Finding a federal job can be a lot like gaining membership into a secret society. The application process can be painstaking if not grueling, though, once you have made it past the preliminary rounds and are accepted, you’re in for life—or, such is the mythology of federal employment. The truth is the Office of Personnel Management is making numerous changes that will allow federal job seekers to apply to federal jobs with greater ease, and which will help job seekers—whose application would have otherwise gone unnoticed—garner the attention of federal recruiters. There are also things federal job seekers can do, however, to become more competitive applicants.
Kiplinger contributor, Marty Nemko notes that besides USAJobs.gov, there exist other sites, such as Federal Government Jobs or FedBizOpps through which job seekers can not only gain access to agency-specific job sites, but, in the case of FedBizOpps, information about personal federal contracts. Nemko, in his article, also has a number of recommendations, gleaned from Lily Whiteman’s wonderful book How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job, for would-be federal employees:
- Research your target agency. This isn’t just a rule for federal job seekers, but should be considered a maxim of the job search: researching the company or federal agency at which you are interested in working is essential. Nemko recommends to “reflect your knowledge of the agency in your application.”
- Call the hiring manager to get application tips. As Nemko acknowledges, calling hiring managers could have very positive or negative results. Nevertheless, networking can be a no holds barred game (though, in reality, there are rules to networking), and requires a touch of shamelessness. Nemko reckons that though by doing this you may come off as “pushy…there’s a greater chance you’ll get inside information or even develop enough of a relationship to gain an edge against competition.”
- Use a two-column cover letter. Nemko suggests that putting your cover letter into a two-column format will help ease the pain felt by recruiters whose responsibility is it to skim such letters, making clear your qualifications and experience. He brilliantly suggests, “On the left side, list the job’s major qualifications; on the right, say how you meet each requirement.”
- Tell PAR stories. Although come November, KSAs are supposed to become obsolete, it is important that while filling out KSAs to share anecdotes and personal experiences. Nemko proposes the PAR method: expound “a problem you face, how you approached it, and its positive resolution.”
- Create a portfolio. Even though this recommendation can be fulfilled by simply filling out and establishing a LinkedIn account, Nemko proposes that job seekers think about “creating a Website consisting of your work products and resume…include its URL on your job applications.”
- Make sure your message is clear. Another maxim of the job search, it is important that your resume accurately and succinctly expresses who you are and why you should be hired. That is, your resume must pass the “30-second-test”: if after 30 seconds a friend is unable to discern your “best attributes” by looking at your resume, “it’s unlikely a hiring manager will be able to do so,” says Nemko.