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My SF-50 states I'm Career Conditional. What does that mean?

Bureaupat takes on another SF-50 question...

By Bureaupat Aug 03 2010, 06:00 AM

Dear Bureaupat,

I was just hired into the federal government and I looked at my SF 50, Notification of Personnel Action, and it states that I'm Career Conditional. What does that mean?

Dear Newbie,

Welcome to federal service! I think you will find this experience challenging and rewarding...or at least challenging.

Understanding your tenure status is critical as most feds just glance over their SF 50 and walk blindly into their federal career only to run into pay, benefits and retention problems down the road.

To shed some needed light, the SF-50 is a permanent record in your Official Personnel Folder (OPF). It is the required form of notification for accessions, conversions, and separations, and for corrections and cancellations of those actions. The form is also used to document and report all personnel actions except mass transfer and mass change actions, which may be reported by a listing of the employees impacted. Got that? Good. The area on the form related to your question is block 24.

Block 24 identifies the nature of your appointment. This information is used to determine your rights during a reduction in force (RIF - how could it have a government name without an acronym to recall) and retention during your first year, if you are on probationary period. Employees in the Senior Executive Service (SES) and employees appointed by the President subject to Senate confirmation are coded "0," (no pun intended), as are employees who are not in one of the coded tenure groups described below.

Tenure Group 1


  • Competitive Service. Career employees who are not serving a probationary period.
  • Excepted Service. Permanent employees whose appointments carry no restriction or condition such as conditional, indefinite or specific time limitation, or trial period.


Tenure Group 2


  • Competitive Service. All career conditional employees, and all career employees who are serving a probationary period.
  • Excepted Service. Employees serving a trial period, or whose tenure is equivalent to career conditional employment in the competitive service, and employees serving under Veterans Readjustment Appointment.


Tenure Group 3


  • Competitive Service. All employees serving under indefinite, TAPER (temporary appointments pending establishment of registers) or term appointments, employees serving under any other non-status non-temporary appointments.
  • Excepted Service. Employees whose tenure is indefinite, i.e., without specific time limitation but not actually or potentially permanent, or with a specific time limitation of more than one year. Also included are temporary employees who, though currently serving under appointments limited to one year or less, complete one year of current continuous employment.


Permanent employees are generally hired into the federal government under a career-conditional appointment (tenure group 2). Much in the way a criminal must serve a multi-year sentence to be considered a hardened criminal, a career-conditional employee must complete three years of substantially continuous service before becoming a full career employee.

The three-year period must begin and end with non-temporary employment in the competitive service. Generally, substantially continuous creditable service must not include any break in service of more than 30 calendar days. If an employee does not complete the three-year period, a single break in service of more than 30 calendar days will require the employee to serve a new three-year period. (Periods of time in a nonpay status are not breaks in service and do not require the employee to begin a new three-year period. However, they may extend the service time needed for career tenure.)

Career-conditional employees automatically become career employees upon completion of this service requirement. Why does this matter? Because employees with career tenure have a higher retention standing during layoffs. That means that in the event people stage a nation-wide Boston Tea Party or the government can't borrow more money from China and Japan to pay for your service, those who are not career employees and are instead career conditional will be laid off first.

Care should be taken to distinguish the one-year probationary period from the three-year career-conditional period. The probationary period is used to determine the employee's abilities and skills required for permanent government service.

In contrast, the three-year career-conditional period is established only to measure the employee's interest in, and the Government's ability to provide, a career in the federal service. More accurately, it is simply a right of passage that affords greater advantages and protections.


A word of caution on the Probationary Period

The first year of service of an employee who is given a career-conditional appointment is considered a probationary period. The probationary period is really the final and most important step in the selection process. It affords the supervisor an opportunity to evaluate the employee's performance and conduct on the job, and to remove the person without due process, if necessary. A person who is transferred, promoted, demoted, or reassigned before completing probation is required to complete the probationary period in the new position. Prior federal civilian service counts toward completion of probation if it is in the same agency, same line of work, and without a break in service.

