For years, KSAs were largely considered the most dreaded aspect of applying for a government job. KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities) are questions that assess a candidate’s suitability via written responses. Each open position typically had a list of corresponding KSAs, requiring much thought and resulting in a resume package that was sometimes a dozen pages long. But since 2010, most federal positions have eliminated KSAs—though a small percentage of supervisors may continue to use them.
With KSAs going the way of the dinosaur, today’s candidates may be tempted to shout “hooray” and forget they ever existed. Successful applicants, however, must still find a way to incorporate the KSA principles into their federal resumes, creating a new hybrid resume that positions them at the top of the candidate pool.
Choose the Right Format
Before getting into the all-important content of your resume, it’s important to think about getting the “look” right. First, be prepared to go the distance. Candidates who have never applied for a federal position may opt to simply submit their standard one-page resume, which is a very costly mistake. Properly composed federal resumes—even without separate KSAs—are pretty lengthy. Unless you’re just starting out, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to squeeze everything into even two pages.
Second, stick to a traditional format. Many job seekers, especially those who are switching careers, are creating functional resumes that eliminate most timelines and focus almost solely on skill sets. This is a no-go on federal resumes. When you’re preparing a resume for Uncle Sam, put things like work experience and education in reverse chronological order, complete with dates that are as exact as possible (down to the day) in part because it helps hiring managers determine the length of your experience and, hence, what level you’re eligible to apply for.
Third, federal resumes need to please both electronic and human eyes; some resumes don’t come into contact with humans until the scanners have vetted them. To please the computers, avoid any funny stuff: no colored fonts, charts or graphs, italics, underlining, two- or three-column formats, parentheses, tabs or bullet points.
Here are the do’s:
- Use dashes or asterisks to create lists
- Stick with left justification only
- Keep everything uniform—spacing, font size, etc.
- Pick a sans serif font such as Arial
Now it’s time to dig into the content. The foundation for an outstanding resume begins with reading the job posting thoroughly. Make a list of the keywords you find because these are critical in identifying the knowledge, skills and abilities the hiring agency is looking for—but may not list out in KSAs anymore. Identifying keywords and looking for ways to incorporate them is not to be confused with repeating job postings word for word, a tactic that doesn’t give the agency any information about your qualifications. Instead, tailor your resume for the specific job posted.
One of the reasons federal resumes are so lengthy is because applicants are encouraged to go into detail about their experiences. Examples illustrate your experience in a way that a simple recitation of facts can’t, and the more precise your example, the better. If you’re trying to convey that communication is one of your skills, you can say, “I am an excellent communicator in both written and verbal formats.” But it’s much more effective to add, “For example, I initiated a weekly inter-office newsletter that informed our 50-person staff about the week’s deadlines, production schedules and team-building events such as office picnics. In addition, I was selected to interview clients for our company’s end-of-year report due to my ability to successfully converse with a broad range of people.”
But evaluate your resume carefully to ensure the information you include is pertinent to the job. Details and examples are expected, but it’s not a license to ramble on about your entire history in hopes that the employer will find what she needs in the tangle of words.
When integrating your knowledge, skills and abilities, the best way to quantify those is with numbers that back up your claims.
Your ability to save a company money is a huge selling point; after all, the government has a well-publicized debt problem. So be sure to include how your actions or knowledge resulted in cost savings for former employers. Be specific: 20 percent, $15,000 annually, etc.
Implementing strategies that save time is another big plus, in part because it allows companies to do more with less—often resulting in cost savings as well. “I computerized the company’s records system, eliminating manual filing and saving 5 hours each work week” means more than just listing the system itself. Working within deadlines also falls into the “time” theme, ie: “I met publishing deadlines every month of my five-year employment.”
If you indicate that you designed web sites—and leave it at that—the employer won’t know if you created one web site a year or one a day. “I designed three web sites each week consisting of all graphics and text for the landing page and five additional tabs.” That sounds a lot more impressive than once a year!
Don’t Forget the Basics
You probably already put things like your full name and phone number on your resumes, but the federal government needs much more. Unless you’re applying for a senior position, which involves even more requirements, this checklist covers the mandatory information:
- Mailing address
- Social Security number
- Job title and number for which you’re applying
- Work experience, including salary and contact information for your place of employment and supervisor
- Education, beginning with high school
- Proof that you’re a veteran (ie: copy of discharge certificate), if applicable
- Full details about any prior federal employment
- Awards, honors and certifications related to the job for which you’re applying