Saturday, June 30, 2012

Preparing your Resume for a Federal Job

Applicants may now submit a standard resume or build one on USAJobs. Listed below are a few suggestions:
  • The USAJOBS Resume Builder allows applicants to create and choose up to five resumes to submit for all agencies.
  • The resume should capture what Personnel (Human Resource Specialists) and hiring managers need to know that are outlined in this document (items to include; resume rules).
  • The resume allows applicants to tailor their resumes for the specific position of interest.
All applicants must include the following items on their resume:
  • Full name, address, phone number, email address and references
  • Work experience, both paid and non-paid (volunteer work experience opportunities)
  • Training and skills
  • Certifications and awards
  • Type of education received including:
    • Name of the school, city, state, zip and the date they received their degree
    • If degree was not completed, total credit hours earned in what academic areas
    • Foreign degrees must be evaluated by a nationally recognized Accrediting Agency
Applicants should follow these standard resume rules:
  • Study the job announcement
  • Prepare your “sales pitch” in your cover letter
  • Identify your “major” accomplishments upfront on your resume – in bullets
  • Tailor your resume for the position of interest
  • Pay attention to “key” words
  • Link desired skills to your current and prior work experience
  • Emphasize (underline) critical information, programs, major initiatives/projects
  • Write concisely, using proper grammar and plain language
  • Quantify results you have achieved in your work experience; give examples
  • State your “significant” contributions to achieving results, successes, and best practices
  • Edit and proofread before submitting your resume
For additional free information on federal careers and advice for government job seekers, visit

Friday, June 29, 2012

How to Get Noticed at Work

  • Volunteer – for special projects and assignments
  • Consider "continuous learning" activities (adult education, certificate programs, Executive Coach Certificate program, etc.)
  • Your Career…Is Your Responsibility
  • Get your supervisor interested and involved in your career paths
  • Be open to assignments, opportunities, details
  • Move around in other organizations – to explore other learning environments – stay fresh; and gain "broad" exposure; value your colleagues' contributions
  • Sign-up for workshops/classes on: Leaderships Skills, Interpersonal Skills, and Working in Teams
  • Be ready to move to your next challenge – be the person that people admire and look up to…
  • Learn to work in different environments with diverse audiences
  • Perseverance – Perseverance – Perseverance
  • Seek a lot of knowledge and be willing to grow
  • Consider Development Programs – recognize your skill gaps
  • Establish a support structure of mentors, friends, colleagues
  • Attitude is everything – If you believe…you can achieve
  • Dress for the job you want…not the job you currently have...
  • Identify training courses on your company/agency; volunteer for last-minute cancellations
  • Recognize people that support you in a public setting
  • Find a job that you like – and be competent…people will see you as "invaluable"
  • Set goals, identify informal mentors
  • Attitude, Passion, Commitment, Persistence
  • Acquire critical skill sets for managers
  • Lead Teams and be willing to move to other organizations/agencies
  • Be aware of your "weaknesses" and "strengths"
  • Work hard – demonstrate a good attitude
  • Don't identify barriers for yourself
  • Character, Reputation, Honesty, Trust, Ethical
  • You do not necessarily need a Individual Development Plan (IDP)
  • You do not need to be a "super hero"
  • Recognize the importance of "reputation," and working hard can get you noticed
  • Don't just apply for the job; apply for the work involved in the job
  • Practice – Practice – Practice
  • Join professional organizations for up and coming Senior Executives (, etc.)
  • You need to have prior knowledge in other areas (Budget, Procurement, HR, Labor/Employee Relations, etc.); request details in these areas
  • Be confident in what you do
  • Do not rely on others to do things for you – take charge of your own career
  • In the workplace – it's about working relationships – build good networks – be good to people
  • Don't just manage people moving up in the ranks; manage people below the ranks
  • Identify ways to get things accomplished as a leader – beyond being recognized as a major contributor
  • Recommended Book Reading: "Learn how to Stop Worrying and Start Living," for staying organized
  • You must be willing to put in long hours from time to time, which may include working on weekends
  • Practice time management skills
  • Be able to forecast and project; rather than being "reactive"
  • Take your lunch daily – take your daily breaks – so that you can be re-energized
  • Meet mission goals/metrics; be the "go to" person in your organization
  • Be humble; not arrogant; always be willing to provide assistance to co-workers, colleagues, organization
  • Promote self-awareness and good common sense
  • Take courses – people skills – interpersonal skills
  • Ask for feedback from supervisor and peers
  • Encourage people to give feedback and their different perspectives; this gives people a sense of value and worth – during meetings
  • Compliment in public – Criticize in private
  • Get feedback on presentations
  • Identify projects that you can add value
  • You learn more from "errors" and "failures" than your successes
  • Praise – Empower – Develop People to be "high performing" teams
  • Be true to yourself – what are your passions?
  • Lead by Example…Take Care of Your Peers
  • Check your "ego" at the door
  • Learn how to listen; learn how to stop talking at meetings; appreciate others' opinions
  • Learn how to give and receive constructive feedback; don't take everything so personal
  • The best indicator of future performance – is past performance
  • Support other colleagues (men and women); everyone has something to share
  • If you think BIG – you will be BIG; If you think SMALL – you will be SMALL
  • VOLUNTEER for meaningful opportunities; remember "No" is the beginning of negotiation
  • Ask for un-bias feedback when filling out an application
  • Take lateral positions for further fulfillment and practice
  • Promote balance in your everyday life – Take Care of yourself
  • Be resilient – have a plan "B"
  • If you're reading this today... Have a nice weekend!
For additional Career Advice see

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Helpful Terminology if You're Applying for a Federal Job

Agency Employee
The term "Agency Employee is used when Federal agencies announce position openings to indicate that only current employees of that agency may apply. This is sometimes confusing to applicants because many Federal organizations have titles such as Administration, Agency, or Bureau. This term is usually applied to an Agency (such as the Forest Service) that is part of a larger Department (The Department of Agriculture). Another example would be the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is an "Agency" that is part of the Department of Justice. When you see this term it is very important to read the vacancy announcement carefully to see if you are eligible to apply.

