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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Tips for Tackling the Federal Application Process
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So you are interested in applying for a Federal position. You have no clue where to start, the process is intimidating and you are unsure what is needed in your Federal application. Why does it have to be so complicated? While the Federal application process may be a bit more tedious than that used in the private sector, following a few simple tips will help you through the process.

  1. Identify and apply for appropriate Federal positions. The first step in the application process is to identify positions for which you are interested. Every job being advertised is posted and a full-text vacancy announcement issued. Yes, they are long - we have a lot of legal and procedural information which must be included. Reviewing Federal vacancy announcements and studying the position requirements can help you identify the types of positions which interest you most and those for which you qualify. The USAJOBS web site is a good place to start to find information about Federal positions. If you are still unsure after reviewing vacancy announcements, call the Federal agency where you are interested in working and ask questions, they are more than willing to help.

  2. Read and follow all directions. You should carefully read all directions for each vacancy announcement. You should pay close attention to the section in the vacancy announcement that addresses qualification requirements. These are the criteria that the reviewer will be looking for in your application package. You should either address the outlined qualification requirements (i.e., Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs) or Selective Factors) on separate sheets of paper or at least be sure that the reviewer can find evidence that you have a qualification in your application. If you do not address the qualifications separately, it is highly suggested that you highlight in the application the information so that the reviewer can clearly see it. Make sure to address all requested information (e.g., country of citizenship, veterans preference entitlement, reinstatement eligibility) and include all supplemental forms and documents (e.g., college transcripts, verification of veterans preference, and SF-50 - Notification of Personnel Action) so that your application is considered. If the position qualifications indicate a "qualified typist is required," be sure to include certification that you can meet the typing speed requirement indicated. If you don't understand something in the announcement, call the person listed as the "contact" and ask questions.

  3. Choose an Application Format. In the past, applicants for Federal positions were required to submit an SF-171 (Application for Federal Employment). Today, we have eliminated that requirement. Most agencies will now accept applications in the form of a resume, curriculum vitae, or the Optional Application for Federal Employment (OF-612). Some agencies use an online application process. Regardless of the application format used, specific information is still needed in the application to ensure that you are given appropriate consideration.

    It is your responsibility to make sure your application includes enough information upon which a qualification determination can be made. Vacancy announcements for Federal positions tell you exactly what needs to be covered in your application. Read the information and then review your application against it to ensure you have complied.

    If you choose to use the OF-612 as your application read the instructions completely for using the form. Your failure to submit the requested information may hurt your chances for making a certificate of eligibles.

    If you choose to use a resume or curriculum vitae, make sure that you provide all requested information in your application. For the Federal application process, a typical resume or curriculum vitae will not be sufficient. You will need to supplement the resume or curriculum vitae with additional information as outlined in the vacancy announcement.

    You can print a copy of the OPM publication, Applying for a Federal Job, from our web site This publication outlines the basic information that is needed when applying for Federal positions. Remember, however, that some agencies may have additional requirements. Read and follow the instructions in each announcement.

  4. Keep it simple. Your application should be thorough, provide enough detail, and should clearly depict your experience, education, and other qualifications. Avoid using flowery language and verbose descriptions, as well as agency or company specific terminology. Give enough information for the reviewer to understand what your experience is. Use action verbs to describe your experience and briefly explain what you really did. For example, say "used computer software such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and Power Point to type documents, prepare spreadsheets, and prepare and present presentations."

  5. Be honest. Don't over-inflate your experience, knowledge, education, or qualifications. You will be certifying the accuracy of the information provided and providing false or fraudulent information may be grounds for not hiring you or for firing you after you begin working. It may also be punishable by fine or imprisonment.

  6. Type your application. Keep in mind that you are making a first impression with the application. You want to show yourself in a professional manner so type the application; it should not be handwritten. You can download forms used in the application process in various formats on our web site:

  7. Avoid using shortcuts in your application. Don't attach lengthy documents (e.g., position descriptions) to document your experience. Rather, put your experience in your own words so that the reviewer can see what you did versus what was expected in a position you held. If you need extra space, simply include the response on plain paper.

  8. Keep it easy to read. You should keep in mind that at least two individuals will be reviewing your application - the Human Resources Specialist when determining whether you meet the qualifications and the Selecting Official when determining who to interview and select for the position. Keeping your application easy to read will help them do their job better. Honestly, looking at applications that are messy, too wordy, and too thick, can be a detriment to you in the process. The Human Resources Specialist and Selecting Official will have to go through all applications received and sometimes individuals hurt their chances of being considered by sending in too much information. You should describe your duties, responsibilities and accomplishments by being brief and to the point; leave white space in your application; and highlight key points using bold or by underlining. Remember, this application will be your first impression - if it is messy or unprofessional you may send a message that your work habits are messy or unprofessional.

  9. Review your application before sending it. This is probably the most important piece of advice to be offered. After you prepare your application, you should review it closely against the specific vacancy announcement for which you are applying to be sure that you have covered everything that has been requested. Proofread your application, check for typographical and grammatical errors, and correct before sending. Make sure that you have attached all forms being requested, i.e., college transcripts, documents to verify veterans preference, etc. Your failure to submit these documents could mean being excluded from consideration.

  10. Avoid using "cookie-cutter" applications. Now that you have a better understanding of what is expected in your Federal application, keep in mind that you may have to modify the basic application when applying for different types of Federal positions. Since each vacancy announcement covers different types of work, you want to make sure your application shows how you meet the requirements of each position for which you apply. Using the same application over and over for differing positions may hurt you in the review process. You may forget to address an important job requirement if you don't closely review your application package against each vacancy announcement. If you choose to use a basic application, supplement it with responses to specific qualification requirements and link it back to the relevant periods of employment and education.

Prepared by:
Cecelia Stortzum, Director, ARS Recruitment Office
October 2002

Last Modified: 2/27/2003
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