Tips for Landing a Federal Job

By on January 10, 2011 in Current Events, Human Resources with 24 Comments


Kristin Andersen


As a Certified Federal Career Coach and Resume Writer, I regularly speak with individuals (primarily first-time federal job seekers) who are interested and determined to secure job with the federal government. Who can blame them?

A government career brings with it outstanding benefits and unlimited promotional potential, not to mention that federal employees earn higher average salaries than private-sector workers in more than eight out of 10 occupations (as determined by a USA TODAY analysis). So what’s problem?

Well, to be frank, securing a government job can be a job itself.

Reading and analyzing job announcements, determining the specialized experience requirements, preparing a federal style resume and responding to those ever dreaded KSAs can be a nightmare. The Federal Hiring Reform has promised to streamline the federal hiring/application process and make it somewhat easier to secure a government job. To date, I see little progress. With that said, for those of you who are interested in federal employment be prepared for a lengthy and highly competitive journey.

As mentioned earlier, a government job is pretty much on just about everyone’s wish list.

Unfortunately, this means that majority of there positions are flooded with applicants. It is very important that you narrow down your job search as much as possible.

Find one job announcement to target and tailor your resume for that specific job. The resume review process is usually initially done electronically. It is also heavily influenced by “keywords” in the resume. These keywords are taken directly from the job announcement and matched up to the content in your resume. If your resume has enough of these “keywords” or “buzzwords,” it will then make it through into the hands of an actual human, the Hiring Official, for further consideration.

A federal resume differs from a private sector resume in many ways. Not only is it “keyword oriented” but it is also substantially longer and contains a lot of additional information one would not include in their private resume. Crafting a strong keyword-laiden resume is crucial to a strong application package, not a task that can be done overnight.

Once you have created your resume, analyze the job announcement to determine if there are any KSA requirements. I’ve found that about 70% of the time you will have an announcement that will require you to respond to KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities) in some shape or form. Typically, if these are required, you will find them (usually numbered 1-however many the agency is looking for) in the Qualifications and Evaluations portion of the job announcement.

Here is an example:

KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND ABILITIES: Applicants must possess training and experience that clearly demonstrate they possess the following knowledge, skills, and abilities. This training or experience must be reflected by descriptions of your experience in your resume or OF-612.

1. Describe your ability to plan, manage and direct administrative functions and activities in a complex office setting.
2. Describe your knowledge of office support functions such as communications, budget, procurement of administrative supplies and equipment, printing, reproduction, property management, records management, mail service, facilities and equipment maintenance, and transportation.
3. Demonstrated experience in applying Federal regulations to administrative functions, oversight and management of purchasing operations, monitoring and oversight of budget and financial programs, and oversight of the integrity of information in organizational databases.

4. Demonstrated proficiency in the use of data systems. Provide a description of your experience in using complex organizational database systems and Microsoft Office Suite of applications (Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, and Power Point).


For each KSA, I recommend preparing a narrative response (typically about 1 page in length) describing a time in your work experience or education when you were required to use that knowledge or skill. Be sure to give very specific examples!

What makes for a strong KSA response is to not only discuss a time when you utilized that skill but a time when you used that skill to overcome an obstacle on the job. Go ahead and list the results, what was accomplished because you used those skills. This is exactly what the Hiring Officials like to see. This will clearly demonstrate how you will not only be an asset to the agency, but how you will be able to directly contribute to their mission.

Now that you have your federal style resume and your KSAs prepared, it’s time to tackle those online application portals. Each agency is different and will collect your resume in a different way. Some will allow you to use the USAJOBS resume builder to submit your application materials while others will use a different portal (AVUE Central, Resumix, CHART, etc.) all together.

There are even some announcements that you will run across that will ask to see a hardcopies either faxed or mailed in. It is certainly a mixed bag and something that you want to prepare yourself for. I recommend doing some research a few days prior to applying. Make sure you have all the required documents the agency is looking for and see for yourself how the agency would like you to submit your application package.

Once you’ve applied, it is pretty much a waiting game. Some announcements under the “What to Expect Next” portion of the job announcement will give you a “guesstimate” of how long they anticipate the review process to take. The wait time can actually be 2 weeks to 6 months.

