Applying for Federal Jobs

By Barbara A. Adams, CPRW, CEIP, CFRWC

Typically, a requirement to apply for a Federal job is a resume. This resume is different than a civilian resume. The Federal Resume – whether it is an OF-612 or SF-171 replacement or a Resumix format or other online format – contains more information than a civilian resume. It is in a specific format, as specified by the federal government in the position announcement. A Federal Resume needs to include the keywords required for the job(s) being applied for. It also needs to be complete, with information not typically found on a civilian resume – including social security numbers, full addresses of previous employers, supervisor names and phone numbers, and detailed listing of education and training. In addition, online formats, including USAJobs, AVUE, QuickHire, Army Resumix, Navy Resumix and Air Force Resumix are very specific, both in terms of actual format and document length.

These on-line formats can be very restricting, and if you are not computer-savvy, can also be very difficult to do correctly. If they are not done correctly, your application will be rejected.

When you’re applying for a federal job, some Federal job announcements require additional statements in addition to the resume. Some of these statements are known as KSAs – Knowledge, Skills, and Ability statements. If they are asked for, they are required. Typically, they are 3/4 to 1-1/2 page answers to questions related to the job being applying for – and each KSA will be graded from 5 to 20 points per answer. They can be daunting questions to answer. In addition to KSAs, other statements may be required. These can be Selective Preference Factors, Technical Qualifications or Professional Qualifications.

Senior Executive Service (SES) positions are the highest levels in the civil service. Generally, personnel in these positions run entire functions for the entire agency, and in order to apply, require at least 10 years experience. In the military, the equivalent level is Colonel or Captain in the Navy or higher – and unless an applicant applying for an SES position directly from the military is O-5 with several years experience at that level or higher, the applicant will not be successful. For Senior Executive Service positions, in addition to resume and additional statements, Executive Core Qualification (ECQ) statements addressing leadership competencies, including Leading Change, Leading People, Business Acumen, Results Driven and Building Coalitions are required.

Below is further information on Online Federal Resume Formats, How to Apply for Federal Jobs, the USAJobs Hiring Process, and KSAs and SES application requirements.

Online Federal Resume Formats

How are Online Applications Processed?

On-line resumes and applications are searched electronically for the keywords required for the position. If you do not include the right keywords, your resume will not be one of those selected for further review by the hiring authority. Once your resume is selected electronically, it is then reviewed by the hiring authority manually – and compared to all the others that were selected. Therefore, it is important that the resume include all relevant keywords AND read well. The restrictive nature of many of the on-line formats (limited length for describing jobs and experience) makes this difficult. The more restrictive, the more difficult this is.

What are Online Application Formats?

When you’re applying for federal jobs, each online application format has different requirements for resume length, number of jobs allowed to be described and number of characters allowed. In addition, although not described in depth here, many of the formats have differences in how dates are reported for employment – some require the actual date of the month you started work, not only the month and year.

Some of the most common online formats include:


The Army Resumix format allows 12,000 characters to describe your work experience, with no limit on the number of positions you can list. In addition, for this format there are additional fields for your education, training, licenses, certifications, skills, awards and other information. You must include answers to all KSAs in the resume in this format. You can only have one Army Resumix on file for ALL applications you make for Army positions. This can be limiting, depending on your background and achievements. This format is used for most, but not all Army postings.


The Navy Resumix format allows up to 6 positions to describe your work experience, with up to 7,500 characters per position. In addition, for this format there are additional fields for your education, training, licenses, certifications, skills, awards and other information. You must include answers to all KSAs in the resume in this format. The maximum length for the entire resume is 5 pages. You can only have one Navy Resumix on file for ALL applications you make for Navy positions. This can be limiting, depending on your background and achievements. This format is used for most, but not all Navy postings.


The Air Force Resumix format allows up to 6 positions to describe your work experience, with ONLY up to 1,500 characters per position. In addition, for this format there are additional fields for your education, training, licenses, certifications, skills, awards and other information. In general, you must include answers to all KSAs in the resume in this format. You can only have one Air Force Resumix on file for ALL applications you make for Air Force positions. This format, due to the short length allowed for job descriptions is very limiting.

The Air Force RESUMIX is not used for all Air Force positions. Many Air Force positions use a paper-based Regular Federal Resume along with separate KSAs for the application process.

