Federal Job Applications

Completing Federal Resumes & Applications

Federal Employee's Career Development Center

The Individual Development Plan assists federal employees to gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for higher paying jobs. However, without a professional application package your chances of achieving your goals are slim to none. The key to landing a job is to tailor your federal style resume and application to the core duties and responsibilities listed in the job announcement. Those who take the time to develop a comprehensive and properly formatted application package will improve their rating and get the attention of the selecting official.

I reviewed and rated hundreds of federal applications during my 35-plus years of federal service and participated in many interview and selection panels. I was also a rating official for select occupations for our organization and can tell you from firsthand experience that many highly qualified applicants never made the cut because they didn’t devote the time or effort to properly complete their application packages.

Federal Job Application Menu


Unlike private sector resumes, applicants have to submit detailed federal style resumes, applications, and often must reply to Occupational Questionnaires and at times Knowledge, Skills & Abilities (KSA) statements. Applicants must prepare their resume and application in accordance with the guidelines published in the job announcement. Agencies generally require online application submissions and most are submitted through OPM’s USAJobs.

Applicants must read the entire vacancy announcement and the position description if available. All too often, applicants transitioning from the military or private sector to the federal government don’t read the entire announcement. Rather, they look at only the salary and the job description; if they like what they read, they decide to apply.

Many of those same people end up disappointed when they realize that other mandatory elements were overlooked in their haste to find federal employment — elements they’re unable to fulfill.

Reading of the entire announcement will provide an understanding of what supporting documents are required for the announcement. In many cases, we have seen candidates — who were perfectly qualified for a job — end up being rejected by the government because they failed to include a document requested as part of the How to Apply section of the announcement.

Candidates must also tailor their resume to the position description or the vacancy announcement. The federal government does not want to hear that an applicant thinks he/she can do the job; rather, the government is looking for specific examples that demonstrate that he/she can do the job. For example, being self-taught in setting up a home computer network and having successfully set up one in a home is not the same as setting up a Local Area Network (LAN) for a multi-location agency spread over a 500-mile radius.

When you complete your resume online read all of the instructions carefully. When tailoring your resume to a specific job description or vacancy announcement, it’s important to mirror what the announcement is looking for, as best as possible. There is no such thing as “too much information” — the more examples of your success in fulfilling the job description you can provide in accomplishment-focused statements, the higher your application package will be rated.

A federal style resume is completely different from the simple one-page private sector resume. There are over 40 specific informational data elements required and much of it repeats for each work experience. Before attempting to complete your resume online, review the samples in this section. You must include all requested information and forms, and answer occupational questionnaires if required in the job announcement.

I suggest writing your federal resume using a word processor program prior to attempting to post it online. To submit your application online simply copy and paste each section from your draft into the online resume builder.

This process can dramatically improve your resume, resulting in higher ratings, and you will be able to keep your resume updated on your desktop. When you bid on other jobs in the same or similar occupational group you may be able to simply change the job announcement number and title and send it in. However, review each job announcement carefully. Even occupations in the same job series within the same agency can have significantly different requirements.

Federal Resume Assistance

You can write a professional federal style resume using the guidance presented here if you have the time and inclination to do so. It may not be easy, but it is the key to federal employment. Those who don’t have the time or inclination to write their own application seek out professional assistance.

Required Information

It is misleading to assume that a standard private sector resume will land you a job with Uncle Sam. Most private sector resumes are loosely structured and simply introduce the applicant to the company. Follow the guidance in this section to write successful applications and resumes for the job you want in government.  You must write a professional federal style resume and develop job search strategies that work. This site  will help you achieve those goals.

In addition to information requested in the job vacancy announcement, your application or resume MUST contain the following information:


  • Announcement number, title and grade(s) of the job for which you are applying.


  • Full name, mailing address (with Zip code) and day and evening phone numbers.
  • Social Security number — Some agencies ask applicants to only list the last four digits of their Social Security number on federal resumes. Read the job announcement to determine what is required for the job you are applying for.
  • Country of citizenship (most federal jobs require United States citizenship).
  • Veterans’ Preference
    • If you served on active duty in the U.S. military and were separated under honorable conditions, you may be eligible for Veterans’ Preference. To receive preference if your service began after October 15, 1976, you must have a Campaign Badge, Expeditionary Medal, or a service-connected disability.
    • To claim Veterans’ Preference, you must include proof of your eligibility, such as a DD-214, Certificate of Release, or discharge from active duty or other proof.
  • Reinstatement eligibility (former federal employees must attach a SF-50 proof of their career or career-conditional status).
    • Highest federal civilian grade held (also give job series and dates held).


