Transcript: Monday, September 11, noon ET

Helping Hands Careers in Government

Kathryn K. Troutman
President, The Resume Place Inc.
Monday, September 11, 2006; 12:00 PM

Skill, effort and luck can take you to the top of any field -- but it never hurts to get a little help. In our Helping Hands special feature, we've got plenty of assistance on tap: articles, tools and live discussions that will help you learn more about how to get ahead in the area's top industries or your career in general.

Kathryn K. Troutman is president of The Resume Place Inc. She was online to discuss trends facing workers in goverment -- and those who'd like to join the federal workforce.

An expert on searching for and obtaining government work, Troutman has published several books on the topic, including "Ten Steps to a Federal Job: Navigating the Federal Job System, Writing Federal Resumes, KSAs and Cover Letters with a Mission" (The Resume Place, 2002).

Submit questions and comments before and during the discussion.

The transcript follows below.


Alexandria, Va.: I know it takes a long time to hear from government agencies about your application. Is there any way to check on the status of your application when no contact person is listed? Is it advisable to call the service centers listed on the USA Jobs form? Do you have any advice on what to do in the meantime? I have heard from others that it took some agencies a year to respond to their application.

Kathryn K. Troutman: LENGTH OF TIME TO GET HIRED! Yes, it takes some time, but now with the on-line application systems, you can see results, such as "referred" or "not referred" online. This works for and and AF Civilian jobs. It's great to see the results on-line. Calling USAJOBS office? You can try. If there's a phone. Be sure to check out any online or e-mail results. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


East Chatham, N.Y.: I am a RN with a BS in Nursing. I have 22 years of clinical experience and would like to now focus on health care and policy change specifically bridging a gap between health and national education reform. What would you recommend as the best degree, in a Masters Program, to enhance this focus?

Kathryn K. Troutman: BS IN NURSING, MASTER'S DEGREE TOWARD HEALTHCARE AND POLICY. I would recommend that you look at job announcements at Especially Center for Medicare & Medicaid. And look at the Health Insurance Specialist job title. This could be a target job that would be of great interest to you. The MS could be in Health Care policy. A MS in Policy is great for government work. So many policies to write, analyze, improve, change and recommend, especially using your clinical knowledge. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


McLean, Va.: How should I approach KSAs that are over-simpified? (i.e. "Ability to communicate orally and in writing")

Kathryn K. Troutman: SIMPLIFIED KSAS -- GIVE A GOOD EXAMPLE. The Human Resources Specialist would like to see an example of how you communicate with employees, customers, co-workers and team members. You should give one or two examples of your highest level of communication. Negotiations, problem-solving, giving instruction, analyzing information and interpreting the information, interpreting a policy. For instance, I resolved a major problem with a customer last week who ... Just give an example, tell a story about how well you communicate orally. This will impress the supervisor. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Hyattsville, Md.: I'm the one with the BBA in marketing and BS in education with the 15+ years of NPO experience... I forgot to mention one thing. I have used MANY of the tips in Ms. Troutman's third edition "Federal Resume Guidebook" especially the "Private-Industry Resume Converted to a Federal Resume" section in part 1.

Kathryn K. Troutman: 15 YEARS OF NPO EXPERIENCE - TRY FOR APPLES TO APPLES. Thanks for reading the books. I'm glad they are helping you! The challenge is finding the right job announcement, and that takes time. Just remember that your resume and the announcement should ideally be APPLES TO APPLES. It's best if you can find positions where you can use your experience ... or, if not the specific experience, your technical skills. This is always the challenge for a career change federal resume. Thanks, Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Alexandria, Va.: I had to take some time off between graduation and am now applying for jobs a year later. Do I need an explanation for personal reasons or does that suffice?

Will this hurt my chances?

