Thursday, November 12, 2015

Writing a resume for federal employment consideration

Writing a resume for federal employment consideration doesn't have to be daunting.  In fact, it's about providing an applicant's best qualities when it comes to showcasing workplace responsibilities, education and career accomplishments.

Keeping a current resume has a purpose and several benefits, from being able to respond and apply for an immediate job posting, to staying abreast of job duties and highlighting ongoing significant activities.

 "A resume is relevant information to give an employer an understanding of your duties and experience gained over a number of years.  It's very important that an applicant be clear and precise with information provided on a resume," said Amin Huffington, Dreamfedjob publisher.

When writing a resume, there are several key pieces of information that should be included when describing work experience and education. There's not a particular desired layout.

Personal information should detail your full name, mailing address and day and evening telephone numbers with area codes.

Social security numbers aren't required, however when completing your total application package, an occupational questionnaire will ask for it (It's used for verification purposes only).

On work experience, detailed information should include an employer's name and address,employment dates (from month and year to month and year, or month and year to present) and job title.

This area should include thorough descriptions of all paid and non-paid positions related to the job for which an applicant is applying as well as descriptions of all duties performed. Copies of job descriptions should not be included.

Other information to include: salary, number of hours worked per week, supervisor's name and phone number, series and pay plan or grade if for a federal position, and other accomplishments and related skills.

Education information should include the school or program name and address, type of degree or level attained, completion date with month and year, major field of study, total credits earned in semester or quarter hours, honors, relevant coursework, licensures and certifications.

Copies of transcripts will be requested as needed.

Other information: job-related training courses with title and year; job-related skills such as languages, computer software and hardware known, tools, machinery, typing speed, etc.; job-related certificates and licenses; and job honors, awards and special accomplishments, to include publications, professional memberships, leadership activities and  performance awards.

If applicable, include other languages known, and volunteer experience. References are optional.

Unlike in the private sector, when writing a resume for a federal job, there's no limit to the number of pages you can include. There's also no limit when including work experience.

"There's no one resume," said Huffington. "People may think there's one generic resume when there's not. Each job is different with specialized duties, so you may have to alter your resume just to include what's needed." 

All federal positions are posted on, the federal government's official, web-based job board. You can store up to five resumes and 10 candidate documents on the site so they're ready to submit. It's free and available to everyone. There's also a helpful resume builder to take you through each step of the process.

One benefit to adding a current resume to the site is that recruiters can use it to help determine if there are qualified candidates for a job.

Always double check if a resume has been attached to specific job packages. 

Remember - keep it simple and easy to read, and focus on delivering the most current, best representation of yourself to prospective employers.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

IT'S NOT TOO LATE - If you have a past criminal record you will not be excluded from a federal job.

It’s not too late,” President Obama said in a speech at Rutgers University November 2, 2015. “There are people who have gone through tough times, they’ve made mistakes, but with a little bit of help, they can get on the right path. And that’s what we have to invest in. That’s what we have to believe. That’s what we have to promote.”

The move has been a highly anticipated step for activists seeking to reform a system that they say makes it difficult for former inmates to reintegrate into society. According to a poll conducted by The New York Times/CBS/Kaiser Family Foundation last February, 34 percent of men with criminal records are nonworking males between the ages of 25 and 54 – a number that has grown recently particularly among black men. The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated unemployment for those with criminal records, leaving many homeless and excluded from society.

“Prior to the prison boom, when convictions were restricted to a smaller fraction of the population, it wasn’t great for their rehab potential but it wasn’t having a huge impact,” Devah Pager, a Harvard sociology professor, told The New York Times. “Now such a large fraction of the population is affected that it has really significant implications, not just for those people, but for the labor market as a whole.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Competency-based Interviewing for Federal Job Applicants

The Federal Government's greatest asset is the quality of its staff. To ensure that the very best people join the Federal Workforce team most agencies use a competency based interview process. Competency based interviews are also called "behavioral interviews" or "criterion based interviews." Such interviews are based on the concept that past behavior and experience is the best indicator of future performance. In other words, your history tells a story about you: your talents, skills, abilities, knowledge and actual experience in handling a variety of situations.

