Whether you are a newcomer to federal job applications or you have gone through the process before, writing KSAs can be a nerve-racking task. Many Americans don’t know what a KSA is, let alone how to write an answer to one. However, knowing not only what a KSA statement is, but also how to write an effective answer to one can make the difference between getting that new job or promotion…and getting left in the dust.
What is a KSA Statement?
KSA stands for Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities. A KSA statement, therefore, is a statement about the unique qualities needed to fill a particular position. A job that requires KSAs usually lists between three and five KSA statements in the job description.
Although KSA statements are not questions, each one still requires an answer. Federal employers use KSAs to help determine the applicant’s eligibility for the job. In other words, your answer to each KSA tells the employer whether you would be an appropriate candidate for the job. Well-written answers to KSA statements can land you an interview, whereas poorly written or incomplete answers can disqualify you right off the bat.
Seven Secrets to Writing Successful KSAs
Writing KSA answers makes many people nervous – mainly because they don’t know what they are doing. With the right tricks up your sleeve, however, you’ll find that writing a winning answer to any KSA is a breeze.
Be complete. It is important to answer each KSA completely. Simply saying, “Yes, I have that skill,” will get you nowhere. Treat each KSA like a news article: who, what, why, where, when, and how are all integral parts of the story. Tell the employer what knowledge or skill you have that satisfies their requirements; where, when, how, and why you got it; and who you got it from. And don’t forget the other how: how your skill relates to what the employer is looking for.
For example, if a KSA indicates that a person who is skilled in written communication, a good response requires more than just, “I’m a good writer.” Instead, discuss writing responsibilities that you have had in other positions, remembering to include all of the details: which positions required your writing skills, where and when you held each position, and what you were asked to write for each position. If you have any special training, such as a course in technical or business-related writing, be sure to list that as well. Conclude your KSA by describing how these experiences will help you perform the job you are currently applying for, echoing the language of the job announcement to reinforce the connection.
Provide concrete examples. A vague assertion that you have the necessary skills for the job is not going to convince a prospective employer. Rather than stating that you have the desired training or experience, describe specific examples of where and when you gained the experience. Be sure to tie your answer back to the KSA statement by stating how your examples give you the skills needed for the job.
For instance, if a KSA requests solid time management skills, you should specify how you have exhibited those skills in previous positions you have held. Describing the techniques you use to manage your time – such as keeping lists or creating schedules for yourself – will demonstrate to the employer how you will function in the position.
Be concise. The employer is not interested in your creative writing abilities, so keep the fluff to a minimum. Answer each KSA in plain language, so that your answers are simple and easy to follow. There is a fine line between answering a KSA completely and sounding like a pompous windbag; although your KSA answers should be as long as it needs to be to fully answer the question, most employers would prefer that each answer fit on one page – and certainly no longer than two pages.
Tell them what they want to hear. You don’t have to make up examples, but you should provide examples that demonstrate desirable qualities in an employee. For instance, when answering the KSA statements, choose concrete examples that highlight your leadership skills, demonstrate your creativity and problem solving skills, or show that you are comfortable with working under pressure. You should also choose examples that are pertinent to the position you are applying for, even if they are not job-related; volunteer work, academic awards, and other sources of experience are all fair game.
This technique depends upon the idea that virtually anything can be stated in a positive light, depending on which parts of the story you stress. For example, a bungled transaction at a previous job can be retold with an emphasis on how you handled the issue, demonstrating your use of creativity and initiative to fix a problem, as well as your ability to keep cool during periods of intense stress.
Think outside the box. Even if you think you don’t have any experience to satisfy a certain KSA, don’t leave it blank. Instead, consider other areas of your life that may have given you the necessary skills. Not every KSA must be answered purely with job experience; training, volunteer work, internships, and academic projects and awards may also demonstrate that you satisfy the requirements of the position. At the very least, think of related examples and demonstrate in your answer how they tie in to that particular KSA.
For instance, if you are applying for a promotion that requires the ability to simultaneously manage many projects or programs, you don’t necessarily need to have held a similar position in the past. With a little thought, you should be able to come up with examples from your professional or personal life of individual incidents where you have used the necessary skills: a time when you covered for a manager, for example, or even that volunteer work you do managing fund raisers for your daughter’s Brownie troop.
Sell yourself! KSAs give you an opportunity to set yourself apart from other applicants. Use these documents to sell your best qualities – and paint your worst in a more pleasing light. If your answers demonstrate confidence in your abilities, an employer will be much more likely to believe that you can do the job.
Edit, edit, edit! Most professional documents require editing and proofreading to verify that they are free of errors. However, unlike other professional documents, your answers to the KSA statements have a lot riding on them: they are your only chance at a good first impression. Therefore, you need to take pains to make sure every word is in its place – no typos, misspellings, or discrepancies between your resume and your KSA answers. If your high school English teacher wouldn’t have been impressed, neither will the employer!
Success Seekers Wanted
KSAs have one purpose: to find the best person for the job. In order to write successful answers, you need to assume that you are that best person. Whether the position would be a new job or a promotion for you, it is important that you take your time with each answer, choosing the best possible examples of your knowledge and experience. Polish your answers until they shine. With the right amounts of confidence and care, your KSA answers will open doors for you that otherwise would have remained closed.