Kathryn K. Troutman: TOOK A YEAR OF AFTER GRADUATION. The recommendations for the federal resume, according to OPMs of 510 -- the instructions for the federal resume -- are that they require recent and relevant experience. So, you can just leave the year off. Or you canadd something about travel or any kind of statement -- I suppose, just using common sense, the HR specialist might wonder what you were doing. And then of course, you should be impressive with your education. The samples on the Student's Federal Career Guide CD-ROM are awesome if you want to get the book. A great Federal Resume for a new graduate can help a lot. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Bowie, Md. : Is submitting a hard copy of your resume the best way to be considered by the government for employment?

Kathryn K. Troutman: HARD COPY SUBMISSIONS? PROBABLY NOT. Most agencies are requiring you to copy and paste your resume into their resume builder. And if you do submit to the resume builder, you should not send a paper set as well. You really should go to USAJOBS and submit to their resume builder. Many agencies are using that system for resume collection. It's not a bad system. There are only a few agencies accepting paper applications now -- VA, FEMA, some TSA positions. Most are electronic. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Elkridge, Md.: How can I return to the federal government after being a stay-at-home mom for over five years?

Kathryn K. Troutman: RETURN TO GOVERNMENT AFTER FIVE YEARS OFF. Yes, you can return to government. Just write a good federal resume describing your positions, skills and qualifications. Find announcements for those positions. You can add something into the USAJOBS Resume builder for the last five years if you want. Family management. That's about all. Unless you were active with some volunteer services. You could add those. They could be good for communications skills, etc. Go right on back and apply for jobs, as though it was last year.

Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Reston, Va.: Is the government really in the process of overhauling its hiring/application practice from the months without end length and pace to a more private-sector-like time cycle?

Kathryn K. Troutman: IS THE GOVERNMENT REALLY OVERHAULING APPLICATION PROCESS? Yes, they really are trying hard to respond faster after a closing date. And they are working toward using the USAJOBS Resume Builder for more announcement applications. And the on-line application submission results are very good. I like the USAJOBS application results page and the Answer page. You can see what happened to your resume on-line. Not all agencies have this, but it is getting better. I do seem improvement. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Alexandria, Va.: I understand that it can take a long time before you hear back from an agency. It took one agency over a year to get back to me. Do you recommend contacting the agency? What if there is no direct contact given, only a service desk listed in the USA Jobs form?

Do you have any advice on what to do job wise in the meantime?

Kathryn K. Troutman: APPLY FOR FEDERAL, THEN GET A TEMPORARY JOB. If you are very serious about a federal job, then you should apply for these jobs diligently, every week. And then also look for a temporary position so you can pay your bills and be under less pressure. The Federal job search really could take six months, so it's best for you to just get a job, and then have a part-time job submitting for federal positions. But I hope that you will apply for the right job titles and right grade level. Good luck, and be persevering. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Washington, D.C.: I recently applied for two librarian positions at the Library of Congress in the CRS. I tried contacting the employment specialist assigned to these positions to obtain feedback about my application. No response. The following week, I read an article in the Washington Post Express about a recent MLS graduate landing a plum job with the Congressional Research Service. I have over 15 years of experience as a reference librarian in the private sector. What do I need to do to get considered for one of these positions? Know someone or turn out a better application?

Kathryn K. Troutman: KNOW SOMEONE OR WRITE A BETTER APPLICATION? Both would be great probably. It's very possible that the resume could get better. I am sure you are very well-qualified. You could try to contact the HR Specialist on the announcement for the LOC positions. You could ask about the announcements and try to get feedback. Tell the HR Specialist about your background, that you are an expert, 15 years experience. Determined to work at LOC or CRS. This is very specialized, as you know. Maybe the resume is not standing out enough. You can still do this, you should work on it more. But get some information if you can. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Rockville, Md.: We hear a lot about the effects of future baby boomer retirements. Well, I wish some of them would hurry up. I was born in 1961 (toward the end of the boom) so the positions that represent my promotion potential are occupied by co-workers too old to want mobility and too young to retire. They were mostly at least one grade up from where I am now when they were my age.

What are usually the best options in my position -- wait for a parallel opening and see if my own unit will match? Let them know I feel stuck and that if they want me to stay they need to create a new position? Just enjoy low expectations?