Competency interviewing questions can look like this:
  • Tell us about a situation when you went above and beyond your manager's expectations.
  • Give an example of a time when you used your problem solving abilities to resolve an issue?
  • Tell us about a time where you had a number of demands being made on you at the same time? How did you handle it?
Useful tips for your interview:
  1. Prepare a wide range of brief real life stories about your accomplishments. Be aware of the specific skills each story illustrates and remember to include the positive outcome or lesson learned from each experience.
  2. Be ready to discuss your strengths and your ability to learn from past experiences. Also think about how you could contribute to the work of the United Nations and to the specific position you are applying for.
  3. Review the competencies mentioned in the job opening. These will be probed in your interview, so your stories should show your skill in these competency areas.
  4. You should be prepared to address positive results and achievements using these competencies and also challenges you have had in each of these areas.
  5. The structure of your answer should be: Situation, Action, Result.
  6. Share information you feel is appropriate and relevant.
  7. Listen to the question carefully. Keep to the point. Be as specific as possible.
  8. Do some research on competency, or behavior based interviews. There is a lot of material available about preparing for such an interview structure.
  9. Learn as much as you can about the Department and Office you are applying to and the work it does.
  10. Practice, practice, practice.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Apply these Tips when Applying for a Federal Job

If you're interested in working for the federal government, you'll need to navigate one very particular and time-consuming task—federal resume writing. You may have a perfect one-or two-page resume for career fairs or online profiles, but for your federal resume, you'll want to consider a few tips.

1. Rules of Brevity Do Not Apply
Your federal resume should be highly readable, but unlike with your typical resume, don't sweat the length. If it's 20 pages, that's a problem. A five-page word document is a good goal, but keep in mind that federal resumes generally ask for 10 years of employment history. That's more than you should include on a typical resume (I mean, that college tutoring job really helped me in my career as an Army civilian, but I can guarantee it wasn't the factor that got me the job). If you have more than 10 years of experience you can include that, but the closer you get to 20-plus years on the job, it's likely your first few positions are irrelevant—they don't need to be included on your federal resume, and they shouldn't be.

The general principle for a federal resume is to go in chronological order—much like filling out employment history on your SF-86. But keep in mind this is still a resume, and it will ultimately be viewed by human eyes (if you do a good job of writing it and meet the qualifications). A functional resume format (where you lead off with your most applicable jobs/skills) will probably serve you better once your resume is viewed by human eyes.

2. Write for the Human (and the Computer)
For most writing you're appealing to a human. A key takeaway is to have a resume that can be scanned in six seconds—that's how much time the average recruiter spends on a resume. Some federal resume writers get bogged down in all the details required and forget the six-second scan principle. View your resume two ways: as a screen shot and as a printout. Some government human resources specialists print out resumes to scan, particularly once the pool has been narrowed (sorry trees). Make sure in either format that there are key skills and qualifications that directly apply to the position and will catch a human's eye. These may be keywords that apply to the position or they may be unique skills, a cool credential or certification, or something else that will make the human scanning your resume stop and want to learn more.

This doesn't mean you should forget the computer; you need to include the relevant keywords from the job announcement. But if those are the only words you use, you won't make it very far. When scanning a resume, it's clear who just copied and pasted keywords and who incorporated them in a way that fits the arc of their skills. Your federal resume needs to tell a story, just like your resume does in any other job application situation.

3. Prove Your Grade
The General Schedule classification and pay system specifies certain levels of education and experience for each grade. All applicants, including veterans or those with prior government service, need to prove they have the requisite experience and education in their federal resume. Know the level of the position you're applying for and show you have the experience required. Many current GS employees wonder if they'll need to wait a certain period before applying for a new position at a higher grade. For annual promotions and merit-based increases, there are generally time-in-service requirements. In applying for a new position, however, there is generally no time-in-service requirement. The rules differ within agencies, and some departments, including the National Security Agency, having much greater flexibility on salary ranges and step increases within grade.
Regardless, do your research and make sure your resume fits the criteria. You're wasting an HR specialist's time when you don't meet the most basic jobs requirements.

4. Show Specialized and Similar Experience
This one is for veterans, in particular. You may not meet the minimum education requirements of the position, but if you can show equivalent experience, training or education, you're still qualified for the job. Also, be sure to list your veteran's preference or disability rating on your resume. Federal resumes speak the language of KSA—knowledge, skills and accomplishments. For your federal resume, don't hesitate to include relevant volunteer experience, military awards and certificates, and other topics you might leave off of a more concise nonfederal resume. Make sure these fit under the KSA umbrella—show how the training or experience you received applies to the job description. Sprinkle the relevant keywords across your resume, and across your KSAs.

5. Use Formatting
Many people treat their federal resume as a keyword search tool. Much of the advice around federal resumes focuses on the importance of key words. And key words are vital for every online resume—not just those submitted on USAJobs. But you also must include formatting to make your resume readable to the human who will eventually scan it. It should be visually appealing. You should use headers. You should divide your resume into a readable, visually appealing format. You should include relevant social media and career networking links, if appropriate. You should include an objective statement if it will better organize your resume.

