In my role, I talk to many job seekers with disabilities interested in federal employment. After supporting federal recruitment strategies for agencies looking to tap into the labor pool of people with disabilities, I have determined that the following steps make a difference in advancing from applicant to offer.
Step 1: Build a Resume that Gets Results
Take everything you’ve been taught about building a one-page resume and throw it out the window. While a one-page resume may be effective in certain industries and catch the attention of busy recruiters, it will not be effective in providing credibility for being qualified and then considered for an interview with a federal agency. Your resume must have enough content and detail to illustrate why you are a fit for the role you are applying for; meaning it must be comprehensive enough to prove you have enough education, training, and experience to be considered for this role.
Demonstrate Skills and Competencies
Many people look at resume building as creating a list of what they have done. While it is a common way to get started, this approach does not deliver an effective final product. Instead, I suggest starting with listing the skills and competencies you need to be successful in the job you want. You can do this by reviewing job descriptions and identifying common requested requirements. Once you have identified the key skills you need to be a viable candidate for this role, review the list from the perspective of when and where you received training, completed tasks, or used skills relevant to accomplish items on these lists. Focus on building your resume around demonstrating how what you have done is relevant to the role you want.
When doing this, do not limit yourself in where you are drawing from to demonstrate these qualities. It is not just acceptable, but highly recommended, that you include details from all aspects of your career to date. This means including both formal education, any training that has been completed, course projects, volunteer activities, paid work experiences, military experience, co-ops or internship experiences, and affiliations.
For example, I have interviewed many veterans who do not list their military experience because they do not believe the experience is relevant to the job they are applying for. Yet, the type of position they are applying for has a qualifications list that includes the ability to work with and interact with team members to meet a common goal, establish and adhere to processes, meet quality guidelines with attention to detail, and complete tasks within a deadline-oriented environment, all very common characteristics of veterans. Due to these reasons, employers commonly are attracted to veteran applicants. Another common request from employers is to have applicants who reached Eagle Scout status with the Boy Scouts of America list this information on their resume. This has been requested by employers in both the federal and private sector because they are aware of the work that goes into attaining this rank within the program. This includes both leadership skills and elements of project management through building out and completing a service project. Additionally, both examples demonstrate a commitment to community and country which is something that is desirable in individuals employed in the public sector.
Apply the ‘What-How-Impact’ Equation
It is not enough to just list your skills and competencies; you must provide enough details to clearly demonstrate them. The best way of doing that is to ask yourself, for each project or task that demonstrates your skills, the following questions:
- What did I do?
- How did I accomplish it?
- What was the impact or results of my actions?
If your resume does not outline the answers to these questions, odds are you are not providing enough detail to move your resume forward in the process. Remember, federal employers can not infer anything from your resume. If you list that you have experience “troubleshooting computers,” that does not tell them what operating systems or software packages you worked with, whether or not you interfaced with internal or external customers, the scope of number of computers you serviced, if you were responsible for ensuring security protocols for data security were applied, if you worked with any ticketing software, the nature of the issues you worked on, if those issues were Tier 1 or required higher level knowledge to resolve, or your resolve rate.
Avoid Buzz Words and Phrases Empty of Value
When providing detail, do so from the perspective of adding context and value rather than pizzazz. Saying you have outstanding written communication skills does not have as much meaning as saying that you have contributed to your school’s newspaper, written procedural documents, or drafted legal briefs. Indicating that you have excellent customer service skills does not have the impact that sharing your call center success or resolution rate does. Identifying yourself as a results-oriented leader does not demonstrate your ability to meet deadlines and produce positive change as if you outline the success of a project you have led. While all these phrases have their place and sound powerful, they actually do very little to single you out as the best applicant for a position. When building your resume, it is essential to provide detail that showcases your successes, impact, and knowledge. If every word on your resume counts, using words that have little value removes opportunity to share information that has true impact in being selected to proceed to the next step in the process.
Step 2: Ace the Online Application
Every employer has an application process. For most employers, this application is provided digitally and requires you to complete a form online to move forward in the process. Going through this process can be time consuming and frustrating for job seekers. However, the online application is here to stay as they offer many benefits for employers both in the private and public sectors.
