Cracking the Job Code: Landing a Career in the U.S. Government

Maybe you’ve heard through the grapevine that getting a federal job is too difficult, too competitive and too long of a process. Well, it’s time to put away your Grapes of Wrath, because my new government insider, Corliss Jackson, is about to share her secret recipe for federal job success.

After 10 years of federal human resource experience in Washington, D.C., Jackson translated her skills as a GS-15 level administrator at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management into her own business, helping civilians and veterans of all ages, cultures, skillsets and educational backgrounds to land their first federal jobs.  Her greatest skill may be the overwhelming talent to translate the convoluted cobweb of the federal job process into easily understandable prose. The following tips come from Jackson’s signature seminar “Cracking the Federal Job Code,” a course that has helped thousands of passionate Patriots land federal positions.

“The first thing on your list when applying for a federal Job,” chirps Jackson, “is to find both your purpose and your facts.”  Having your purpose in mind will help bring you the energy and stamina to make it through the federal hiring process.” For many, the chance to serve their country is their ultimate life goal. For others, a U.S. government job brings the promise of a solid salary, benefits, vacation time and job security.  Thrill seekers “Go Gov” to have access to the world’s newest technology, top knowledge teams, worldwide travel, and the chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

Now that you have found your purpose – it’s time to get your facts straight. Many job seekers will tell you that “the government isn’t hiring,” and they weren’t altogether wrong during the economic downturn. Today, this comment couldn’t be further from the truth.  According to Chris Maddaloni of the Army Times, nearly 600,000 federal government employees will be eligible to retire by 2017, accounting for over 31 percent of the federal workforce. Some statistics shows this number to be as high as 52%, adjusting for both ages and required years of service (30 years) for federal retirement.  Even with current budget trends, the U.S. government still has an immediate need to fill thousands of high level, skill heavy positions.

“Almost everything you do to apply for a federal job is the exact opposite of what you should do when applying for a job in the private sector,” advises Jackson. You can think of your job search as trying to find the perfect password to unlock your new career. There is a definitive sequence of characters, events, tools, and tasks, but don’t worry – you’ll still have the chance to put your personal spin on it (and we highly suggest that you do so!).  Here are Corliss Jackson’s top tips for “Cracking the Federal Job Code:”

Be Patient:  “Be aware that the federal hiring process takes time,” Jackson cautions, “six months is considered a fast track and many job journeys can take up to 18 months.”  You may have heard of a friend-of-a-friend who was hired in a few weeks, but they are by far the exception – not the rule.

Rules are Rules:  “The job qualifications section of the federal job post are non-negotiable terms,” declares Jackson. If the announcement says you must hold a Bachelor degree, and you have not yet completed your undergraduate work, then you will not be considered for this particular position. Move forward to a new job search that will work with your specific experience. Always read the full application carefully – just in case. The qualifications section will often hold an “alternative” requirement such as “10 years work experience” or “military service” instead of formal education.

The 80% Rule: “When reading the job announcement, conduct a personal assessment to see if you can confidently perform 80 percent of the required job tasks and duties, as this will be a good sign of career qualification,” Jackson encourages.  “Your time is precious, so make sure to place laser focus on your application process by only applying for those roles for which you are highly (not minimally) qualified.”

Bulk up your Resume:  “We are so used to trying to fit our writing into one page resumes and 140 character tweets,” states Jackson, “that it’s hard to put ourselves in the mindset of a new longer, more comprehensive resume.” In fact, Jackson states that the average length of a federal resume is four to six pages.   Your resume should elaborate on skills, work, volunteer experience and success stories that match the requirements of the job post (key). It is a best practice to write in short paragraphs rather than bullet points and explain the how (the process) that led to your achievements.

Pay Attention to the Application:  “Fortify your federal resume by verifying that your best work/life experiences are mirroring the desires stated within the federal job post,” Jackson encourages. Think of your resume, cover letter and KSA (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) documents, as an opportunity to market yourself to the hiring managers. “Give yourself credit where credit is due, and be cognizant not to inflate over or undersell.” You may not have experience managing accountants, but you could have ten years in experience managing a charity cancer walk in your local community. The federal government can find deep value in both forms of management.

Be Prepared for the Panel:  Many federal applicants are surprised to walk into their first federal interview to face up to five interviewers.  This is one of the many ways in which the federal job process differs from civilian job search protocol. Jackson’s advice is to “Relax and focus on building an enthusiastic conversation.” Try your best to provide equal comfort and treatment to each panelist, but discern who the power players are.  “Be prepared to repeat yourself sometimes and come equipped to answer at least one ‘zinger’ question,” Jackson adds, “In a group, there’s always that one person who has to be a little different.  Celebrate those differences, and use them to your advantage.”

If Corliss Jackson could share one morsel of hope with the job seeker community through her service at FedJobResults.com, it would be that “The federal job process is not impenetrable. There are jobs out there for citizens of all ages, cultures, skills, service levels and education backgrounds.  With just the right recipe of experience, detail, and patience – you may soon find yourself sitting behind your new government desk, leading a humanitarian mission to Nepal or launching a satellite to Mars.” 

Editors Note: Please submit questions for Corliss Jackson to: jobshelp@washpost.com.  Corliss Jackson can also be reached through her website: www.federaljobresults.com.

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