The bottom line is, make your federal resume as easy to read and visually appealing as possible. Yes, it will be significantly longer than the one- to two-page resume you print out for career fairs. But you need to put as much, if not more thought, into the visual appeal and proper formatting of your federal resume.

6. Have a Nonfederal Resume
Many people assume the only way to apply for a federal job is on USAJobs. It is the primary government hiring tool but not the only one. Some federal agencies use their own or third-party application processing systems or job listing sites. If you're applying through one of these third-party sites, make sure you know the resume requirements. Your more concise, nonfederal resume may be a better fit for these agencies. When in doubt, reach out to the contact on the job announcement. This may be the most critical piece of advice to go along with your federal resume: Don't hesitate to pick up the phone. Showing your desire to apply for the job—and to do it right—makes a great first impression.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

When it Comes to Hiring, the Government Could Do a Better Job

If government is to continue to reform the hiring system, it needs to take on reform that focuses on what is important. This means systematically reengineering the process to ensure that the best candidates are hired in a timely and cost-effective manner. Reform should: (1) provide agencies the flexibilities they need to effectively manage their hiring systems, (2) ensure employees and applicants receive the protections promised by the merit system principles, and (3) give the public a high-quality government workforce working toward its interests. We offer the following recommendations to guide reform and improve the Federal hiring process. We believe these recommendations would be relevant to the improvements DoD is also seeking in its hiring process.

First, agencies should manage hiring as a critical business process, not an administrative function. Recruitment and selection is about making a continuous, long-term investment in attracting a high-quality workforce capable of accomplishing the organization's mission. It should not continue to be viewed therefore solely as an HR function. This means integrating discussions of hiring needs, methods, and outcomes into the business planning process.

Second, agencies should evaluate their own internal hiring processes, procedures, and policies to identify barriers to quality, timely, and cost-effective hiring decisions. Often, agencies put processes in place that extend the time it takes to make decisions without even realizing they have done so. Many agencies will probably be surprised to see that many of the barriers they face are self-imposed.

Third, we recommend that agencies, with the assistance of OPM, employ rigorous assessment strategies that emphasize selection quality, not just cost and speed. In particular, agencies should develop and use assessment instruments that have a relatively good ability to predict future performance. Using several assessment tools in succession can make the assessment process even more effective in managing the candidate pool and narrowing the field of qualified candidates. In addition, OPM can work with agencies to develop assessment tools that can be used for occupations that cut across agencies. This would increase the government's return on investment for these assessments.

Fourth, we also recommend that agencies improve efforts to manage the applicant pool while making the process manageable for applicants. This means better recruitment strategies, improved vacancy announcements, more communication with applicants, and a timely, understandable application and assessment process that encourages applicants to await a final decision rather than abandon the Federal job search in favor of employment elsewhere.

Fifth, we believe it is crucial that agencies properly prepare HR staff and selecting officials to carry out the full range of services necessary to implement an efficient recruitment and hiring system. If agencies devoted resources to ensuring HR staff and managers are prepared to carry out their hiring duties, this would likely significantly reduce bottlenecks in the process. In particular, hiring officials need more information about their role in hiring, the importance of using good assessment tools, the assessment tools available to them, and how to use the probationary period to alleviate selection mistakes.

Finally, OPM should work with agencies to develop a governmentwide framework for Federal hiring reform. This framework should provide agencies with the flexibilities necessary to address agency needs while also preserving selection quality and employee and applicant protections. The framework could streamline and consolidate appointing authorities to simplify hiring procedures and make the process more transparent and understandable for HR staff, selecting officials, and applicants.

Send your comments to

Friday, July 31, 2015

New USAJOBS site is coming soon

The Obama administration is planning several tweaks to USAJobs, aiming to make the notoriously creaky federal jobs portal easier to use.

Officials at the Office of Personnel Management also hope to transform the site from a static repository of resumes into a more dynamic tool that helps federal hiring managers leverage data to make hiring decisions.

The planned website revamp is part of a series of workforce initiatives announced a few months ago during a webcast by former OPM Director Katherine Archuleta.

The site redesign has been in the works for a while. The agency turned its "innovation lab" loose on the problem-child of a website last year.

"We know that this important gateway to federal service does not currently meet the needs of the very large and diverse group of Americans who use it," said Tracy Orrison, who leads the site's user experience and data analytics team.

Orrison's team relied on focus groups and user surveys of hundreds of site visitors to come up with the areas most in need of overhauling. She promised a "beginning to end" look at the USAJobs experience.

