Does One Exam Cover
Many Federal Jobs?
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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. •