Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

A carefully crafted vacancy announcement pays off

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In recruitment, the principle “garbage in, garbage out” applies. That is, if you carelessly churn out vacancy announcements that are poorly written and do not reflect the true demands of your office’s openings, your selection process is unlikely to be efficient or produce a successful hire.

By contrast, if you carefully craft a reader-friendly vacancy announcement that accurately and comprehensively conveys the demands of the opening, the selection process is likely to be easier and more successful.

This principle is demonstrated by two efforts that were used to recruit a manager of a federal communications department who would supervise more than 10 communicators.

Because the first effort was based on a vague, generic announcement that did not accurately reflect the demands of the opening, it drew a large but mediocre applicant pool. The considerable time and effort needed to whittle down this large applicant pool was for naught: The agency hired a recruit who was unable to meet the supervisory demands of the job and was transferred to another position.

Once the job was vacant again, the second recruitment effort was launched. This time, managers carefully crafted a vacancy announcement to reflect the anticipated demands of the job and the skills needed.

The announcement attracted a relatively small number of excellent applications that were quickly processed. And a talented manager was hired who is currently thriving in the job.

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 The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.

Considering a political appointee spot? Tap these resources

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President Barack Obama rapidly filled many Cabinet-level political positions. Still, thousands of influential but less prominent political positions remain to be filled in the coming months and years. These positions cover many specialties and career levels, with annual salaries ranging from about $30,000 to under $200,000.

Some tips if you are considering applying for a political appointment:

*If you are a career civil servant, consider whether you are willing to sacrifice your unparalleled job security for the prestige, power and networking advantages — as well as the pressures and long working hours — of a political position. On average, a political appointee serves less than two years.

*Don’t apply if your background is blighted by legal, financial or substance abuse problems because the screening process for all political appointments includes in-depth security investigations. Some political appointments require Senate confirmation, and some don’t.

*If you decide to apply, identify target positions in “United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions,” popularly known as the Plum Book, an inventory of the titles and pay grades of about 7,000 federal leadership positions, including career civil service jobs and political appointments. A caveat: The latest publication inventories only positions that existed as of Sept. 1; these positions are subject to change by the Obama administration. The book is available through the Government Printing Office — click on “A-Z Resource List” at

*Once you identify your target positions, surf agency Web sites and news sites for information about these positions and the people who previously held them; consider contacting these people for more information about the job demands.

*Cite the titles of your target jobs in your application. Emphasize academic and professional experiences that overlap with the job demands, credentials that peg you as a leader in your field, and your political and campaign experience.

*Treat your quest as an aggressive campaign. Gather endorsements from power brokers, including political luminaries and leaders from associations, unions, nonprofits, academia and business. Tap your connections with friends, acquaintances and colleagues who receive political appointments; they may hire you.

*Continue to seek political positions throughout the next four years because many positions turn over between elections.

Some indispensable, free resources:

*The Council of Excellence in Government offers three of its publications online at — “The Presidential Appointee Roadmap,” which features an overview of various types of political appointments and provides tips for landing them; “A Survivor’s Guide for Presidential Nominees,” which reviews the rewards and challenges of holding political appointments and provides practical advice on surviving the confirmation process; and “The Prune Book,” which details information about selected political positions and describes hot-button issues addressed by them.

* reviews Obama’s agenda, announces nominations for political appointments, and has a notice up that it will soon accept online applications for executive branch jobs.

Use the site to determine how and where to target your job hunt. For example, one of Obama’s recently announced goals is to expand national service programs, such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, and create new service organizations. Therefore, if your credentials and interests have prepared you to manage national service programs, you would be wise to watch the news for announcements about new and expanded programs and to target your job hunt at them.

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 The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.