July 16, 2021


By Chris Westbrook, FCC Curriculum Director

So, you’re applying for a federal job. The following tips will help you successfully navigate the hurdles from job application to becoming a public servant in the US Government.

Hurdle One: The Federal Screening Process

Use key terms. Ensure your application echoes the same terms as the job announcement uses for required and critical skills. This gets you past the first screening by a human resources officer. You can find these critical skills in the ‘job duties’ section of the job announcement, as well as under the key qualifications section. It may also be referred to as one of the following:

* Quality Ranking Factors

* Narrative Factors

* Technical Qualifications

* Statements of Qualifications

* Selective Placement Factors

* Evaluation Factors

* Rating Factors

* Job Elements

Provide details. It is very important to add enough detail in your work accomplishments about how you demonstrated the required skills—including any technical or occupational tools you used—to convince the hiring manager that you have superior qualifications and merit moving forward in the hiring process.

Be prepared. Make sure you’re prepared for further screening. Depending on the position, you may take an aptitude test, submit writing or portfolio samples, or undergo an impromptu telephone screen.

Hurdle Two: The Interview

When you get to the interview phase (and I know you will!), follow these tips:

Tip # 1: Be prepared with an authentic and informed answer to Why do you want to work for this agency? Be sure to read up on the agency’s mission, leadership, and programs.

Tip # 2: Be prepared for behavior-based interviewing. Use the STAR approach to demonstrate your skills and abilities: situation, task, action, and result.

Tip # 3: Ask good questions when it’s your turn. Here’s another chance to demonstrate that you’re a good fit for this particular agency and this position.

Hurdle Three: The Hiring Decision

Be patient. A federal hiring decision goes through multiple reviews after the hiring manager’s recommendation.

Stay in touch. Make sure to stay in touch with the hiring ‘Point of Contact’ about your status. Ask them for feedback and reapplication guidance if you don’t get the job.

Hurdle Four: From Hiring Decision to Entering on Duty

Negotiate. You can negotiate your salary “step” on the federal pay scale and your vacation time if you have superior qualifications. 

Keep applying. You don’t have to stop applying for other jobs. Even if you get a job offer, you will have a background investigation, reference check, and possibly a security clearance process to complete.

Be patient. Always strive to be patient! The latest OPM statistics indicate it takes an average of 98 days from application to entering on duty with the US Government.

To learn more, go to GoGovernment.org — a website for federal job seekers hosted by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. A good starting place is their article What Happens After You Apply.


About the Author

Chris Westbrook is a talent development professional with a passion for career development, leadership, and change management. In 2018, she recently retired from the federal government after 38 years of service in the executive and legislative branches.

Chris Westbrook
Assistant Director, Curriculum Development
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