Government Careers

Derrick Dortch
Career counselor
Wednesday, August 19, 2009; 11:00 AM

Federal careers expert Derrick Dortch was online Wednesday, August 19, 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! Its been very hot the past couple of days so please do your best to stay cool. I am not going to delay one bit in getting to your questions. I want to make sure I get to as many as possible. Remember if you have any questions related to the government job search, security clearances, military transition and anything related to succeeding in your career, work and life then please ask. Also if you have any comments, information or advice that will be helpful please do share.

Thank you for stopping by and ENJOY THE SHOW!

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Dortch, your website The Diversa Group, did not have a profile. Can you tell us your background?

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC, Thanks for wanting to know more about me. The information is on the our website but under the About Us section. Go to this link and you can read my bio:


Washington, D.C.: Hi, are there any avenues for new (i.e. entry level) attorneys to enter the government other than through Honors programs?

Derrick Dortch: Hello Washington, DC

There are plenty of avenues to enter into federal and even state or local government as a entry level attorney. First since every agency has attorneys working for them in some capacity each agency will usually have a Office of Attorney Recruitment or a Attorney Recruitment Coordinator. This office or person may be under the Office of the General Counsel or may be in the HR (Human Resources) department. It all depends on the agency. The key for you is that you have to find these offices and begin to reach out to them and apply. I am included some agencies and their attorney recruitment information out there but you can find this same information at many other agencies and if you cant find it on their website then call. Not everything is always on the Internet. Sometimes you have to dig deeper.

Many times these agencies do not put this information up on USAJOBS. They will just have it on their website. If you only use USAJOBS as the source to find these jobs then you will sometimes miss out on some good opportunities. As you can see in the links I have included below the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is recruiting new attorneys and they are starting this month doing that.

What I would suggest is that that you think about the agencies you want to work for and do some research to see if they have an Office for Attorney Recruitment or a Attorney Recruitment Coordinator. When you find that office or that person then reach out, target your materials and then apply.

Now I did say you cant find all jobs on USAJOBS but you can definitely find a good deal of them. Do a keyword search under Attorney, Counsel, Legal, Law, etc and many legal jobs will come up. If you narrow your search down by salary and look at the lower end of the spectrum rather than the higher end of the salary range you will usually see the Attorney positions that are entry level. I have included one below.

Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management

Bureau of Prisons Attorney Recruitment

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)

New Attorney Hiring:The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) Law Department has completed its recruiting for the 2009 employment year. Five new attorneys will join the Law Department in the fall of 2009. Recruiting will resume in August 2009 for attorneys who will start work in 2010. Applications should be submitted by September 18, 2009 for full consideration. Interviews for these positions will be conducted at the OCC's Washington headquarters during October 2009 and successful candidates will be notified in November and December 2009

USPS Legal Careers

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) - Attorney

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Office of General Counsel - Attorney Recruitment

Attorney (General) Department: Department Of Defense Agency: Defense Logistics Agency

Job Announcement Number: HQDG-09-3338

SALARY RANGE: 30,721.00 - 113,007.00 USD /year OPEN PERIOD: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 to Tuesday, September 08, 2009

SERIES & GRADE: YA-0905-01/02 POSITION INFORMATION: Full-Time Permanent

PROMOTION POTENTIAL: 02 DUTY LOCATIONS: vacancy(s) in one of the following locations: 3 vacancies - Richmond, VA

WHO MAY BE CONSIDERED: Applications will be accepted from all groups of qualified individuals.


These are entry-level attorney positions. In order to be considered, applicants must have graduated in the top one-third (1/3) of their law school class and must provide evidence of same. Interested candidates are urged to read and follow this complete announcement, especially the qualifications and evaluation and how to apply tabs. Only complete application packages will be considered. Two vacancies will be filled immediately, however, an additional vacancy may be filled from this announcement at a later date.

As you can read they are trying to fill two positions immediately. This is good news because that means they will go into an aggressive hiring mode and bring people in for interviews soon. If you are one of those people you could be working for this agency by October/November depending if this position requires a clearance. If it doesn't then you could be working even sooner.

I hope this helps. Use your attorney research skills that you were taught and find these positions at various agencies of your interest.

Take care and I wish you much success.


Washington, D.C.: I have spent a great deal of time overseas working in areas of interest to the intelligence community. I was recently approached about the possibility of working for the government and, though I am interested, am a bit concerned that my time in college was not spent as productively as it could have been. How strictly do agencies keep to GPA requirements when considering candidates? Keep in mind that was more than two decades ago.

