Anyone applying to a federal government job opening should understand how to handle the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) section of the hiring process. KSAs are sets of questions pertaining to a particular job, and a candidate’s answers are what will set him or her apart from other applicants. KSAs are essentially the first measure employers take to determine the qualities and potential of job candidates.
Nailing the answers to your KSA questions is a two-part process.
The first part consists of your resume, where you will “sell yourself” to the hiring manager by listing your skills and accomplishments that are relevant for the position for which you are applying.
The second part is the interview. During an interview for any federal government job, you should expect to answer many KSA questions, so the hiring manager can determine whether or not you’re suited for the job.
Some hiring managers will issue KSA requests to candidates as a follow-up to an application. Although the methods may differ, it is safe to assume that applying to any federal government position will entail answering KSA questions.
Recent Changes in Federal Hiring Practices
It’s important to note that while KSAs are still very prevalent in current federal hiring practices, they are no longer part of the initial hiring process for many agencies.
In May of 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed a memorandum with the intent of making federal employment more accessible. The KSA portion of the hiring process moved from the initial application process to the pre-interview process. The logic behind this move was the KSA portion of the initial application process was too demanding for many first-time applicants, and moving KSAs to later in the hiring process would generate more interested candidates.
Take time to conduct research on any open positions to which you would like to apply. If possible, check the agency’s website for information about their hiring and candidate screening processes. If you cannot find anything that clearly states one way or another if KSAs are part of the agency’s hiring process, it’s a safe bet to assume you will need to answer them at some point during your application process. If you can submit your resume, cover letter, and basic application without answering KSAs, expect to answer them if the agency calls you to take the next step with your application.
Building a Stellar Resume
The first step in acing your interview is to build a professional, comprehensive resume, which highlights the aspects that make you a great candidate for the position. Hiring managers receive a lot of applications, and they often browse through them quickly and pick out a few that stand out from the rest. To capitalize on this and increase your chances of a hiring manager considering your resume, keep the following tips in mind.
First, investigate the application process and see if the job listing includes any KSA questions. Some job postings will ask applicants to include answers to specific questions in their initial applications. This is essentially a first round of the hiring process – they want to filter the applicants who can answer the more basic KSA questions and then test them further during an interview. If the job includes any requests for KSA answers during the application process, take your time to devise well-rounded, thoughtful answers.
You should also include information in your resume that resonates with the provided KSA questions. You should perform a bit of research into your position and learn whatever you can from other people in similar jobs, or who have experience with the position. These can be great resources for you to determine what a hiring manager is looking for in a candidate. Try to think of ways to link your accomplishments, education, and background to the things the hiring manager is likely to prefer in a candidate.
Steps for Answering KSA Questions
Once you receive your KSA request from a hiring manager, think carefully about each question before you start your response.
Start by linking your past experiences to the relevant KSAs. Next, consider what knowledge and skills you possess that pertain to each KSA question. This is “task analysis,” and it is your opportunity to tell a hiring manager about your past work, and how it relates to the position for which you are applying.
You should also consider the manner in which you performed past work. Your employment arrangement and supervisory structure play a large role in how you perform your work, so include any relevant details in your responses.
Most KSA questions are intentionally very open-ended to allow candidates to answer in whatever manner they deem appropriate, and for the hiring manager to more easily weed out applicants who miss the mark. For these questions, always strive to link your own experience to the subject of the KSA question. This can include the time spent working on a past project, whether or not you worked as part of a team, the frequency with which you performed a specific task or job function, or time spent in a particular position.
Finally, make sure you pay close attention to the formatting of your KSA request and the instructions for answering. For example, if the KSA request states to write no more than one paragraph for each answer, keep your responses less than five sentences each. Hiring managers want to see that applicants pay attention to instructions. If there is no stated limit for your answers, try to keep them no longer than one page each.
Crafting Your Responses
Some people prefer to start with a sample KSA answer in order to get the ball rolling. However you meet the KSA portion of the hiring process, whether it is part of the application process, a specialized KSA request, or part of your interview, it’s always best to prepare and practice your answers in advance. While you don’t want to sound rehearsed, you should certainly strive to speak with authority and from a position of experience when answering KSAs.
If you are unsure whether or not an aspect of your education, work history, skill set, or past accomplishments pertains to a particular KSA question, do your best to include as much information as possible without cramming your answers full of irrelevant information.
However, remember that things like previous volunteer experience, training courses, or awards you have won in the past may all have relevance in your KSA questions. This is your opportunity to stand out from other applicants, so don’t be shy about including your experiences as long as they are relevant and showcase how well you would fit the position.
Use Common Sense and Judgment
It’s also important to be honest in your interview. If you know the answer an employer wants to hear to a KSA question, but you don’t exactly meet the expectation, don’t embellish your answer. If you land the position and the hiring manager learns later that you weren’t exactly truthful during the interview, it will likely lead to your termination and serious difficulty obtaining any other federal employment in the future. It’s never worth it to lie for any type of employment position.
When you are ready to start writing or typing your responses, make sure you use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Even if the position to which you are applying doesn’t hinge on grammatical fluency or spelling proficiency, crafting well-written answers is crucial to passing the KSA question portion of the hiring process. If your answers are relevant, useful, honest, and well-presented, your KSA responses will help you ace your interview and land the job.