on washingtonpost.com

Common mistakes in applying for federal jobs

Thursday, March 4, 2010

-- Baltimore: Derrick, What is the single biggest mistake federal job seekers make, and what is the one thing that all successful federal job seekers have in common?

Derrick Dortch: Hello, Baltimore. There are several common mistakes.

First: targeting the wrong positions. I see many people targeting jobs they are not qualified for, and this causes them a great deal of frustration. If you do not have the key part of the required qualifications, you should not apply. I often come across people who do not read through the full federal job announcement, so they fail to read qualifications and application requirements.

Second mistake: not selling yourself. I see many people with résumés that are job-descriptive but have no success stories in them. Also, many people are not using the space allotted on online applications where they can sell themselves. On usajobs.gov, for example, you have 3,000 characters for each job experience. Because our jobs often include several capacities that we work under . . . we may have different résumés in usajobs.gov or other places, depending on the position we are targeting. In each résumé, you should make sure you include relevant success stories along with your duties.

When you are writing a success story, you should compose it using the SAR (Situation, Action, Results) or CCAR (Context, Challenge, Action, Results) method. You need to show a story and how it led to the result.

Third mistake: relying on one method to apply for federal jobs. Rather than relying on usajobs.gov or being passive, you have to be proactive. You should apply online, but also go to career fairs and call the human resources office to get a point of contact. Even better, visit the human resources office, and make sure to network. The common trait of successful federal job seekers is following the steps above.

-- Silver Spring: I have a really dumb question. I was going to apply for a government job, and they ask if you have ever held a federal position. Well, I have, but I'm not sure I want or need to mention it.

I worked in a part-time position 14 to 15 years ago, and it was made permanent. But my boss had it out for me, and didn't keep me after my probation period was up.

Do I need to put this down? I don't want to lie, but I would rather not include it.

Derrick Dortch: Hello, Silver Spring. Never lie on a federal application. Include the job. Because it was 14 to 15 years ago, I doubt that anyone will pay real attention to it. Focus on selling yourself with later experiences that are relevant and more powerful. That is the key for you. If you are asked about the position, be honest and say that it did not work out and that you moved on to another position, and you will achieve great success doing that. I hope this helps.

Dortch is president of The Diversa Group, a career counseling firm. To read the entire chat, go to www.washingtonpost.com/jobs.

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