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Thanks for your question. If you are interested in the Intelligence Community and from what you have said it sounds like they would be very interested in you the key things they will be looking at is your experience especially if you have been out of school for quite some time and have a great deal of experience. The Central Intelligence Agency will use GPA as something they look at but its part of looking at the whole person. If your GPA is lower than 3.0 but your experience is amazing and very relevant then this is what will be looked at the most. The key for you is to make sure you show how relevant your experience is to agencies like CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) or others. Do not take for granted or assume that they will see it. Make sure you show how your experience directly relates to the process of gathering HUMINT (Human Intelligence) or whatever area you are interested in. Show the places you visited and worked in internationally and what you learned about the culture, politics, business, military, legal system, law enforcement and anything else. One of the most powerful things a person in the business of Intelligence can have is cultural intelligence: an understanding of how a culture operates and why they operate that way. It can be learned in books but not to the same degree as it can be learned from a person who has lived in that country and absorbed living and working in that culture everyday.

For you focus on building up and selling your experience the right way. GPA is looked at but you can overcome it with the right experience. If you need additional assistance contact me Take care and I wish you much success.


Manassas, Va.: I was very fortunate to score an interview for a federal positions (GS-11)... was actually called on Saturday for a Monday interview. I believe the interview went really well. What is a realistic time frame that I might hear back from them? They said they were hiring someone immediately.

Derrick Dortch: Congratulations Manassas, VA! That is good news. Realistically you should expect to hear something by the end of this week or next week at the max. If you do not hear something by the end of this week then on Monday I would give a follow up call to the HR Point of Contact. Just let them know you are following up and wanted to know what were the next stages of the process. Ask some key questions about number of people who they expect to hire, when should you hear back and from who, ask if you can call back if you have more questions, ask if you are not selected are their more positions that will be open in this office. When you get this person on the phone ask as many questions as you need to and you may also continue to do a soft sell of yourself and restate in a very subtle manner why you are the best person for this position. Be very polite, very gracious and very charming. Make the HR person remember you in a positive way. The key is to make a great impression so that this person will not mind helping you. You should hear something soon but do not hesitate to call on Monday. Interviews usually go on for 1 - 2 weeks. When you call you can find out if they are still in that process and you can ask what is the timeline and when should you call back to find out your status. You don't want to be annoying but you want to get good information that will help you in your decision making process. Also write down your questions so you can make sure you get them all asked and answered. I find that when people do not write the questions down they will forget to ask something they really wanted to know.

One last note, do not stop your job search. Keep pressing forward with applying to positions. It is great news that you got the interview but do now stop looking until you are given a final offer and you have a start date. Even when you have a conditional offer of employment (COE) you need to continue to press forward with your search. I have seen COE's withdrawn for budget reasons, for clearance reasons and for other issues. So be happy but also be wise and keep on searching and applying to positions of interest. Since you got the interview that must mean you are doing something right. Keep improving on that process and push forward.

Let me know how things work out. Take care and I wish you much success. I hope you hear good news soon.


Washington, D.C.: As a 20-year-federal employee with 15-year-private-sector work before that, I am some what amazed by the articles, letters, and blogs about federal hiring. Not to say that there aren't problems with the system, but many of the complaints are about how the system is not like in the private sector. I think that those comments show a misunderstanding of federal employment. If the hiring drives you nuts, the job will do worse. Federal employment is not just a private sector job with better benefits, not withstand many HR department claims. The first thing I tell anyone who asks about joining the federal ranks is "Go read the Hatch Act and after that download an OGE450 form, fill it out and see if you wouldn't mind having in put on the web". One of the biggest problems in the Federal service is too many people who see it as a way to enhance their career, there are already enough Schedule Cs with that attitude.

Derrick Dortch: Thank you for your commments. I would agree that there are some people in the federal government and looking for employment with the federal government for the wrong reasons. Working as a Federal Employee means you are a public servant. This means you have decided to dedicate your career to helping citizens of the United States solve problems, get the help they need, develop new things that will benefit our country, its people and the world. It should not be a job you just get into because you wanted a stable job with good benefits. It should be because you want to be of service to your country. Being a federal employee is something special and I think everyone needs to know this.

So for anyone reading this I encourage that you get into the federal government for the right reasons. Get into it because you really care and want to be of service to our citizens. The majority of federal workers I have met, talked to, interviewed and seen the work they do are truly amazing. Our government does so many great things that many people do not know about but trust me they do.

I think many people are frustrated with the hiring process because of some of lack of responses and because of the length of the process but I do agree that it does not have to be like the private sector. The key thing is that its an effective process of hiring and we all have to work towards that goal.

Thanks for your comments DC and thank you for your service as a federal employee. Reach out to me at some point please. I would love to talk to you.


