Government Careers

Derrick Dortch
Career counselor
Wednesday, September 30, 2009; 11:00 AM

Federal careers expert Derrick Dortch was online Wednesday, September 30, 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! We have another beautiful day out there after getting some rain. Its good to see the Sun out. Well we are going to have a great show today. Let me share a couple things that are happening before we get started.

There is going to be a Hiring Fair sponsored by OPM and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RATB) - Here are the detail below:

Economic Recovery Hiring Fair

If you are interested in working for the Federal Government, the world's most diverse and progressive employer, we want to meet you in Washington DC. OPM and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RATB) are partnering with other Federal agencies to fill jobs in the D.C area, help individuals find work, and support economic recovery. The positions listed on this site are ones Federal agencies have identified to be filled at the Economic Recovery Hiring Fair. This Fair will be held on Tuesday, October 27, 2009.

To be considered for these positions, you must apply on-line prior to the closing of the selected announcement. Those individuals whose qualifications place them among the best qualified will receive consideration for an invitation to attend the Economic Recovery Hiring Fair, and they will be interviewed right on the spot by the Hiring Manager. If you are invited, you must attend the fair to be interviewed and considered for the position. Any expenses you incur to attend the fair will be your responsibility.

The Federal Government is one of the leaders in Telework. OPM submitted its reports to Congress about the Telework Program and how agencies are doing. For many who are looking for work/life balance and are trying to keep there 1 - 3 hour commute times each way to work to a minimum Telework is oftentimes the answer. It also can save some agencies money and can be good in keeping the retention rates for quality employees high. You can find more on Telework at:

Telework Report to Congress

In February 2009, seventy-eight Executive Branch agencies submitted data on their telework programs to the Office of Personnel Management. These data represent telework participation and related activities between January 1 and December 31, 2008.

Agencies have been submitting these reports to OPM since 2001, tracking the progress of telework implementation as the agencies have created and refined their programs and policies. Trends have remained relatively stable over time, with incremental increases and occasional decreases showing overall slow but steady growth.

For 2008, agencies reported that:

  • 102,900 employees were teleworking
  • 64% of these employees were teleworking relatively frequently (either 1-2 days a week,or 3 or more days per week)
  • Almost half of the agencies had not fully integrated telework into their Continuity of Operations (COOP) planning
  • Office coverage and management resistance were considered the largest barriers to implementation

Here is where you can find and download the full report:

For those interested in become a Senior Executive for the Federal Government this article and the data will be of interest to you:

More senior executives are earning bigger bonuses

By Alyssa Rosenberg,

September 29, 2009

More members of the Senior Executive Service are receiving top performance ratings and their bonuses are growing as well, according to new data released by the Office of Personnel Management.

Well without any further delay let me get to answering your questions. If you have any questions related to the federal job search, writing federal resumes and KSAs, getting a security clearance, military transition and more please send your questions in. I will respond to as many people as possible. Also if anyone has any comments, advice or a good tip they want to share please do not hesitate to do so.

Thank you so very much for stopping by the show. You are truly appreciated. ENJOY!!!


Denver, Colo.: How difficult is it for a person with no prior government experience and no veteran points to get into US Federal positions at the GS13 + and ES levels? If you get back a rating of 93 or 98 is this good enough to get a call?

Derrick Dortch: Hello Denver

I would not say it's difficult but I would say it's not always easy. I have helped a good number of people get positions at 13 - 15 and SES levels. I have also talked to a good number of people in the senior ranks for government who came from the private, non-profit/NGO, military, educational or health care sectors and went on to get a senior level position in government. What I have found is the key to doing this is that you have to

1. Have experience that is very strongly related and a very good match to what the agency is looking for. Sometimes its not just enough to have management experience. You have to have management experience in a related industry or you have to show that your management experience was significant enough and powerful enough that you can come into an agency and become a good supervisor, manager or executive. I will give you an example.

Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) Chief Executive Timothy Cox came from working all of his career in the private sector running retirement homes. When the position became available to he was tapped to run AFRH. You can hear about his career and AFRH here when I interviewed him on my radio show:

His experience was directly related to the agency and the needs of organization so it was a natural fit. More people than you realize do come in from other sectors into these positions.

2. When applying to these positions it also pays to know people. Networking is also very important if you want to move into these positions. I have also seen many positions that are opened up for a few days only because they selecting official already knew who they wanted in that position but they had to make it look as if it was open. Some do not like it but honestly its the name of the game in all sectors so we just have to find ways to work with it or around it. The key for you is that you network and develop enough relationships with people so you are the one that position is for.

3. One final point that I want to make is that you have to make sure you develop powerful, persuasive, targeted self-marketing materials (federal resume, KSAs, cover letters, networking letters, portfolio, etc) that will truly sell you and show that you are the best qualified person. Many people take developing a solid package for granted and it costs them opportunities at times. Make sure your package truly sells you and makes stand out as the best qualified.

Make sure you target positions that are right for you. This means ones you are truly qualified for and make sure you target your package to those positions. You can get there by doing these steps above. Take care and I wish you much success.


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Dortch,

I am in my mid 20's and have three years of experience in government affairs. I also have my MA in International Affairs and while in graduate school I interned at the Department of Commerce. I would very much like to work for the government. Although I have a background in IR, I unfortunately do not speak another language. Is there, in your opinion, a place for me working in the (non political jobs) Federal government in D.C.? My Govt affairs work has been bipartisan, so not just for one party or the other. I'm interested in DOC, but I also have extensive experienc working on criminal justice issues. What type of job should I be looking for? Public affairs? Program positions?

I would appreciate any advice that you might give. Also, should someone like me consider hiring a service to help me along in this process of applying for Federal positions? Thank you!

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Thanks for your question. You have a few things going for you that you can leverage. 1. Your Masters Degree and the work you did while in school. 2. The DOC internship 3. Your network from your Graduate School. 4. It sounds like you have some work experience that can be used in making you more competitive.

I will get to these in a few minutes. In terms of position and agencies you should focus on I would recommend that you open the door to the full International Affairs, International Development, Foreign Policy, International Business, and National Security arena within federal government.

Within Department of Commerce you have the International Trade Administration and Bureau of Industry and Security.

You also have the usual suspects like State Department and USAID but beyond that you have agencies like the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and African Development Foundation (ADF) and others.

Within all agencies there is an International Affairs office.

Within Department of Defense you have the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (ISA)and his/her office and the programs they manage.

Within the Intelligence Community the majority of work that that the CIA, DIA and other agencies do is international.

Here are some other agencies who do international work;

Department of Energy

Export-Import Bank

Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS)

Agency for International Development (USAID)

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)

Small Business Administration

Department of State

U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA)

Office of Foreign Assets Control

United States Trade Representative

I go through all of this to show you that there are many opportunities out there for you. The key for you is to really think about what you are passionate about. If its international development then think about what agencies are doing that work and begin targeting them. If it national security think about what agencies you want to target and then go for those.

Once you have determined your passions and interests within the federal government then you can match them with agencies and begin the process of seeing what positions at these agencies will match you. It could be a Program Analyst or Intelligence Officer. It could be anything from something in a policy shop to something dealing with compliance. I am not sure but once you determine the target the positions will become more clear for you.

Think about the reason you pursued your graduate degree. There had to be some reason why you went in that direction. Some driving force. Think about that and define your true passions and interests and match them.

Titles can be deceptive in the Federal Government so I recommend you take time and read through position announcements and not just focus in on titles. Program Analyst or Assistant can mean many different things depending on the agency who is positing that job.

Now with points I mentioned above. Take time and think about your graduate work. What papers did you write, what research did you do? Does any of that apply to the agencies you are interested in. I would think and hope so. If it does then you need to pull out your research in your resume under it own section so people can see the work you did in graduate school and how it relates. A degree is just a degree unless you show people what you did while in school.

