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Smart use of the phone will improve your search for Federal jobs

Dear Advisor:

I’m frustrated. I have heard through my job search network that a Federal Agency in my city is hiring in my field. When I called the Agency, however, I had difficulty getting a live person on the line—and the automated service that picked up my call instructed me to leave my name and address on the voice mail. It would be comforting to talk about job vacancies from a real person on the other end of the line.

What’s the trick to getting through?

P. D..
Santa Fe, NM

Dear P. D..

The Federal government recruiters receive thousands of telephone calls every day; in order to best serve everyone, automated answering systems have been set up to provide the most efficient channels for obtaining information. You may access vacancy hotlines this way and listen to detailed information about job openings. You may also be asked, as you have been, to leave your name and address on the voice mail.

You should be aware that the phone/mail method of distributing vacancy information is no longer preferred by Federal Agencies. The internet is the preferred delivery method for Federal job information, because it is fast and inexpensive.

Internet Is Key
Just about all Federal Agencies, big and small, now use the internet not only to distribute Vacancy Announcements, but also to process applications. On-line applications are more than 60% of all applications and growing. The on-line version of the application collects the same information as the mail-in version. Your Federal resume is still a crucial piece of information in the selection process. The difference is now Agencies want to receive your resume not by mail or fax or even email, but via the internet and often parsed and dropped piecemeal into a form.

Vacancy Announcements
Every job opening in Federal service is described a Vacancy Announcement. The Vacancy announcement runs two or more pages in length and includes job description; qualifications, salary and a section entitled “How To Apply”. You must have the Vacancy Announcement before you can make an effective application for a job. Vacancy announcements can be delivered to you on the internet, or, by mail. Again the Federal recruiters prefer the internet method.

You can obtain a copy of the full Vacancy Announcement for any job listed on this site. The full Vacancy Announcement will display, if the position is still open.

In addition, many Federal Agencies maintain internet sites that include job information.

The formula for Federal Agency websites is:

For example, http://www.dod.gov or http://www.interior.gov

Getting Through By Phone
As important as the internet has become to a Federal job search, the phone can still contribute to the process; no Federal job search is complete without some phone work. Phone numbers to personnel offices almost always appear on Vacancy Announcements in the lower right hand corner. Often these numbers lead to voice mail or a recorded message. However, depending on the job, an HR person may answer. Generally the higher the level of the job, the more likely a live person will pick-up the phone. Also applicants for shortage category jobs (jobs for which there are few applicants) may also receive the red-carpet treatment and find someone waiting on the other end of the phone line.

If you can not find a phone number in the internet Vacancy announcement, you may find phone numbers of the Agencies in your area by looking in the blue pages of your local phone directory under “U.S. Government Agencies”. If this is unsuccessful, you may find phone numbers to the local facilities of a Federal Agency on its website.

When your call to an Agency puts you directly in contact with a live person, you must be prepared to make the most of this opportunity. It is not enough to request to speak to someone in the personnel department. The individual with whom you are connected may be well intentioned but may not have the type of information that you seek. For example, you may reach a Personnel Clerk, whose job may not give him/her access to information related to job openings.

Connecting With The Right Person
Therefore, the first step when you reach the personnel department is to ask for the Personnel Officer, Staffing Specialist or Recruitment Specialist who is responsible for the occupation you are seeking. For example, if you are seeking a Budget Analyst job, ask for the Personnel Staffing Specialist who is in charge of budget and accounting positions. This specialist will be informed of the openings that exist or that may exist in the future in that field.

Interview the Decision Maker
Depending on the level of the job of interest to you, the HR specialist listed on the Vacancy Announcement may or may not be the hiring decision maker. Generally the higher the job the more likely a line officer and not an HR Specialist will make the hiring decision. When speaking to an HR Specialist who handles a job, you may ask for the name and phone number of the decision maker. The request may be declined, but you have nothing to lose by trying. If you do get the decision maker’s name, by all means call him or her and ask him to explain the job in more detail to you. Make careful note of how he describes the job. His description will probably contain clues to the kind of skill sets he is seeking.

Keep Records
Good record keeping is important. Keep a notebook to record information as you make your calls: The name of the Agency; the person to whom you spoke, that person’s direct telephone number, job title, and the hour of the day that you reached that person; the date you called, a date to follow up; and any other notations about your conversation.

Finally, you must keep in mind that the average Federal job search takes about four to six months and that persistence is the key to securing a government job. However, a systematic, well organized search should ease your frustration and help you receive an offer.

To submit questions to the Federal Jobs Advisor, write to: Federal Jobs Advisor, Federal Jobs Digest, 1503 Radcliff Court, Newtown Square PA 19073. We regret that not all questions may be answered. •