Transcript: Government Careers

Derrick Dortch
Career counselor
Wednesday, May 27, 2009; 11:00 AM

Federal careers expert Derrick Dortch was online Wednesday, May 27, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss government job searching and military transition. Dortch is president of The Diversa Group, a firm that focuses on career counseling and development.

The transcript follows.


Derrick Dortch: Good Morning, Good Morning! Much is going on in the world of government these days! Its almost happening at a pace that its hard for everyone to stay abreast of everything. This is good. Let me tell you about a few new developments.

There has been a redesign of USAJOBS ( to make it easier to use. You wont see it when you first visit the site but when you go into the search area you will see it. I talked to OPM about this last year so I am glad to see that the changes have been implemented. Check it out and let me know your thoughts good or bad and let me know what you think they can do to improve.

Also you will see that more and more agencies are posting jobs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). From talking to people dealing with the hiring of employees under ARRA it is my understanding that these positions are slated to be quick hires and that they want many of these positions filled by August. So for those who are currently looking for federal jobs I would recommend that you begin looking heavily in this direction.

Also make sure you get out to any career fairs and hiring events. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is having an invitation only hiring event on June 24 but you have to register for it by June 2nd. I sponsored an event with a DIA Hiring Official recently and he indicated that for the right candidates they will be making COEs (Conditional Offers of Employment) on the spot. Hiring events like this are a great way to secure a position and DIA is a great organization. Here is the announcement for the hiring event that is posted on USAJOBS;

So without any other delay let me get right to today's show. Thank you for stopping by and if you have any questions about the federal job search, your career, writing federal resumes and KSAs that win interviews, security clearances, military transition or anything else related to succeeding in your career, work and life then please ask. Also if you have some good advice, tips, suggestions, recommendations or information to share please do so. Anything that will help people succeed is welcome.



Derrick Dortch: I mentioned last show that I would start taking questions from past shows and answering them and then posting them on the next show. Well as promised here are a few I answered. I will take a couple unanswered questions from each show and make sure they get answered for the next show from this point forward. Here are a couple of questions and my response, I hope they are helpful:

Yorba Linda, Calif. : I am a retired DoD employee. I am thinking about returning to work by applying as a retired annuitant. Just before I retired, Congress was considering making it more lucrative for retirees to return by NOT subtracting the retirement pay from the work pay. Did that law ever pass? Also, is there a web site reserved for just retired annuitants to apply for Federal jobs?

Hello Retired DoD Employee,

There is definitely a need for you right now. Depending on your background, skills and experience there are positions under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) available and retired annuitants are being very much so considered for a good number of them.

Here is information that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released under the Chief Human Capital Officers Council (CHCOC) about the "Rehiring Annuitants in Support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009"

This should lead you in right direction.

To find jobs under the ARRA go to USAJOBS and look on the front page and look on the lower right had side and you should see a link to that says: "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Jobs". Click on it and all of the jobs under ARRA will come up. You and others may also be interested in other TERM or NTE (Not to Exceed) positions as well. If you want to find those do a keyword search under: TERM or NTE and you will find some additional positions that might be of interest.

I hope this helps. Take care and I wish you much success!


Unemployed, U.S.: As an attorney applying with only 1-2 years experience, I qualify for Grade 11/12. How much emphasis is placed on the transcript and should I address it at all. I did graduate from a top 25 law school but my gpa is below 3.0. I know some of the federal jobs I have applied have had hundreds of applicants, so it's hard to stand out among such stiff competition. My resume, cover letter, and writing sample are all solid. How do I get an interview?