Gainesville, Va.: In applying for federal positions, I have been told on three jobs that though I made the referred group, I had no chance of an interview because there was one or more veterans in the referred group. From what I'm told by HR representatives, if a veteran is in the referrals he or she must be interviewed first and others in the referred group can only be interviewed if the department can explain why the veteran shouldn't be hired. Is this accurate? If so, what are a non-veteran's chances of getting an interview?

Derrick Dortch: Hello Gainsville, VA,

Thank you for this great question. I am very torn on this because I see both sides. Being that I am a veteran I am very much so Pro-Veteran and because so many do sacrifice I do want them to get the opportunities to get into the government. But I also work with clients who are very much so qualified and are sometimes the best qualified but because a veterans is on the list and has their veterans preference points they end up trumping the non-veteran.

To deal with this there are two simple things I am going to suggest.

1. Enhance your self-marketing materials more. Make sure that your federal resume, KSAs and any other materials you use for applying to positions are getting the maximum amount of points that you can get. Leave nothing to chance. Make sure you have the success stories that are relevant that have the keywords in them but show very clearly and in a powerful and persuasive way that you have what they are looking for and that you are the best candidate. Make sure you get as many points as possible. Since people on the Referal List that goes to the selecting official are on a point system this means you want to get 100 point or as close as possible. If a veteran is at 92 and you add on a 5 points preference and you get a 98 then you will still be on that referral list and will get sent up the selecting official for them to evaluate you and then hopefully call you in for an interview.

2. Network and Build Relationships. If you have received word that you have made the referral list three times that means you are doing something right. I know its frustrating that you are not getting sent up but do no let it stop you. What I want you to do is to keep in touch with the HR points of contact at the agencies you have been applying to. Build a relationship. Tell them that you are still interested. Keep in touch and keep on plugging away. They may be able to help you get in the door.

3. Excepted Service Agencies. You may want to target some positions at Excepted Service Agencies. These agencies are excluded from the competitive civil service procedures. This means that these agencies have their own hiring system which establishes the evaluation criteria they use in filling their internal vacancies. These agencies are called excepted service agencies.

Now under Veterans Preference it says the following: Preference applies in hiring from civil service examinations, for most excepted service jobs, and when agencies make temporary appointments or use delegated examining authorities from the U. S. Office of Personnel Management.

Now given the fact that its does not say all expected service jobs means that there are some positions where Veterans Preference does not apply. You just have to find those positions. Here is a list of some expected service agencies:

These are some tips right here. There are more but I do not have time to list them all. What I want you to know is that you are close. Do not give up. I have worked with clients before where we kept runnning into this problem but eventually we helped them get in the door so I know its possible.

If you have more questions please contact me at Take care and I wish you much success.


Washington, D.C.: A current posting says that you must have a current clearance, but the Key requirements state: "US citizenship required, may require a one year probation period". Does this mean you cannot apply for a clearance and the job is closed to you if you don't already work in the Federal Government?

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Thanks for your questions. Most positions in the federal government do require you to be a citizen of the United States. I say most because there are a few that will allow Green Card holders to apply. With the clearance the government will clear you by putting you through the security clearance process once you get a conditional offer of employment (COE). Most jobs unless they say otherwise are open to all U.S. Citizens. Always look at the WHO MAY BE CONSIDERED section on the job announcement and it will state clearly if you need to be a current or former federal worker to apply.

If it is open to all U.S. Citizens it will say something like this:


ALL UNITED STATES CITIZENS MAY APPLY. This includes applicants who have never worked for the Federal Government; all current and former Federal employees; applicants eligible for non-competitive appointments under Special Hiring Authorities; veterans who are a preference eligible or who have appointment eligibility under VRA; and Federal displaced employees in the commuting area. (ICTAP/CTAP Eligibles)

If it is not open to all U.S. Citizens it will say something like this:



All current or former federal employees with competitive/reinstatement eligibility, ICAP/CTAP eligibles in the local commuting area and Veteran Employment Opportunity Act (VEOA) eligibles. Again, most positions are open to all U.S. Citizens. If you go to USAJOBS, or other places and find the federal jobs look for the area where it tells you who may apply and then you can see if its open to you.

The next thing you want to do is look at the duties and then the qualifications and evaluation sections and make sure you are qualified for the job. If you are make sure you develop a very powerful, persuasive, targeted package that will sell you and prove that you are the best qualified person. If you are not qualified keep looking till you find that position that fits you.

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


Virginia: Hello, sir. You often mentioned to go to HR and talk to the HR staff but they are in secure buildings and none will return my calls or emails. Advice?

