Tips for Landing a Federal Job

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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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