FEMA Corps is a team-based service program for 18-24 year olds. It is a partnership between FEMA and the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps program. Members serve for 10 months, earning training, experience, a small stipend, and an education award when the program is complete.

FEMA Job Qualifications

Though job qualifications for positions with FEMA are going to vary dependent on the position and its different specifications, there are some commonalities FEMA looks for in their candidates. You must be a citizen of the United States who is able to pass a background check, drug screening, and fingerprinting. Strong intrapersonal and interpersonal skills such as critical thinking, quick decision-making, the ability to work with a team, collaborative communication, and the ability to delegate (or be delegated to) are all necessary attributes as well.

What Degree Do I Need to Work for FEMA?

When deciding what degree to pursue, it is important to remember that FEMA has jobs that need practical experience and jobs that need greater educational and business experience. There are positions within FEMA that do not require a traditional four-year degree, however nearly ever career offering does demand a strong educational leadership background. Alternatively, you will find that many jobs do require a four-year degree or an advanced degree. Common degrees for FEMA careers include public health, business, human resources, sociology, emergency management, healthcare/medical training, homeland security, and civil engineering.

Do FEMA Careers Require Work Experience?

There are many positions available at FEMA that take into consideration the relevant work experience of the applicants. Many PFT positions require at least a year of prior experience, which may come from the Federal, state, or local government, a non-profit, the private sector, or a volunteer experience. During the competitive hiring process, prior work experience or volunteer experience may prove crucial (or absolutely necessary), particularly for those applicants who lack a four-year or advanced degree.

Military Experience

FEMA actively recruits former and current military personnel through non-competitive processes. Disabled veterans may be hired through the Wounded Warrior Project. Reserve, active-duty and National Guard personnel may also be hired through FEMA’s Operation Warfighter.

What Will I Make Working for FEMA?

Depending on your position within the organization, employees are salaried or hourly workers. Pay, particularly among PFTs and CORE workers, is commensurate with prior experience and level of education. The most lucrative positions are given to PFTs and the competitive process for them is fierce.

The following is a collection of current job offerings and their pay:

  • Supervisory HR Specialist: $137,000- $166,000 annually
  • Program Analyst: $99,00 – $129,000 annually
  • Logistics Management Specialist: $43 – $56/hourly
  • Staff Assistant: $49,000 – $65,000
  • Local Hire: $19/hour

Is a Career With FEMA for You?

There is no question that there are many paths one can take if they desire a career with FEMA. While there is no single degree, volunteer experience, or qualification that will ensure you the job you want, there are some important questions to ask yourself as you move towards your goals.

Is there a FEMA oriented degree that sounds exciting to you? While it is true that there are some careers at FEMA that do not require a four-year or advanced degree, having one will increase your opportunity for success in the extremely competitive application process. Are you flexible, comfortable traveling spur of the moment, and willing to work atypical hours? Many FEMA careers do not operate on a “typical” 40-hour workweek and you must be prepared for some inconsistency. Can you think quickly and act quickly to solve large problems? You may or may not be working in the field during a disaster, but you will still need to work efficiently in times of great need.

Can you answer yes to each of those questions? Does a career with FEMA continue to sound meaningful, fulfilling, and stir your passions? If so, then a career with FEMA is for you and is worth pursuing.

Laura Mansfield

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) | Sacred Heart University

Associate’s Degree of Nursing (ADN) | North Seattle Community College

Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Marketing, Sales | University of Washington (Seattle)

September 2019

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