The Only,

- Bureaupat


Read More: Office Of Personnel Management (OPM), Careers, Pay And Benefits, Dear Bureaupat


Dear Bureau Pat
November 28, 2008 6:49 AM

Dear Bureau Pat, I have a Competitive Career Conditional Appointment, which was effective on 1/8/2006

Dear Bureau Pat
January 22, 2009 7:04 AM

Dear Bureau Pat, I worked for the federal government in the early 60's and I think I completed 3

Dear Bureau Pat
February 12, 2009 5:10 AM

Dear Bureau Pat, I just entered the federal government from the private sector and I'm realizing

Dear Bureau Pat
February 18, 2009 9:46 AM

Dear Bureau Pat, I've had a run-in with the infamous government human resources office I've heard

Dear Bureau Pat
February 25, 2009 8:42 AM

Dear Bureau Pat, Hi, I am very confused about my SF-50. Under Block 24 it says 1. Under Block 34, it

Dear Bureaupat
May 15, 2009 9:30 AM

Dear Bureaupat, Where can I find a military pay chart? And do all service branches pay the same? Dear

Dear Bureaupat
May 15, 2009 9:33 AM

Dear Bureaupat, Where can I find a military pay chart? And do all service branches pay the same? Dear

Dear Bureaupat
June 3, 2009 5:03 AM

Dear Bureaupat, Does the Army have a body fat calculator so I can figure out how much weight I need to

August 28, 2010 12:41 PM

Hello, there.  Can you tell me what the word, "term" means on my SF50?  With the mass transfer, it is located in box 5B "notice of action".  I was hired by one agency six months ago, there was a mass transfer to another agency and I noticed this word "term" on the new agency's SF50 form.  I called several months ago and was told it means "mass transfer" to new agency.

Can you explain further?

February 7, 2011 5:33 PM

Dear Pat,

Does time as a term hire (Cat 3) count towards acquiring the 3 years necessary for permanent status?

February 9, 2011 3:34 PM

I answered a DEU position, though I have 17 years in federal service I was switched to Career Conditional from Career.  If the boss doesn't feel I have grasped the workload- can he fire me?

Deborah Scott
May 13, 2011 10:02 AM

I worked for DOJ/INS from 1992-1997 and was employed at DOD in El Segundo for 3 short months when the department decided to move to Ohio. My question is I have completed CLC Computer Learning Center in Computerized Business and worked for UCLA from 1999-2004. I want to know how to get my SF50 upgraded and mailed to me?

Thanks, Dee Scott

Conv to career appointment
June 30, 2011 1:03 AM

Hi, I worked in civil service for almost 4 but my SF-50 still say "conv to career appointment. I did change jobs, and  agencies but nothing changed with my cac or email. I was told that there would be no break because it still would be working for the DON. At what point will I be permanent?


Not so newbie
February 21, 2012 6:57 PM

Hello, I completed tenure at a DOD employment, then went federal fro about 7 months and then, went back to DOD.  I am being told I have to start from scratch in tenure and probation.  Spposedly, in 2011, the 2005 rules changes on already completing your time and taking it with you.  What isthe scoop on that?  If you change DOD elements, do you have to go through probabtionary and tenure all over again?

George Schafers
March 7, 2012 11:45 AM

Can you please explain this?  "A person who is transferred, promoted, demoted, or reassigned before completing probation is required to complete the probationary period in the new position. Prior federal civilian service counts toward completion of probation if it is in the same agency, same line of work, and without a break in service."  This is a bit confusing for me, here is how I understand your statement.  If an employee is transfered to a new place in the same series with the same agency (and it is a promotion to a higher grade) while they are in their probationary period (and have completed 6 months of it), they must start all over again and begin a new probationary period.  Is this correct?  

Usman Baig
June 19, 2012 8:54 PM

My SF50, box 24 says my tenure is Permenent, Does it mean my services

can not terminated unless I commit a crime, Or

What "Permanent" really mean?












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