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Government Careers

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Derrick Dortch
Career counselor
Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 11:00 AM

Federal careers expert Derrick Dortch was online Wednesday, October 14, 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.

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Derrick Dortch: Good Morning, Good Morning! Its getting chilly/cold but any day we are living is another beautiful day in my book. I hope all of you are doing excellent. I am going to kick into high gear and start answering questions today. Next show I will have some good information that you need to stay tuned on about where we will see federal jobs for 2010.

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!!!

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Washington, D.C.: I know a person with a felon confiction on their record. What are his chances of pursuing a govt career?

Derrick Dortch: Hello Washington, DC,

The quick answer to your question is that a person with a felony conviction can work for the federal government. There are some positions that will not allow a person with a felony to work for them. Many of these agencies are law enforcement or justice related. For example the FBI will not allow a person with a felony to work for them. When you start the application process with these agencies you should check first to make sure. The way you do this is by either going to the actual agency website and looking at their career or employment page and look to see if there are any disqualifiers for you working for them. Just for example. If you look at the FBI Jobs page (FBIJOBS.gov) then will see a section that says disqualifiers. In that section it will clearly state the following:

EMPLOYMENT DISQUALIFIERS

There are specific elements that will automatically disqualify job candidates for employment with the FBI. The FBI Employment Disqualifiers are:

Conviction of a felony

Use of illegal drugs in violation of the FBI Employment Drug Policy (see the FBI Employment Drug Policy http://fbijobs.gov/52.asp for more details)

Default of a student loan (insured by the U.S. Government)

Failure of an FBI-administered urinalysis drug test

Failure to register with the Selective Service System (for males only)

Please note that if you are disqualified by any of the above tests, you are not eligible for employment with the FBI. All of these disqualifiers are extensively researched during the FBI Background Investigation Process http://fbijobs.gov/53.asp. Please make sure you can meet FBI employment requirements and pass all disqualifiers before you apply for an FBI position.

But read closely. This only says that these are employment disqualifiers for the FBI not the Federal Government. Each agency can have their own rules. The majority of agencies will not disqualify a person with a felony but you may want to call the HR office and check if you are unsure or you may want to apply and then if you are required to get a clearance then you can state that you had a felony then. The key is to be honest. Remember most law enforcement related agencies or law enforcement positions will not allow someone with a clearance to work for them but other agencies who are federal will.

Let me even give you more examples. Here are a couple of cases from those who have to apply to get a security clearance and who had a felony conviction on their record. I will give you two cases that have been cleared and the clearance was granted and they are now working as a DOD contractor and two cases that a person did not get cleared and the clearance was denied.

CLEARANCE GRANTED

Personal Conduct; Criminal Conduct

Applicant had an aggressive driving charge in 2002 which was dismissed. In 2005, he was arrested for disobeying a police officer, reckless driving and fleeing and eluding. He was found guilty of fleeing (second degree felony). He completed 100 hours of community service and his probation. He has been driving almost 20 years and has no other incidents. He has held a security clearance for many years. His omission to Section 23 on his security clearance application was not deliberate. He has mitigated the personal conduct and criminal conduct concerns for a security clearance. Clearance is granted.

Criminal; Personal Conduct

Applicant is a 56 year old Access I.D. and Parking Lead for a defense contractor. She has been employed in the defense industry for 32 years. She was arrested and charged in October 2004, for (1) Possession Narcotic Controlled Substance, a felony (2) Under the Influence Alcohol/Drug in Vehicle, and (3) .08% More Weight Alcohol Driving Vehicle. She was convicted of drunk driving. She has no history of alcohol abuse or drug abuse and she has never been arrested before or following this incident. She has no security violations. Sufficient mitigation has been shown. Clearance is granted

CLEARANCE DENIED

Criminal Conduct; Personal Conduct

Applicant is a XX-year-old systems engineer. His 19XX reckless homicide conviction (a felony), coupled with the seven speeding tickets he has accumulated since then, create doubts as to his judgment, reliability, and ability to comply with laws, rules and regulations. His speeding tickets undercut his claims of successful rehabilitation. Clearance is denied.

Criminal Conduct; Drugs; Financial; Personal Conduct

Applicant was convicted of five offenses spanning a 10-year period, the most recent conviction in 2007 for a drug-related felony. He falsified answers on his security clearance application by failing to disclose the full extent of his criminal history and indebtedness. He resolved his indebtedness after his hearing. Although mitigating financial considerations concerns, Applicant failed to mitigate security concerns pertaining to criminal conduct, drug involvement, and personal conduct. Clearance is denied.

These are just two cases but you can find more at:

http://www.dod.mil/dodgc/doha/industrial/

Based on these cases you can sometime determine where you stand and what you need to do to avoid getting denied a clearance for a government job, whether it is low or high level.