For people interested in federal employment, the premiere place to go to identify jobs to apply for is USAJobs.gov. On this site you can sort and search federal jobs based on job types, specific agencies, locations, or even special hiring authorities, such as Schedule A. Many of these sites, and USAJobs.gov in particular, have tips for success. We highly recommend taking the time to review any advice that an agency puts forward in how to best determine what positions to apply for, or how to complete the application process. Remember, many other people will also be competing for this job. Even Schedule A positions will attract a number of Schedule A applicants, so ensuring you put your “best digital foot forward” will help you to stand out in the crowd.
Identify and Apply for the Right Position
When identifying and applying for jobs, every applicant knows that it is important to meet the minimum qualifications for the position. Recruiters and experienced professionals will tell applicants to apply for jobs where they meet 70-80% of the minimum qualifications. This is sound advice and a great rule of thumb to use when identifying which roles to apply for. However, it is important to understand the bigger picture when identifying which jobs to submit your resume for.
If you do not meet at least 70-80% of the minimum qualifications, applying will likely be a waste of your time. Applying frequently to the same agency or company for jobs that you don’t meet the minimum qualifications for, will begin to build a reputation of not understanding where you fit in an organization.
If you see a position where you meet minimum qualifications, it does not mean that you will be guaranteed an interview. If you meet 70-80% of the minimum qualifications, but many other applicants meet 90-100% of the minimum qualifications you will not likely be selected to interview, despite being technically qualified for the job role.
As an example, if you have a BS degree with a strong GPA (3.0 or above) and a position is posted that requires a BS degree and two years of experience or a BS degree and a strong GPA to meet minimum qualifications, you should qualify for the job. However, if there are enough candidates that apply that have a BS degree, a strong GPA, and two years of relevant work experience, they will be more qualified than you. This also applies if you have 5 years of experience and a position requires 5-8 years of experience. While you meet the minimum qualifications, all applicants with 8 years of relevant work experience also meet minimum qualifications and are more qualified than you. However, if you apply for a position that requires 3-5 years of experience, and you have 5 years of relevant work experience, you will be on the higher qualified side of the applicant pool. Likewise, if you apply for a position that minimally requires an Associate’s degree, but prefers a Bachelor’s degree and you have a Bachelor’s degree with a high GPA you will be more qualified than applicants with only an Associate’s degree.
While I highly suggest that you include your resume for any positions in which you meet the minimum qualifications, identifying roles where you will fall into the higher or more qualified end of the candidate pool will result in a higher number of opportunities to interview.
Read the Job Description and Application Thoroughly
Many applicants struggle with information overload when applying for jobs and end up applying for jobs after only skimming the application instructions and job description. This is always a mistake. Reading the job description carefully allows you the opportunity to analyze your resume to determine if any changes or adjustments need to be made. If a position requires a unique skill that is not popular, but you had exposure to in one of your job roles, you will be more desirable as an applicant, if that is added to your resume. Taking the time to read the job description will result in more opportunities to adjust your application to best demonstrate why they should select you to interview.
Skimming the application is always a mistake. Applicants who do this are often kicked out of the process early because they miss requirements, requests for supporting documents, or don’t follow the correct process for applying. While searching for a job is itself a job of sorts, don’t allow your frustration with the process impact the quality of the application you submit. When that happens, it only hurts your chances of being selected and adds to the feelings of frustration.
Provide More than the Minimum
When completing a federal application, there are commonly fields in which you can answer survey questions or essays within the application where you can expand on the information in your resume. In some instances, these fields are marked as being optional. When finding these fields in the application, always take advantage of the option to provide additional comments or detail. Sometimes the information provided in these fields is what makes the difference between meeting or failing to meet minimum qualifications for a position. Attach relevant documents where allowable. These could include transcripts, Schedule A letter, Veterans Preference letter, or letters of recommendation.
Keep in mind that how you complete an application is also creating an impression of who you are as a candidate. When you complete the application, are you careful? Do you ensure there are no typos in the fields you complete? How much do you pay attention to details? Do you do the minimum or are you someone who puts in extra effort? If you treat the application like an interview, you will see more results for your efforts.