Announcement, Vacancy Announcement
A posting, usually on a jobs website or an agency internal website that notifies potential applicants that a job opening is now in recruitment and open for the receipt of applications.

Area of Consideration
Defines who is eligible to apply and be considered for the position. For example, when the area of consideration is stated as "U.S. Citizens it means that the posting will accept and consider candidates that are not currently Federal employees.

Basic Qualifications
When a posting refers to basic qualifications, it refers to the minimum education and experience required to be considered for the job.

Basis of Rating
This term is used on vacancy announcements to describe the method that will be used to rate applicants. It will describe a method of scoring such as a scoring of responses to questions about applicants' knowledge, skills and abilities, as when answers to KSA questions are scored, or when category rating is used (See Category Rating), it will describe how many categories are being used and how applicants will be placed in each quality category.

Category Rating
This term is used on vacancy announcements when your application will be rated and placed with others who have similar quality of education and experience, as opposed to ranking all applicants in score order. The vacancy announcement will indicate that this rating method is being used. Veterans still are given preference in this method, but there is no numerical score given to each applicant.

Certificate (of Eligibles)
A list of eligible applicants given to hiring managers from which they may make a selection. The list may be ordered in a variety of ways, and many have rules concerning the order in which the manager must consider the applicants. This is usually the last stop for an applicant before being selected (or not) for a position. See Referral List, Roster

Closed (when referring to a job posting)
When the employer is no longer recruiting, the posting is closed and applications are no longer being accepted.

Closing Date when referring to a job posting)
The application due date or the latest date applications can be accepted. Generally, but not always, applications are accepted in online systems up until midnight (Eastern time) of the closing date. In mail-in applications, the deadline may be indicated by a postmark, or require receipt by "close of business" on the closing date. Always check to verify the closing date requirements in the vacancy announcement.

Competitive Service
The term "Competitive Service" defines a category of employment that covers most civilian jobs in the Federal Government. Generally speaking, it means that these jobs are initially filled by members of the general public who go through an application process and compete for the position to enter the Federal service. See also, Competitive Status.

Competitive Status
Competitive status refers to an applicant's basic eligibility to apply for positions in the Competitive Service (see above definition). Competitive status may apply to current employees who can be transferred, promoted, or reassigned without having to compete with members of the general public in an open announcement. (see Noncompetitive Assignment). It also applies to former Federal employees who worked for a prescribed amount of time (usually 3 years) or who have Veteran Preference. This status allows individuals to be hired to fill vacancies without competing with the general public in an open vacancy announcement.

Career Transition Assistance Program.  This term represents a program, required by law, to help assist Federal employees who are displaced through no fault of their own. If they are well-qualified for positions and reside in the commuting area where a position in their former agency is located, they may get priority over other candidates.

Current Federal Employee
When this term is used on a vacancy announcement in the "Area of Consideration" or "Who May Apply" section, you need to read the announcement very carefully to see if it includes all current Federal employees i.e. those who are temporary (also called time-limited) as well as those who are working in permanent positions. Most often, announcements that say an applicant must be a current federal employee do not include people who are working as students, or people who are working in temporary positions. Though they are certainly Federal employees, the nature of their type of employment does not usually include them in this group.

Cut-Off Date
This date is sometimes used when a vacancy announcement has no specific closing date (see Open Continuous) and agencies want to give hiring managers lists of eligibles (See Certificate, Referral List). If a cut-off date is indicated in the vacancy announcement, it means that your application can be accepted after the date, but your name may not be forwarded to a selecting official until the next list is prepared. It is always best to apply as soon as you are aware of a vacancy in which you are interested.

Department Employees
When this term is used on a vacancy announcement in the "Area of Consideration" or "Who May Apply" section, it means that the job is only open to people who are employed by the Federal Department announcing the position. Usually, this means the widest definition of the Department such as the Department of Agriculture, or Department of Homeland Security. (See Agency Employee). Therefore, if you are an employee working for the Forest Service, and you see an announcement open to Department Employees in the Department of Agriculture, you would be eligible to apply.

Eligible Applicants
Applicants who meet the qualification requirements and "Who May Apply" (Area of Consideration) requirements for a position which is in recruitment.

Excepted Service
The term "Excepted Service refers to one type of Federal government service (another being the Competitive Service). Generally speaking, the Excepted Service covers civilian jobs in the Federal government that are not in the Competitive Service. Most often, employees of an entire agency (FBI, for example), are in the Excepted Service or all members of a particular occupational group (Attorneys) are designated for the Excepted Service.

A number, usually two digits, representing the level of work performed in a position in relation to all other levels of work within the occupation. Pay is tied to the grade level to which a position is assigned. The most common are grades 1-15, with one representing the lowest level of pay for an occupation, and 15 representing the highest level of technical work in the occupation.

Interagency Career Transition Assistance Program.  This term represents a program, required by law, to help assist Federal employees who are displaced through no fault of their own. If they are well-qualified for positions and reside in the commuting area where a position in any federal agency is located, they may get priority over other candidates.

The Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities required to perform the duties in a position. Sometimes called Competencies, these are the factors on which applicants are rated to determine their qualifications relative to other applicants.

Military Occupational Specialty. A category and code which describes the non-combat work performed by an individual while serving in the military on active duty, or in the Reserves.

MPP; Merit Promotion Program
Sometimes referred to as "Internal Placement" a Merit Promotion Program is a set of rules that applies to promotion or selection of current and former Federal employees within their current employing agency, and in other Federal agencies.

Not To Exceed - This usually refers to a time limit for a position being filled such as a temporary position NTE 30 days, or a Term position NTE 4 Years (See Temporary Appointment and Term Appointment).

Usually refers to the status of a job posting. The Open Period is when the agency is actively recruiting and accepting applications for a position. The term also be used to indicate who may apply as in: "The position is open to all U. S. Citizens.

