Friday, July 22, 2016

How Can I Ace the Federal Interview?

What is the purpose of a Federal interview?  It is a two-way communication test.  It is a confirmation of your technical skills and a test of your personality to ensure a good fit into the Agency’s environment.  It is also an opportunity for you as the interviewee to test the job requirements, the interviewer’s personality and the presentation of potential employment. 

There are a few ways that a Federal job interview differs from that in the private sector. 

  • You will probably be faced with a panel interview (generally a panel of three or more).  Be prepared for three sets of eyeballs as opposed to one staring at you.  The interview is a test and it will most likely be formally scored, especially if you are interviewed by a panel.

  • You may encounter behavior interview questions.  These are questions that start with the phrase, “Describe a time when…”.  The panel will attempt to determine if you are a good fit for the agency, based on your responses.  These questions allow the interviewer to explore your past behavior and probe into your responses.  The interviewer is looking for a story with “Goldilocks” detail (just enough, but not too much). 

The best way to ace the interview is to be prepared. 

  • Research the Department/Agency, its mission, and the unit in which you are interviewing.  Find out what they do and how they do it.  All the information you need is on the web.

  • Find out as much information as you can about the interviewers.  How will you know who will interview you? When an interview is extended to you, ask who will be interviewing you.  Go to your social network and find out about them.  Remember, you have a short amount of time to build report with the interviewers.  Do your research before the interview and use your findings to leverage relationship-building in the actual interview.   

  • Prepare your responses in advance.  Some typical questions might be:

“Describe a time or a situation when you…
…were faced with a stressful situation.”
…used good judgment in solving a problem.”
…showed initiative to contain costs.”
…motivated others (team or direct reports).”
…effectively handled a difficult customer.”
…tried to accomplish something and failed.”

For more information on developing your federal job search strategy to attract the attention of the HR hiring team, visit us on the web at

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Where are all the Federal Jobs?

                                     Top 10 Occupational Groups for New Federal Employees
Source: Partnership for Public Service “Fed Figures”

Occupational Group
% of Total New Employees
New Employees
Total Employees
Legal & Kindred
Business & Industry
Accounting & Budget
Social Science, Psychology & Welfare
Engineering and Architecture
Information Technology
Miscellaneous Occupations
General Administrative, Clerical & Office Services
Medical, Hospital, Dental & Public Health

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Top 3 Myths to the Federal Government’s Security Clearance Process

Myth #1: As a Federal Government Job Seeker, I Need to Already Have a Security Clearance to Land a Federal Job.  One of the top Federal Government employment myths is that you are required to hold a security clearance prior to applying for a Federal Job. The truth is that most Federal vacancy announcements will state that you “Must have the ability to obtain a security clearance.” You do not need a clearance prior to applying because the Federal Government will sponsor you through this process.  Alternatively, in the Federal contractor world (corporate/private sector), if you possess a security clearance, you may be highly desired and sought-after, because they can get you started working on a Federal contract immediately, which means they can bill the Government for your time  
Myth #2: The Federal Government is looking for the perfect citizen, and that’s not me!  The purpose of the security clearance process is not to find perfection; it is to establish that you are not a threat to the Federal Government. Red flags include foreign contacts, travel, and accounts; poor credit and/or high debt; bankruptcies, foreclosures and/or short sales; employment and/or personal indiscretions; criminal activities; inconsistencies in your background; and drug or alcohol abuse. You will be asked a series of questions surrounding these topics to decide whether or not you may be susceptible to blackmail or coercion and therefore vulnerable as a national security risk. Issues like financial challenges can be defended by providing a stellar history of past financial responsibility and establishing a pattern of payments with debt collectors, prior to going through the security clearance process. If you have experienced recent financial distress, avoid applying for positions requiring fiduciary responsibilities assince those roles will place a higher emphasis on financial fidelity.
Myth #3It’s OK to stretch the truth Your future Federal Government position may or may not require a polygraph (lie detector) test, but understand that it is illegal to be dishonest during any part of the process. Investigators will have already collected every college transcript, performance review, credit report, law enforcement and military record associated with your name and fingerprints within the clearance timeline. They will have also interviewed friends, neighbors, and colleagues and others, so be honest.  The adjudicators know that there are multiple sides to every story, so tell yours from the beginning.  They will provide you with the opportunity to explain yourself in more depth at multiple times during the process.  Dishonesty during the process will result in no security clearance and no Federal job offer.
How to Speed Up the Process:  This one might be a no-brainer, but the best ways to shave off days, weeks and months from the length of your security clearance process is to 1) Follow the instructions and 2) Never leave blanks on your paperwork.
Follow the instructions.  Read the fine print. Some questions (specifically drug-related, alcohol-related and legal) will have an “expiration date” of sorts, that require you to list issues and infractions one, five or 10 years prior to the current date. Additionally, they may ask, “have you EVER”, meaning have you ever in your life time. Read carefully and answer accordingly.
Never leave blanks on your paperwork. Take the time to fill out complete contact information for all contacts (supervisor, colleagues, neighbors, friends, family, etc.).  Connect with all  contacts you submit on your paperwork to ensure you have the most up-to-date information for them, and to inform them that a Federal Investigator may be contacting them. Outdated or non-existent contact information will lengthen considerably the process.

