"Outstanding work!!! The Federal Resume and KSAs look great. Thank you for a great effort, and being so professional."
Ted S., Candidate Program Analyst GS-14
"Got the Interview. Just wanted to let you know I did make the “Best Qualified” list for the Deputy Federal Security Director position. Thank you for all your assistance in developing my Federal Resume and KSAs ."
L. R., Deputy Federal Security Director, TSA
Federal Job Information
KSA Writers and CareerPro Global, Inc. specialize in developing entry to C-Level federal applications. Send us a federal vacancy announcement so we can provide a free critique to determine if you are qualified and have the experience to apply.
As with most job applications, the federal government requires a resume, but a Federal Resume is much different than what is expected in the private sector. A Federal Resume must also include special key words and phrases found throughout the vacancy announcement to pass the initial screening process. Although there are similarities, each agency (and often each job announcement) will have specific information required in its own format as specified in the vacancy announcement.
There are several different versions of Federal Resumes as well, depending upon the application process. Whether it is an OF-612, SF-171 replacement, a Senior Executive Service format, or a resume that is entered into one of the many online application systems, the government requires more information than is typically found in a private sector resume. For example, some applications require your social security number or the last four digits, others require the full addresses of previous employers, supervisor names and phone numbers, and/or a detailed listing of education (including relevant coursework, credits earned and GPA) and training (including certification dates).
Online formats required by systems such as USAJOBS, AVUE, Army CPOL, Navy CHARTS and others are very specific, both in terms of actual format and document length. These online formats can be very restricting, and the instructions they provide can be very difficult to interpret correctly. Any missing information can result in a rejection of your application.
Some federal job announcements require additional statements or technical questions. The most common of these are Knowledge, Skill, and Ability statements, or KSAs. These questions must be answered in a narrative statement explaining in detail some specific experience, knowledge or capability with examples from the candidate’s career. Length typically runs from 3/4 to 1 1/2 page answers per question and each answer is scored by a reviewer. Like other vacancy questions, KSAs generally require at least one or two examples in the CONTEXT – CHALLENGE – ACTION – RESULT format, and the reviewer will want to see details. Other mandatory statements include Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs), Technical Qualifications (TQs) or Professional Technical Qualifications (PTQs) or Managerial Technical Qualifications (MTQs). Additional statements are usually uploaded as a separate document or are entered into an online field during the application process.
NOTE: If your answer is too long for an online format, you will either receive an error message requiring you to shorten your answer before you can submit, or your answer will be truncated, removing any additional information beyond the required limit.
Senior Executive Service (SES) positions are the highest level in the civil service, requiring at least 10 years of executive leadership experience. Personnel in these top-level positions generally run entire departments, large scale programs, or an entire agency. Successful candidates are usually top military officers, Chief Executive Officers, Chief Financial Officers and other “C” level executive officers. While all other application processes focus on what you have done, there SES process focuses on how you did it. It’s not enough to say you led a project, you must show how you created and promoted a vision, how you motivated people and built coalitions, how you secured and managed funding. In fact, there are 28 Executive Competencies that must be covered in the application process, which is deliberately designed to be grueling and time consuming, with little margin for error. Many people have called their SES application process “cathartic,” because it forces the applicant to review their entire career in minute detail, thoroughly examining their tactics, leadership style, career path history and future goals.
Mandatory ECQ statements address expected leadership competencies such as Leading Change, Leading People, Business Acumen, Results Driven and Building Coalitions, however, each of these has several subtopics that must be addressed and the terms used often have their own unique definitions that are quite different from what you would normally expect. Again, a minimum of one to two examples must be provided in the CONTEXT – CHALLENGE – ACTION – RESULT format.
The 5-page SES application is a new development that has complicated the process considerably. ECQs are reviewed by a panel, and reviewers are accustomed to ECQs with one to two pages per answer. Several agencies are trying variations on a 5-page resume that additionally includes all of the information traditionally found in separate ECQ statements. Although the government issued a very basic guideline in 2010, there remains a great deal of variation on how to interpret the new requirements and the new format. To successfully write these applications requires a great deal of skill and inside information.
Most federal agencies accept applications that are entered online via the Internet. These online resumes and applications undergo a triple screening process that is designed to reject as many applications as possible. Since these positions are announced throughout the United States, the government would receive literally thousands of resumes for certain positions, especially in a down economy, so systems are in place to restrict successful applications only to those who have clear qualifications for the position. Unfortunately, this system often eliminates many qualified candidates as well. Many people have received rejection letters saying they do not have the minimum required experience, although they have held similar positions for many years. If experience is not presented in a manner the agency expects, it effectively does not exist.
The online resume screening process begins with an electronic for key words and phrases required for the position. These are usually included in the vacancy announcement, but they are not obvious. A careful reading of the announcement to identify themes, repeated phrases and jargon is necessary for success. Without the right keywords (or enough of them) a resume will be rejected. There are many other factors involved that the candidate generally cannot know, such as where keywords should be placed in the document, proper format of text and paragraph usage to highlight them properly, and many details. This information is not found in the online instructions or the vacancy announcement. In addition to the keywords and phrases, your resume must also read well and directly target the information requested in the announcement. Additional irrelevant information can distract from legitimate experience and result in a rejection.