Kathryn K. Troutman: STUCK: Options: low expectations; parallel move; ask the office to create a new job.

I like those choices. If I were you, I'd go for parallel move. At least that's the one where you can control your future. Why don't you start looking around and submitting. You could talk to your boss about your concerns and need for more challenge (and money), but I'm not sure I'd bank on that. Take charge ... Something else could happen along the way also. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Elkridge, Md.: How far back should my resume go -- how many years?

Kathryn K. Troutman: HOW FAR BACK FOR THE FEDERAL RESUME? Well, the supervisors really want to read the details for five years. And they want to see the job history for 10 years for sure. But ... if you want to add shorter versions of descriptions before 10 years, that's good too. Stop at 1986. Twenty years is enough.

Summary: Five years is most important. Next five years is second most important.

Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Elkridge, Md.: I would like to apply for jobs that have the Superior Academic Provision. How to address KSAs? Should I give the classes that gave me the knowledge skill or abilities?

Kathryn K. Troutman: NEW GRADUATE KSAS ABOUT COURSE PROJECTS. Yes, write your KSAs about your relevant course projects. My daughter, Emily Troutman, graduated with her MPP last year. She co-authored the Student Federal Career Guide with me. Her KSA chapter in the book is based on her projects from her Master's program. I would recommend that you read the KSA chapter. It is awesome. (Even if I do say so myself.)

Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Arlington, Va.: DOD has started, as of Sept. 1, to use new adjudicative guidelines. This will slow down the ability of the various DOD CAFs to make clearance and employment suitability determinations since there are changes to the guidelines. Also realize the currrent state of OPM investigations, especially for DOD, is the worst it has been in the last 30 years. OPM has no clue about DOD requirements and the contractors are trying to maximize profit rather than resolve issues.

A DOD adjudicator

Kathryn K. Troutman: SLOW DOD EMPLOYMENT SECURITY BACKGROUND CHECKS. Right, I am seeing that the security clearances are slow. I know someone who was hired by State two months ago. And I guess it will be awhile before he actually starts the position. He is waiting and working part-time, temporary positions. It can be discouraging. But I do recommend that people be patient and stay in touch with the HR specialist to make sure the clearance is still in the queue. But get another job, temporarily, so that you can stay patient and pay the bills. Thanks for your note. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Washington, D.C.: Kathryn,

Business must be booming since the Bureau of Economic Analysis released their report showing that the average compensation for the 1.8 million federal civilian workers in 2005 was twice the average compensation paid in the U.S. private sector along with the report of the top three counties in the U.S. with the highest incomes also have the highest concentration of federal employees. Private industry needs to make a profit so if you want an inflation proof pension you have to work for the Feds. Time off must be part of that compensation too since my federal civilian neighbors haven't worked a five day week this year! So tell us, where do we sign-up?


Kathryn K. Troutman: BUREAU OF ECONOMIC ANALYSIS REPORT -- AVERAGE COMPENSATION IS TWICE THE AVERAGE OF PRIVATE SECTOR -- IN SOME AREAS. Yes, Isn't that amazing? I was really surprised. I KNEW that the Federal job benefits were good, but that was some report.

You can sign up by starting your federal job search at Look for jobs in your geographic region. Or consider moving, since the jobs are so good! And then you need a good Federal resume. There are several good books on that topic that I know very well about.

Yes, I agree, you should sign up, or at least begin your search. Good luck with the campaign. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Marriottsville, Md.: I have two questions: (1) I was told by federal employees that in order to land a government job, you have to apply for lower level positions. Is this true, and if so, how does one decide how many levels to go down on the GS scale? (2) Many of the job descriptions are written specifically for federal employees and some of the postings are only open for only five days (a clear indicator that the posting is a promotion). So how do you decide when you should apply for a position -- for example, a posting for two weeks or less is a promotion, so do not attempt to apply for this position?

