If the federal government's job application process seems impenetrable to you, take heart: There are people whose own jobs revolve around demystifying it.
Sharon Dee McCrae, an employment specialist with the Susquehanna Workforce Network, a nonprofit that coordinates workforce development programs in Harford and Cecil counties, is one of those people. A certified federal job search trainer and career coach, McCrae runs workshops and works one-on-one with applicants.
What are the big differences between applying for a federal job and applying for a private-sector one?
Oh, there's a lot of difference.
Pay attention to who may apply, pay attention to the GSA grade [the salary level] and required education and experience, know the deadline date and time for applying. I've seen some announcements … open and close within a day. I've seen some announcements where the deadline time was 11 p.m., some for 12 a.m. and some for 11 a.m.
This is very important: A regular resume [is] no more than two pages; a federal resume can very likely be four pages.
Why that difference in length?
Well, they could have 500 people applying for the same job, so [you] need to go into the resume and look at how are you going to be different. What experience, what knowledge, what skills do you bring.
To make yourself the "best qualified" [a federal designation that gets the resume forwarded to a hiring manager], you need to answer those specific qualifications inside your resume, and that adds length. And we also instruct the people to talk about [their] accomplishments.
It takes time — [applicants] need to invest time if they want a federal job.
If you're on the outside, does the federal job search boil down to navigating the USAjobs.gov site like a pro?
Oh yes. Yes. Through the years, they really have improved the process — it's been streamlined. You no longer have these various resume builders to use.
How does USAjobs work? Don't applicants get a bit more feedback than they might if they were applying for job outside the federal government?
They get feedback in this respect: They will know … it's been reviewed — 'it was reviewed and you were not selected,' or 'you were selected,' and then HR will send them an email talking about an interview.
What sorts of mistakes do people make when putting in applications?
They do not read and follow directions.
I have someone in the office this morning that uploaded a regular resume into USAjobs, and she wanted me to look at it. It's not a federal resume. So I sat down with her and I said, "OK, let's look at the announcement. This is what they need. When I look at your resume, have you addressed that?" She said no. "Well, we need to rework it."
Just inserting a regular resume in USAjobs does not make that a federal resume.
For some people, a sticking point is a security clearance. They do not have it, and you cannot pay to get one. It's up to the agency who will do the background check. I tell clients, can you pass the background? If you can, apply for the job.
If you have one, if it's active, we're going to move that information right at the top.
From what you're seeing, how much harder is it to land a federal job these days, with agencies needing to constrain their budgets?
It's a little harder. I don't think [job seekers] should expect to apply today for a position and be called within the next couple of weeks.
Be very thorough. Think about what you've done, how you meet their expectations for the position. And finally, look at what's required for documentation. Do they need specific forms, do they need a transcript? Make sure you supply everything that's required.
I may be the best person for the job, but when my information is looked at, did I follow directions, did I include keywords, was I as thorough as I should have been in explaining my duties? Did I list my accomplishments? Did I talk about how I saved the company money? Did I put in percentages, numbers, figures?
Above all, just be very patient with the process. Don't give up. If you didn't get that job, there's going to be other jobs.