- thinking like a hiring manger

Federal government hiring is based on hiring the best qualified, which makes it difficult to justify hiring people without all of the qualifications required and/or those whose experience is quite dated. For a successful job search, you need to be strategic about what you apply for. Do not waste your time applying for “everything;” instead, focus your efforts on those opportunities where you are a perfect (or nearly perfect) match for the stated criteria.

I wish I had a dollar for every time a client who complained: “If only they gave me a chance, I could prove I can do the job!” While I have no doubt that the comment is true, we are currently in a buyer’s market—where hiring managers have lots of choices to make among candidates. While it is certainly possible for a hiring manager to pick someone based on their potential (especially for jobs above the entry level), in my view, it is unrealistic to expect hiring managers to do this. Let’s think about this for a moment…

Most job postings specify the criteria the hiring organization is looking for—whether through specialized experience and the occupational questionnaires in the federal government, or in a section in a private section posting that says something along the lines of, “The ideal candidate will have…” All applicants should carefully review the qualifications required. If the posting asks for 10 years of experience and you have 6, you are not likely well qualified. Or, if your experience is in a different area all together, while again, you may the basic qualifications (like a degree), you are not likely to have the specialized experience required.

In most job sectors, organizations receive hundreds, if not thousands of applications. The first screen is of those who do not meet even most the basic qualifications (like the 10 years’ experience mentioned above). The next screen is for those who are a match for all of the criteria. While you may match half the criteria desired, from a hiring manager’s perspective, why should they pick YOU, when they can have someone who (at least on paper) is a 100% match? And from a fairness perspective, if they considered your application with only half the qualifications, they should also consider everyone else who has only half the qualifications…

A related question I receive is along the lines of, “I did exactly what they’re looking for 15 [or 20 or more] years ago, how come I’m not been called for an interview?” While in this circumstance you may have all of the qualifications, your experience is dated. And again, from a hiring manager’s perspective, would you want to talk to someone who is doing the job now, or someone who hasn’t done it in 15 or more years? Think like a hiring manager next time you apply for a federal job and increase your chances for an interview!

Nancy Segal is a federal human resources training and job search expert. Following her own 30-year federal HR career (much of it at the senior level), she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC in 2003 to provide an HR management perspective to both federal managers and astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy has unmatched federal career management insight, high standards, and respect for people’s time, and her clients use this to their advantage.