Looking for a job is often a lengthy and frustrating process. Don’t give up. Keep identifying jobs and keep applying for those that you are qualified for. If there are 6 positions with an agency posted that have similar requirements, apply for all of them. If a position with the same job title is posted for Schedule A hiring and for competitive, general public consideration, apply to both. Most importantly, don’t stop applying because you didn’t get a response or the response you wanted. Stay strong and persevere.
Step 3: Prepare for the Interview
Once you make it past the initial screening of your application and resume, it is time to be ready for the interview. I highly recommend referring back to our two blog installments in February on answering tough interview questions (installment 1; installment 2)to assist in preparing for this step in the process, but here are a few quick tips that have big impact.
Prep and Practice
Most employers will ask you what you know about the organization. This includes federal agencies. Ensure you understand the mission of the agency and how the role you have applied for helps to advance the goals of the organization. Conducting this research in advance demonstrates interest in the position and initiative, two qualities all employers look for.
Prepare for the interview by ensuring all logistics are squared away, reviewing the job description, writing out questions in advance, and practicing how you will answer questions about your experience, strengths, and weaknesses. Make sure you are prepared to present a strong case for why you are the best candidate for the job.
Complete all Pre-interview Steps
If the agency has requested that you complete certain steps prior to the interview, ensure you have completed every step correctly. This could be anything from working with their team on arranging travel, filling out paperwork, taking an online assessment, or being sure to bring requested documents to your interview. For example, you may be required to provide a picture ID or asked to bring a portfolio with your work. Completing these steps demonstrates attention to detail, ability to follow directions, and quality performance. Failure to complete the steps may result in the interview being rescheduled or cancelled.
Request Accommodations at the Correct Time
If you need accommodations for an interview with an agency, be sure to request them at the appropriate time. Do not show up on the day of the interview and then inform them you need an accommodation. Give them enough time to make adjustments to meet the accommodation request by disclosing the need for an accommodation at the time the interview is requested. If you are not sure if an accommodation will be needed, be confident in asking about the interview. For example, a person who is blind may not need an accommodation unless an assessment is being required. Finding out what the interview entails will allow you to provide ample notice to ensure accommodations are provided. Since having these accommodations allows you to be more successful during screening, it is important that you are attentive to ensuring they are provided. Never assume an employer will make an accommodation available to you that you have not requested.
Step 4: Follow up and Follow Through
Completing the interview is not the final step in the application process. Most likely the agency will need you to continue to provide information or complete steps post-interview. This is the case even after an offer is made and continues on through the on-boarding process. If at any point in this process, you become difficult to reach, fail to respond, or do not follow through within the requested timeline, the agency will be likely to move onto another applicant.
When following up on your status, always remain professional in your attitude and communications. The federal hiring process can be lengthy, especially if there is a clearance process involved for the agency you are being screened with. In some instances, it can be several months from the initial application process to the final offer. This is true for all applicants considering federal employment and is not unique to the candidate experience for people with disabilities. If at any point in this process, you allow frustration to impact your professionalism, it will most likely result in them moving onto another candidate.
Step 5: Never Give Up
Federal employment can be very competitive, as many people are interested in working in the public sector. As a person with a disability, you are eligible to be considered for employment using the Schedule A hiring authority. While Schedule A does not guarantee federal employment, it creates additional avenues for you to present your skills. Familiarize yourself with how the agency of interest handles Schedule A employment and follow all steps in this process. Apply for consideration for the federal Shared List of People with Disabilities.
However, do not limit yourself to only using Schedule A. Continue to apply for all jobs in which you are qualified for, with agencies of interest. Where applicable, reach out to special placement coordinators to present your resume. Research and sign up to receive notifications on federal career fairs in your location. Visit CareerEco.com to identify any federal employers participating in Bender Virtual Career Fair for People with Disabilities.
Most importantly, never give up on you. Regardless of how long it takes or how hard the journey, the end result is employment. Each time you try again, you are getting one step closer to that opportunity for freedom. And remember, there are people out there like me who have a disability and know the struggle. We are fighting every day to break down the barriers and create more opportunities for people with disabilities to show what they are capable of in the workforce. Together if we keep trying and don’t give up, we will make a difference!
- How to Answer Tough Interview Questions – Installment 1
- How to Answer Tough Interview Questions – Installment 2