The federal application process sure is a daunting one! But by preparing a strategic, hard-hitting, keyword focused resume and top-notch KSAs you certainly stand a chance at getting noticed by the right people. Your application package shouldn’t be rushed, after all you will most likely spend a few weeks awaiting a response, you might as well make it worthwhile.


Kristin Andersen is a Certified Federal Resume Writer and Career Coach. Kristin is also the President of Professional Federal Resumes. For additional information or assistance with your federal application package, please visit 

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  1. BulliedoutofaJob says:

    I used to work at a large bank until they got the TARP money and proceeded to RIF people. I too am a highly educated, well experienced and highly motivated “special disabled veteran”. The probationary period is a sham or scam or whatever you want to call it. While it is true that only 1% of probationers are ever terminated while on probation, agencies can and do abuse it! They can terminate your probation for any reason and with little hope of ever being granted an appeal from MSPB. I was terminated after only 2 months because some schizophrenic lady didn’t like the way I part my hair. But I wasn’t the first, but her third victim. She isn’t even a manager, just a dull incompetent worker who milks the system for a paycheck. The agency simply took the path of least resistance because she was a monkey on their backs. I would like to see an article on how to keep a federal job after you somehow get through the keyhole of selection to begin with!

  2. Guestmail says:

    the best time to look for a government job is when the economyis booming and no one wants to work for the government. Also, go to your college job fair. Federal Agencies often recruit there.

  3. HR Specialist 88 says:

    The Hiring Reform requirement is that KSA Narrative Statements will no longer be required…that doesn’t mean that KSAs are no longer used, just that applicants don’t have to do the dreaded, dedicated KSA Narrative Statements anymore. KSAs, as listed in the vacancy announcements (notice they’re still there?), should be used as a road-map, along w/the qualification requirements (i.e., Specialized Experience), to craft a resume specifically for the position being filled. Nowhere in the Hiring Reform guidance does it say that KSAs will no longer be used…just that applicants will not be required to specifically submit KSA narrative statements.

  4. Ingenious Os says:

    The information is incorrect on KSAs. In accordance with new regulations, agencies ARE NOT TO USE KSAa anymore !!!

  5. hogyld says:



    • HRGuy71 says:

      A lot of publicity was directed to the OPM effort to get rid of KSA’s. The reality is that the same process still exists (in many job announcements). The article by Kathryn Troutman that was underneath this headline also addressed that–most announcements will still require the same process. The publicity sounded great but the system is not that much different in most cases. The article is pretty accurate as to how the system actually works in practice.

  6. Career Fed says:

    I understand and agree with some of the comments posted. However, after working for the Government for 28 years, there is one thing that I have found that is the key to getting a Federal job is Persistence.

    “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”
    – Calvin Coolidge

  7. guest says:

    Edit: graph 2 – So what’s problem? …what’s the problem; graph 2 – there …their; graph 8 – laiden …laden.

  8. Ariesastrology2001 says:

    Vet preference, what a joke! I am a 100 %disabled veteran, with 30 years military and corporate paralegal experience. I am currently a government employee, three years from retirement. Agencies often pick the person they want from within, announce the job for legal reasons, and pick the person from within. Or, they close the job announcement, if a highly experienced candidate has applied; which happened to me in regard to two federal agencies. You have to know the game and the players!

  9. Guest too!! says:

    Is it April Fools Day? I mean, articles like these are meant to insult one’s intelligence…

  10. Qualified But Who Cares? says:

    This article leaves out the “elephant in the room.” That is that veterans with their extra points are the only ones who can qualify now. I am coming from the private sector and was told (somebody in HR actually answered the phone!) that I had 98 points out of 100 for a particular job I spent hours applying for. I didn’t even rate an interview because I was told they only have to “refer” three applicants who in this case were all vets. It’s a crappy system if you ask me. I have been trying for two years now and finally got the message that I am wasting a huge amount of my time.

    • PitbullDad says:

      This may be true for entry level jobs (e.g., thru GS-9) but for higher level jobs needing a particular skill set, education, and/or experience, vets preference becomes less of a factor.