  • DLA RESUMIX, NASA RESUMIX and other Military and Non-Military RESUMIX formats

Other agencies have online Resumix builders; each one has different restrictions on characters allowed per position, along with differences in the formatting of information. CareerProPlus personnel remain knowledgeable for each of these formats and can help you decipher the requirements for application.


The QuickHire format is used by many agencies (the list has been growing) for online applications. This format is limited to 16,000 characters total for the entire resume to describe your contact information, employment background, education, training, licenses, certifications, skills, awards and other information.

In order to find the KSAs (essays) for an announcement in QuickHire, generally, you must first register on the QuickHire website for the agency you are interested in applying for, enter your contact information and load a preliminary resume (you can update the resume when you actually apply for the job). At that point, you can then log into the QuickHire site, view the vacancy announcement and scroll to the bottom of the announcement. By clicking view vacancy questions, you can find both the multiple choice questions you will need to answer and the essay (KSA) questions which will need to be answered. The KSA answers will be limited in length – usually 4000 characters each.

  • AVUE

Another common online format is AVUE. This format, if you know the “tricks” does not have length limits for describing your experience. However, KSA answers may be limited in length, depending on how the listing agency decided to post the announcement. In addition, it is common for agencies to have different KSA questions depending on the grade you are applying for in this format – and even though ALL KSA questions are listed in the announcement, not all the KSA questions are necessarily asked when you apply online.

In addition to entering in your resume and KSA information using the online builder, you also need to upload additional documentation and a copy of your resume and KSAs separately when applying for positions using AVUE.

  • USAJobs

USAJobs also has an online resume format. Even though you can post most of the information you have on a regular paper Federal Resume – it is not formatted as nicely, so we recommend using this format only if it is not optional. Since the USAJobs format has been endorsed by the Office of Professional Management (OPM), it has become more popular with a variety of agencies.

If an announcement requires a USAJobs resume, it also requires you to answer both multiple choice questions and possibly essay (KSA) questions. Unfortunately, you may not see the questions until after you start the application process. You will need to register on the system, upload and submit a resume – and then you will see the questions you will need to answer. Generally, there is no limit on the length of the KSA answers in the USAJobs format.

In addition to the formats listed above, other agencies use different online formats, including the CDC and CIA.

How to Apply for Federal Jobs

Steps for Applying for Federal Jobs

If an applicant decides to apply for a federal job, there are several steps which must follow to achieve success. These steps include:

  1. Find the positions to apply for
  2. Identify the requirements for applying for each job / Match background and skills to the job requirements
  3. Develop the application materials
  4. Submit the application

Finding Positions to Apply For:

With the advent of the Internet, it is now easy to find job openings in the federal government. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has a website, USAJobs, which allows potential applicants to search most positions being posted for civilian employees. If a user selects and enters in the appropriate search criteria – including job titles, job series, grade levels, agencies, special appointment status and position locations – one can find all the positions open that can be applied for. The search is very detailed in criteria, and is much easier to use then in the past. Positions from most Federal agencies are available using this system.

Identifying Job and Application Requirements (How to Read Job Announcements):

Once a job announcement is found, a potential applicant needs to determine the application requirements.

First, the announcement will indicate who may apply. If it is the Public, generally all US Citizens can apply for the job. If it is Status Candidates Only, one must read the announcement carefully to determine who is eligible. Generally, in this case, federal government employees, military spouses or Veterans who have separated in the past 3 years or who are eligible for Veteran preference points may be considered a Status Candidate. If it says Agency Employees Only and the applicant is not currently employed as a civil servant in that agency, the applicant is not eligible to apply

Second, the announcement will indicate the date the announcement closes. Application materials must be submitted according the instructions in the announcement by the closing date (and sometimes closing time). The announcement will detail how to submit materials – it is announcement specific. Depending on the announcement, an applicant may be required to file online, by fax, by email, by hand delivery or by mail.

Third, the position will indicate salary and grade level. Grade levels for jobs indicate the management level within the government – and the level of responsibility. Based on experience, Veterans retiring at the E-7 level generally qualify for positions at the GS-9 level. O-3 professionals generally qualify at the GS-11 or 12 level; depending on area of expertise.

Fourth, the announcement will list the job duties – in most cases. A potential applicant should read the duties carefully – they contain the keywords required for the job. In general, the resumes selected for further consideration contain these keywords, with dynamic statements showing how the applicant has experience doing the duties required for the job. When one reads an announcement, they should ask themselves whether they have done that particular function previously AND if they have any demonstrated success in doing the function.

