HR: Employee Handbook: Career Opportunities and Promotion

Smithsonian is comprised of many divisions, departments and offices, each with its own mission, character and environment. SAO is strongly committed to its policy of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action. Employment and advancement are based on merit and ability without regard to race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, national origin or status as a disabled or Vietnam-era veteran.

Job Vacancy Announcements

Smithsonian employees may apply for positions available and posted on SAO's Job Vacancy Announcement bulletin boards located throughout the Observatory, the Vacancy Announcements page, and the SAO Weekly calendar (distributed weekly. Opportunities for position changes and advancement often occur when new positions are established as a result of reorganization, added program responsibilities or when an employee vacates a position. Each Job Vacancy Announcement identifies an "area of consideration" which specifies whether or not applications may be received from all sources or limited to Smithsonian employees only.

Current employees interested in applying for Smithsonian positions must submit an updated resume and a brief statement referencing the job vacancy announcement number and job title, to the Human Resources Department at mail stop 17 prior to the closing date listed on the Job Vacancy Announcement.


A promotion is the change of an employee to:

(1) a position at a higher grade level within the same job classification system and pay schedule; or

(2) a position with a higher rate of basic pay in a different job classification system and pay schedule. A promotion is always a change to a higher grade and should not be confused with periodic within grade increases, quality step increases, or merit salary increases which provide salary increases within the scheduled step rates of the grade.

The Smithsonian's Merit Placement Plan is a formal system which conforms with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) requirements and details how promotions are to be made in the agency. Promotions may occur through a variety of processes as described below.

  • Employees compete for promotion when they apply for higher graded positions through an SAO Job Vacancy Announcement. All applicants are evaluated and ranked for the position on the basis of their experience, education, skills and performance record.
  • Selections from among the best qualified applicants are based upon management's needs and the total objectives of the organization, including affirmative action and equal employment opportunity, consistent with legal and regulatory provisions. This type of promotion is characterized as a promotion through competitive procedures.
  • A promotion may result from position reclassification to a higher grade due to gradual accretion of duties and responsibilities. The essential characteristic of this kind of promotion is that the position to which an employee is promoted is clearly an outgrowth of his/her present position or a successor to their present position. This growth may occur because of normal career ladder activity, impact of personal research accomplishments, or planned management actions. Under these circumstances, when a position is changed and the position is classified and placed in a higher grade, the employee occupying that position may be eligible for a noncompetitive promotion in accordance with the Smithsonian's Merit Placement Plan.
  • A promotion can also occur from a position with known promotional potential in which the employee was placed by competitive procedures (e.g., trainee, apprentice, understudy, or career ladder position). This type of promotion typically occurs when a qualified employee applies for and is selected under a Smithsonian Job Vacancy Announcement which clearly states that the position has promotional potential.
  • Less frequently, a promotion can result from upgrading a position on the basis of new position classification standards or for correction of the classification of the position, when there has been no significant change in duties or responsibilities. The job classification system criteria used by the Smithsonian for both Federal and Trust Fund (non-Federal) positions is based on standards issued by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Periodically, OPM issues new or revised standards that may significantly alter the original classification decision used to grade the position an employee occupies and may result in a promotion action when the new standards are used to classify and re-evaluate the position.
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