  •  High school
    •  Name, city, and state (Zip code if known)
    •  Date of diploma or GED
  •  Colleges and universities
    • Name, city, and state (Zip code if known)
    • Majors
    •  type and year of any degrees received (if no degree, show total credits earned and indicate whether semester or quarter hours).
  •  Send a copy of your college transcript only if the job vacancy announcement requests it.


  • Give the following information for your paid and non-paid work experience related to the job for which you are applying. (Do not send job descriptions.)
    • Job title (include series and grade if federal job)
    • Duties and accomplishments
    • Employer’s name and address
    • Supervisor’s name and phone number
    • Starting and ending dates (month and year)
    • Average hours worked per week
    • Base salary (do not include bonuses, etc.); indicate if salary is annual, monthly, weekly, or hourly.
  •  Indicate whether the agency may contact your current supervisor. If you are granting permission for an agency to contact a current or former supervisor, please include a valid telephone number. If you don’t have a phone number or if the company is no longer in business, leave this area blank.


  • Job-related training courses (title and year).
  • Job-related skills; for example, other languages, computer software/hardware, tools, machinery, typing speed.
  • Job-related certificates and licenses (current only).
  • Job-related honors, awards, and special accomplishments; for example, publications; memberships in professional or honor societies; leadership activities; public speaking; and performance awards. (Give dates, but do not send documents unless requested.)

Category Rating System

Under category rating, applicants are put into categories and do not receive a specific numeric score. Hiring managers may select anyone in the top category as long as they do not select a non-veteran if there are veterans in the same category. The purpose of category rating is to increase the number of qualified applicants while preserving Veterans’ Preference rights. The category rating approach gives agencies the flexibility to assess and select from among applicants in the highest quality category without regard to the “Rule of 3.”

The Presidential Memorandum – Improving the Federal Recruitment and Hiring Process requires agencies to use the category rating approach to assess and select job applicants for positions filled through Competitive Examining. Agencies are required to evaluate candidates’ applications and place them into two or more predetermined quality categories. Quality categories are defined by Human Resources (HR) with the assistance of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) through job analysis prior to the posting of an announcement. The categories are written to reflect the requirements to perform the job successfully and to distinguish differences in the quality of candidates’ job-related competencies or Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs). Some factors considered when creating categories include:

  • Breadth and scope of competencies/KSAs;
  • Increased levels of difficulty or complexity of competencies/KSAs;
  • Successful performance on the job; and
  • Level of the job.

The highest quality category definition is written to identify the “Best Qualified” individuals for the position.

Example: Agencies use two quality categories: Highly Qualified and Qualified. In filling an HR Specialist, GS-201-14, policy position, the agency might define the Highly Qualified category as experience in a senior-level HR position writing regulations or agency policy or providing guidance to an agency on staffing, downsizing, realignment, classification, or compensation. The Qualified category might include senior-level HR operations experience in staffing, downsizing, realignments, classification, or compensation.

The quality categories are defined prior to a position being posted. The announcement will contain information about how many categories an agency is using and how Veterans’ Preference is applied; the announcement will not, however, disclose scoring keys or define the quality categories.

Those preference eligibles that meet the qualification requirements for the position and have a compensable service-connected disability of at least 10% are listed in the highest quality category (except in the case of scientific or professional positions at the GS-9 level or higher). Preference eligibles receive Veterans’ Preference by being listed ahead of non-preference eligibles within the same quality category in which they are placed. No preference points (e.g., 5 or 10 points) are added to the preference eligibles’ rating, and any preference eligible may be select-ed. Refer to Chapter Seven for preference eligibility guidance.

Hiring managers make selections from within the highest quality category, regardless of the number of candidates (i.e., the Rule of 3 does not apply). How-ever, preference eligibles receive absolute preference within each category. If a preference eligible is in the category, an agency may not select a non-preference eligible unless the agency requests to pass over the preference eligible and the request is approved.

Additionally, hiring managers are not required to interview everyone within a category. All candidates within a category are considered equally qualified. How-ever, the hiring manager may interview one or more applicants and some agency and union contracts have specific interview requirements.

As was the case before hiring reform, you may request reconsideration of your rating. The agency must explain to you, upon request, why you were placed in a particular category. Contact the person listed on the announcement for additional information about requesting reconsideration.

Adding further confusion to the recruitment process is the fact that government personnel specialists do not have the time to counsel the hundreds of thousands who apply for federal jobs each year. There are too many questions and too few counselors to answer them. This is why I wrote the first edition of this book in 1985. I was a federal manager and too many applicants didn’t understand what was needed to successfully approach the federal sector, and more important, land a job.