Kathryn K. Troutman: START A LOWER LEVEL? Yes, people do say that you should start at the lowest grade level that is reasonable for you. But I do NOT agree, that you should start at a GS 5 or 7, if you have 10 years or so of experience, or specialized experience. There are so many job openings now, that you should target the correct grade level, based on your experience, education and salary expectations. And then you could consider one or two grades below this. If you start your government career way below your real career level, it can be discouraging and hard to move up.

JOB DESCRIPTIONS WRITTEN FOR CURRENT FEDS. Yes, I know that it seems like the announcements are written for people who already work there. The KSAs and Essays are very specific to the agency's mission and programs/policies. But if you find announcements that are OPEN TO EVERYONE, you should try to apply. Try to answer, even the technical ones. But if you do not have experience for two or three of the essay questions, you should probably not apply. Good luck, Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Herndon, Va.: Is it realistic to expect to be hired in as a GS-15 when coming from private industry without ever having been a Federal employee, or are those positions usually filled from within? I have been a Federal IT consultant for 27 years and am looking forward to working for one employer with a well-defined mission, as opposed to continuing to do contract consulting. I do have an extensive Federal consulting resume.

Kathryn K. Troutman: REALISTIC TO START AS A 15 WITH EXPERT FEDERAL IT EXPERIENCE? Yes, it's realistic. But I would probably recommend that you apply for jobs from the 13 through 15 level. If you are expert with Federal IT projects with several different agencies. And the projects are still current, then it is possible you could start as a 15. The 15 level is usually supervisory/management, so you would need the management-level experience. Just read the announcement, Specialized experience and the KSAs/Essays. You should match your resume to their narratives. And be specific with your project accomplishments. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career coach


Alexandria, Va: I have had to take some time off due to health-related issues. Is this something I should explain since there is a gap in my resume for the last year?

Kathryn K. Troutman: EXPLAIN TIME OFF FOR HEALTH REASONS FOR ONE YEAR? I would recommend that you skip it in the resume. Just write your federal resume about your experiences, education and specialized skills. if it was only one year, it should be okay. The official statement from the OPM's OF-510 -- What to include in your resume says that: include recent and relevant positions for work experience. Your year off was not relevant to your job objective now. Good luck, Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Boston, Mass.: Hello,

On some of the positions I've applied for, the KSA had room to include 8,000 characters. My explanations fell far short of that but I could have added more detail. Do you feel that we should add excessive detail in the KSAs?


Kathryn K. Troutman: 8,000 CHARACTER ESSAYS- - REALLY? I have seen many of these announcements with Questions and Essays allowing for 8,000 characters. That's equal to two full pages of typing. I am recommending that people write one good example for the essays. Maybe about 400 to 650 words. And the announcements on occasion ask for as many as 12 essays. So, if you WERE to write 8,000 characters for 10 essays, that would be alot of reading for the HR specialists. Be sure to give a good example with details (or even twoexamples). You do not have to fill up the 8,000 character statement. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Gov't Contractor in Alexandria: Does the Federal Government realize how much its month long, antiquated hiring practices impact their pool of applicants?

I've applied for a handful of Fed jobs that I was qualified for -- never received so much as a notice that my paperwork was even received. I'll never bother to waste my time to apply again.

Kathryn K. Troutman: NEVER RECEIVED A WORD FROM THE GOVERNMENT. I understand your frustration. People do have to apply to many jobs to make it work. And the resume has to be just right, focused toward the job. I think that the HR specialists know that their response to applications is not great. They are trying with the on-line application results pages. Good luck with your job search -- other than government, Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Gaithersburg, Md.: I've read all your books and they're excellent. I have followed all your tips. I've been applying for federal jobs since 1996. I have yet to get anywhere. Oh, once I did get seven different rejection letters from seven different people, all for an IPO job at the Post Office. HELP.

