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Does One Exam Cover
Many Federal Jobs?

Dear Advisor,

My parents have suggested that I take “the civil service exam.” They say it covers many Federal white collar occupations and is the stepping-stone to a Federal career.

If I understand this process correctly, you take the exam and then go on a waiting list according to your score. After you are called off the list you get to choose the Agency for which you wish to work and your job location. I do well on exams and expect to do well on this, too.

Please send me the application for this exam.

Not afraid of exams,
New York

Dear A.L.,

Your parents’ knowledge of the Federal recruitment process dates back a number of years. Actually the Federal civil service exams and the civil service registers they built are things of the past. PACE (Professional and Administrative Careers Exam) has not been given for over 20 years and its successor ACWA (Administrative Careers With America) has not been given for over 10 years.

While some specific occupations, such as entry level clerical, still require a written exam, no written exam is currently given that covers multiple professional occupations the way PACE and ACWA did. Incidentally over 200,000 people a year took those exams, but only some 20,000 jobs resulted. Those not hired immediately were placed on waiting lists (called registers), also called “applicant supply files”. Today the government does not maintain applicant supply files for entry level professional/administrative positions. Applicants are considered for these positions on the basis of their Federal resume for a particular occupation with a particular agency and usually at a particular location. The job candidates with the best submission are called for the interview within a relatively short time compared to the old days.

The Exam Concept Is Alive And Well
However, don’t think that these applications are not exams. The exam concept is not obsolete. Only the nature of the exam has changed. The application forms or resumes you submit are called “unassembled exams”. This because candidates do not assemble in a room to take an exam, but their applications are still rated just like a written test. Now instead of a machine scoring your multiple choice answers, a computer scans your resume and screens it. If found qualified a Federal examiner sits down with your resume and rates it, that is, gives it a score. And make no mistake, the score is still the determining factor in who gets the job.

High Scorer Gets The Job
Here is the major difference between most private sector job hunting and Federal job hunting: In the private sector your resume or application form serves only to secure an interview for you. The hiring decision is predicated on the outcome of the interview. In Federal recruitment your rating (the score the examiner gives your Federal resume) determines who gets the job, because no more than 3 candidates and sometimes only 1 are interviewed. The interview serves to confirm the rating. It does not serve to rate candidates as it does in the private sector.

So, once you get the interview the biggest part of the job is behind you. So what is the message here?

Nail That Application
The message is that to conduct a successful Federal job search you must put together a great application. To do that you must 1) Obtain the Vacancy Announcement (See note below on how to do this). 2) Determine from the Vacancy Announcement exactly what information is needed to apply for the job 3) Follow instructions to the letter. Supply whatever information the Vacancy Announcement requests. You also need to be sure that you supply the required information in the required format. Federal resumes have specific requirements. Follow this url for specific instructions on how to do it.

In addition to a resume you may also have to answer some questions. The questions are given in the Vacancy Announcement and are called KSA—because they measure your knowledge, skills and abilities. KSA's are now avoided by Federal recruiters but may still appear as "Duties" or "Qualifications". You really must show on your resume that you meet these duties and qualifications. We'll continue to call them "KSA's."

The KSA’s that appear in a vacancy announcement address your experience with regard to a specific specialty within an occupation. For example, if the occupation is accountant, your Resume should address your accounting education and job experience in all areas. A specific vacancy may be for a cost accountant. The KSA’s for that job will ask specific questions regarding the particular type of cost accounting work done in that office.

Information that is missing from your application, instructions that are not followed explicitly will result in points lost. Points lost mean a lower rating. A lower rating may mean you don’t get the job at all, or you still get the job but at a lower salary than you might have earned.

Time Well Spent
The Federal recruitment system will probably result in your being asked to take fewer interviews, because only the very top candidates are invited for an interview. In the private sector system you may be asked to submit to many interviews. Some private sector interviews can last all day. Put the time you save going to interviews into preparing a great Federal resume. See page 4 for the correct Federal resume format.

Don’t Save The Paper
A Federal Resume plus KSA’s, if included in the Vacancy Announcement, should be at least 1 page for an entry level non-professional job, that is GS-4 or under. 1- 2 pages for an entry level professional job, that is GS-5/7. 2+ pages for mid-level, GS-9/11. And as many as 5 pages and more for top level jobs GS-12/15. SES jobs are a world of their own and are often 20 and more pages in length.

Note: Vacancy Announcements can be obtained on this site.
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. •