Open Continuous
This term is used on vacancy announcements that do not have a specific closing date. It is most often used when a Federal agency anticipates hiring frequently from the pool of applicants. It is always advisable to apply as soon as you learn about this type of vacancy (See Cut Off Date) and to keep your application and contact information up-to-date. Agencies may send lists of eligibles (See Certificate, Referral List) to selecting officials at any time while this type of position is open.

Opening Date
The start of the "Open Period." This is the first date applicants may submit their applications.

Pay Plan
The pay system under which a Federal employee's rate of basic pay is determined, by law. Generally, pay plans are identified by a two-letter acronym with the government's most common being GS, for General Schedule. Some agencies have several pay plans to include plans for special positions such as those in law enforcement. There are separate pay plans for blue collar positions (called WG for Wage Grade). Senior Executives have their own pay plan (ES, for Executive Service), as do some agencies with specialized occupations.

Permanent Appointment
An appointment or hire to a federal position that has no time limit established with it (See also NTE, above).

Promotion Potential
Promotion potential is a term used to describe the highest grade (or salary) level to which an employee can be promoted without having to compete with others for the promotion when the employee's performance has been at an acceptable level. Promotion potential, in general, means the employer may hire at multiple levels but, in all cases, the highest grade indicated is the highest level a person can attain without having to compete for further promotions.

Reemployment Priority List (RPL)
A list of employees, maintained by individual Federal agencies, through which former Federal employees who have lost their jobs because of lack of work or lack of funds, or who have fully recovered from an on-the-job injury for which they received compensation, get priority over other candidates when Federal positions are filled.

Referral List; Certificate of Eligibles
A list of eligible applicants provided to hiring managers from which they may make a selection. The list may be ordered in a variety of ways, and many have rules concerning the order in which the manager must consider the applicants. This is usually the last stop for an applicant before being selected (or not) for a position.

Reinstatement is a term used to describe the re-hire a person who previously was a Federal employee There are a set of rules around which former employees can be reinstated, without having to compete for a job, and for how long after leaving. Employees who leave their Federal jobs are told whether or not they are eligible for reinstatement when they leave adn it is generally spelled out on the documents received when an employee leaves the Federal government.

A 4 digit number representing an occupation found in the Federal government. For example, the 0500 series includes positions related to budget and accounting. Series numbers between 0500 and 0599 will represent some specialization within the budget and accounting occupational family. The same series may be used in different pay plans. Typically, when referring to jobs, you will see the pay plan acronym (GS), followed by the series (501) indicating the occupation, then the grade level (13, for example) For example, the 0500 series includes positions related to budget and accounting. Series designations between 0500 and 0600 will represent some specialization within the budget and accounting occupational family.

SES Career
SES represents the Senior Executive Service which was established with the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. The idea behind the SES was to develop a cadre of senior Federal executives who would occupy leadership positions in all the Federal agencies, and would be used as a resource by all. When designated "Career" it means that the position will be filled by an employee already in the Federal Service who has a Career (permanent) position.

Status Eligible
This term refers to people who are currently Federal employees in positions that have not been limited to a specific time period (30 days, one year, etc.) and to people who may not currently be Federal employees, but whose service makes them eligible to be hired again without formally competing with others (See Reinstatement). This term is generally found on Vacancy Announcements in the section called "Area of Consideration", or "Who May Apply." If an announcement specifies that it is open only to Status Eligibles, members of the general public who have not previously been Federal employees, are not eligible to apply.

SES General
The term "SES" represents the Senior Executive Service which was established with the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. The idea behind the SES was to develop a cadre of senior Federal executives who would occupy leadership positions in all the Federal agencies, and would be used as a resource by all. When designated "General" it means that the SES position an be filled by a person who is already civil servant, or by a person who is a qualified member of the general public.

Temporary Appointment
An temporary appointment is given when a person is hired to be a Federal employee for a limited period of time. These appointments are often for students who work during summers, or made to bring people in to address emergency needs within federal agencies. Temporary employees receive the same pay as others working at the same grade level, but not all of the same benefits. The pay and benefits are spelled out in the documents employees receive when they are hired on a temporary basis.

Term Appointment
A Term Appointment is given to a person who is hired for at least one year, but, typically, not more than four years. This appointment is more closely related to a permanent appointment and has more benefits that other time-limited appointments such as "Temporary." The pay and benefits offered to a person accepting a Term appointment t will be specified in the vacancy announcement and on any documents the person receives when accepting the position.

Time Limit
The length of time the position will be filled, i.e., temporary or term appointments have time limits such as Not To Exceed 30 days, or Not To Exceed two years.

This term refers to the amount of time an employee has been employed at a particular grade level or in a position equivalent to that grade. Depending on the grade of the position and the type of appointment being offered, candidates who are current Federal employees may have to show that they have worked a year at that grade level before they may be promoted to a higher grade level.

Tour of Duty
The hours of a day and the days of the week that an employee is required to work on a regular basis.

Job Opening. Sometimes positions are announced to fill positions that are actually vacant and sometimes there are openings for candidates to apply for openings that may occur in the future. Most people involved with Federal hiring refer to the public notice of both types of hiring efforts as "Vacancy Announcements."

Veteran Preference
A designation, based in law, that describes the extra consideration Federal agencies are required to give in the hiring process to those who have served in the military, and, in some cases, their spouses or parents. Usually, the preference involves adding a specified number of points to an ranking score. Different kinds of military service entitle an individual to preference (a Purple Heart, for example, gives the recipient preference in hiring and retention). Some military service does not carry eligibility for preference with it. Each vacancy announcement will specify when veterans preference is to be applied. Applicants can find out if they are entitled to veteran preference be referring to their DD-214, or other, similar document and reading the requirements for preference described in each announcement.

Veterans' Recruitment Appointment. This is a special authority which allows veterans who have successfully completed two years of military service and been honorably discharged to be appointed to positions in grades up to GS-11, without having to compete with other candidates. After two years of satisfactory work and training, the person may receive a permanent appointment.