Next you have a good number of network contacts you need to tap. Between the DOC and your alumni network from your schools you need to develop a network list and begin reaching out and talking to people who are in government. Talk to your former supervisor from DOC. Ask your Alumni Office for a list of Alums who work for the federal government. Then break that list down by those who work for various agencies of interest and then begin reaching out. Let them know your interest, talk to them about their careers, show them your resume, get advice, ask about opportunities, etc.

You have to network in this town.

Last take a look at your experiences and see if they relate to what you want to get into. If you are dealing with justice issue it might relate very nicely depending on the target. Find a way to tell your success stories and make your experience relate to the target.

There is so much more but I have to move on to other questions. I hope this helps steer you in the right direction. If you need more assistance contact me at

Take care and I wish you much success.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Are you aware of anything unique about applying for jobs at CMS? (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services). Thanks!

Derrick Dortch: Hello Minneapolis, MN,

I do not know of anything special or unique with Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) when it comes to hiring. Each agency has their own way of doing things but CMS's process is no different then most agencies. What I do know is that they are hiring.

You can find career information here:

If you want to work for this agency I would recommend that you begin targeting positions there and also reach out the the HR office and get a point of contact. Ask that person about the best way to apply, what positions do they expect to be hiring for in the future, and anything else relevant. Keep in touch with this HR POC and become more than just a name to them. Become a person they see as truly interested and as someone who will be a good hire. Make an impression with both your Federal Resume and other other self-marketing materials and with the way you conduct yourself.

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


Washington, D.C.: Thank you for the information you provided. I am a mid-level professional interested in applying for an SES position but find the application process overwhelming. Can you recommend some resources that can help me better prepare my package?

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

The SES process can be quite intimidating. Let me recommend two things. First go to the OPM's (Office of Personnel Management) SES website:

There is some good information as well a guide you can download that is helpful.

Second, if you are serious I would recommend that you get help from either someone you know who is in the SES ranks or you may need to hire a consultant to work with you on developing your Federal Resume, KSAs or PTQs (Professional Technical Qualifications or Technical Qualifications), and your ECQs (Executive Core Qualifications).

Doing this is an extensive project but its worth the investment if this is a serious endeavor for you.

Also you want to make sure you are qualified for the job. What a mid level or senior mid level person is making in salary ($150,000 and up) may be equivalent to what and SES is making. Do not go by salary. Go by the level of responsibility you have had and if you meet the qualifications they are asking for.

If you need a list of companies who assist in preparing SES packages then please contact me at

Take care and I wish you much success on this endeavor.


Washington, D.C.: I have a question about gaps in employment history.

I am currently looking for a new job. I have been out of work for 3 years. I quit my assistant property management position to play poker the past 3 years. I decided to go back and find a real job because my daughter is getting older and playing poker doesn't offer benefits. The money was really good, just going through some hard times now.

My question is, when I score an interview, what do I say to the interviewer when asked, "Why so long a gap in employment," I don't think the appropriate answer would be, because I was a degenerate gambler the past 3 years.

Any advise would be great. Thanks.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Washington, DC,

I need to look into this poker thing (smile). I know someone else who does that and make a good living at it. What I would recommend that you say is that you took time off from work to help raise your daughter. Many men these days stay home and take care of the kids. This is becoming less rare and is not an answer that anyone would question in detail. That is the simple answer.

If someone began to probe deeper then you can just say that you used your savings and you also made some investments that paid off and that was what you were able to live off of. You do not have to mention you were doing poker. If you do there is nothing wrong with it as long as it was legal.

Also doing poker is like you had your own business for a few years. You invested your money in the business of poker and use your strategic thinking and analytical skills to win. There are many ways you can spin it without begin deceptive or you do not have to spin it at all and you can say that you took the time off to help raise your daughter.

Either way is fine and should not pose a problem. Depending on the person they might find the poker story quite intriguing and entertaining. You have to determine when its best to use it and when its not.

I hope this helps. If you have more questions please contact me at Take care and I wish you much success with your job search.


