When applying for federal positions it helps to have a strong understanding of the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) process – still in use at some agencies and departments after the initial screen (Occupational questionnaires have replaced KSAs as an initial part of the application process in competitive service agencies).

KSA questions relate to specific professional needs and focus on how desired the employee fits within those needs. The tool works to help federal hiring managers determine which candidates are best for the position. Strong KSAs offer a lot of information in a small amount of space and tell the hiring manager much of what they want to know.

Developing KSA answers can be tricky. Recruiters often ask KSA questions during the screening process. These answers should reflect the information found on your resume. During the interview process, more KSA questions can present themselves. Make sure your preparation process includes a strong KSA statement for the best chance of hire.

What Makes a Strong KSA?

Federal hiring managers base decisions on a merit promotion process. If you are the strongest candidate applying for the position, but submit poor responses, you won’t get the position. The managers will score your experience solely on your responses to the KSA portion. The system deviates from civilian positions, where resumes determine the bulk of the process. Understanding the federal hiring system is integral to ensuring proper representation of your professional experience.

To build a strong KSA, applicants must include pertinent answers to questions of experience. Ideas must be organized and structured, giving detailed information about professional experience. There are five standard questions to ask yourself for creating an effective KSA:

  1. What action was performed?
  2. Why was the action performed?
  3. For whom was the action performed?
  4. What were the accomplishments?
  5. Did the action produce a significant impact on others or the work environment?

Applicants should always list professional actions and detailed results of those actions. Hiring managers also like to see measurable terms, such as monetary values or number of employees involved.

What Makes a Poor KSA?

Lack of details and measurable results are the biggest mistakes made by federal applicants. Consider the following examples for the question, “Ability to write effective correspondence.”

Example One

I write emails and correspondence every day. My boss often asks me to write letters to people on her behalf. I also write to vendors when accounts are past due or when we need extra supplies. I have three years of experience in non-technical writing.

Example Two

I handle daily correspondence in my unit for my supervisor and superintendent. My duties include drafting letters for commanders, vendors, and outside agencies to better improve the way we process orders. This quarter, my correspondence saved the unit $5,000 for unnecessary supplies that had been ordered by mistake. I found the error and helped my unit resolve the issue before the discrepancy impacted the chain of command.

Which example is better? Example one is overly general and doesn’t provide much detail. Example two provides a more in-depth answer with measurable results. Candidate two would receive a higher rating from the hiring manager or recruiter.

Tips to Improve Your KSA

If you’re reading this, you’re probably working on your KSA development. Often, qualified candidates apply for federal positions, but don’t understand why they aren’t receiving interview requests. Many times, the lack of response is simply due to ineffective KSA statements. Take extra time to work with your KSA to ensure it’s optimal for relating your experiences.

Focus on Your KSA

Applying for federal positions means your resume loses its seat in the front row. Resumes are still important, but don’t receive heavy evaluation until your application has made it through the KSA merit scoring process. Think of the KSA statement as the gatekeeper and focus your efforts there.

Use Keywords

Study the job description for keywords. Keywords are often representative of the skills, education, or experience the position requires. For example, if the description emphasizes MS Office experience, it can be an important keyword. Respond to KSAs using the keywords found in the description. Keywords are a great way to draw the hiring manager directly to your KSA.

Measurable Results

Federal employers like to see numbers in KSA answers and on resumes. In KSAs, include measurable results, such as “saved the unit $5,000.” The use of numbers can indicate exactly what impact your actions had in your previous experience.

Don’t Be Modest

Many candidates undersell themselves in job applications. Don’t worry about coming off as a braggart, recruiters want to see impressive accomplishments. Include lots of details and be confident in the accomplishments of your professional life.

Use Strong Action Verbs

When writing your KSAs, use a variety of verbs to describe your actions. Don’t use the same verbs repeatedly. Online searches can yield many action verbs for your KSAs. The use of multiple verbs will read better and come across as more diverse to those reading your statements.

Avoid Acronyms

It’s difficult to write about your military or federal experience without acronyms, but necessary. Write out the acronyms to keep hiring managers from guessing what they might be. There are thousands of acronyms in the federal world, so don’t expect your hiring manager to understand all of them.

The Importance of KSAs

Understanding the importance of KSAs for federal hiring is the first step in creating strong responses. Take your time developing responses to these important questions. Failure to properly relay your experience level can leave you behind for the jobs you’re most qualified for. KSA responses are the most important part of your federal job application, so make sure they stand out from the crowd. Be sure your responses earn you a spot in the highly qualified stack of applicants.

Jason Kay is a professional resume writer and contributes regularly to KSADoctor.com and JobGoRound.com.