Things You Need To Know Before Applying for Federal Jobs

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The U.S federal hiring process received a great deal of attention in 2010 & 2011 with the Obama administration’s efforts to make the process simpler and more applicant-friendly. Many agencies rose to the challenge and implemented improvements. Yet, job candidates have indicated that while their overall experience has improved, more can be done.

Last year, the Office of Personnel Management (O.P.M) released an upgrade of USA Jobs-the federal government’s official jobs clearing house used by millions to identify and apply to government jobs. While the upgrade received a number of complaints, it remains the government’s official centralized portal for job postings and applications processing.

At the heart of all of this are the citizens interested in finding a federal job. According to OPM, more than 22 million applications are submitted each year. While this is a staggering number of applications, it is surprising how many of these applications do not make it through the initial screening process.

While serving as the Chief Human Capital Officer for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (G.A.O), we undertook a comprehensive analysis of the job applicants for our advertised vacancies. I, as were many of my agency colleagues, was surprised to learn that for most of our entry level positions, more than half of all applications submitted were screened out before the applicants’ qualifications were ever reviewed by a member of my team. In speaking with my staff that had worked in other agencies, I learned this was a common occurrence. USAJobs.OPM.Gov

Some on the staff attributed the high screen-out rate to applicants not reading vacancy announcements. However, it was fairly easy to see that the phenomenon was at least in part attributable to the complexity of the process – to include the terminology. Perhaps the most interesting finding was that many of the candidates simply did not understand the requirements – either of the job itself, the application process, or the qualifications. For example, a significant number of candidates failed to submit all of the required documentation to support responses to the on-line questionnaire by the application deadline.

The three most important things a federal job seeker can do to increase the likelihood their resume will actually be seen by a hiring manager are:

    • Review “Who May Be Considered” in the vacancy announcement to ensure eligibility. Admittedly, figuring this out can be challenging – especially when the language is anything other than plain. The broadest eligibility category is all U.S. citizens. If the job is only open to status candidates, generally, you must have completed three years of competitive federal service to be considered. The language here will be very specific. If you do not meet the criteria or fail to provide the supporting documentation, your application will be rejected. USAJobs.OPM.Gov
    • Review the job duties to determine whether your previous education and experience can be described in a way that makes it clear you have the knowledge and experience to do the job. This is not the time for fanciful wishing. The individuals who make it beyond the screening process will clearly demonstrate having the right knowledge and experience. So, target jobs that are consistent with your education and experience.
  • Complete ALL of the steps listed in the “How to Apply” section of the announcement – especially the instructions for submitting required documents – and do so before the closing date. It is rare that application materials are accepted after the deadline because no one applicant may receive a “benefit” (such as having additional time to apply) that is not extended to all applicants. Individual computer or network issues are not acceptable reasons for requesting an exception.

Federal employment can be both rewarding and exciting. But to serve, you have to be selected. The key to being selected is identifying appropriate opportunities and submitting a complete and competitive application before the deadline, or closing date. USAJobs.OPM.Gov

Please be in touch if you’d like assistance with your resume or getting through the federal hiring maze.
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