Fifth, the announcement will list the background requirements. For federal jobs, an applicant’s background MUST match the stated requirements for the job. For example, if a degree is stated as required, it is required. If certification, including DAWAI contracting certification, is stated as a requirement, it is required. If no candidates apply that meet the requirements, the agency will cancel the announcement and rewrite and repost the position again.

Sixth, the federal job announcement may indicate if KSAs or other essays, including Selective Preference Factors, Technical Qualifications or Professional Qualifications are required. In addition, the announcement may indicate that multiple choice questions also will need to be answered. Note, if the announcement is for some online formats, including QuickHire or USAJobs, the KSAs or other questions will not be in the actual announcement. Instead, they are found during the application process. In order to find the vacancy questions, an applicant may need to start the application just to find the KSA or other questions. For AVUE announcements, not all KSAs are asked at all levels, and again, an application needs to be started just to find out the required KSAs. Generally, but not always, the Resumix formats do not require separate KSAs.

If a federal job announcement has KSAs, they must be written. A potential applicant should read each KSA and ask themselves if they have any experience or background in the question being asked. If not, the announcement may not be the right one to apply for.

Seventh, the announcement will indicate how to apply. If the announcement indicates a resume or OF-612 is acceptable for application, a paper resume will need to be developed. If an online format is required, generally a link or an “Apply Online” button is shown on the announcement. Clicking on the link or button will bring the user to the agency’s website with further instructions on how to apply for the job. There are many different online formats, including Air Force Resumix (only used for some Air Force jobs – others use a paper resume), Army Resumix, Navy Resumix, AVUE, QuickHire, USAJobs, CIA, DLA Resumix (2 different versions) and CDC/FDA. It is complicated, and the requirements for these formats change regularly. Each online resume version has specific length and informational requirements which range from 1500 character length to unlimited character length per position.

Eighth, the announcement may indicate other documentation is required. This documentation may include a DD-214 form (for Veterans), the previously mentioned SF15 form, SF-50 forms (if already a civilian employee), transcripts or a declaration for public employment, OF-310. If documentation is required, send it according the directions in the announcement. If it is not asked for, do not send it.

Develop Application Materials:

Once an applicant determines the application requirements, the application materials must be developed. Federal Resumes must conform to specific informational requirements. They must include ALL the information required, or the application may be discarded. Based on the announcement and application format, a federal resume generally includes the following information

Job Information:

Announcement number, and title and grade(s) which are being applied for

Personal Information:
  • Full name, mailing address (with ZIP code)
  • Home, cell and work phone numbers (with area code)
  • E-Mail address
  • Social Security Number
  • Country of citizenship (most federal jobs require United States citizenship)
  • Veterans’ preference
  • Highest Federal civilian grade held (give job series and dates held)
  • Professional summary – written in 3rd person

Work Experience:

Job title (include series and grade if federal job – level in military if a Veteran)

  • Employer’s name and full address, including street address, city, state and ZIP code
  • Supervisor’s name and phone number
  • Starting and ending dates (month and year) [note: some formats require month, date and year]
  • Hours per week
  • Salary
  • Indicate if current supervisor may be contacted
  • Job duties – include quantification and keywords in the announcement – written in 3rd person
  • Job accomplishments – include quantification – in the challenge-action-result format outlined below – written in 3rd person

  • For colleges and universities:
    • Name, city, state and ZIP Code
    • Major(s), Type and year of any degrees received
    • GPA
    • Total credits and types of credits earned, i.e. quarter, credit or semester hours
    • Course list
    • Note: only list accredited colleges listed at If an applicant lists degrees from schools not on the accreditation list, they may be subject for disqualification from federal employment and in some states also subject to criminal prosecution.
  • For high school: Date of diploma or GED, high school name, city, state and ZIP Code

Other Qualifications:
  • Job-related training courses, including course title, date (may be year or month and year), course duration (hours, days or months)
  • Certifications and licenses (include Secret or Top Secret clearance here)
  • Job-related skills, for example, other languages, computer software/hardware, tools, machinery, typing speed
  • Job-related honors, awards, and special accomplishments, for example, publications, memberships in professional or honor societies, leadership activities, public speaking, and performance awards

The exact format of the resume, as noted above, will differ, depending on the application requirements. However, much, if not all, the information above is required for developing a federal resume.

For some applications – including written applications, a Cover Letter can help summarize an applicant’s background and experience for the hiring authority.