[Reply/Add] [Publish]


There are a great number of attorneys out there who are in your similar position. Transcript and GPA are sometimes looked at when weeding out people but its not the only determining factor. Experience is the equalizer and is given the most weight when it comes to evaluating any applicant. You do have to remember that if you are competing with someone with a high GPA with excellent experience then that person will be the very marketable and attractive to a hiring manager as a candidate but you can definitely be competitve. The key for you to win interviews in this market will rely on several things:

1. Think about your target agencies and career and begin to develop your self-marketing materials around the target.

Begin to really think about the top areas of law that you want to work in and what agencies are doing the kind of work you want to do, This list may vary from Department of Justice to the Federal Communications Commission which is fine but get a solid list of areas of interest. After you know your areas of interest and the agencies who are doing that work then you need to determine what makes you the most qualified and and attractive attorney for that agency. Is it your education in law school or with any other degrees you have. Did you do relevant research, projects or papers/published works that would be of interest to the agencies you are interested in targeting. Did you do Moot Court or law review and the work in either was relevant? Did you do any legal internships or clerkships where the experience was relevant? If so you need to put this down and not put it down in a quick sentence you need to put it down and really elaborate and go into detail on what you did that was relevant. You have to focus on telling your success stories and talking about your experience in a way that truly sell you and show that what you did is directly related to what that agency is doing and to what they need.

From there you need to develop your self-marketing materials with this in mind. There is no way I could go into detail about how to do this in this chat since there is limited time but remember that in a highly competitive environment when you have many people coming out with similar degrees and experience what makes you stand out is you telling your story and how your SEEQ (Skills, Education, Experience, and Qualification) is relevant to the organization and job you are targeting. Do not think that people will read between the lines and understand that you have the qualifications. You have to show them, you have to tell them, you have to sell it to them.

Make sure you develop targeted, powerful and persuasive self marketing materials (Resume, Federal Resume, USAJOBS/AVUE CENTRAL Resume, Cover Letter, KSAs, etc) that truly sell you. This is critical to your job search. I have seen many people say their materials are solid but yet these materials were not producing results in their federal job search. Remember that federal materials will be different in some ways than private sector materials. But no matter what you have to develop materials that will sell you, your experience and what you bring to the table. These materials will have to clearly show why you are qualified.

2. Get additional experience if necessary

Since you are a new attorney I am not sure if you are working for a firm or for an organization doing work that is relevant to what you want to do. If so that is great and all you have to do is to continue to do a great job and then make sure you sell it on your resume. If not, think about getting additional experience. You can possibly do volunteer work where you can use your legal skills and training or you can think about an internship or part time legal job. The key is to get experience that is relevant to your career goals.

3. Network, Network, Network

This is critical in this town. Make sure you get a list of all law graduates from your law school as well as alumni from your undergrad that are working in the federal government. Begin networking with them. Also go to career fairs. I used to run career fairs when I was in charge of Government Opportunities at Georgetown University and trust me they do work in terms of getting people jobs.

4. Look at all of the Attorney Honor Programs Jobs

Every federal agency has a legal division or general counsel and other law related jobs. Many have Attorney Honor Programs that are not always mentioned on USAJOBS or advertised.

Department of Justice - Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management

DHS Legal Opportunities

CIA Honors Attorney Program

FDIC Honors Attorney Program

FCC Attorney Honors Program

I could go on and on but I hope this help in getting you started in helping you win interviews. If you need additional assistance please contact me at Take care and I wish you much success!


Washington, D.C.: Two items for you, Mr. Dortch: One, thanks for a better explanation of how to respond to the KSA items for a job application than I would have received from my agency's HR office. Two, for the poster participating in a chat several weeks ago who wanted to enter the field of procurement, a word of advice from somebody who is a Contracting Officer Tech Rep (COTR): Take as many contracting or procurement courses as you can, because contracting looks different from the buyer's point of view than it does from the seller's view point, especially in the interpretation of the various laws and regs governing procurement.

This was posted for my last chat. Thank You for the good advice.


Washington, D.C.: What happens if I fail my polygraph? The security manager at my company believes I should do just fine based on my paperwork, i.e. I have no red flags. But I am still nervous!