After the electronic search, a low level administrative assistant will visually inspect the document for information he or she has been directed to find and many not even understand. If you pass these stages, a higher level reviewer who probably does have experience in the appropriate field will check the details to see if there is sufficient experience in the proper areas to warrant an interview. You resume will be scored according to this experience and the top level candidates usually will be called for a phone interview, followed by an in person interview.
NOTE: the entire screening process can take from a few days to several months after the announcement closes. For this reason, it is usually wise to apply for as many jobs as possible that reasonably match a candidate’s skills and experience.
Online formats include numerous restrictions that make it difficult to fully express work experience. Each online application format has different requirements for resume length, date formats, number of jobs allowed to be described, and the number of characters allowed in each field. Some mandate the name and format of each supervisor, even if the candidate indicates it is “Not OK to contact” that supervisor or if the supervisor is no longer available. Other online formats (most notably the Federal Aviation Administration) require numerous “check the box” type answers to an extensive list of questions detailing every possible aspect of your prior experience.
Character counts are unforgiving. Note that that is characters, not words, and spaces and paragraph breaks are counted as characters as well. Exceeding a character count will result in an error message or simple truncation of an answer. It is critical to review all answers entered online prior to submitting, especially in you paste in an answer that was copied from Microsoft Word or some other word processing software.
Some of the most common online formats include:
Note that USAJOBS also allows a resume to be uploaded directly in GIF, JPG, JPEG, PNG, RTF, PDF or Microsoft Word format, allowing candidates to completely bypass the online builder, but this is actually counterproductive, as uploaded resumes are not part of the searchable database. Using the online builder allows other agencies to find you, and also ensures your resume includes all the information required within the appropriate character limits. It certainly takes longer, but is much more beneficial to use the online builder.
USAJOBS has no capability to submit KSAs and other statements online. They are either uploaded as separate documents or are entered online after transferring to an outside agency site. Often, these instructions are unclear or misleading, so it is important to click the Preview Questions link if one exists. There is usually a contact person listed with an email or phone number to answer any questions regarding the application.
Each announcement will include important information such as who is eligible to apply, qualifications that must be demonstrated in your work history, and may identify mandatory supplemental statements or questions.
Check the vacancy announcement for specific information required. Each announcement is different and may require some or all of the following information in a specific format.
Supplemental Essay Questions:
In addition to the resume, an applicant also may need to prepare KSAs or answer other essay questions such as TQs, ECQs or others. These supplemental essays are generally written in a CONTEXT-CHALLENGE-ACTION-RESULT (CCAR) format, detailing one to three examples addressing the question. Unlike the resume, these narratives are written in the first person. Since each answer may be judged separately and may be split among different reviewers for evaluation, each should be treated as an individual document. Any acronyms used should be defined in each and no reference should be made to another answer (e.g., never say, “See question 2 above”). It is also permissible to reuse examples in different answers, although these should be written in a different manner to target the specific question and a greater variety of answers is best. Examples should be within the past 10 years and as recent as possible
Context: Where you worked, when, who with and in what capacity?
Note that you should not use actual headings in your answers. KSAs should be written as a narrative. Generally speaking, Context and Challenge can comprise the first paragraph, While Action and Results can be individual paragraphs or be combined into one.
Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs):
SES Application requires answering 5 ECQ essay questions and may also include one or more Professional Technical, Technical, or Managerial Qualification essays. The PTQs, TQs and MQs are similar to KSAs. ECQs, however, are unique and very specific, as they are addressed as a group and must address 28 Competencies in the proper areas within the 5 overall questions. While other essays focus on what you did and the results, ECQs use the CCAR format to highlight how you lead. You must show what steps you took to develop and promote a vision for strategic change or reduce conflict. How did you maintain external awareness and use political savvy to identify decisions makers with the authority to support your position and build a coalition? What programs and policies did you implement to boost morale and develop your people?
Note that the terms used in the information requested often have different definitions that are normally understood. For example, the topic for ECQ 3 is Results Driven, but it 6 includes subtopics such as Decisiveness, Entrepreneurship and Technical Credibility. The last does not necessarily mean use of technology, it means you understands and appropriately apply the principles, procedures, regulations and policies in your field of expertise. So if you are a contract manager who is known for solid understanding of contracting law, regulations and procedures and you can apply them properly in a variety of situations, you can demonstrate your Technical Credibility.
NOTE: ECQs simply cannot be successfully written without a thorough knowledge and understanding of the federal SES guide. If any one of the competencies is not sufficiently addressed, the application will be rejected (although in some cases, if there is a minor question, the ECQs will be returned with one additional chance to submit revisions).
The 5 ECQs include:
1. Leading Change: How do you develop and implement strategic change within an organization?
2. Leading People: How do you design and implement strategies to maximize employee potential, build teamwork and reduce conflict in an inclusive work environment that values diversity?
