What can I Expect in Applying for Federal Employment?

Koren Allen
Koren Allen
The government is the largest U.S. employer.
The government is the largest U.S. employer.

The U.S. government is the largest employer in the United States, with jobs ranging from clerical and general labor, to skilled technicians, to field specialists and upper level management. Even so, applying for federal employment is not a quick or simple process, so you will need to be prepared. Federal employment applications ask for a great deal of information, and as much detail as you can provide. This approach is exactly the opposite of what you may have been taught about job hunting, so your standard one-page resume may not be appropriate.

The first step is to find and read the job announcement. This is a detailed statement which includes job title and description, salary range, duty location, and background requirements for candidates. Job announcements can be found online, but some agencies may have announcements on their own websites. If there is a particular office or agency where you want to work, call or visit them to find out how they post their job announcements.

Read and understand the job announcement thoroughly; overlooking details here will cost you a lot of wasted time and effort if you apply for a position for which you are not qualified. The open dates for the job announcement show the date range during which application packets will be accepted; your application must be submitted before the closing date. Be sure to note the announcement number for the position, since you will have to fill in this number on your application. If a test is required for the position, testing information will be on the job announcement. Print the announcement if possible, and gather the required information before you begin the application.

The OF-612 is a basic federal employment application form that will ask for name, address, date of birth, social security number, and other contact and background questions. Most federal agencies accept the OF-612 application, but always check your job announcement for additional requirements. Your application packet is your first impression to the agency, so always check for spelling errors. If you are using an OF-612 that is saved on your computer, update it each time you submit the application to a new agency. Always fill in the job announcement number on your application, and keep a backup copy in case you are called for an interview.

For most federal applications, you must submit a Statement of Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Other Characteristics, abbreviated as KSA or KSAO on the job announcement. This is generally a narrative statement describing your work experience or education related to a specific skill set required for the position. Your KSAO statements can make or break your entire application, so it is vitally important to give this section a lot of time and thought. The job announcement will list specific skills that the hiring authorities will be looking for on your application. In the KSA statement, you will want to address these skills by describing any education, training, or experience that gave you these skills.

Most federal jobs are filled using a merit system, which means you are ranked according to how well-qualified you are for the position, regardless of race, gender, or other noncontributory factors. When you send in your application packet or submit it online, it will be reviewed by a staffing specialist first. Your application will be compared with a list of required abilities related to the job, and the specialist will determine if you are eligible or ineligible. All eligible candidates are then given points based on how much experience or education they have; this information is taken largely from the KSAO statements you have provided, so be sure to include everything that might be relevant. Once all applicants have been scored, a list of the top-ranked candidates is sent to the hiring agency.

Typically, the agency will interview a number of candidates from the top of the list. A federal job interview is similar to a job interview in the private sector. You may have more than one interview, and you may also be asked to agree to a drug screen, physical, and background check, if hired. After the interviews have been completed, the hiring official will typically offer the position via telephone call to the selected candidate. If you were not selected, you will receive a notice of results in the mail.

It's important to remember not to get frustrated with the process. Federal jobs are highly competitive, so take a few minutes to review your entire application packet one last time before you submit it, and be patient for a response. The hiring process, from start to finish, can take several months for some positions. While you're waiting to hear something from one agency, it's a good idea to keep applying for other jobs. The federal employment application process gets easier each time you do it; job announcements are updated daily, so keep applying for new positions as they come open.

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    • The government is the largest U.S. employer.
      The government is the largest U.S. employer.