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How to Read a Federal Job Announcement

Do you find that reading a Federal job vacancy announcement is very much like reading a foreign language book? With an overview of an announcement, some tips for quickly assessing qualification factors and job duties, you will soon be on your way to analyzing announcements and writing federally formatted resumes that meet the qualifying criteria posted on vacancy announcements.

By Diane Hudson Burns

Federal job vacancy announcements can be complicated; and many Americans shy away from applying for federal jobs because they find it difficult to decipher the application and qualification requirements.

So, let’s dispel the mystery of a federal vacancy announcement. Start your search by going to USAJOBS.GOV. Once on the main page of the Federal Government’s official employment website, click Search Jobs on the top bar of tab choices. Then add your Keyword Search terms, a geographical Location Search, a Job Search Category, Salary Range (or pay scale if you know it), and indicate if you have special hiring preference / Applicant Eligibility. At the end you can indicate how you want the search set up, i.e., sorted by time, keyword, dates, and brief or detailed listing.

Then click, Search for Jobs at the bottom of the page.

You will then arrive at a page with a list of potential jobs in your category. When you see a job that looks interesting, click on the job title and the full announcement will open.

I recommend immediately moving to the bottom of the page and clicking on the button “Print Preview”. This allows the entire announcement to open—and allows you to scroll through all the pages at once, rather than clicking each tab, if you remained on the un-print preview page.

Now, let’s analyze the important sections of an announcement for an Office Manager:

At the top section you will see several important items:

  • Agency
  • Job Announcement Number: (You need this to apply for the job, track the job, or make any inquiries about the posting of your application)
  • Job Title: Office Manager
  • Salary Range: 17,174.00 - 58,622.00 USD per year
  • Series and Grade: (GS-0303-08) (This is a 0303 series which falls under the 300 series: General Administration, Clerical, and Office Services Group; Grade 8 / Grades range from 1-15; so this is midrange, non-management)
  • Promotion Potential: 08 (It is a grade 8 position; if you want promotion potential to a grade 9 or higher position, then you should select a job opening that looks like: GS-0303-8/9/11/12 — which means you can move up to a grade 12 in that position over time)
  • Open Period: (When the announcement opened and the date it closes)
  • Position Information: (Full or Part-time, hours)
  • Duty Location(s): (City and State)
  • Who May Be Considered: Applications will be accepted from United States citizens.

Italics below are from the job announcement:

Job Summary: This is a description of the agency and overview of the incumbents’ duties. It may also indicate specifics about relocation: The incumbent functions as an Office Manager and confidential employee carrying out a variety of duties and responsibilities related to the functions of the organization. Travel, transportation, and relocation expenses will not be paid by the agency.

Major Duties: Here you read a full description of the major duties of the position; this description may be very short or several paragraphs. Here is a summary: Assists Panel management in tracking budget estimates and expenditures for travel, supplies, training, salaries, etc., using electronic spreadsheets; serves as timekeeper for time and attendance reports. Drafts confidential executive correspondence; drafts initial press releases. Maintains confidential files. Maintains the Panel’s calendar. Copying, organizing, and mailing reference materials to Panel Members; arranging for meeting space; making travel arrangements; and attending to Member’s needs during the meetings.

QUALIFICATIONS: Minimum Federal Qualification Requirements:  Qualifying experience for the GS-8 level includes one (1) year of specialized experience equivalent to the GS-7 level.  Specialized experience is experience that equipped the applicant with the particular knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to perform successfully the duties of the position as described above, and that is typically in or related to the position to be filled. (Please note, this does not mean that you must have previously served in a federal GS-7 position; rather you have to have the equivalent experience—in corporate America.)

There will be a list of substitutions for education and experience—look for the “and” “or” statements to determine your eligibility. There may also be proficiency requirements for screen-out factors: This position requires 40 words per minute typing ability. You must be a U.S. citizen to qualify for this position.

KNOWLEDGE SKILLS AND ABILITIES (KSAs) / How You Will be Evaluated: You will be evaluated to determine if you meet the minimum qualifications required; and on the extent to which your application shows that you possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) associated with this position as defined below.  When describing your KSAs, please be sure to give examples and explain how often you used these skills, the complexity of the knowledge you possessed, the level of the people you interacted with, the sensitivity of the issues you handled, etc. Failure to address these KSAs in a written supplement to your application will result in disqualification.

This announcement requires an essay statement for four KSA requirements as noted below; each essay must address the KSA in a CCAR format (Context, Challenge, Actions, and Results). Each essay must contain one to two examples of your experience; specific stories with tangible results.

1. Knowledge of administrative/office management techniques, including coordinating meetings, conferences, and events.
2. Ability to prepare travel itineraries, prepare travel authorizations and reservations, and process travel re-imbursements.
3. Ability to communicate in writing, including drafting reports, memoranda, and correspondence for signature of higher-level officials.
4. Knowledge of computer software, including Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point, Microsoft Outlook, and automated time and attendance systems.

BENEFITS: You will then read through a section of benefits you will receive should you be selected for federal employment and also requirements including signing an oath, the “Declaration of Federal Employment" (OF-306) authorizing a background investigation. Failure to answer all questions truthfully and completely or providing false statements on the application may be grounds for not hiring the applicant or for dismissing the applicant after he or she begins work, and may be punishable by fine or imprisonment (U.S. Code, Title 18, section 1001).

APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS: This application requires a federally formatted resume (hard copy); read the requirements to ensure you include all of the federal requirements — it is not a typical corporate two-page resume; a narrative statement addressing each of the KSAs; a performance appraisal; SF-50, Notification of Personnel Action (for federal employees); a Background Questionnaire (Optional); the OPM Form 1386B, ( Applicant Race and National Origin Questionnaire; and additional documents for special hiring authorities (you will have to read the rest of the hiring authorities for veterans (DD-214), spouse preferences, disabilities, good students, and others to include additional documents).

APPLICATION SUBMISSION: You will also see the requirements for submitting the application: Applications must be received in the Human Resources Office no later than 5:00 PM EST, on Friday, January 5, 2009.  Requests for extensions will not be accepted. Your application may be hand-delivered, mailed, or faxed to…

So, the quickest way to analyze a federal vacancy announcement is to check the:

  • Job title, job series, and job grade to ensure it is a good fit for you;
  • Check the closing date to ensure you have time to prepare your application;
  • Check “Who may be considered” to make sure you are eligible;
  • Read for qualification factors (screen-out or proficiency requirements) to ensure you meet the qualifications;
  • Identify the type of application (i.e., hard copy for mail or fax, or text file for the USAJOBS resume builder or other federal agency site builder);
  • Look through the job duties to ensure you are a good fit;
  • Review KSAs and determine if you have to write additional essay statements;
  • Review the section on documents required to complete your application;

If you feel that you are qualified, then prepare your federally formatted resume, KSA essays, and submit for a federal job before the closing date on the vacancy announcement.