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Thanks for your question. If you fail a polygraph then that can be the end of that job. If you fail a polygraph you can ask for and will sometimes be granted a second or third polygraph. This depends on the agency and the circumstances surrounding your polygraph. No matter what if you do fail a polygraph always ask for an appeal and request to take another polygraph. Now I am going on the assumption that you are being truthful. That is the key to the polygraph. Make sure you are truthful and before you get on the machine make sure you talk everything out that you need to. You want to be as relaxed as possible when you take the polygraph.

If you are do fail your polygraph and you are not allowed to retest or if you retest and you fail again then your offer will be rescinded no matter what. Passing the polygraph is essential to you receiving a final offer.

I hope this helps. Please contact me directly at if you have any more polygraph questions. Take care and I wish you much success.


Washington, DC: Derrick,

You frequently get questions about whether it's possible to negotiate a higher step level or GS level when entering federal service for the first time.

A step level can be negotiated. The ability to do so, and the number of steps, can vary based on agency tradition, department budget, whether or not there are already people in that role (i.e., you may not be allowed to be more than 1 step higher than peers), if the higher manager would end up at a lower salary if they gave you the step, etc. However, it can't hurt to ask when you receive the offer. Likely, you'll be asked to supply 2 recent paystubs to verify that this is what you currently make.

As for GS level, that's going to be almost impossible. Jobs are posted as classified at a specific GS level. A change in the GS level suggests that the candidate is going to bring skills not asked for in the job posting. If that's the case, most agencies will require that the job posting be withdrawn, rewritten, and reposted. That can be a many month process and a selected candidate risks losing the position.

If a job is reclassified to a higher GS level, this opens the agency for protests, so it's almost never done.

What's more likely is that the candidate accept the position at the lower GS level, work for a year at that level, and then petition to have the job reviewed. If, at that time, the employee has demonstrated that they are performing duties above the GS level, the job can be reclassified. This process typically cannot be done until the employee has served a year.

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Thank you so much for sharing that good information. I know it will be helpful when people go into salary negotiations. I always tell people that when they get an offer they can negotiate salary. I always recommend developing a "Salary Justification or Salary Negotiation Letter" where you can ask for the salary you want and make your justifications on why you should get that salary. Like you said. It never hurts to ask and I have seen people definitely bump their salary up by going through the negotiation process.

Don't be scared to negotiate. If you have been given the offer the agency or organization does want you. There is nothing wrong with you asking for what you think you are worth.

Thanks again for sharing!


Baltimore, MD: Which gov't agencies are hiring today, right now?!

Derrick Dortch: Alot of federal agencies are hiring. Below is a list of all the agencies who are currently hiring who have jobs posted on USAJOBS. There are also Excepted Service agencies how do not post on USAJOBS like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who is also hiring. As you can seen the federal government is in hiring mode and will be for the next couple of years. Begin looking at USAJOBS and for jobs that match your SEEQ (Skills, Experience, Education and Qualifications). Also remember that some agencies will not post to USAJOBS. They put positions up on their sites so you have to find those positions at their career or employement page. Here is a list of all federal agencies that is on

I hope this helps and gives you and others encouragement to press forward in your federal job search. Job are definitely out there and the government is definitely hiring. Take care and I wish you much success!

Agency For International Development (29)

Architect Of The Capitol (3)

Armed Forces Retirement Homes (1)

Bonneville Power Administration (18)

Broadcasting Board Of Governors (10)

Commodity Futures Trading Commission (14)

Congressional Budget Office (13)

Consumer Product Safety Commission (1)

Corporation For National And Community Service (2)

Courts Svcs & Offender Supervision Ag, Dc (6)

Department Of Agriculture (897)

Department Of Commerce (497)

Department Of Defense (810)

Department Of Education (15)

Department Of Energy (55)

Department Of Energy (16)

Department Of Health And Human Services (862) Department Of Homeland Security (479)

Department Of Housing And Urban Development (38) Department Of Justice (208)

Department Of Labor (227)

Department Of State (55)

