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A Crash Course in How to Apply for Federal Employment

federal-employmentA Crash Course in How to Apply for Federal Employment

by Diane Hudson Burns, CFJST, CLTMC, CPRW, CPCC

Federal Employment Overview
Employment with the federal government offers many benefits. For example, the federal government employs approximately 1.8 million employees (excluding postal workers) with a wide array of job titles: chemist, information technology specialist, finance specialist, comptroller, accountant, veterinarian, clergyman, auditor, operations director, logistics specialist, doctor, nurse, lawyer, biologist, transportation manager, counselor, therapist, curator, federal security director, program or project manager, administrative officer, pilot, government relations advisor, park ranger, police officer, and the list seems nearly endless (if you can imagine the job title or function — the government probably employs it, with a few exceptions).

The salary range is from entry level of about $17K a year, to Senior Executive Service, with salary upwards of $160K+. The benefits are excellent and may include medical, dental, Thrift Savings, life insurance, a retirement, and plenty of leave time. It also offers flextime and telecommuting in some areas. The employment opportunities are global.

More than 2,000 separate job categories exist at 15 cabinet-level agencies; 20 large and 80 small agencies. About 86 percent of federal jobs are located outside of Washington, DC, and about 50,000 positions are stationed abroad. Areas in the United States with the highest numbers of federal workers include Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, and Norfolk-Virginia Beach.

Reviewing the Federal Vacancy Announcement
Once you decide to apply for federal employment, you need to prepare for the application process:
Analyze federal vacancy announcements (from to determine if a posting is a good fit with your credentials and experience. Review the announcement and identify the following:
hiring agency;
the announcement closing date;
the area of consideration (that will tell you if the position is open to the US public, or other hiring category, i.e., the posting may only be open for merit promotion employees or veterans;
the type of resume required to apply (hard copy/formatted, USAJOBS, Resumix (Army), or other format);
any Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities essay requirements or self assessment questions.
Write your federal resume and any Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities essays.
Respond to self-assessment questions (self-assessment questions rate your level of experience/knowledge for a skill set, technical or leadership competency, or appropriate credentials, i.e., degree, license, clearance, or other).
Apply according to the application requirements, including submitting any additional documentation, i.e., transcripts, DD-214 for military, references, and so forth.

The Federal Resume
Once you have analyzed a federal vacancy announcement and decide that you want to apply for a specific position, now you have to write a federal resume. The federal resume is not like an industry two-page resume, rather it is a text file, outline format, with CAPPED keyword headers, leading into short paragraphs. It also contains federal requirements (supervisor’s name and phone number for past jobs, social security number, GPA, veteran’s preference, and other special categories).

In most cases, the federal resume has two reading audiences: the computer and the human. USAJOBS is the main resume format (and official government website for finding open vacancy announcements), but several federal job-posting sites are available, including Avue, Application Manager, CPOL, FDIC, and others (see list below). Federal resumes, in most cases, are restricted to specific character length (as opposed to word length). And, for example, if you create a resume in the USAJOBS format (3,000 characters for each job experience), you can convert that file for use on any of the other federal Resume Builders.

Federal resumes must include and highlight the keywords from the vacancy announcement; consequently, the vacancy announcement needs to be analyzed thoroughly for key competencies, skills sets, and Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities. You will want to identify and integrate keywords using mini-detailed stories, i.e., identify all of the keywords in a federal vacancy announcement that relate to the federal career field for which you are applying. Incorporate the keywords throughout the text in the resume, mirroring the federal wording, within your own accomplishments, creating “mini-stories” using many details, including context and results. Federal resumes are much longer than industry resumes (typically 3-5 pages).

You also want to separate duties from accomplishments by creating short paragraphs for a summary of duties, using overview statements, for example:
Supervised 10 personnel; managed a $1 million budget; accounted for $5 million worth of equipment. Include the “underlying” responsibilities, e.g., trained personnel, wrote performance ratings, and issued awards (focusing on keywords/skills sets/competencies identified in the announcement).

Then, prepare a list of specific accomplishments related to the announcement for each job (if submitting a hard-copy resume, use bolding and short bullets to help the HR specialist identify your applicable skills). An accomplishments paragraph might read like this:
CUSTOMER SERVICE (Key competency): Ensured high customer service levels and monitored provisions for necessary logistical support for 20 major customers (6,500 total personnel) in four countries. Led the redistribution of equipment within the European region and to the USA. Implemented customer service training, conducted on-site assistance visits, and effectively decreased the level of complaints from 56% to less than 10% in 6 months.

