Page updated 4/10/2017
Federal Job Applications, Federal Resumes, and KSAs
The key to landing a federal job is to read the job announcement that lists everything required to apply for that government position. You must complete and send in all requested information, in the specified format, for your application to be accepted. If you have questions about the job or requirements there is a HR specialist's email and/or phone number provided towards the end of each announcement that you can contact for assistance. Announcements typically require a federal resume, completion of an occupational questionnaire, KSAs, and a civil service exam may be necessary for certain positions.
It is misleading to assume that a standard resume will land you a job or career with the Federal Government (Uncle Sam). Most private industry resumes are loosely structured and simply introduce the applicant to the company. Follow the guidance listed below to write successful applications and federal resumes for the job you want in government. The application is one of the keys to successfully landing a federal job. You must write a professional application or federal resume and develop job search strategies that work. This website and our Federal Resume Guide will help you achieve these goals.
Hiring reform is creating significant changes to the federal recruitment process that will be phased in gradually over time. Applicants can be expected to encounter a mix of the old and new systems until agencies are able to implement the new procedures. The key for applicants is to read the job announcement thoroughly, complete, and submit ALL required documentation including a federal style résumé, by the closing date of the job announcement.
The new hiring process is based on category ratings rather than a point system that was used by many agencies for decades. Applicants are placed in one of several categories; typically, Best Qualified, Highly Qualified, or Qualified. Agencies may use different category titles. The federal government provides fair and equitable opportunities for all applicants regardless of race, national origin, gender, age or religious beliefs. The system is designed to reduce and eliminate, wherever possible, outside influence such as nepotism and political affiliation to level the playing field.
The federal government uses a category rating system to refer candidates. In the past, applicant’s federal résumés were scored with a numerical rating; a hiring manager could select from only among the top three highest-scoring applicants and could not “pass over” a veteran to select a non-veteran. This was known as the “Rule of 3.”
Under category rating, applicants are put into categories and do not receive a specific numeric score. Hiring managers may select anyone in the top category as long as they do not select a non-veteran if there are veterans in the same category. The purpose of category rating is to increase the number of qualified applicants while preserving Veterans’ Preference rights. The category rating approach gives agencies the flexibility to assess and select from among applicants in the highest quality category without regard to the “Rule of 3.”
“The Presidential Memorandum – Improving the Federal Recruitment and Hiring Process,” issued on May 11, 2010, requires agencies to use the category rating approach to assess and select job applicants for positions filled through Competitive Examining. Agencies are required to evaluate candidates’ applications and place them into two or more predetermined quality categories. Quality categories are defined by Human Resources (HR) with the assistance of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) through job analysis prior to the posting of an announcement. The categories are written to reflect the requirements to perform the job successfully and to distinguish differences in the quality of candidates’ job-related competencies or Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs).
Applicants can either compile and write their federal resume / application independently with the proper resources and knowledge or hire a professional federal resume writing service such as CareerPro Global.
When writing your federal resume you have to consider many things and include all required information. Format is also important. If you are good at putting your thoughts down on paper and have the time available you can complete your resume application as long as you fully understand the application process. I wrote many federal applications during my 35 + years of government service with great success. I was also a trained and certified federal rating official and reviewed and rated thousands of job applications. One of my very early job changes in federal government was from a DOD avionics technician position in Topeka Kansas to a similar DOD job in Pittsburgh, PA. I was selected for the job and shortly after reporting to work, one of the specialists I was working with stated, "the guys in the shop thought they would just throw away their tools when I reported for work." I asked him why they would think that, and he said that the supervisor had left my application out on his desk and all had read it.
The application and federal resume process isn't formidable, however it is detailed and you have to know what to focus on so that rating officials will be able to easily find the key duties and specialized experience that is required for the job. With a little coaching and samples that are provided in The Book of U.S. Government Jobs, you too can get though this. Entry level job applicants can expect to spend at least 4 to 8 hours on their application and federal resume. Midlevel applicants can easily spend several days just compiling key information in preparation for completing their federal resume. This is why I encourage all who apply to complete their federal resume OFF LINE. I don't recommend completing your federal resume through an agency or USAJOBS resume builder because of their limitations. It is best to write your federal resume and/or application on your word processor and take your time to compile the info you need, draft your work experiences, spell check and insure that you have ALL information that is required in the Job Announcement. After you complete your federal resume offline, it is a simple matter to copy and paste your federal resume into online resume builders.
A word of caution. Once you have your resume completed and posted on USAJOBS or one of the many other agency resume builders, it's easy to submit that same resume to apply for other job vacancies. That can be a mistake. Before resubmitting that same resume for another job vacancy READ the job announcement thoroughly to insure that other duties and specialized experience are not required for the new position. If you find different requirements, and you possess the new duties or specialized experience, incorporate them into your federal resume. It is not unusual to apply for the same job series and find other requirements, or new or additional KSA statements.
Tailor your federal style resume and application to the core duties and responsibilities listed in the job announcement. Those who take the time to develop a comprehensive and properly formatted tailored application package will improve their rating and get the attention of the selecting official.
Suggestion: You can apply for most jobs online using an agency's resume builder. It is best to draft your work experiences and take time to tailor them to the job announcement offline using a word processor. This will give you sufficient time to collect all of the information you will need for the application. Tailor your work experience write-ups to the job's required skills, abilities and qualifications. Spell check your work and then copy and paste your write-ups into the resume builder.
Read the job announcement thoroughly for the position you are applying for and pay attention to the required Duties and Responsibilities. Look for special skills or other evaluation factors that are needed. Highlight the key duties and responsibilities and then incorporate them frequently in your work experience, occupational questionnaire and KSA write-ups. You must provide specific examples of the work experience you have that is relevant to the job you are bidding on. Detailed step-by-step guidance on how to tailor your federal resume to the job announcement is available in Chapter Six, starting on page 130 of The Book of U.S. Government Jobs. Chapter Six takes you through an actual job announcement and shows you how to identify key information to tailor your resume.
Don’t use the exact same application for all jobs that you apply for. The key is to read the job announcement and then tailor your application to that specific job. Jobs within the same series from different agencies often have different skill sets or required experience. Read the announcement and ensure that your application includes the required knowledge, skills and abilities.