Tips on Understanding Federal Vacancy Announcements and Applying for Federal Jobs

by Elda Schwartz

Tips on Understanding Federal Vacancy Announcements and Applying for Federal Jobs

(This is the second article in a two - part series. Part one, New Developments in Federal Employment , appeared in the March 2005 Career Convergence)

Reading a Federal Vacancy Announcement

Although there is variation in how the information is presented, all federal vacancy announcements contain categories similar to the following:

  • Vacancy Announcement Number - Each announcement has a unique number that needs to be included in the application and on each KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities) statement.
  • Opening and Closing Dates - The closing date is generally the date by which the application must be received, not the date of the post mark. It will be specified in the announcement.
  • Position Title, Series and Grade Range: The Position Title is listed in the vacancy announcement. The Series and Grade Range is the federal government's system for defining jobs and establishing the rate of annual pay. The promotion potential is included in the vacancy announcement as well as the number of vacancies for the position being posted. Most federal jobs are in the GS (General Schedule) pay system and there is a way to look at locality pay on the website. http://www.opm.gov/oca/05tables/html/gs.asp
  • Duty Location: Read this information carefully. The duty location is often in a different location than the personnel office.
  • Area of Consideration or Who May Apply - If an announcement says "status only," the position is only open to current permanent or former federal employees who have achieved competitive status.
  • Major Duties - It is very important that key words and phrases mentioned in this section be reflected in your application. A good way to simplify the requirements is to open a Word document and copy and paste the duties into the Word document. Separate the duties. In the space between the duties make notes about the skills and experiences that you have that correspond to that duty. This will help to ensure that you remember to include accomplishments related to each duty when you complete your application.
  • Qualifications Required - These are often stated as Knowledge Skills and Abilities (KSAs). They may be called Selective Placement Factors or Quality Ranking Factors. It is essential that they be thoroughly addressed in a separate section of your application. Your application may be rated and ranked against these criteria.
  • How to Apply - This section clearly states all of the material that should be included in your application package. In most cases, an incomplete package will not receive consideration. Method of acceptable delivery is also stated. Some agencies have their own application form that must be completed. However, in most cases, individuals still have the choice of using the OF-612, Optional Application for Federal Employment, or a resume that contains all requested information. Creating a Federal Resume offers the most flexibility in displaying your information in an attractive format.

Other items listed in the announcement may include specific details under the following headings:
For Further information (a contact person and number is included)
Requires background investigation
Frequent Travel may be required
New appointment probationary period
Relocation expenses

Creating a Federal Resume
A Federal Resume requires specific information that is not generally included on a private sector resume. Therefore, federal resumes are frequently 2-5 pages longer than a private sector resume. In addition to your name, address and phone number, you should include the information requested on the OF 510 as a check list to ensure that your application package is complete. The OF 510 is the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM's) official brochure "Applying for a Federal Job"

Using a resume format instead of the OF-612 gives you the opportunity to showcase your competencies in a "Skills Summary" at the top of the resume. Use the Skills Summary to highlight your most outstanding qualifications for this specific position. A well written Skills Summary will encourage the reviewer to thoroughly read the rest of your application package.

The next section will be either "Education" or "Work Experience" depending on which category you believe is stronger. Recent graduates often put their education first. Work experience is usually presented with the most recent experience listed first. Just like with a private sector resume, be sure to describe your work in terms of accomplishments using key words from the vacancy announcement. Salary level and contact information for a supervisor is required for each work location. .
Examples of federal resumes can be found on the OPM website www.usajobs.gov in tutorial format and on the following websites:

Writing Knowledge Skills and Ability (KSAs) Statements

Each KSA (sometimes called a Quality Ranking Factor, Qualification Required or Selective Placement Factor) listed on the vacancy announcement must be addressed on a separate sheet of paper in your application packet. Your name and the announcement number should appear at the top of each page. Unless otherwise specified in the vacancy announcement, each statement should be - to a full page. The statement can be written in the first person singular (I statements) and should give a clear picture of the extent of your knowledge, skills and ability. You can include relevant work experience, volunteer experience and education. Using the following CCAR model may help you organize your thoughts:

      C for


       - First, you need to set the context for the accomplishment you are going to describe


      C for


       - What was the challenge?


      A for


       - What steps did you take to meet the challenge? What was actually done?


      R for


       - What were the results of the actions?


        Examples of KSAs can be found at the OPM website in the tutorial


      or on:



Additional Resources

       "The Federal Resume Guidebook" by Kathryn Troutman


        Federal Research Service's





      (Glossary of government employment terms)

Elda Schwartz NCC, MCC, LCPC is a certified as a Federal Resume Writer. She currently works as an independent contractor at the FDIC in Washington DC. She previously worked as a long distance career coach with TSA. Elda trains Career Development Facilitators and is on the Counseling staff at the Community College of Baltimore County-Essex.

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