Writing the KSAS (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Statements/Essays)
Many federal application requirements include submitting a federally formatted resume and KSA essays written in the CCAR (Context, Challenge, Actions, Results) format. KSAs are essays addressing specific questions, so you want to write your stories in the CCAR format using one or two strong examples (stories) per essay. Online applications with required KSA statements normally have a maximum character limit (from 1,000 to 8,000). If the announcement does not post a limit, then keep the essay to one page maximum. Note: KSAs may also be called TQs (Technical Qualification Statements); PTQs (Professional Technical Qualification Statements); Dimensions; Supplemental Questions; Desirable Factors; or other.

Federal Online Resume Builders / Application Processes
Here is a short description of some of the Federal Resume Builders. Based on the requirements from a federal announcement, you may apply for a position using one of these methods (below). Start by
Opening an account for each builder (save your user ID and password);
Writing your federal resume and Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities essays in a Word document file on your desktop;
Copying and pasting your resume into the appropriate federal resume builder before you are ready to apply for a job, if possible — and when you find a job of interest, apply using the resume you already have posted in the system.

You may need to write new KSA essays for each announcement, or respond to a new set of self-assessment questions, or even slightly modify your resume to ensure you have all of the keywords covered from the new vacancy announcement in your resume.

When you apply for a position, you must return to the posted vacancy announcement in USAJOBS and use the “Apply” button on the announcement.

Federal Resume Posting Sites
USAJOBS: USAJOBS.OPM.GOV is the federal government’s official employment website and now links to upload the resume (3,000 characters per employment entry) to many agencies, including Air Force, NRC, and many others.
Army: Army Civilian Service, including Europe; 20,000 characters total (12,000 characters for the employment block). The Army Resumix is one of the easier resumes to upload.
Quick Hire is a resume application for certain federal agencies, including the Department of Commerce, and others.
Avue is a resume application builder for the Department of Justice, Forest Service, and many others.

Specialty Agencies: NASA, DIA, FBI, CIA, FAA, FDIC, VA, and other specialized agencies use their own version of the Resumix, Federal Resume, or Resume Builder; each announcement needs to be analyzed to determine the application procedures, requirements, and type of resume used for posting.

Tip: If you want to target a specific agency, review announcements on the agency’s website, as well as USAJOBS, to ensure you don’t miss any opportunities.

Application Manager allows you to upload all of your supplemental documentation, e.g., transcripts, SF-150 (federal personnel actions), performance ratings, SF-15 (Veterans Preference), OF-306 (Statement of Oath), and other agency specific requirements.

Federally Formatted Hard-Copy Resume: For the exception to many rules — some agencies do not use electronic resumes; these agencies accept hard-copy resumes via fax, mailing, or word attachment.

Track Your Progress
Many of the Federal Resume Builder sites contain tracking mechanisms that will allow you to monitor your application progress. The tracking section will indicate when you applied for a job, the closing date, any actions on the application, and if you qualified or not, or were referred to a hiring official. Tracking your applications will help you determine if you are applying for the right types of positions, or if you need to modify your resume or KSA essays to better meet qualification requirements in an announcement. The tracking system will also inform you if the vacancy was cancelled or extended.

Note: If an announcement offers an option to send the resume as a Word attachment, Fax, or USAJOBS (or other automated system) — if you do not choose to apply using the USAJOBS or another automated system , you will not have access to the online tracking system.

Final Thoughts on Federal Employment
Applying for federal employment is a multi-part process that requires some upfront preparation. However, once your resume is written and posted on various Federal Resume Builders/sites, you learn to quickly analyze and identify keywords and competences in federal vacancy announcements that lead to writing solid CCAR stories for KSAs, you can easily apply for many federal jobs at various agencies, and fill your pipeline of applications in that quest for landing federal employment.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Diane Hudson Burns Diane Hudson Burns is a career-management strategist and a leading authority in federal government resumes and applications, and military transitions. Diane has written federal resumes since the mid 1980s (when it was the SF171); she lived and worked overseas for 12 years and in the Washington DC/Baltimore region for five years almost exclusively writing federal resumes and military transition resumes. The federal process has evolved with the advent of the Internet and continues to change daily; Diane keeps pace with the myriad changes, guiding her clients to successful position placement within the federal government (from GS-5 to GS-15 and SES). She writes and analyzes federal announcements for scientists, engineers, lawyers, veterinarians, clergy, budget analysts, logisticians, as well as Title 42 (congressionally approved) and Schedule C (presidential appointees). Diane can be reached by e-mail or through her Website.


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