Some of the most common mistakes that federal jobseekers make include:
- Beginning the job search without a target job or occupation. On any given day, the federal job site USAJOBS lists more than 5,000 job openings. Scrolling through vacancy announcements searching for terminology and language that is a loose fit for qualifications can waste countless hours.
- Taking any federal job to get a foot in the door. This old adage is no longer solid advice in strategic career planning. Once federal managers have completed the arduous hiring process and successfully filled a position, they are reluctant to permit employees to move laterally, even if there's a better fitting position down the hall. In fact, the law states that job transfer is required only in the case of promotion. Therefore, it is not always easy to move around once an applicant has been hired.
- Narrowing the search geographically with a focus only on Washington, D.C. The majority of federal jobs are located in areas outside of Washington, D.C. In fact, only 15 percent of federal jobs are located in Washington. Applicants may neglect many opportunities by restricting their search to the nation's capital.
- Overlooking networking as a powerful federal job search tool. Many federal jobseekers focus only on online sites and electronic applications. Although federal law requires that the federal application process adhere to strict guidelines, there are many ways to find out about federal opportunities. By attending networking events or utilizing other methods in which they can become known personally and professionally by hiring managers, applicants can distinguish themselves in the crowded federal marketplace.
- Applying with a generic resume. It is critical that applicants develop a targeted resume for every type of position for which they are applying. A "one-size-fits-all" resume robs them of the opportunity to market qualifications in the context of the job they are seeking. Federal jobseekers often are not aware of the amount of information available to them in the vacancy announcement, which details the skills and competencies needed to be qualified. Using the announcement as a guide provides applicants with a framework upon which to create a targeted resume.
- Avoiding self-promotion. Fearing that they will sound as if they are bragging, many applicants operate under the myth that selling themselves in a job search campaign is not respectable. However, in a competitive marketplace, those applicants who have the ability to toot their own horn likely are the ones who get noticed, interviewed, and hired. It also is important to support one's claims with facts, circumstances, and examples that illustrate successes. These success stories add interest and depth to the application. They're a much better approach than recounting lackluster facts and dates.
- Not spending enough time developing application materials. Applying for a federal job requires a definite commitment of time and energy. Some estimate that a careful and exhaustive examination of job requirements and preparation of targeted materials may take 10 to 12 hours. Much less than that means that applicants have not devoted sufficient time for systematic review and writing. Applicants should not only peruse the "Overviews" section, but analyze the "Duties and Qualifications." Jobseekers can increase their success rate by tailoring applications to job requirements and highlighting resumes with the unique applicable qualifications they bring to the position.
- Insufficient knowledge of the federal government's agencies and missions. Applicants need to be aware of the variety of occupations and agencies within the government.
- Inadequate research into their own career aspirations. Federal hopefuls need to take time to fully appreciate and articulate their worth to the government employment. They need to inventory their best skills and match them with federal job requirements.
Federal job seekers and the professionals who guide them would do well to enter a career exploration process, in which they assess strengths, talents, passions, and goals and then determine the federal jobs which match. Career counselors conduct this process routinely with their clients in the private sector. Colleges and universities prepare their graduates for the work world outside federal service. But, for some reason, the career counseling field and jobseekers themselves have overlooked matching goals and talents to federal jobs.
A federal job search must include a process of self-selection. Job seekers need to rule out jobs that do not meet their own self-identified criteria. Without including a career plan in the job search, a government career can wind up dissatisfying and unfulfilling. Finding work that maximizes potential and expertise is an asset that pays dividends for years to come. Successful job seekers secure work that is meaningful, which increases their motivation and productivity. Managers reap the rewards of good hires. Satisfied workers perform better. And, the American taxpayer receives a return on its investment in employees who contribute positively and absolutely to the work of the federal government.
Hiring Reform Aims for Speed, Simplicity
On May 11, 2010, President Obama issued a memorandum to agencies, directing them to implement several important changes to the overall hiring approach, including moving the federal government to a more streamlined, resume-based system. Federal hiring reform, implemented in November 2011, recognized that the government's outdated and cumbersome recruitment and hiring practices presented a barrier to attracting and selecting qualified applicants. Concurrent with hiring reform, OPM is updating and modernizing USAJOBS. The new webpage should be up sometime between now 2016.
The President's Requirements of Federal Hiring Reform
* Pathways for students and recent graduates. The federal government has had trouble competing with other sectors in recruiting and hiring students and recent graduates. To address these difficulties, President Obama signed Executive Order 13562, Recruiting and Hiring Students and Recent Graduates, on December 27, 2010, to improve the way the federal government recruits hires, develops, and retains students and recent graduates.
* Elimination of written essays. The use of essays, Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs), often considered burdensome and unwieldy by applicants, has been omitted as part of the application process. However, applicants may be required to complete essays at some later point in the process.
* Resume and cover letter. Applicants can submit resumes and cover letters that are similar to those used in private-sector applications.
* Category rating. With category rating, the names of all eligible candidates in the highest quality category are sent to the selecting official for consideration. Without being limited to the top three eligible candidates (previously called the rule of three), the selecting official chooses from among all qualified applicants, increasing applicants' opportunities for consideration.
* Manager accountability and involvement. Managers will be more involved in the hiring process, rather than conferring the primary responsibility to human resources offices.
* Quality and speed of hiring. One of the challenges facing federal agencies in attracting and recruiting qualified individuals is meeting applicants' expectations for user-friendly application procedures, clear communication about the hiring process, and an engaging orientation experience. This new approach to federal hiring is designed to focus on the applicants' expectations and needs and interests, and reduce the time to hire for critical positions.
* Applicant notification. Managers will notify applicants about the status of their applications at various points in the selection process.
In summary, there is little reason for federal jobseekers to create their application materials in a vacuum. They should know and illustrate their qualifications, tying both to a targeted vacancy announcement and the mission statement of the post's organization. Virtual access to strategic plans makes it possible for applicants to identify trends and demonstrate their employment potential by documenting past successes in similar circumstances. Success stories make the case that the applicant is the best fit for the job. Ultimately hires from a search well done results in greater job satisfaction for the individual, increased productivity for the organization, and a greater return on investment for the American public.
Federal job seekers must articulate their own worth and career ambitions in applications and tie their experience to agency missions and strategies. With hiring reform, current federal jobseekers may have more luck in a streamlined review process.