Work Schedule
The time basis on which an employee is paid; i.e., full-time or part-time, intermittent, etc. Work schedules are usually based on a work week, but may have another basis if that is common for the occupation.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Navigating the Federal Application Process

Let's say you're 20-something young adult — and you're trying to get a job and start paying off those student loans. You're in the Washington, D.C. metro area and you know a lot of folks that work for the federal government, so you decide maybe a federal job's a good idea.

You go online, and you end up at USAJOBS, not because it hit high on your search criteria (its site rank, as measured in unique visitors by, has dropped 116 places since the release of USAJOBS 3.0) but because every federal agency's career site leads you there. Once there, you are encouraged to post your résumé and search for positions that might be of interest to you and apply. Bingo! You hit pay dirt — a $51,630 to $67,114 a year job that looks like a good point of entry. Plus, you just happen to have the exact degree they are requiring. Things are looking up!

You click to apply and get taken into an online application or you're asked to email your résumé to a recruiter (and we use the term recruiter loosely).

You wait. You hear nothing. You wonder if your résumé has been sucked into a black hole.
You wait. You hear nothing. You lose interest. You decide the government really doesn't want you.
Maybe you made a mistake on your application. Maybe not.

You hear nothing. You move on.

Is it any wonder that the results of the 2011 National Association of Colleges and Employers Survey of more than 35,000 students about their employment plans after finishing school showed that just 2.3 percent said they intend to work for the U.S. federal government?

The government's hiring process has proven as resistant to change as a staph infection is to antibiotics. You can choose to believe in the fanfare and spin from Cheerleader-In-Chief OPM Director John Berry about hiring process improvement, but the proof is in the results. And there are none.

The tragic truth is that changing just a few of things could change the entire bureaucratic culture built around the federal hiring process — and maybe make it easier for a Millennial to want to apply and work here. Let's just start with the job posting and the application process for now.

Does it need to be so hard?  No one looking for a job should be subjected to "government speak" or have to wade through an alphabet soup of job classifications and a form of inside baseball while never finding out exactly why their application wasn't considered.

If federal agencies truly want to recruit and attract smart, technically savvy, highly qualified college graduates into U.S. government employment, clean up the simple act of communication.

It's the first step toward making federal employment easier. Or else those highly desired candidates will move on, and you'll continue to wonder why nearly 100 percent of graduating college seniors won't be considering the U.S. government as the place to begin their careers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What you Should Know about the Federal Job Application

Getting Started
Like many of us, you may find it difficult to prepare a job application or resume. Yet, an employer reviews your application to determine if you meet basic requirements and to determine whether you're one of the best candidates to interview. So, your resume serves as a critical checkpoint in the hiring process.

A clear understanding of the job requirements and screening process is your first step in preparing a resume that will stand up to the competition. Employers increasingly rely on technology to optimize access to quality candidates. However, on-line applications significantly increase the number of applicants for each opening. Avue's system, in particular, offers employers automated questionnaires and other electronic assessment tools to screen large numbers of applicants and help them determine which ones to contact for interviews. Consider the following to increase your opportunity for an interview.

Understanding BOTH the Eligibility and the Qualification Requirements
It is important that you review the job advertisement or vacancy announcement for eligibility and qualification requirements. Although there may be some slight variations in the way agencies design their vacancy announcements, you are likely to find these requirements under the following topics on the vacancy announcement:
  • Area of Consideration
  • Basic Qualifications
  • Conditions of Employment
  • Eligibility
  • Other Job Requirements
  • Specialized Experience
Who May Apply
Most jobs have basic eligibility requirements or conditions of employment. These typically include citizenship, minimum or maximum age, physical or medical requirements, licenses or certifications required, security clearances needed, and for Federal positions, satisfying "competitive status" requirements.

Jobs also have minimum qualification requirements. These describe the minimum education, training, or experience necessary for success in the job. If you fail to meet these requirements you will not be considered. Don't waste your time by thinking it might be "close enough." Move on to those job openings for which you are eligible and can qualify.

Understanding How Employers Screen or Select Candidates for Personal Interviews
There are a number of processes employers might use to determine the best qualified candidates.

If you are eligible and qualified, an employer will rank you among other candidates using pre-defined, job related criteria. Employers will typically compare your experience, education, training, or past performance with that of other candidates. Some ranking processes produce a numerical score against the job-related criteria. This numerical score helps determine the Best-Qualified candidates for interviews.

Employers might use other methods to screen eligible and qualified candidates for interview. These alternate methods might include subject matter expert panels, which generally review your experience, education and training as it relates to the specific requirements in the job. For some positions in some organizations, seniority is the key to getting referred.

Tips for Preparing Your Resume
Here are some tips for completing two different types of resumes: paper and online. There are many different resume formats. Typically, resumes with work experience arranged chronologically work best when applying for Federal jobs. Regardless of the format used, however, there is certain basic information that must be included:
  • Contact section: Who are you and how can you be reached?
  • Objective statement: What do you want to do
  • Education section: What have you studied and learned?
  • Experience/Employment section: What can you do? What have you done?
  • Professional activities and accomplishments: How have you been recognized? What are your professional affiliations?
  • Miscellaneous: What else do they want to know about you? What else do you think it is important that they know about you?
Sometimes this is clearly stated in the vacancy announcement; sometimes you have to do some research to figure out what might be important as decisions are made on who remains in the process.