Department Of The Interior (833)

Department Of The Navy (3406)

Department Of The Treasury (183)

Department Of Transportation (215)

Department Of U.S. Air Force (2786)

Department Of Veterans Affairs (2672)

Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission (1) Environmental Protection Agency (26)

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (7)

Export-Import Bank Of The United States (4)

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (252)

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (7)

Federal Housing Finance Agency (1)

\Federal Labor Relations Authority (2)

Federal Maritime Commission (1)

Federal Reserve System--Board Of Governors (1)

Federal Trade Commission (1)

General Services Administration (31)

Government Accountability Office (3)

Government Printing Office (2)

Indian Tribal Government (2)

Institute Of Museum & Library Services (1)

International Boundary & Water Commission: United States & Mexico (2)

Judicial Branch (21)

Legislative Branch (18)

Library Of Congress (13)

Merit Systems Protection Board (1)

Millennium Challenge Corporation (11)

Morris K. Udall Scholarship & Excellence In National Environ Policy Foundation (1)

National Aeronautics & Space Administration (63)

National Archives And Records Administration (6)

National Credit Union Administration (2)

National Endowment For The Arts (2)

National Gallery Of Art (7)

National Labor Relations Board (5)

National Science Foundation (17)

National Transportation Safety Board (1)

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (16)

Office Of Management And Budget (5)

Office Of Personnel Management (5)

Office Of The Director Of National Intelligence (31)

Office Of The Federal Coordinator For Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects (1)

Office Of The Inspector General, Usps (4)

Other Agencies And Independent Organizations (122) Overseas Private Investment Corporation (1)

Peace Corps (15)

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (1)

Presidio Trust (5)

Recovery Jobs - Energy (3)

Recovery Jobs - Small Business Administration (1)

Securities & Exchange Commission (1)

Small Business Administration (3)

Smithsonian Institution (18)

Social Security Administration (4)

Southwestern Power Administration (2)

U.S. Capitol Police (4)

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (1)

U.S. House Of Representatives (2)

U.S. International Trade Commission (1)

United States Army (2072)

United States-China Economic & Security Review Commission (2)

Western Area Power Administration (21)


Alexandria, Va.: I was laid off from my job in the accounting industry this past winter, and I am now at an unpaid internship at a federal agency for the summer. Do gov't agencies when hiring, look down on people who intern? I am hoping to use this as a networking opportunity and to hopefully parlay this into a position somewhere in the agency. Thanks.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Alexandria,

I think what you are doing is great. Let me answer your question. NO, people do not look down on internship experience. I think sometimes the words internship and volunteer really get a bad rap. Many times interns and volunteers are working just as hard a paid workers and are getting the same good training and experience. Do not look at this experience as "Just an Internship". Look at it as "A Powerful Career Experience that will provide me Education, Training, Experience and a Network that I can use to Propel my Career within the Federal Government". Many times when I am working with clients who have interned I dont even use the word on their resume because it really does not describe the work they did. We change it to something more powerful and accurate to what they did. You have a unique opportunity to use this internship to get your foot in the door. Take on as much work and as many projects as you can, build a reputation for being an excellent worker, show your value to the team and to the federal government and network like crazy.

Make sure you get as much training as possible as well.

You are lucky to have this opportunity. Its up to you what comes from it. I know it will lead to success. Take care and let me know how things work out.


Bethesda, Md.: I want a job in the federal government. I have been very successful in the private sector, but the federal job application seems daunting. Is there a legitimate company that can help transfer your experience into KSA format?

Derrick Dortch: Hello Bethesda,

There are a couple of companies out there that do assist with helping people develop federal resumes and KSAs. Shot me an email to and I will provide you a list.

Take care and I look forward to hearing from you.


Alexandria, Va.: If one is applying for a federal position and has a misdemeanor of an assault on one's record, does that disqualify an individual for employment with the federal government, especially if a security clearance is needed?