For more information on developing your federal job search strategy to attract the attention of the HR hiring team, visit us on the web at

Sunday, May 8, 2016

How Do I Know What GS Level to Target?

Unless you’ve been a federal government employee before, you probably don’t know exactly what GS-level (salary) you will qualify for.  The federal hiring team will use your federal resume to determine if you are qualified.  The more information you have in your resume in terms of details about what you did, how you did it and for whom, the better you will fare in the process.  This is why a federal resume is generally an average of five pages long. The federal hiring team will also look at salary.  They want to make sure you are in the ballpark.  They fully understand that some jobs, some professions, some sectors pay more, pay less, etc. but they are looking to see if you are within an acceptable range.  If you are transitioning from a military position, they will take your rank into account as well, but the main consideration will be your federal resume. 

If you truly don't have an idea about salary level, look at a federal pay chart and find where your last salary appears on the federal pay chart.  On a broad level, if you are at a managerial level, you could look at GS-13, 14 and 15.  If you are a subject matter expert in your field, generally GS-12 and below will be best for you.

For more information on developing your federal job search strategy to attract the attention of the HR hiring team, visit us on the web at

Monday, April 11, 2016

What’s in a Keyword?

Most of you intuitively know that you have skills that the government wants and will pay for in the form of a salary.  But for those transitioning from the private sector into the Federal world, often times wording can make all the difference.  For example, in the private sector, we focus on “profit” but in the Federal sector we “contain costs.”  Same concept, different wording. 

Words can and do make all the difference.  Most Federal agencies use a human being to scan incoming resumes for key words.  Try this technique to quickly identify key words from the vacancy announcement for your Federal Resume:

  • Copy and paste the Duties and Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs) text from the vacancy announcement into this website:  Click submit and view the key words you want to make sure get placed on your Federal resume.  

For more information on developing your federal job search strategy to attract the attention of the HR hiring team, visit us on the web at  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Cover Letter or No Cover Letter?

More than one HR specialist has told me that cover letters are a waste of time.   They add bulk to the application package and give the HR folks more material to review (or discard as the case may be).  So is it best to save a tree?  

Seventy-five percent of agencies collecting your application materials use a back-end system called "USA Staffing." When it is used, all of your application attachments get forwarded to the hiring manager. S/he has the option of opening any or all of these attachments, including your cover letter. So if you do decide to include one for the hiring manager to possibly see, please don't forget to tailor it to the job and make it a powerful one. Furthermore, if you have to explain something in your resume that is out-of-the-ordinary, such as a gap in employment that is especially long (over 18 months) or a change in career progression, a cover letter can be just the thing you need to explain to the reader the “why” of your uniqueness. Be sure you make a solid connection between the skills desired and the skills you are bringing to the agency.  Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression!  

For more information on developing your federal job search strategy to attract the attention of the HR hiring team, visit us on the web at

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How Do I Check On My Applications? keeps a record of the vacancy announcements you submit.  To locate the status of your application, go to “Account,” then “Application Status” to view any updates that the Agency inputted regarding your application status. You can click on the vacancy announcement hyperlink to view the vacancy announcement and retrieve the phone number and/or email address of the Human Resources contact, in case you want to follow-up.  Directly above the list of applications, you should see a small icon that allows you to create quickly an Excel spreadsheet of the applications you've submitted (pretty neat feature, USAJOBS!) Keep in mind that the status is only updated for those applications submitted to agencies using systems that communicate with  If the agencies’ systems don’t communicate, the status will generally appear as “Status Unavailable.”  You can sometimes obtain your status from those systems by logging in directly to the system that collected your application information. 

For more information on developing your federal job search strategy to attract the attention of the HR hiring team, visit us on the web at