Tips for Completing Your On-line Resume
Carefully and thoroughly read the entire vacancy announcement. Provide ALL the information requested including documentation required for the position. Some agencies use automated systems and others accept resumes. Regardless of how they want you to apply, you must ensure your submission includes information in the following areas:
  1. Answer ALL job-related questions to the best of your ability. Include accurate details of your experience, education, or training in the narrative input or supporting information fields provided.
  2. Use ALL portions of the application to provide unique and exemplary information that sets you apart from other candidates.
  3. Present your most important job-related competencies and accomplishments.
  4. Present information in a polished (and accurate!) manner.
  5. Double check for typos and grammatical errors.
  6. Stress actions and achievements.
  7. Sell yourself!
For both paper and on-line resumes, you should use action verbs to show the degree to which you were actively engaged in performing work. Some suggested verbs to consider are:


Monday, June 25, 2012

This is Why You Want to Consider Getting a Government Job

Benefits at a Glance

Category of employee Life Insurance Health Benefits TSP Retirement Leave
Full-time Permanent X X X X X
Part-time Permanent X X X X X
Temporary - more than 1 year X X     X
Temporary - 1 year or less 1* 1* 1* 1* X
Temporary - less than 90 days         2*
Intermittent/When Actually Employed 1* 1* 1* 1*  
Students X X     X
Seasonal Employment X X X X X
Contract Employment          
Employees on Leave without Pay 3* 3* X X  
Reemployed Annuitants X X X X X
Annuitants X X X X X
Former Employees 4* 4* X X  
  1. If the temporary or intermittent appointment follows a period of permanent service where there was coverage without a break in service, then the employee retains these benefits.
  2. Accrues sick leave only. Entitlement to annual leave is only after being employed for a continuous period of 90 days under successive appointments without a break in service. After completing the 90-day period, the annual leave that would have accrued during this period is credited to the employee's annual leave balance.
  3. Coverage continues for one year. The employee must make the employee portion of premium payments for health benefits.
  4. Former employees continue their coverage for 31 days following the date they leave the agency, and may convert to individual policies
Your "employment status" determines your eligibility for many benefits.
  • Eligible employees can elect to participate in a wide array of insurance coverage programs.
  • The federal government is required by law to offer eligible employees a retirement plan, paid time off for illness and vacations, cost of living adjustments, etc.
  • There are other advantages to federal employment that vary by agency or even location, such as on-site childcare, fitness facilities, and more.
  • Not to be overlooked are the "intangibles", the opportunity to serve one's country and work on cutting edge projects.
Our insurance is valued at an amount equal to your annual salary, plus $2,000-3,000. Employees have the option to increase their own coverage and/or include their family in the coverage. Like health insurance, life insurance can be carried into retirement.

Eligible federal employees get to select the health insurance plan that best fits their needs. There are Health Maintenance Organizations, Points of Service plans and Fee for Service plans from which to choose. Three additional features sweeten the deal. Federal employees can pay for their portion of the premium with pre-tax dollars (which reduces your taxable income). Plus, the government pays for a portion of the premium. Even better, employees have the option of continuing their health insurance coverage in retirement (provided certain criteria are met).

The TSP is the federal government's equivalent to a 401K, meaning you can invest a percentage of your pretax earnings into several funds, watch your investment grow until you retire, then enjoy your golden years knowing you have some financial security. Additionally, if you participate in FERS, the federal government will automatically contribute an amount equal to 1% of your basic salary to your TSP account. If you contribute more, the government will too (up to 5% of your basic pay).

The EAP is a free, confidential short-term counseling service available to all employees. EAP counselors can help employees deal with a wide-range of personal problems; including stress, substance abuse, depression, marital conflict, childcare problems, financial or legal difficulties, eldercare issues, and much more.

Annual leave is the federal equivalent of "vacation time." While employees must follow agency procedures for requesting time off, generally, employees have a right to take annual leave, in increments as small as an hour or less, provided their absence will not interfere with the timely accomplishment of mission-critical work. Annual leave accumulates and up to six weeks of time can be carried over in to the next year.
  • Up to 3 years of service employees earn ~ 2.5 weeks
  • 3-15 years of service employees earn ~ 4 weeks
  • + 15 years of service employees earn ~ 5 weeks
The federal government allows ample time for you to receive medical care; care for an ill family member; go see a treatment provider; and recover from an illness, injury or childbirth. Sick leave can even be used for a few other select purposes, such as adopting a child or making burial arrangements for a family member. Full time employees accrue sick leave at a rate of 4 hours per pay period, and may accumulate leave without limitation.

Under the Family Medical Leave Act, employees can take up to twelve weeks off in a twelve-month period to address certain medical concerns, care for a newborn child or take in a foster child. There are other leave programs that support employees and/or families going through other specific difficulties.

Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) are the federal equivalent of a pension plan, which you don't see that often anymore in the private sector. While there are some significant differences between the two plans, both offer disability retirement, early retirement options and the opportunity to provide annuities to spouses.

Some agencies provide access to fitness centers, as well as time to work out.

The regular basic work week is 40 hours a week, usually Monday through Friday. However, alternative work schedules may permit employees to modify their schedule to better balance the demands of work, family and personal life. Typical alternative work schedules include working 80 hours in 9 days (instead of 10) or having start and end times that are other then 9 AM to 5 PM. Agencies often allow employees to flex their start and end times provided their schedules are approved, and they are available during certain core hours.

The federal government sponsors over 1,000 childcare centers, many of them located in federal buildings.

In an effort to cut down on the stress of commuting, and lighten the burden on the nation's roadways, the federal government encourages agencies to consider whether part of any position might be effectively carried out from home. Telework is a management option.

While the federal government has downsized in recent decades, it still weathers the boom or bust cycles better then the private sector.

Working for the federal government means working for the betterment of our country.

Many federal agencies are pioneering advancements in medical research, technology developments, healthcare, defense, and much more.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Want to Succeed in Project Management?

Well-designed projects proceed through four phases: definition, planning, implementation and finalization. Good advance planning, excellent communications, the ability to respond to the inevitable errors, and changes in process are all critical elements of good project management.

Phase I: Defining the Project
Consider assembling a group (sometimes called an "advance preparation team"), to help you evaluate the costs and benefits of a potential project by defining the:
  1. Specific goals and objectives. What is the project supposed to achieve? What will have been added or improved once the project has been completed?
  2. Stakeholders. Who is going to be affected by the outcome of the project? What will they gain?
  3. Scope. How large is the project's objective?
  4. Limiting factors. What are the parameters, constraints and risk factors?
  5. Resource requirements. What resources would be needed in terms of time, money, technology, equipment, facilities, and material and supplies?
  6. Feasibility. Is the project feasible? Can it be completed successfully?
Phase II: Planning
Some project managers prefer to continue working only with a smaller core or "drive" team during this stage, provided they have the expertise to define exactly what needs to be done, and how long each step will take. If they don't, it is possible to miss information that will affect your time line, budget, or ability to deliver.