Washington, D.C.: I'm contemplating an offer from the Federal Government. There is little change in salary, the leave is comparable, and the health insurance is about the same. The job would be more secure than my current position and would be interesting, but I'm assuming the mobility and promotion potential is less than in the government contracting firm where I work now.

What are your thoughts on the general pros and cons of working for the Federal Government? It's the right move for many people, but not all and so I want to make sure I examine both sides before I decide.

Derrick Dortch: Hello D.C.,

Thanks for your question. In my opinion I do not feel that government service is for everyone. There are many who get into for the wrong reasons. For some they are focused on stability and having a job where they feel they do not have to work as hard. I understand having stability but I feel that those who work for the government should see their work as a calling. They are the ones who are out helping citizens in need, helping to keep our country safe, helping to make businesses succeed, helping to cure diseases, and helping to keep everyone safe from criminal and bringing those who have committed crimes to justice. To me government service is just about that. Its about being a servant to the people. There are many in government who do get this and believe in this but there are some who dont and to me those are the ones who should not be working for the government. The stakes are too high to have people working in our government who do not see their work as critical and who do not see that they should go above and beyond the call of duty to help citizens of our country.

Now let me move beyond the patriotism and get to your question. For you I think you have to weigh out if you think you will enjoy government work just as much as the work you do in contracting. I think I would safely say that if you get into a position and agency you love then yes you would and I do think that is very possible.

And if you do step in and decide that the work is not for you then you can always leave government service and go back to the government contracting world or another sector.

Government does provide more stability than the government contracting world but I think the key for you is to begin putting yourself out there and testing the waters.

If you do have contacts, friends or family who work for the government begin asking them questions. Take a look at sites like and look at agencies to see who are ranked high. Begin applying to positions and when you are interviewed you interview the interviewers and find out if the agency and position is right for you.

I think you need to go into an intense process of career exploration so that you can find out for yourself if government is the right move. Think about what you need and want in a new position. Some government agencies provide a great deal of flexibility, growth and new leadership opportunities and much more. TSA and DIA are two agencies I can name off the top of my head who I have seen people come in one way and they have been promoted taking on new duties and projects and received significant increases in salaries over a few years.

Think about that and if you need more assistance in weighing this out please contact me at Take care and I wish you much success.


Anonymous: What is the federal policy about depression diagnoses/anti-depressant use? What happens if a person with a Top Secret Clearance gets a depression diagnosis and needs medication? Will they lose their clearance? Or do they just need to report that they have the diagnosis and are taking medication? Does the type of medication matter--anti-anxiety vs. anti-depression?

Derrick Dortch: Hello,

I don't have time to answer this question in full since I am being told we have to close but let me give you some information. The following is what the Adjudication Desk Reference (ADR), the reference Adjudicators use to make suitability decisions on whether you are eligible for a clearance or not. This is what it it says about Mental Health/Psychological Conditions:

Psychological Conditions

Relevance to Security

Mental health is a security concern because it influences how a person perceives the world, makes decisions, and manages stress. The fact that an individual has had, or continues to have, an emotional, mental, or psychological condition does not, by itself, preclude granting access to classified information. The issue is whether the individual's condition causes, or may cause, poor judgment or unreliable, untrustworthy, or dysfunctional behavior.

Many people, perhaps most people, experience some form of stress that threatens their self-image at some time in their lives. They experience failure to compete effectively with their peers; perceive injustice at the hands of a supervisor or employing organization; are terminated from a job under circumstances that prompt resentment; feel rejected or betrayed by a spouse; confront serious financial or medical problems; or are tempted by a seemingly easy opportunity for illegal monetary gain.

Emotionally stable and well-adjusted individuals generally respond to these experiences in positive ways: by learning from them, adjusting their expectations, working harder, or sticking with their core values. Individuals who are unstable or poorly adjusted, have a significant character weakness, or suffer from mental illness may react in ways that are self-destructive, counterproductive, or illegal. They may harm the organization by actions that run the gamut from absenteeism to self-serving decisions, theft, fraud, sabotage, or espionage.