Good to Know Facts

  • Hiring reform provides managers with a larger pool of eligible candidates from which to make a selection through the use of category rating.
  • Veterans’ Preference is still absolute in category rating.

KSA Update

According to Barbara Adams, President of CareerPro Global, In., “As a part of the federal-wide Hiring Reform Initiative (streamlining the hiring process), 89% of federal agencies have committed to the elimination of the requirement of narratives, or Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs), from the initial application. Therefore, as an applicant for a specific announcement, you are most likely NOT required to provide a narrative response for each KSA. Have KSAs been actually eliminated? Yes and No!”

Ms. Adams further explains that. “In lieu of providing a KSA narrative response, hiring agencies want you to include in your work history clear, concise, and supported evidence that describes how you meet the requirements of the answer you chose for each KSA in the online assessment questionnaire. Your work history examples should be specific and clearly reflect the highest level of ability. Your KSA answers will be cross-referenced to the answers you give in the online assessment questionnaire to validate whether the level that you selected is appropriate. Your answers may be adjusted, as appropriate, and you might even be eliminated from consideration if hiring agencies don’t see support for your answers in your resume.”

KSA Guidance and samples.

Determining Your Eligibility

Eligibility is determined through the evaluation of an applicant’s related education AND/OR work experience. College degree requirements, in many cases, can be substituted for work experience. Refer to the Job Qualification Standard for your specialty to determine all qualification factors. Many job applicants  without degrees see “Bachelor’s Degree” listed as required in the job announcement, stop reading and look elsewhere. If they had read the entire job announcement they would have realized that work experience in many cases can be substituted for this degree requirement. Many highly qualified applicants miss out on lucrative jobs because of this one fact.

General Experience

This is any type of work which demonstrates the applicant’s ability to per-form the work of the position, or any experience which provides a familiarity with the subject matter or process of the broad subject areas of the occupation. Specialized experience can be substituted for general experience.

Specialized Experience

This is experience which is in the occupation of the position to be filled, in a related occupation, or in one of the specialized areas within that occupation, which has equipped the applicant with the particular knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) to perform the duties of the position.

Written Tests

Don’t confuse Occupational Questionnaires with KSA statements. An examination announcement (job opening notice) may or may not require a written test. In many cases the examination consists of a detailed evaluation of your work experience, education, and schooling listed on your employment application. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) eliminated the reliance on a written test as a single examining method and now provides agencies with additional examining options. Under this program, applicants apply for specific vacancies rather than broad occupational groups. While written tests will continue to be used for some jobs, taking a test is no longer the compulsory first step in the hiring process.

It should be noted that if a written test is required, many agencies allow applicants to bypass the written test for select occupations by completing an Occupational Questionnaire. This is a series of questions, often 30 to 75 or more, that you have to answer in detail, often online. Occupational questionnaires are not KSAs. Many applicants confuse them for KSA statements. If KSAs are required, the job announcement will identify them as such. See Chapter Six for additional guidance in this area.

Improving Your Chances

The more contacts you make, the greater your chances. Don’t get lost in the process. Too many job seekers pin all their hopes on one effort. They find an open announcement, send in an application, then forget about the process until they receive a reply. Federal jobs are highly competitive and the more jobs you apply for the better your chances.

Content, proper spelling, and grammar counts when sending in your application forms and/or federal style resume. Complete your application on your desktop first and then copy it to either OPM’s USAJobs resume builder or to an agency application program as applicable. Some agencies still accept hard copy forms and resumes for internal MPP job announcements.

I participated in many selection panels during my 35 years of government service and was a certified rating official for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). I also coordinated and/or conducted hundreds of job interviews for our organization. The first impression that a rating official has of a new applicant is reflected by his or her application package. I can’t tell you how many thousands of applications that I reviewed during my career that were inadequately prepared. The content was disorganized and not targeted to the job announcement; spelling and grammar left much to be desired. Half the time applicants submitted applications compiled from insufficient private sector resumes. Unfortunately, they often didn’t get a high enough rating to be considered.

Take the time to draft a coherent, clear, error free, and concise application. Don’t make this same mistake — take the time to draft a coherent, clear, error free, and concise federal style resume. With today’s word processors and spell check functions there isn’t any reason to send in an application with misspelled words, and the word processor grammar check functions are also very helpful. It takes quality time to complete a federal style resume that will get you hired. Only the highest rated applicants are referred for interviews and eventually selected for a job.