Derrick Dortch: Hello VA,

Thank you for your question. A misdemeanor will not disqualify you to work for the federal government and it will not stop you from getting a security clearance. Now with that being said this will definitely be an area of concern for an Adjudicator during any security clearance process if you get a position that requires one. The key to you successfully getting past this hurdle is that you have shown that you were sorry for what happened, that you have paid your debt to the person and society for the assault, and that you did not have a history of violence or other criminal acts and that you do have kept clean since that incident and remember the more time has past since the incident and you have stayed clean the better.

All of this will be taken into consideration and can be used as mitigating circumstances to justify you getting cleared to work for the federal government. So proceed forward. The key is to be truthful. State the facts and show remorse and go from there.

I hope this helps. If you have more questions about this please contact me at Take care and I wish you much success!


Washington, DC: Mr. Dortch,

I asked this question last week, but I think it was too late. Over the years, you've provided excellent information on how to answer KSAs. I would like to know what is the point of them in the first place? Why can't the federal government do what everyone else does, which is requiring a cover letter, resume, and work samples as needed? It seems to me this would simplify the process.

The federal hiring process is already lengthy and clandestine. When I was looking for a job, I spent a lot of time and effort on these applications with little to no response at all. This makes applying not worth the effort, especially for something that's so nonresponsive or vague. (In fact, sometimes I'll get rejections for jobs I don't even remember appying to because they were so long ago.)

If I didn't feel I was qualified for the job, I wouldn't apply for it. No other entity requires these KSAs, probably because these questions are answered in the interview process. I would apply to more government jobs if they didn't have the KSA requirement. (Some do, but they are few and far between.)

Thanks for taking my lengthy question.

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Many people wonder about KSAs and what is the need for them. I am one of those people who see things from both sides so I have a love/hate relationship with KSAs. As for the need for them there is a good reason. Because of the volume of applicant that some agencies get KSAs are used as selective factors. They are used to quickly weed out if someone is truly qualified or not. They are also suppose to help people determine if they really do have the qualifications for the positions and if they should or should not apply. If you read the KSAs and you have what is being sought after then you should apply. If you read the KSAs and one or two of them are asking for things that you do not have then you probably should not apply to that position because you will not hear back.

The one other good thing about KSAs is that they really do provide a person an opportunity to sell themselves. If you do have the qualifications then you can definitely make yourself shine in the KSAs. Now I know that for many this is one of the most difficult things to do. Many people do not like to talk about themselves and many people feel uncomfortable selling themselves on both paper and in person but the KSAs if done right do give a person this opportunity. So this can be a good thing.

KSAs are also a writing sample and show a HR person

Honestly I do not see KSAs, Mandatory Assessment Factors or any other type essay response going away. They have been effective in hiring a large number of government workers so there will always be some type of written assessment. I do think there is a better way to use KSAs.

I think that people should be allowed first to apply using a resume and then if you are deemed qualified you are sent the KSA questions to respond to. This way you know you are in the running for the job and it makes the stakes higher for you which means you now see the purpose of putting some serious time and effort into developing targeted, powerful, and persuasive KSAs.

What I will say is that the key to the KSAs is really about telling YOUR STORY as it relates to your relevant SEEQ (Skills, Experience, Education and Qualifications). Many people have so many success stories but have a hard time putting them on paper so they end up getting missed over and this is the unfortunate part of the KSA and any hiring process. If you do not sell yourself effectively then you can very well be passed over.

Do not stop applying for federal jobs. On the bad side I agree with you. The KSA process is long, time consuming and can be frustrating to many. Unfortunately, KSA are not going away so what you have to do is learn how to develop KSAs that truly sell you. Once you do this then you will begin to see more interviews come your way and then that federal job will be yours at some point.


Take care and if you need anything contact me at I wish you much success!


Arlington, Va.: How does one fail a polygraph? Isn't the real solution is to be completely honest first, then deal with responses that cause concern (such as "smoked pot in college")?