Define the major segments of the project, when a "section" of the project must be completed (i.e. a milestone), and the individual activities that support each milestone. Order the activities (in project management lingo, the first activity is called a "predecessor/precursor" activity, and the second a "successor" activity), and estimate the time each will take. In doing so, you will be able to define which activities are dependent upon the completion of others. You'll also be able to identify some tasks that can be completed independent of others. Writing each segment, milestone and activity on a separate "Post it" note and moving them about until you've come up with a workable plan is an affordable, flexible method of project planning.

Diagramming, or charting your milestones and related activities against a timeline can create a great map for all personnel involved in the project. By visually representing the dependencies between the various activities involved, you will quickly be able to identify areas where a slippage in schedule will have a strong impact on other segments of the project's implementation. You can also assign activities to people.

Phase III: Implementation
There are a number of hazards that can derail even the best-planned project. As the manager, you'll need to tell (tell, and re-tell) project members all they need to know to get the work done, have a strategy for communicating progress, and be able to quickly address "showstoppers." Here are some helpful ideas:

Use a "kick off" meeting to orient everyone to the project goals and plan, introduce team members, and share information so everyone starts out on the same page.

Have a two-tiered plan for monitoring and communicating progress. At the first level, everyone involved in the project, including both employees and outside vendors, will need to have access to the level of information they'll need to effectively perform their activities. At the second level, your project team will need to keep you informed about the details of their progress. You can use this information to summarize and evaluate progress in your own reports to and communications with management and other stakeholders.

Recognize and respond quickly to problems. No matter how passionately you believe in a project, or how clearly you've spelled out a plan, there are going to be other people who lack your motivation, clarity of vision, skill set, etc. Have a plan for surfacing problems quickly. Take time to dissect them, implement a solution and follow up. No news is not good news when it comes to projects. No news means something might be amiss.

Phase IV: Finalization
Some projects are easier than others to finalize. If there is a specific, tangible result, everyone involved knows when the project is completed. Other projects, however, tend to linger on and on, with a myriad of little details that need to be cleaned up, etc. As a result, the project continues to use (and/or be charged for) resources that are no longer required or require resources that are no longer available. To manage this:
  • Have a clearly defined "end" for different project team members. Ensure their contributions are recognized, they are properly thanked, and any notable accomplishments have been communicated to each project member's supervisor. Time spent on such efforts now will increase the likelihood of each person's participation in your next project!
  • Prepare a post project evaluation, outlining and quantifying project successes, so that team participants (including you) receive credit where credit is due; noting lessons learned, so future problems can be avoided; and documenting tasks still in process/still to do.

For additional information on Federal careers and advice, visit

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Your Performance Review

Performance rating meetings can cause even the most self-confident employee to have a moment of self-doubt. What if the boss doesn't remember the excellent work you did on a project that wrapped up eleven months ago? What if the minor mistake you made last week suddenly looms large in his mind? Do yourself a favor (and your boss one as well) by preparing a little advance material to help him jog his memory.

When you know the current performance period is coming to an end:
  1. Review your position description, performance plan/work requirements, and last year's (or your most recent) performance rating.
  2. Assemble a brief document list of your accomplishments in relation to the goals you and your supervisor had set.
    • Quantify your accomplishments. Make them specific to your performance standards. Site examples of how you achieved your set goals.
    • List actions or ideas you proposed that resulted in process improvements, major advancement of a project, or any other sort of significant
    • Note contributions that were beyond your defined duties
    • List any goals that were not accomplished and note why. Indicate whether these goals will/should be carried over into the new year
  3. Offer the above document to your supervisor to help him review your performance
  4. Document for yourself your career goals over the next few years, and how they translate you're your professional goals and support the organizational goals for the upcoming year.

For additional Federal Career advice, visit

Friday, June 22, 2012

How to be a Team player

Found yourself suddenly assigned to a team? Wondering what that might mean with regard to your role, performance expectations or how your work gets evaluated? All good questions! The definition of a "team" can vary greatly, as does how teams operate, their purpose, even how long they stay together. Provided here is basic information on what teams are and the qualities of effective teams, as well as guidance on how to thrive as a new member of a team.

People don't become a team because someone tells them they are. They must be striving together to attain something. Here's one definition of a team-a small group of people committed to accomplishing a common goal. Teams often operate best if they have a shared set of values. The following list are some attributes of highly successful teams:
  1. We are customer focused. Meaning, we are driven to do things that make our service more valuable to the customer, whether internal or external.
  2. We trust each other's intentions. Meaning we believe that everyone else on the team is working together to find the best possible solution to each problem or conflict encountered.
  3. We are truthful in our communications. Meaning we are open and honest with one another.
  4. We are interdependent. Meaning we rely on one another to get the whole job done.
  5. We are all accountable. Meaning we each take responsibility for the results of what we do and what the department does.
  6. We support one another. Meaning we are committed to helping and encouraging one another to grow professionally.
  7. We respect our diversity. Meaning we respect other's on the team who have values and points of view that are different from our own.
  8. We have a common purpose. Meaning we are all working towards attaining similar outcomes.
  9. We have a shared vision. Meaning we all have a common understanding of what we are trying to accomplish as we move into the future.
  10. We are always playing to win. Meaning we are trying to get as far as we can get each day by putting everything we can into our work.
"Team building" is not about spending a day out in the woods, trying to solve various contrived "survival" scenarios. Team building simply refers to the efforts teams make to improve functioning. For example, if there is confusion about the outcomes a team is striving for, inviting a facilitator in to guide a discussion about goal setting might well be a team building activity. Without a "common purpose" it is difficult to work together, and more difficult to succeed.

