Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Tips for landing a better federal job

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Here is a sample of tips to help you write a successful application essay and a sample of tips that have helped me and hundreds of my clients land new and better federal jobs, including jobs in the Senior Executive Service:

*Don’t rely exclusively on http://usajobs.gov. Many openings are never posted on the government’s central jobs site. This is particularly true of openings in excepted service agencies — which are excluded from competitive civil service procedures, and have their own hiring systems and evaluation criteria for filling vacancies.

Check the career sites of these agencies — which include FBI, Federal Reserve Board, Government Accountability Office and CIA — for openings and job fairs. A hyperlinked list of agency Web sites is at http://www.USAgov.

*Follow the money. Agencies that address high-profile crises are particularly likely to receive budget boosts that support recruitment increases. Their Web sites are particularly likely to announce openings and serve as potential sources for networking efforts, such as cold-calling managers.

Crisis-oriented organizations currently include intelligence agencies, listed at , and agencies that address financial issues, including the Treasury Department’s new Office of Financial Stability and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Other promising organizations for job seekers will include agencies and interagency task forces that will be created or reorganized in 2009 by the new administration.

*Campaign for lateral moves. Current feds can often be hired into equivalent positions inside or outside their agencies without competing against other applicants.

*Think like a hiring manager. Federal openings usually draw dozens or even hundreds of applications that get skimmed fast by harried hiring managers.

Craft your applications for fast, easy reads by including in them only your relevant credentials. Also, format the names of your employers, job titles and degrees to stand out in your résumé.

Streamline each job description to quick-read, achievement-oriented bullets. (Create bullets with asterisks and create headings with capital letters in online applications that don’t accommodate formatting.) Assume no prior knowledge from hiring managers about your projects and previous employers, avoid technical jargon and acronyms, and write only short paragraphs.

*SOS on your KSAs. You’ve heard of self-cleaning ovens? I offer a worksheet that is the next best thing to a KSA — the essay outlining your knowledge, skills and abilities required in most federal applications.

*Pass the 30-second test. Show your application to trusted advisers and ask them to identify your best credentials in 30 seconds. If they can’t do so, hiring managers won’t be able to either.

*Validate your success. Crown descriptions of your achievements with descriptions of positive feedback that they drew, including high grades, academic honors, individual and team awards, promotions, and special requests from management for your services. Quote written and oral praise from professors, supervisors, managers, colleagues, clients and customers. Also quote flattering e-mails, comments on annual evaluations, bonuses, awards, and evaluations from your trainees or audiences of your presentations.

*Take credit for your role in your employer’s achievements. Explain how you helped your employer do more with less; earn media coverage; or raise its scores on customer service evaluations, program audits, scorecards and other metrics cited in strategic plans and annual reports.

*Avoid fatal online mistakes. Remember that notorious mug shot of actor Nick Nolte following an arrest in California for driving under the influence? I have seen that same wigged-out, weary expression on the faces of many feds after they missed deadlines for online applications because vexing, perplexing computer problems unexpectedly blocked their submissions. Start your online applications early enough to get trouble-shooting help if necessary.

Get more career-boosting advice in my new book, “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job: Your Complete Guide to Opportunities, Internships, Résumés and Cover Letters, Application Essays (KSAs), Interviews, Salaries, Promotions and More!”

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is IGotTheJob.net. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.