When most of us look at a federal job announcement, we tend to focus on the grade of job and not much else. I would suggest that we need to be spending a lot more time and focusing much more attention on job announcements if we want to be successful applicants. I suggest that anyone considering applying for a federal job should pay special attention to each of these parts of the job announcement:

* Who can apply
* Qualifications Required / How You Will be Evaluated
* The Occupational Questionnaire
* How to Apply

We’ll look at each of these in turn:

Who Can Apply: I find that applicants frequently overlook this important part of the announcement. If you are not within the defined group of people who will be considered (also known as the “area of consideration”), you should not apply. Do not expect Human Resources (HR) professionals to make an exception because you are exceptionally well qualified. Most likely, if you are outside the area of consideration, your resume will not be reviewed.

Qualifications Required/How You Will be Evaluated: While most current federal employees understand the idea of “one year at the next lower grade,” in my experience, many federal applicants do not read or understand the specialized experience requirements found in most announcements. While you may meet time in grade, if you do not also meet the specialized experience requirements, it will be hard for you to be rated as best qualified. I recommend applying only for those positions where you already possess the specialized experience being sought.

The Qualifications Required section is also where you may find the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs) for the position listed. While in most cases it is not necessary to write KSA essays anymore, applicants do need to demonstrate that they possess the KSAs listed. So, if you do not have all of the KSAs listed in an announcement, you should consider whether the posting is a good fit for you.

The Qualifications Required section is also where you will find any Selective Placement Factors (SPFs) associated with the announcement. A SPF is a “must have” qualification; if an announcement has a SPF and you do not have it, you will not qualify for the position and your application will not be considered.

Occupational Questionnaires: Almost every federal job posting has an accompanying occupational questionnaire. Before deciding whether or not to apply for a specific posting, potential applicants should review the occupational questionnaire. Every posting has a link to “view occupational questionnaire;” the link is typically in the “Qualifications Required,” or the “how to apply” sections of the announcement. If you cannot provide the highest and best answer to each question, you may want to pick a different announcement.

How to Apply: This section of the announcement is important because it provides the final details for applying. Do you need a transcript? Is a cover letter required? Does the announcement ask for references? How do you submit your documents (if needed)? What time does the announcement close? By reading this section carefully, you will identify everything that is need to make your application complete. Do not submit documents that are not requested.
Follow the instructions carefully; failure to do so may result in your application not receiving consideration.

By carefully reviewing the job announcement and occupational questionnaire before you apply, you can decide whether a posting is worth your time to pursue. You are most likely to get the result you are looking for if you apply for positions for which you are truly qualified. It’s not about “knowing” you can do the job but proving that you already have.

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.