Potentially Disqualifying Conditions

Extract from the Guideline

(a) behavior that casts doubt on an individual's judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness that is not covered under any other guideline, including but not limited to emotionally unstable, irresponsible, dysfunctional, violent, paranoid, or bizarre behavior;

(b) an opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional that the individual has a condition not covered under any other guideline that may impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness;

(c) the individual has failed to follow treatment advice related to a diagnosed emotional, mental, or personality condition, e.g., failure to take prescribed medication.


The potentially disqualifying conditions are quite general. Some of the more specific circumstances that may be disqualifying under these guidelines include the following:

* History of violent or abusive behavior toward spouse, children, elders, or work associates.

* Behaviors such as compulsive gambling, compulsive sexual behavior, compulsive lying. A behavior is compulsive when it is beyond a person's control, i.e., the person continues to engage in it despite adverse medical, legal, social, family, or work consequences.

* Abnormal preoccupation with or irresponsible use of weapons.

* Observed symptoms of a possible emotional or mental problem. Symptoms are listed in the section entitled Clinical Indicators of Potential Emotional or Mental Problem.

* Taking a prescription drug that has side effects of potential security concern. See the section entitled Controlling Disorders with Drugs.

* Refusal to take medical/psychiatric tests when so directed by competent authority.

Mitigating Conditions

Extract from the Guideline

(a) the identified condition is readily controllable with treatment, and the individual has demonstrated ongoing and consistent compliance with the treatment plan;

(b) the individual has voluntarily entered a counseling or treatment program for a condition that is amenable to treatment, and the individual is currently receiving counseling or treatment with a favorable prognosis by a duly qualified mental health professional;

(c) recent opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional employed by, or acceptable to and approved by the U.S. Government that an individual's previous condition is under control or in remission, and has a low probability of recurrence or exacerbation;

(d) the past emotional instability was a temporary condition (e.g., one caused by death, illness, or marital breakup), the situation has been resolved, and the individual no longer shows indications of emotional instability;

(e) there is no indication of a current problem.


The following points elaborate on the above potentially disqualifying conditions:

* Controllable with Treatment: Depression is perhaps the most common example of a condition that is controllable with treatment. The required period of compliance may depend upon the severity of the symptoms that would be expected if the individual failed to take the prescribed medication. Long-term continuation of the medication must be medically practical and must be expected to preclude recurrence of any condition that may affect judgment or reliability.

* Voluntary Counseling or Treatment: The individual has voluntarily entered a counseling or treatment program for a condition that is amenable to treatment, and the individual is currently receiving counseling or treatment with a favorable prognosis by a duly qualified mental health professional approved by or acceptable to the U.S. Government (i.e., the adjudicative facility). The fact that an individual has entered treatment voluntarily, without it being required by a supervisor or a court, is a definite plus. It shows that an individual is aware of the problem and trying to deal with it. This mitigation would apply only to an individual who already has a clearance, not to a new applicant. An employer has an obligation to help an employee who develops a problem while on the job, but no such obligation to hire a new employee who already has a mental health problem.

* Professional Opinion: This mitigating condition is used when a duly qualified mental health professional determines that a known previous condition is now under control or in remission and has a low probability of recurrence or becoming worse.

* Temporary Condition: Traumatic personal circumstances often cause a temporary condition that requires some counseling or treatment but is not a security concern. If such a condition has not been resolved within six months, however, this suggests the possibility of a longer term condition.

* No Current Problem: This mitigating condition is used when the adjudicator or a duly qualified mental health professional determines that the reported information is not really a security concern.


Derrick Dortch: Well I am getting the cue to close up for today. We will be back in two weeks for another show. Thank you for everyone who participated in today's show by either submitting questions or watching the discussion. I know I can take a long time but I try to make sure I answer questions fully. So please bare with me. Its all to make sure that we help as many people succeed as possible.

Thank you again to all of you and I will see you in two weeks. Till then, please take care and be safe. 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.

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