Federal Job Search

How to Read Federal Vacancy Announcements

Each announcement will include important information, such as who is eligible to apply and qualifications that must be demonstrated in your work history, and may identify mini-KSAs, mandatory supplemental statements or questions.

Many federal job announcements are open to the general public, which means anyone may apply for the job; however, most announcements require American citizenship for basic eligibility if you wish to start a federal career. If the vacancy is for Status Candidates only, it is most likely open only to federal government employees and Military Veterans or who are eligible for Veterans’ Preference points. Some are restricted to current agency employees only. Read the vacancy announcement carefully to determine eligibility during your federal job search.

Note that to receive Veterans Preference, you must submit a copy of your DD-214 along with an VA-determined disability rating documentation, as applicable.

Federal job announcements usually list a job summary and qualifications for the position that must be demonstrated in your work experience. Your resume will be scored according to how the experience you list matches these requirements. The key to a successful submission is to highlight skills the announcement is asking for in your work history, where appropriate, avoiding unnecessary details that might be interesting but do not add value and can distract from more important experience.

The federal government uses grade- and pay-level structures such as the General Schedule (GS) system to identify positions, pay, and seniority. Entry-level positions are designated as GS-4 and below. GS-5 through GS-6 positions are lower-level positions with greater authority, equivalent to a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the military services. GS-7 through GS-11 positions are middle management positions equivalent to company grade officers, while GS-12 through GS-15 positions are upper-level management jobs equivalent to field grade officers or department managers in the civilian world. Senior Executive Service (SES) positions are top-level management positions in the government. Within each grade level are 10 steps that indicate seniority and rate of pay within that level. Occasionally, government workers can actually receive a promotion by taking a lower grade with a higher step level. Most announcements require at least one year of experience at the next lowest level, although education can sometimes substitute for this requirement.

Each announcement has specific application instructions, including a closing date, resume format, and possibly additional documentation. Some require copies of your transcripts (these do not usually need to be official transcripts during the initial application phase), copies of military records such as a DD-214, or other government documents related to prior service as a federal employee. You will be told whether you need to apply through an online system, to email or fax a resume and assorted documents, or to mail in your application with a specified number of copies of each document submitted. Complete applications are usually due to be received by 11:59 PM (EST) on the evening of the announcement closing date. Specific instructions on KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities), ECQs (Executive Core Qualifications), or other supplemental statements and questions are also explained.

Specific instructions on KSAs, ECQs, or other supplemental statements and questions will be listed in the announcement, but these can be confusing, especially in some of the online application systems. Read this information carefully, as some requirements can be very specific, limiting the size of margins, character counts, font size, and other factors. Some statements are entered into an online field, while others must be uploaded as a separate document. Any deviation in required format can result in a rejection of the entire application. When creating a separate document for submission, it’s a wise idea to use a header with your name, Social Security Number (if required), phone number, and the vacancy announcement number, job title, and grade. Oftentimes, responses to questions will be separated for more than one reviewer to evaluate, and this simplifies matters if your statements are printed and the pages become separated for review.

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