While there is a great deal you can intuit or "pick up" about how you're supposed to behave as a member of a team, just by close observation, it is often best to check out your assumptions with open, direct discussion. If you're uncertain about performance expectations, ask. Inquire as to whether a "team charter" has been created (as well as whether or not it is followed, and why). Ask your supervisor or team leader how individual performance as well as team success is evaluated.

Remember too, for many people, being part of a team can at first feel uncomfortable. Americans value rugged individualism and personal success. Tying one's professional future to the performance of a team; having one's value assessed according to how one functions as a team member as opposed to an independent employee, can seem like a risky proposition. Some would argue that only with great risk comes the opportunity for great success, and great rewards. There's no denying very successful teams work hard at working well together. If you're not interested in that kind of labor, working in a team environment may not be a good fit for you. However, if you thrive on the support of others, if you problem-solve best by bouncing ideas off someone else, if your creativity is fueled by open debate and dialogue, a team environment might suit you well.

For additional Federal Career advice, visit

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dealing with Difficult People

Most "strategies" for dealing with difficult co-workers involve categorizing someone; as a "hot-head", "complainer, "know-it-all" etc., then following a different approach for handling each personality type. It can be a lot to remember. A simpler approach involves understanding, on a very basic level, why people generally become difficult, and learning a few techniques to use to de-escalate the difficult behavior, regardless of its "type." The goal always is to keep the end in mind.

Your objective is not to change the person, to understand the root cause of their bad behavior, or teach them how to be more pleasant. Your goal is to get what you need from that person (be it information, approval, cooperation, etc.), as quickly and easily as possible, then move on.
People become difficult when they feel like they are losing control--of an outcome, of their future, of their health, of their job security, it could be anything. People become difficult when they can "justify" their bad behavior. For example, if you are rude to me, I may respond very rudely, because I feel your behavior justifies an unkind response.

When people become difficult, for whatever reason, you will have a better chance at getting what you want by responding in any number of ways that will serve to "de-escalate" their behavior. That means if the difficult person is going on a complaining rant, you want to discourage that from continuing. If she is getting angrier, you want to reverse it. If he is stalling, you want to encourage some forward movement.
In a nutshell, here's what will help.
  • Don't take difficult behavior personally. This will allow you to respond with logic, rather then emotion.
  • Focus on the behavior, not the person. Think of the behavior as a puzzle which must be solved in order to attain your goal.
  • Know that the person you are responding to will at times be irrational and unfair. That's not something you need to change. Just accept it as a fact and focus on your objective.
  • Reflect. Reframe. Resolve. Let the other person know you hear and understand her concern, frustration, beef, gripe, sob story, etc. Restate conflicts as mutual problems to be jointly solved. Propose a response or solution and invite her opinion.
For additional federal career advice, visit

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment is unwelcome behavior,usually of a sexual nature. Sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and certain comments, physical conduct or visual displays may all be interpreted as sexual harassment, if they are unwelcome, severe and/or pervasive in the eyes of the recipient. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and is against the law.

Sexual harassment can take the form of "quid pro quo" (meaning "this for that") or can manifest itself as a hostile work environment. Quid pro quo occurs when one employee who has some power over another employee demands a sexual favor (a date, a kiss, or more) in exchange for a job, promotion, plum assignment, etc. When submission to or rejection of such an offer is used as the basis of an employment decision, it's harassment. A hostile environment exists when ongoing behavior creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work area. Examples include screen savers featuring nude figures, vulgar language, crude jokes, unnecessary touching, etc.

Because the interpretation of "offensive" is subjective, over time the courts have provided some guidelines in determining whether or not a particular behavior is likely to be interpreted as sexual harassment. Two guidelines are noteworthy:
  1. It matters much more how the recipient perceived a behavior, then how the person who did it intended it. In other words, regardless of whether someone meant to harass, or was "just kidding" matters little.
  2. If a reasonable person would find the behavior in question offensive, it shouldn't be occurring in the workplace.
If you feel you have been/are being sexually harassed, tell the harasser calmly but directly that the behavior is unwelcome and you want it to stop. If it does not, you have a responsibility to let someone in the organization know who can do something about it. That means besides telling your friend, you need to also tell your supervisor, an HR Specialist, or similar person.

Disruptive and Threatening Conduct in the Workplace
Federal agencies have "zero tolerance " policies with regard to workplace violence. Actual violent acts (homicide, assault, and robbery) are the most dramatic examples of a larger class of disruptive behavior that includes threats, intimidation, and bizarre or irrational behavior/remarks. Any behavior along this continuum may fall under within the definition of "violence." All such behavior requires prompt attention. Even disruptive or threatening acts/comments should be quickly reported to management for two reasons:
  1. Disruptive behavior left unchecked fosters a climate of fear and anxiety
  2. Threatening remarks very frequently precede acts of workplace homicide by weeks and months, but are often ignored
Employees often hesitate to report such behavior or comments because they believe the employee in question "wasn't serious" or "was just blowing off steam." While that may be true, it may also be one in a series of escalating incidents. In other cases, employee's don't want to "rat" on a co-worker, for fear the co-worker will retaliate. Employees need to know that such retaliation is also against the rules, and anyone disciplined for disruptive or threatening behavior would be warned not to try to retaliate against anyone. However, if someone were still fearful, it would be better to report such incidents anonymously then not at all.

Violent incidents of any sort between coworkers are relatively rare. The vast majority of violent incidents occur between an employee and a member of the public. If your job requires you to interact with the public in dangerous or stressful situations, talk to your supervisor about special training available on de-escalating angry individuals and/or protecting yourself.

Any concerns regarding possible workplace violence should be reported to one's supervisor, a member of management or the EAP.

