Getting a federal job is a lengthy and difficult process. Many postings receive hundreds, or even a thousand or more applications. I tell most clients that 9-12 months is the time that it can take to get a federal position; while it can happen sooner, this is a realistic timeframe. Even if you are transitioning from the military, you should not expect to get a federal job immediately.

In my view, getting a federal job takes three things:

1. Applying for jobs for which you are truly qualified. By this I mean that you already possess the specialized experience required in the job announcement AND you can provide the highest and best answer to every question on the occupational questionnaire. If, when you review the questionnaire (and I always recommend reviewing the questionnaire before applying), you cannot provide the highest and best answer to each question (or at least 90%), you should pick another announcement.

2. Using a targeted, federal style resume. Federal resumes are much longer and more detailed than their private sector counterparts. Your federal resume should include all required information; use the key words from the announcement and questionnaire; prove your answers to the questionnaire; be in the federal style; and include accomplishments to show you can get results.

3. Patience. As noted above, getting a federal job is not quick.  A recent client who was transitioning out of the military just wrote, “I just wanted to say thank you for the great resume and let you know that my number finally came up!  It took me over a year and some months, but I stayed patient and applied for the right jobs until I got the one I wanted!  When I started this journey you told that patience was one of the key factors when looking for a federal job and you were definitely right!”

Of course there are no guarantees but there are a few other things you can do to maximize your opportunities for success:

  • Make sure your USAJOBS profile is completed correctly and includes all of your eligibilities. Many people are eligible for hire in more than one way; it is your responsibility to understand and correctly complete your USAJOBS profile.
  • Use the USAJOBS resume builder, rather than uploading your resume. I generally recommend using the builder for several reasons: 1) it forces you to include all required information in your resume; 2) not every agency accepts an uploaded resume and you should would hate to figure that out 5 minutes before the deadline; 3) resumes put into the builder can be edited—that’s really helpful when you see a typo at the last minute; and 4) Human Resources (HR) people know exactly where to find what they’re looking for when you use the builder—anything that makes things easier for HR when they are facing 500 or more resumes is a good thing.
  • Make sure you answer the questionnaire correctly. I do not, in any way, shape, or form advocate that you should lie when you answer the questionnaire; but neither should you fail to give yourself enough credit when you are responding to the questions. For the a-e answers used in many postings, carefully read the description of e: I am considered an expert in performing this task. I have supervised performance of this task or am normally the person who is consulted by other workers to assist them in doing this task because of my expertise [bold added] before answering.
  • Your resume should demonstrate your answers to the questionnaires. Many people just click on the “best” answers to the questions because they have heard that is the right thing to do. However, HR in many agencies is on to this “trick” and lower the scores of people whose resumes do not match the answers to the questionnaires.

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.