Derrick Dortch: Hello VA,

Yes I do mention that people should go and talk to HR staff. Most federal agencies will have security in there building but unless its a place that is dealing with classified information then you can get into that building and go to HR office. If you see an office location and address for that HR office on the job announcement and its somewhere where you can mail your package then what does it hurt to go in person instead of mailing. This does take homework. Most defense, intelligence or homeland security related agencies will not allow you to enter into their building without being cleared by someone but for the others its usually just you going there and stating that you want to go to the HR office and if they can direct you.

As far as calling is concerned. Many times you will not get a call back. I honestly do not think its personal. I think the HR people in many offices are honestly overwhelmed. The key is that you have to be persistent. I know that this happens with me as well. Sometimes there is so much going on that I cant get to people the way I would like to do so but there have been people who have been persistent and I did definitely talk to them and did try to provide assistance that turned out to be helpful. If you are persistent in a nice and professional and respsectful way then you can usually get the help you need. Keep calling. Try early morning and during the close of the day. Many HR will stay later than 4:30 so try around 4:30, 5 or 6 pm and see what happens. Do not give up, especially if its an agency you really want to work for.

Same goes for email. Do not send emails each week but if you send one and its not responded to wait a couple of week and try again. But again always remain nice, respectful and professional. There is nothing that turns off people more than someone who will go into attack mode and go off. That will not yield positive results for you most times.

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


Los Angeles, Calif.: Thank you for giving your time to answer our questions, Mr. Dortch. I'm wondering how difficult it is to move up, either through promotion or a complete job change once one has secured a federal job. I ask because I am currently being considered for an admin-level position, which is in line with my work history but I would eventually like to move toward HR, which I do have a background in but only as an admin. I'm concerned about being locked in to an admin-level role without opportunity to grow or change which has been the case in my current (private-sector) job. I'm hoping opportunities will be more accessible with the government and would love to hear your thoughts/advice. Thank you!

Derrick Dortch: Hello LA,

How much and how fast you move up is really up to you. The key for you is that if you decide that you are going to enter the government as an Admin you have to determine what you want to leave the government as. What is your goal? If you say its HR then you need to begin developing a plan to get you over there. You may start taking HR classes, join SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), ask if you can do a special detail in the HR department, work with your manager on hiring people, and much more. The key is to develop a what I call Career Success Strategy and Action Plan that will focus on systematically and strategically helping you get to your goal. Part of this is also getting to know the right people who see your potential. Getting a good mentor who is a supervisor or executive (SES) in government and have them guide you. \

I hope you get my point. Its really up to you how far and fast you advance. If you do take this position develop your strategy and plan and start working it. Do your work but also remember to make your career a priority as well.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you get the position. Take care and I wish you much success.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Derrick, at what point in the process do you apply for a clearance? My brother is looking for a federal job but has fairly bad credit (mostly due to student loan debt that he has now gotten on track). He's worried about his ability to get a clearance because of this but still wants to try for job at this particular agency. I'm concerned that the clearance process won't start until his current job is already aware that he's planning to leave. Then what if he doesn't get the clearance and, therefore, doesn't get the federal job AND loses his current job. And then, of course, winds up in my basement. Can you shed some light on the timing for us? Thanks.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Arlington, VA,

Thanks for your question. You get to the clearance process after you have received a Condtional Offer of Employment (COE) from an agency or government contractor that requires you to have a clearance for that position. One you get the COE then you will receive the SF-86 (National Security Questionnaire) or be required to complete the electronic version of it. After you complete and submit the National Security Questionnaire this is when the clearance process begins.

Now what i suggest for your brother is that he looks at clearing up and dealing with his credit and financial issues now while he applying to federal positions. He can do both simultaneously but he needs to show that he has been accountable for his actions and he is working on clearing up his financial problems. I would also suggest that he fill out the SF-86 and go through some pre-clearance counseling first to determine what are all the things that need to be adddressed before applying to positions that require a clearance. If those things are address in advance it can save him from being denied a clearance.

If you go to you can find the SF-86. Unfortunately I have to wrap it up so if you have more questions about pre-clearance counseling then please contact me at

Take care and I wish your brother much success.


Arlington, Va.: I had an interview with a government agency last week. They mentioned they would probably make a decision this week. Too early to call to follow up?

Derrick Dortch: Congratulations on the interview. Call the week they said they would make the decision. I would say call tomorrow.


Derrick Dortch: Wow, time flies. Well my producer is telling me to wrap it up so we have to go but we will be back in two weeks to answer more of your questions. Thank you for stopping by today and as usual I want to thank my Producer Sakina and I want to say congratulations to my former Editor Amy who is taking a new position. We all wish her the best and much success :-)

Till the next time take care, be careful and I wish you much success in your career, work and life.


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.

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