However, don't necessarily look for a "big-bang" relaunch of the website. OPM, instead, plans to roll out new features and fixes every 12 weeks throughout the year, Orrison said.

That will allow users to get acclimated to site changes, she said. It could also prevent a repeat of what happened the last time OPM undertook a major update to the jobs site. A crush of jobseekers visiting the site in the days immediately after it relaunched in the fall of 2011 led to repeated site crashes . The near-"death spiral" proved a black eye to OPM, which had in-sourced the jobs site after previously contracting it out to for several years.

The latest redesign also aims to turn the site into a veritable data mine for agency HR officials.

"USAJobs has a lot of data related to the federal hiring process, which until recently has never really been analyzed on a large-scale basis," said Graham Kerster, USAJobs data scientist.

A dashboard developed in consultation with the White House Office and Science and Technology Policy provides hiring managers with a better understanding of the applicant pool for federal jobs, particularly in the science, technology, education and mathematics fields. Hiring managers can also crunch the data to see why jobseekers for these STEM positions abandon the application process, he said.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Finding a Federal Job in 2015: What Works and What Doesn't

Federal job seekers do not tend to approach the search in a fruitful organized manner, using knowledge of themselves and their myriad talents. Instead they log onto USAJOBS, the official one-stop source for federal jobs and employment information, and scroll through thou-sands of "vacancy announcements."
An outside view of the federal government as an employer often renders it as an unapproachable, intimidating presence, allowing in only those who have the good fortune of being on the "inside." This foreboding aura is often intimidating to a job seeker hoping to "crack the code" of federal jargon and the seemingly endless array of hiring rules and regulations. Applicants often make errors that sabotage their chances at federal employment. Myths abound, and without guidance and information, jobseekers can find themselves in a maze of confusion, wasting time applying for jobs that do not fit them or their qualifications.
Tried Methods That  Don't Work
Some of the most common mistakes that federal jobseekers make include:
  1. Beginning the job search without a target job or occupation. On any given day, the federal job site USAJOBS lists more than 5,000 job openings. Scrolling through vacancy announcements searching for terminology and language that is a loose fit for qualifications can waste countless hours.
  2. Taking any federal job to get a foot in the door. This old adage is no longer solid advice in strategic career planning. Once federal managers have completed the arduous hiring process and successfully filled a position, they are reluctant to permit employees to move laterally, even if there's a better fitting position down the hall. In fact, the law states that job transfer is required only in the case of promotion. Therefore, it is not always easy to move around once an applicant has been hired.
  3. Narrowing the search geographically with a focus only on Washington, D.C. The majority of federal jobs are located in areas outside of Washington, D.C. In fact, only 15 percent of federal jobs are located in Washington. Applicants may neglect many opportunities by restricting their search to the nation's capital.
  4. Overlooking networking as a powerful federal job search tool. Many federal jobseekers focus only on online sites and electronic applications. Although federal law requires that the federal application process adhere to strict guidelines, there are many ways to find out about federal opportunities. By attending networking events or utilizing other methods in which they can become known personally and professionally by hiring managers, applicants can distinguish themselves in the crowded federal marketplace.
  5. Applying with a generic resume. It is critical that applicants develop a targeted resume for every type of position for which they are applying. A "one-size-fits-all" resume robs them of the opportunity to market qualifications in the context of the job they are seeking. Federal jobseekers often are not aware of the amount of information available to them in the vacancy announcement, which details the skills and competencies needed to be qualified. Using the announcement as a guide provides applicants with a framework upon which to create a targeted resume.
  6. Avoiding self-promotion. Fearing that they will sound as if they are bragging, many applicants operate under the myth that selling themselves in a job search campaign is not respectable. However, in a competitive marketplace, those applicants who have the ability to toot their own horn likely are the ones who get noticed, interviewed, and hired. It also is important to support one's claims with facts, circumstances, and examples that illustrate successes. These success stories add interest and depth to the application. They're a much better approach than recounting lackluster facts and dates.
  7. Not spending enough time developing application materials. Applying for a federal job requires a definite commitment of time and energy. Some estimate that a careful and exhaustive examination of job requirements and preparation of targeted materials may take 10 to 12 hours. Much less than that means that applicants have not devoted sufficient time for systematic review and writing. Applicants should not only peruse the "Overviews" section, but analyze the "Duties and Qualifications." Jobseekers can increase their success rate by tailoring applications to job requirements and highlighting resumes with the unique applicable qualifications they bring to the position.
  8. Insufficient knowledge of the federal government's agencies and missions. Applicants need to be aware of the variety of occupations and agencies within the government.
  9. Inadequate research into their own career aspirations. Federal hopefuls need to take time to fully appreciate and articulate their worth to the government employment. They need to inventory their best skills and match them with federal job requirements.
Exploring Federal Careers
Federal job seekers and the professionals who guide them would do well to enter a career exploration process, in which they assess strengths, talents, passions, and goals and then determine the federal jobs which match. Career counselors conduct this process routinely with their clients in the private sector. Colleges and universities prepare their graduates for the work world outside federal service. But, for some reason, the career counseling field and jobseekers themselves have overlooked matching goals and talents to federal jobs.