For additional career advice, visit us at

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Employment Discrimination

Unlawful employment discrimination refers primarily to putting someone at an unfair disadvantage in an employment or workplace situation; based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. Executive orders issued in 1998 and 2000 also forbid discrimination of federal employees based on sexual orientation or "status as a parent". Discrimination based on political or marital status are also no-nos in the federal government.
It is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment, including:
  • Hiring and firing
  • Compensation, assignment, or classification of employees
  • Transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall
  • Job advertisements
  • Recruitment
  • Testing
  • Use of company facilities
  • Training and apprenticeship programs
  • Fringe benefits
  • Pay, retirement plans, and disability leave or
  • Other terms and conditions of employment
Other discriminatory practices specifically forbidden under the law include:
  • Harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability
  • Employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, etc., of individuals of a certain race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age; or with a certain disability
  • Denying employment opportunities based on marriage to or association with an individual of a particular race, religion, national origin or with a certain disability.
  • Discrimination because of participation in activities in schools or places of worship associated with a particular racial, ethnic or religious group.
Interpretations of EEO laws and regulations require the courts and regulatory agencies to consider the following questions when determining if illegal discrimination has occurred:
  • Was there disparate treatment? (Treating some individuals less favorably than other "similarly situated" individuals because of race, color religion, sex, age, etc.). Sexual harassment that creates a hostile environment for a particular employee is an example of disparate treatment.
  • Was any group/class of people adversely impacted? (When an employment policy or practice negatively impacts a particular class of employee or applicant). The practice of promoting only employees of a certain race or sex would adversely impact those who aren't of that class.
  • Did the agency fail to provide a reasonable accommodation? (An accommodation that allows a qualified person with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job, apply for a job, or enjoy the privileges of employment; without causing the employer undue hardship). If an agency knew an employee required leave for weekly medical treatments, and failed to accommodate that need, even though it did not create a hardship for the agency, a case of discrimination may be established.
  • Was there any reprisal or retaliation? For example, if an employee had filed a discrimination charge, and suddenly a promotion for which she was a shoe-in, the timeframe infers reprisal. Denial of training opportunities or "dead end" assignments can also suggest reprisal.

For additional career advice please visit us at

Monday, June 18, 2012

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) refers to any procedure used to resolve a controversy, generally with the assistance of a neutral third party. Such techniques include, but are not limited to, mediation, facilitation, arbitration, fact-finding and mini-trials. Traditional litigation is expensive, time-consuming and extremely stressful to the individuals involved. ADR can overcome most of these negatives by offering the possibility of fast, early settlement, as well as a forum for more flexible, creative solutions to disagreements.

When the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) revised its regulations regarding federal employee complaints of discrimination, federal agencies where mandated to have ADR programs available for employees to use at both the pre-complaint and formal complaint stages. Although an agency is not required to offer ADR in all cases, the EEOC wants ADR as an option, to encourage early settlement of employee complaints

Resolving Conflict

An individual's approach to conflict resolution falls somewhere on a continuum between avoiding an issue all together to forcing your desired outcome on another by whatever means necessary. One's preferred approach is often a learned behavior, based on observations of how conflict was managed (or mismanaged) in the family in which you grew up. Truth is, there are many ways to resolve conflict. The key to success is the ability to clearly define both the issues and desired outcomes, then respond with the approach best suited for the circumstances. For example:

  • If the outcome is not very important to you, but is very important to the other party, the best approach may be to accommodate the other person's wishes. Then put the goodwill you generated in the bank, to use another day.
  • If the outcome is important to both parties, but time is very limited, a quick compromise may be the best approach.
  • If the outcome is very important to both parties, and time allows, collaborating in finding a mutually satisfying solution, where the primary interests of both parties are met, will probably be worth the effort.
As suggested above, some methods of resolving conflict require a greater investment of time and energy, and are often used only when the stakes are high. Other times, the conflict is not worth the time it takes to discuss it, and other methods are in order. The challenge for some people is to overcome a natural tendency to always lean towards one particular style, and over using it to their own disadvantage. For example, if you tend to avoidlict, ask yourself what you are losing in the process. The next time you are faced with a conflict, define what you want to gain, and try a different approach. Conversely, if you always get your way, but your colleagues distrust and despise you, consider whether your luck with your competitive style will soon run out.

Conflict Resolution Strategies

There are many conflict resolution models. Here's one we prefer. It's short, simple to remember, and easy to share with others. With the exception of collaboration, there is nothing you need to "learn" to do to use each method. If you think carefully about the factors involved in the conflict (who the players are, what's at stake, how important this issues is in relation to other possible issues), the proper method to use will be obvious.

Method What it means When to use it Example
Avoidance Not addressing the issue at all. Ignoring it. Perhaps pretending there is no conflict. Other party gets the outcome they sought.
  • Issue is unimportant
  • One party is dangerously emotional
  • There is not enough time, energy, or information to properly address the issue
A coworker who is retiring in two months wants you to work extra hours to help him re-arrange an adequate and very complex work process as his "legacy."
Accommodation Agreeing to the outcome proposed by the opposing party.
  • Issue is unimportant
  • Maintaining harmony in the relationship is crucial.
  • Opposing party has legitimate authority
  • You're wrong
Giving in on a minor issue, because you need the other party's cooperation in a major issue.

Each party gets some of what they want, and sacrifices some of what they want, in order to reach a quick solution.

  • Time is short
  • The goals of each party are only moderately important
  • When a temporary solution is required until there is time to craft a better one
  • It's important for both parties to feel they got some of what they wanted
You want to hold a meeting from 9-10, several co-workers want to hold the meeting from 10-11. You hold the next one from 9:30-10:30 until you all can examine the pros and cons of each time.
Collaboration Parties work together to express their primary interests and come up with a creative solution where most primary interests are met.
  • The issue is important
  • The relationship is important
  • Having a mutually agreed to solution is important
Your have a long-standing conflict with another coworker over a workflow issue. Resolving it would improve customer service and morale within the department.
Competition One party pursues their concerns at the expense of the other. One uses whatever power one has to win.
  • Crisis or emergency
  • Losing could hurt the integrity, self-respect, etc. of one side
  • Other more cooperative styles have failed
You have spent significant effort trying to collaborate with a co-worker regarding a problem that is important to him. You need the issue resolved so the work can proceed. You prepare a strong case for your solution and take it to the boss.

For additional federal career advice, visit us at