Kathryn K. Troutman: READ THE BOOKS, NO LUCK SINCE 1996. Okay, then you need expert help. I am a Federal Career Coach, as well as a book author. You really need to re-look at your resume, announcements, target job series, grade, everything. Something is wrong. If you are qualified, then something would be happening -- referrals, e-mails, etc. Time for a new approach. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Washington, D.C.: Ms. Troutman, I need your help. Since Sept '05, I have had 11 interviews with Dept. of Energy, HHS, NRC, FCC, etc. But the response is always the same -- "We decided to hire the internal candidate." I have dressed appropriately, thoroughly answered their Performance Based Interview queries, etc. I have even brought along a laptop to do a PowerPoint presentation as part of my interview -- yet I just CAN'T land a job. Any advise will be MOST appreciated.

Kathryn K. Troutman: INTERNAL HIRES INSTEAD OF YOU -- 11 TIMES??? That is some serious bad luck. Sounds like you are really doing well, until they hire someone else. You are preparing for the behavior based interviews, and you are being referred. The only thing I can think is that you might need interview training. Maybe you could do better. PPT and all? You are serious, I can see that. Federal Career Coaching -- Strategies -- might be needed for this situation. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Elkridge, Md.: In reference to your answer "... want to read the details for fiveyears." The past five years I was a homemaker and student. Now I am looking at position that have the superior academic provision for GS-07. How can I show this on my resume?

Kathryn K. Troutman: HOMEMAKER AND STUDENT FOR FIVE YEARS. Okay, That's great. I'm glad you were going to school too. So Job No. 1 will be the name of your university or college. Job Title: Student.

Description of "work" will be your courses, projects and papers. On your resume, the first "job" is your education. Yes, you will still list the education -- college in the official "education" section. But the education will fill up the five years. That should work very well. For samples of this format, the Student's Federal Career Guide would work. Because all samples have Education first. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Reston, Va.: You mentioned finding the "right pay grade/level" as being a goal in a Federal job search. Is there a good/accurate tool in order for a mostly private-sector candidate to measure this for themselves? Thank you!

Kathryn K. Troutman: RIGHT PAY GRADE / LEVEL. The best is to read the vacancy announcements. REad the duties and see if the work would be within your qualifications. Read the Specialized Experience. Read the Qualifications to see what is required for the job. This is self-study. We provide a Qualifications Analysis service at to make sure. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Alexandria, Va: Should I mention the illness if they ask what I have been doing for the past year? I do not want them to think I am sick and unable to work.

Kathryn K. Troutman: SICK FOR AYEAR? If they ask you in an interview, tell the truth. But be positive, you are better, recuperated, able to work, with doctor's orders. Be energetic and positive. Be thankful and happy. You can convince them that you are good to go! Just be honest (without too many details on the medical side). Kathryn Troutman


Atlanta, Ga.: I am earning a master's in Public Administration with a concentration in Publc Health while working full-time for a global energy company in community and media relations. I'd like to develop health communications plans and public health strategies for global corporations or agencies such as the CDC. I'm not sure if this is an option or even how to get started. Is this an emerging field?

I currently have nine years of public affairs experiences (managing budgets and community relations mostly).

Can you direct me to a website or resource? Thanks for your help!

Kathryn K. Troutman: PUBLIC AFFAIRS SPECIALIST. Just do a search for that job title on You will read jobs in government that will be of interest to you. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach


Virginia: Hello. How do I match my series # with CIA jobs? CIA jobs are not advertised at Thanks.

Kathryn K. Troutman: CIA AND JOB SERIES -- Just go to and study the job titles and descriptions. And the qualifications. They have the information there. And then apply for the job that seems right. Kathryn Troutman


Arlington, Va.: I am looking to change career directions. I have a new BS degree and administrative work experience. If I am looking for a carrer in analysis can I expect any of my previous experience to be useful? Will it help me gain a higher pay level than recent grads with no serious work experience?

Kathryn K. Troutman: CAREER CHANGE. YES, your previous experience can be useful. But play up the most relevant experience and education. I would sure need to know more about your career change situation.

SIGNING OFF -- THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR WRITING TODAY. I hope you will continue your federal job search. Kathryn Troutman, Federal Career Coach and President, and


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