      • Steve says:

        Negative, I’ve met 99% of the job description and am retired from the Air Force Reserves and still have never landed an interview. I have 4 degrees, 3 certifications and never get considered over vets. I agree that vets should have first priority, however after over 100 applications applied and never a nibble.

      • Qualified But Who Cares says:

        NOT TRUE to Proud to Be an American! Your comment is misinformed as well as condescending. The job I was referring to was for a GS-14. With confirmation of 98 out of 100 points for a 14, you’d think I could at least get an interview when I’ve applied for a 12! But noooo.

        • Tired of hearing it Vet says:

          Veterans Preferance does not apply to promotions. The vast majority of vets would not qualify for entry at the GS14 level. If they were already 13’s, then preference did not apply. Any GS14 job that a veteran would qualify for would be hard for a private sector civilian to qualify for. I have seen this in DOD, but they were retiring colonels.
          I have received several notifications I did not qualify for jobs, and I am a 10 point veteran. Also, only 2 of the last 10 hired in my agency were veterans.

    • Guest too!! says:

      I’m a veteran, who is beyond qualified for the jobs I have applied for (and the one I’m currently fighting to keep), have a Masters degree, am responsible, hard-working, not lazy or incompetent like the feds I have to deal with every day and you have no IDEA the hurdles I have had to go through and am going through just to get and keep a job with the feds…

      Veteran or not, the federal system isn’t looking for anyone with talent, hardworking, or who can bring anything to the table. They are looking for someone who either they know, or meets the bare/minimum requirements so that you can “fit in” with their sloppy, lazy, check collecting culture.

    • Steve says:

      Agreed 100%. I’m retired from the Air Force Reserves and get 0 points for my 21 years of service. I’ve even cut and pasted the job description in my resume and wordsmithed a few of my own words and didn’t get a nibble.

      • HR Specialist 88 says:

        Your cut/paste of the exact (or close to exact) wording in the Vac Annt is pretty much a guarantee that nobody is going to take your resume seriously…any idea how many unqualified people do that, when they really don’t have an idea of what the job position duties will be, what’s required to be successful, but only understand that they need a job, no matter what it is? You’ve joined a big club taking that tact…just saying.

    • Guest says:

      You also could have become a veteran too. Why bash vets — it’s the rules. Just go by the rules, as in all other aspects of life!

  11. Copperydakota says:

    This article is a bit dated. First off, there are only a few agencies who still use electronic screens that are key word driven. Even DoD is in the process ov going away from this. Second, I haven’t seen any KSA narrative requirements in the last month or two. Maybe it’s just the jobs I’m searching. But really, the occupational questionnaires where the agency asks you to rate your level of skills and knowledge are much more prevalent in the announcements I’ve seen. Finally, I’ve never tailored my resume, but I’ve had great success in landing interviews. It’s about being able to describe your skills and experience in such a manner that makes them appealing to any employer. If you’ve got good writing skills, analytic abilities, and presentation experience, those are going to be translatable to almost any job.

    • PitbullDad says:

      I actually took the core qualifications requirements from the announcement and responded to each. You would be wise to do so in the Additional Information section of the resume template, or if not a template, put them up front in Career Summary or Profile.

      It’s true, very few agencies are using Resumix to score applicants. Even DOD is getting away from that system bc it’s obsolete.

      KSAs are taking the form of mini-essays in the USAStaffing application formats that I have seen. One sentence won’t do it–you need a minimum of one solid example.

      • Cybelle says:

        When the BLM dropped KSAs (long before any other agency) they went through a phase of having essay questions in the e-application. That still gave folks a chance to “embellish” their way onto the lists. The essay questions have recently been discontinued. That’s mostly a good thing, but if you don’t rate high enough on the questionnaire, no one even glances at your resume. It makes me wonder why they bother asking for a resume.

    • Ovenman says:

      Try “if you have good writing skills”…

  12. PitbullDad says:

    While OPM says they are trying to eliminate KSAs, don’t believe it. Announcements will include evaluation criteria. You may not, however, see them as asking for essay-type responses, but they will be looking for specific experience, education, and skill sets. If the application package doesn’t contain what they ask for in the announcement, the application is a non-starter.