3. Results Driven: How do you solve problems and identify new opportunities for organizational improvement?
4. Business Acumen: How do you administer human, financial, and Information Technology resources to ensure success?
5. Building Coalitions: How do you identify key decision-makers, understand the internal and external politics, and influence stakeholders to build coalitions and secure agreements?
New employees may be eligible for special bonuses such as a recruitment bonus or a relocation bonus. This will be at the discretion of the employing agency. Other beneficial federal programs may include incentive awards, employee development programs, student loan repayment programs, retention allowances, and interagency transfers. All agencies support community service and encourage participation in the annual Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).
Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB)
The government's health benefit program has about 180 health plan options throughout the United States, including consumer-driven health care and preferred provider network options. At least a dozen plan choices are available to each employee, which allows for a broad choice so that employees can select the plan that best meets their own individual health care needs. While specific benefits vary among FEHB plans, none can impose a waiting period or require a medical exam to enroll in their plan.
Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
FSAs allow employees to increase their disposable income because the amounts they contribute are not subject to federal income, FICA, State or local income taxes. The federal government offers both a Health Care FSA and a Dependent Care FSA. Employees can use the Health Care FSA for expenses that are tax-deductible, but not reimbursed by any other source, including out-of-pocket expenses and non-covered benefits under their FEHB plans. Some examples are non-covered dental services, lasik surgery, health plan deductibles, and co-payments and coinsurance. FSAs for dependent care are available for employees with dependent children or qualifying dependent adults when the care is necessary to allow the employee to work.
Leave and Holidays
Federal employees are entitled to at least 13 days of vacation leave as well as 13 days of sick leave each year. Depending on years of service, employees can earn up to 26 days of vacation leave each year. In addition, Federal employees get 10 days paid holiday each year.
Family Friendly Flexibilities
The federal government provides many programs for workers to support their needs for individual flexibility. For example, Flexible Work Schedules allow employees to adjust their work hours in order to take a day off each pay period. Employees can enjoy twenty-six 3-day weekends! Also, the federal government's Alternative Work Schedule allows employees to select certain arrival and departure times that best suit their needs within their working day. Agencies are encouraged to allow eligible employees the opportunity to Telework either at home or at a remote location at least one day a week. Family Friendly Leave Policies provide flexibility for military leave, allow employees to care for a sick family member or flexibility in the event of a disaster or emergency. In addition, while specific programs may vary, agencies also offer Employee Assistance Programs, Part-Time & Job Sharing Positions, Resources for Child & Elder Care Resources, Information and Incentives for Adoption, and other Child Support Services.
Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS):
Retirement benefits are based on your years of service and salary history.
Thrift Savings Plan (TSP):
With the Thrift Savings Plan, individuals can self-direct their retirement savings program through multiple investment options. This plan is very similar to a 401(k) plan.
Federal employees will earn Social Security credit while working with the government. Social Security provides for individual's future retirement benefits, provides disability protection, and allows for survivor benefits protection.
Medicare - Part A:
Government employees are automatically eligible for Medicare Part A at no cost beginning at age 65.
Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI):
FEGLI is a group term life insurance program. It consists of Basic life insurance coverage and three options. In most cases, if you are a new Federal employee, individuals are automatically covered by Basic life insurance and your payroll office deducts premiums from your salary unless you waive the coverage. In addition to the Basic, there are three forms of Optional insurance that you can elect. (Standard, Additional, and Family). The program offers the opportunity to retain your coverage for your entire life.
Long Term Care Insurance Program:
As a new federal employee, you have the opportunity to apply for long term care insurance under the federal program with minimal underwriting. However, a limited number of medical conditions will prevent a new employee from being approved for coverage. Long term care helps people to perform daily activities if they have an ongoing illness or disability. This program offers a choice of benefits that can provide a variety of services, including but not limited to: nursing home care, assisted living facility care, adult day care and at home care. Please see the link for specific information. There are many other benefit programs that make the federal government a model employer and a top ranking career choice. The following is a list of additional programs offered by many of the agencies:
Lump-sum bonus to newly appointed employees for difficult-to-fill positions. Up to 25% of basic pay may be paid prior to employee entering on duty. Service agreement with repayment plan if service time not fulfilled.
Lump-sum bonus for difficult-to-fill position in a different commuting area; up to 25% of basic pay. Service agreement with repayment plan if service time not fulfilled.
Continuing payment to retain departing employees; up to 25% of basic pay.
Monetary; Time off; Honorary; Non-monetary
Annual fundraising support of community service groups
Permits agencies to repay the student loans of Federal employees; used at the discretion of the agency.
About the Author
Barbara Adams, President & CEO of CareerPro Global, the parent company of www.careerproplus.com has been a member of the careers community for the past 23 years she and holds four prestigious industry certifications. CareerPro Global, Inc. is the first business of it’s kind in the careers industry to earn ISO 9001-2008 Certification in July 2010. CareerPro Global is one the fastest growing Military, Federal and Civilian Resume Writing and Careers Coaching companies in the industry. Barbara's team of Certified Professional and Federal Writers assist thousands of veterans applying for and gaining Federal employment each year.Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved
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