Federal jobseekers also may wish to research the strategic plans of the agency in which they have an interest. In a quick online search, such as "DHHS Strategic Plan," applicants can find out which direction the agency--in this case homeland security--is headed, and other trends and plans. Using this information, applicants can determine if this is an agency whose direction coincides with their own goals. For example, if the strategic plan of a health agency shows that it is trending toward using technology to educate health professionals, a jobseeker may determine that this blend of technology and health education matches his career interest and past experience.

With recent reforms in federal hiring to streamline the process and provide selecting officials with tools to choose the most qualified applicants, it is more important than ever for jobseekers to specifically articulate their own worth and career ambitions in the context of the job for which they are applying.

Reaping the Rewards
A federal job search must include a process of self-selection. Job seekers need to rule out jobs that do not meet their own self-identified criteria. Without including a career plan in the job search, a government career can wind up dissatisfying and unfulfilling. Finding work that maximizes potential and expertise is an asset that pays dividends for years to come. Successful job seekers secure work that is meaningful, which increases their motivation and productivity. Managers reap the rewards of good hires. Satisfied workers perform better. And, the American taxpayer receives a return on its investment in employees who contribute positively and absolutely to the work of the federal government.

In a time of shrinking federal budgets, hiring freezes, and other mandates to do more with less, federal managers often worry if they will be able to conduct the business of their agency in accordance with mission priorities. Having the right person in the right job can heighten the success of federal managers and the agencies for which they work.

Hiring Reform Aims for Speed, Simplicity
On May 11, 2010, President Obama issued a memorandum to agencies, directing them to implement several important changes to the overall hiring approach, including moving the federal government to a more streamlined, resume-based system. Federal hiring reform, implemented in November 2011, recognized that the government's outdated and cumbersome recruitment and hiring practices presented a barrier to attracting and selecting qualified applicants. Concurrent with hiring reform, OPM is updating and modernizing USAJOBS.  The new webpage should be up sometime between now 2016.

The President's Requirements of Federal Hiring Reform

* Pathways for students and recent graduates. The federal government has had trouble competing with other sectors in recruiting and hiring students and recent graduates. To address these difficulties, President Obama signed Executive Order 13562, Recruiting and Hiring Students and Recent Graduates, on December 27, 2010, to improve the way the federal government recruits hires, develops, and retains students and recent graduates.

* Elimination of written essays. The use of essays, Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs), often considered burdensome and unwieldy by applicants, has been omitted as part of the application process. However, applicants may be required to complete essays at some later point in the process.

* Resume and cover letter. Applicants can submit resumes and cover letters that are similar to those used in private-sector applications.

* Category rating. With category rating, the names of all eligible candidates in the highest quality category are sent to the selecting official for consideration. Without being limited to the top three eligible candidates (previously called the rule of three), the selecting official chooses from among all qualified applicants, increasing applicants' opportunities for consideration.

* Manager accountability and involvement. Managers will be more involved in the hiring process, rather than conferring the primary responsibility to human resources offices.

* Quality and speed of hiring. One of the challenges facing federal agencies in attracting and recruiting qualified individuals is meeting applicants' expectations for user-friendly application procedures, clear communication about the hiring process, and an engaging orientation experience. This new approach to federal hiring is designed to focus on the applicants' expectations and needs and interests, and reduce the time to hire for critical positions.

* Applicant notification. Managers will notify applicants about the status of their applications at various points in the selection process.

In summary, there is little reason for federal jobseekers to create their application materials in a vacuum. They should know and illustrate their qualifications, tying both to a targeted vacancy announcement and the mission statement of the post's organization. Virtual access to strategic plans makes it possible for applicants to identify trends and demonstrate their employment potential by documenting past successes in similar circumstances. Success stories make the case that the applicant is the best fit for the job. Ultimately hires from a search well done results in greater job satisfaction for the individual, increased productivity for the organization, and a greater return on investment for the American public.

Federal job seekers must articulate their own worth and career ambitions in applications and tie their experience to agency missions and strategies. With hiring reform, current federal jobseekers may have more luck in a streamlined review process.