10 Secrets For Landing Federal Jobs
- KNOCK ON THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S FRONT DOOR AND BACK DOOR: Most job seekers look for federal openings only on USAJOBS (usajobs.opm.gov), the federal government’s official jobs website. But there are plenty of other ways to land federal jobs.
For example, employment agencies and consulting firms frequently place employees on contract jobs in federal agencies. Such contract jobs -- which are available to professionals in many fields -- often segue seamlessly into permanent federal jobs, or yield networking contacts that provide inside tracks to permanent federal jobs.
- THINK LIKE A HIRING MANAGER: Most federal openings draw dozens or even hundreds of applications. These applications get skimmed FAST by harried hiring managers -- not read word for word, as if they were suspenseful John Grisham novels. So to keep the attention of hiring managers, you must craft your application for a fast, easy read.
Instead of aiming for a specific resume length, aim to describe your most impressive credentials as succinctly as possible. Format the names of your employers, your job titles and degrees to STAND OUT. Confine each job description to a few quick-read, achievement-oriented bullets. And break up your answers to essay questions by writing in short paragraphs and using bullets and headings.
Show your application to a friend or colleague and ask him/her to identify your best credentials in one minute. If s/he can’t do so, format and phrase your best credentials to stand out more.
- VALIDATE YOUR SUCCESS: How can you prove in your applications and interviews that you are an action-oriented producer rather than just a self-promoting talker? By describing specific achievements, such as goals you reached and problems you solved.
If you were one of the first or fastest in your organization to complete a task, say so. Remember: you don’t have to be the first person up Mt. Everest to be a record-holder. Even innovating a time-saving filing system warrants mentioning. Likewise, if you ran a program, produced a document or created a web site that reached large numbers of people, say so -- and approximate how many people your work impacted.
Crown explanations of your achievements with descriptions of associated positive feedback that you received, including your high grades, academic honors, individual and team awards, promotions, assignments to special teams or task forces and special requests made by management for your services. Quote written and oral praise from professors, supervisors, managers, colleagues, clients and customers. Cite flattering e-mails, comments on performance evaluations, bonuses, awards, letters of commendation and positive evaluations from attendees of your trainings or other presentations. Also mention any awards, positive press coverage or other recognition that you helped your employer earn.
- CONVEY ZEST: Most applicants believe that applications for federal jobs should read as dryly and bureaucratically as the tax code. Wrong! A job application that exudes LIFE will WAKE UP hiring managers, STAND OUT FROM THE PACK, and show that you are an energetic go-getter who requires minimal supervision. (Look ma, no cattle prodder!) So mention in your cover letters and application why your work is important or inspiring.
- PURGE MISTAKES: Most applications for federal jobs are tarnished by typos, grammatical errors and other careless errors; error-free applications stand out from the pack.
Beware that most online application systems do not feature spellcheckers and printing functions that are essential for thorough quality control. Therefore, online applications are particularly prone to careless errors.
So instead of keyboarding your application directly into an online application system, create save, spell-check, and print your application in a WORD file. Then, review and edit it several times. (Many types of errors are easier to spot on hard-copy documents than on screen displays.) Finally, solicit feedback on your application from friends or colleagues. Once your application is error-free, cut and paste it into the online application.
Be sure to save a copy of your application so that you will be able to review it before interviews as well as recycle appropriate sections of it into other, similar applications. Likewise, save all job announcements that you answer so that you will have necessary contact information and job descriptions even after announcements are pulled from the Internet.
- MAKE THE DEADLINE: The window of opportunity for submitting most online applications slams shut at midnight Eastern Standard Time of the job’s closing date. This means that applications must be received by midnight of the closing date to be considered.
But many applicants assume that if they log onto the hiring agency’s online application system by midnight of the closing date, they will be able to slip their application in under the wire. Wrong assumption. Most online application systems automatically nix applications that miss the midnight deadline.
- RESUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION IF IT HAS ERRORS: What should you do if, after you click the “submit” button on an online application, you realize that your application contains a mistake or omits important information? (Oh, that sinking feeling!)
Here’s the fix: Submit another application for the job before it closes. Your latest submission will override a previously submitted application for a job that is still open.
- PREPARE FOR INTERVIEWS: Hiring managers look for applicants who are knowledgeable about their agencies -- not applicants who act like “if it’s Tuesday, it must be the Transportation Department.” So before each interview, educate yourself about your target agency by reviewing its website. Be sure to peruse the agency’s mission statement, annual report and recent press release. And please, don’t say “who is that?” when the interviewer mentions the name of the director of your target agency or target office during the interview; memorize these key names. Don’t be shy about mentioning your research of your target agency in your interview.
- SEND A STAND-OUT THANK YOU LETTER: Immediately after you get home from your interview -- even before you take off your uncomfortable interview outfit -- write a thank you letter to your interviewer. Your letter should confirm your interest in the position, cite several ways that you could contribute to the organization and mention several impressive characteristics of the position/organization that were covered in the interview. Proofread your letter several times, and then send it overnight delivery. (Yes, a thank you letter that arrives right away will score higher than one that arrives even one day later.)
- NEGOTIATE YOUR SALARY: Don’t buy into the myth that federal salaries are non-negotiable. One of the best kept federal jobs secrets is that salaries and other benefits -- such as recruitment bonuses as well as access to student loan repayment programs that are worth up to $60,000, telecommuting programs and alternative work schedules -- are frequently negotiable. So whenever you receive an offer, ask: “Is this offer negotiable?” And justify why your stellar credentials warrant a higher salary.
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