Derrick Dortch: Arlington,

I am going to get it from any polygraph specialist out there but let me say this. The polygraph can not go into a persons mind and tell if that person is telling the truth or not. A machine has not been created that can accurately do that. There are people who lie and beat the polygraph and there are people who tell the truth and fail.

The polygraph is designed to look at physiological activities in a person. If a person answers a question and their heart rate increases then the machine will pick this up and the polygraph specialist may determine this as a person is being deceptive or is hiding something when the person could be just nervous about the line of questioning that question made them more uncomfortable or nervous then the rest. But there are times when the polygraph has been a helpful tool. Some swear by it others will say that its not effective. But the bottom line is that some who are being honest are sometimes caught in a situation where they were being honest but the readings on the machine and the polygraph specialist determined that the person was being deceptive or hiding something. If this happens then that person's offer of employment with that agency is rescinded.

The key to passing the polygraph is definitely being truthful. Completely truthful. I could explain the polygraph more but I do not have the time. But the key for success with the polygraph is to talk out anything that may bother you during the actual polygraph (when you are hooked up to the machine) before hand with the polygraph specialist. This can definitely help you deal with any anxiety or nervous feelings that can cause the machine to read something.

I hope this answers your question. Take care and I wish you much success.


Arlington, VA: Polygraphs are worthless. If you read the cases regarding spies in US going back to the early '70s a number of them with alphabet soup egencies to include the FBI passed numerous polys. I have friends who won big bets with retired DOD, NSA, FBI and CIA polygraphers regarding indicating deception. They can lie like big dog and come up no deception. People can be taught to passs a poly.

Reading non verbal cues is a much better for picking up on deceit than a machine but it invovles more training and is never admissable. -- A DOD adjudicator

Derrick Dortch: Good to hear from you my friend. Thanks for your comments on this issue.


Arlington, VA: Hello Derrick:

Getting back to an earlier question regarding polygraphs, what happens if one holds a DOD TS/SCI with a CI scope poly, but later tries to gain employment with an agency (such as NSA or CIA) which requires a full scope poly and fails the test? Is access to all classified information consequently revoked? Would this person retain their DOD access? Would this simply preclude one only from gaining employment with the agency which requires the full scope? Thanks!

Derrick Dortch: Hello Arlington,

If you already hold a clearance with DoD and you try to go through the CIA or NSA process and you fail there polygraph this does not take away your clearance or your polygraph with DoD. You just did not make these agencies process which are unique. Also just because you dont get through the first time does not mean you wont get through the second time around.

I hope this answers your question. Take care and I wish you much success.


Metro Center, D.C.: I know you're running out of time -- but any advice for my younger sister, who just graduated from college (degree in cultural area studies -- including anthropology and Chinese language studies)? She is fluent in Mandarin and also open to living in China. Any channels she can investigate for jobs with the government? Thanks!

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Tell her I said CONGRATULATIONS!!!

Go to and look at all agencies. Also have her look under Department of Commerce and look at International Trade Administration and other international agencies. Also have her look at State Department, USAID and the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The Intelligence Community would be very interested in her. Have her contact me directly at

I hope this helps. Take care and I wish you both much success!


Vienna, Va.: I always love your chats, you do a great job of answering people's questions. I'm not sure if you might have answered something similar to this already, but I am interested in applying for some of the USAID foreign service positions... do you have any suggestions for the application? I have a master's but I have been working for a non-profit for almost 3 years now, I'm worried I don't have the experience. Also, I've seen that you can apply for them now through Is that just a link that will take you to the usajobs site to fill out the application or is this an easier application process that doesn't have the dreaded KSA?

Derrick Dortch: My producer is giving me the cue to wrap it up. I will be answering this question and a couple of others and posting them next show. Thank you for stopping by and submitting both questions and great comments and advice. Till next time please be careful, enjoy summer and I wish you much success in your career, work and life. -- Derrick T. Dortch


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company