In addition to the resume, an applicant also may need to prepare KSAs or other essays, including Selective Placement Factors and Desirable Qualifications. On QuickHire applications, these are known as essay questions. If an announcement says they are required, they are required. These statements are generally written in a CONTEXT-CHALLENGE-ACTION-RESULT format, detailing one to three examples addressing the KSA question. The length varies as designated by the announcement – generally these are 3/4 page to 1-1/2 pages in length. These answers are critical – if the essay questions are not addressed, the application will not be considered.

Context – title of your job or role you are playing in this example
Challenge – what was the challenge of this example or project?
Action – what were your specific actions in this case?
Results – what happened?

For each example, include relevant awards and training. These examples are written in first person, clearly detailing the context, challenge, action and results for each example.

Note, each KSA is judged separately. Therefore, it is OK to include the same example in different KSAs for the same announcement.

SES Applications

In addition to the resume, an SES Application will generally require answering the Executive Core Qualification (ECQ) statements and Professional/Technical/Managerial Qualifications. The Professional/Technical/Managerial Qualification questions are generally similar to KSAs and are answered similarly in the CONTEXT-CHALLENGE-ACTION-RESULT format. It also is OK to reuse (if necessary) examples from one Professional/|Technical/Managerial question to the next one.

The ECQ statements address, generally in 10 pages or less, 5 core areas – and are answered in the CONTEXT-CHALLENGE-ACTION-RESULT format. These are judged as a group, and each example must be separate for all the ECQ statements (therefore an applicant must have 10 to 15 separate examples of leadership). Generally, one must include two or three examples for each ECQ – however it is OK to include just one if it is very major and all encompassing. The examples must show how an applicant LED the project or example – at a senior level. If it is simply following others – it is not at the SES level.

The 5 areas the ECQs cover include:

  1. Leading Change – This ECQ encompasses the ability to develop and implement an organizational vision integrating key national and program goals, priorities, values, and other factors. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to balance change and continuity; to continually strive to improve customer service and program performance within the basic government framework; to create a work environment encouraging creative thinking; and to maintain focus, intensity and persistence, under adversity.
  2. Leading People – This ECQ involves the ability to design and implement strategies that maximize employee potential and foster high ethical standards in meeting the organization’s vision, mission, and goals
  3. Results Driven – This ECQ stresses accountability and continuous improvement. It includes the ability to make timely and effective decisions and produce results through strategic planning and the implementation and evaluation of programs and policies.
  4. Business Acumen – This ECQ involves the ability to acquire and administer human, financial, material, and information resources in a manner that instills public trust and accomplishes the organization’s mission, and the ability to use new technology to enhance decision making.
  5. Building Coalitions/Communication – This ECQ involves the ability to explain, advocate, and express facts and ideas in a convincing manner and to negotiate with individuals and groups internally and externally. It also involves the ability to develop an expansive professional network with other organizations and to identify the internal and external politics that impact the work of the organization.

Submit the Application

Once the application package is prepared, the application package must be submitted, following the directions in the job announcement. An applicant must include all documentation requested AND in many cases, exclude any documentation that is not requested. Documentation may be sent in several forms.

If a written application is required, it may be submitted by hand, by mail or fax. Based on discussions with hiring authorities, with delays in mail due to terrorist concerns, it is recommended an applicant uses overnight services other than the US Mail – with a return receipt. In addition, if faxing is an option, it is recommended – saving the documentation that it was sent. Receipts can serve as documentation proof that an application was submitted on time if the application is lost.

If an online application is required, an applicant must be sure to follow all the instructions on how to file. These can be quite involved and confusing – each online application has its own requirements. Instructions are online; however, some of the instructions are more complicated than others.

Once the application is submitted, an applicant should follow the progress of the application. Some agencies will mail or email status to the client. For online formats, some agencies provide the status online. Response time differs by announcement; it can be days or weeks.

If there are any questions, an applicant can call the contact phone number on the job announcement to check the status. It is recommended for applicants call the contact phone number on the announcement if they do not get an interview or the application is rejected. Through the phone call, an applicant can find out what was missing or what needed additional clarification for future applications. In addition, at times, applications are not read correctly by the examiner and in these cases, applicants can gain reconsideration for the position.

Barbara A. Adams is the President & CEO of Barbara has been a member of the careers community for 16 years and serves as an Industry Expert for Military Transition and Federal Government Resumes. She holds three certifications; Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW); Certified Employment Interview Professional (CEIP); and Certified Federal Resume Writer and Coach (CFRWC).

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