My recommendation is that the person you know should apply to Federal jobs (except law enforcement and a few others). Tell them to check out the agency first and see if they say that there are any disqualifiers. If there are not any, they should apply just like any other applicant. If they have served their time then in most cases they have paid their debt to society.

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

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Washington, D.C.: I am more than qualified for the positions I apply for on USAJOBS.com, however, I'm never selected for an interview. I have studied all of the KSA writing tips and have even taken KSA writing classes to no avail.

I don't have a degree, however, I am smarter than all of my friends that have federal jobs. I have more experience and a longer work history to boot.

How do I qualify for a Federal position? Shouldn't work experience count for the lack of a college degree?

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Thanks for your question, and I am sorry for your frustration. Do not give up on your search. If you are qualified it must be something in your package (Federal Resume, KSAs, cover letters, etc.) that is not selling you sufficiently and pulling you above the competition. And remember there is a lot of competition out there for all Federal jobs.

I would suggest you take a good look at your self-marketing materials and your search strategy and rethink it. If you are qualified for these positions there is probably some tweaking and improvements you can do and make that will make a difference in your search and the responses you get.

Here is an answer I have given before but its relevant to your question. Experience is where you get your most points in a Federal application so you do have to really pull relevant experiences out for the agency you are targeting to see. You have to really pull out your success stories and achievements in a way that goes beyond just bullet points. You have to tell your story and what makes you best qualified. Take a look at this information below and I hope it helps.

The key to successfully doing a government job search is applying what I call the "TP3 Method to the Federal Job Search": T -- Target the right federal position. This means you are targeting the job that you definitely have the skills, qualifications, experience and education and training being sought at least at an 80% margin. P -- Prepare the right package. You have to prepare a federal resume and the KSAs (if needed) that sell you. It has to tell your success stories, achievements and what results you can produce. It can not be a job description. P -- Persistence. You have to be persistent and continue to look for jobs, network with federal officials, go to jobs fairs where government agencies will be in attendance. P -- Patience.

In the federal job search it may take and employer 30-45 days to respond back to you. Be patient but if you follow the other steps above you will be successful. By doing this you avoid the frustration of apply to the wrong government jobs that do not fully match your skills, education, experience and qualifications. When you apply to jobs that dont match you what you end up with is a very frustrated job search.

In terms of KSAs you have to look at them as weed out questions. If you do not meet the criteria the question is asking then you are not fully qualified for the position and should not apply. You just have to look for position where you meet the qualifications. That is key. KSAs are something that many, many people find difficult and they can definitely be one of the reasons you are not getting any responses. The other problem could be that you are targeting the wrong kind of positions. You may be targeting positions that you feel are right but you do not have some of the skills, experience, education/training or qualifications that are required. These are the two biggest problems I see job seekers having on a consistent basis.

I do think that working with someone who understands the federal job search process and having someone develop your self marketing package (federal resume and KSAs) is not a bad investment. I think if you can afford it, then it can be well worth your money and wise. The key is again making sure you are targeting the right positions. Even if you have someone prepare your package and you are targeting the wrong positions then you just wasted money.

When looking at positions you are interested in make sure you analyze them in detail. Read the job announcement thoroughly, look at the KSAs critically and make sure that you can at the minimum match what is being sought after by 80% or more. When it comes to the KSAS questions make sure you can answer each one. If there is one that is too specialize or asking for something you do not have then that position is not for you and I recommend you do not waste your time, energy and resources on that position. KSAs are written to weed people out. They are used to see if you a person really does have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the job. If you do have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the job make sure you focus on pulling out success stories from your experience. In whatever you have done I am sure you have a good number of success stories. Make sure you begin jotting them down and then follow the steps below.

REMEMBER: Put success stories in both your resume and KSAs. Here is an answer I have posted before and I hope it helps you and others today. Here you go: KSAs (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities) give many people problems in their government job search.

The key in writing a successful federal resume and KSAs is to not only be concise but it is to tell your success stories that prove that you have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the job. I have seen many federal resumes that read like job descriptions and do not provide any level of success stories or achievements that would grab an employers attention. I have seen many KSAs responses where people put down their duties as it relates to the question but they do not tell their own story.

You have to use one of several methods when writing your federal resume and KSAs responses. They are the SAR, STAR, or CCAR. SAR is: Situation, Action, Results STAR is: Situation, Task, Action, Results CCAR is: Context, Challenge, Action, Results As you see each method is asking you to describe a situation or challenge you faced as it relates to the question. From there you start to talk about what action or tasks you took to handle the situation. In telling your actions you want to focus in on who you worked with, what techniques you used, what tools or technology did you use, etc. Then you tell what were the results of your actions and what success stories you have to share.

The government recommends that you think about five things when developing your KSAs to reinforce the idea of organizing your thoughts when responding. For each KSAS ask yourself these five questions regarding individual tasks you performed.

1. What action was performed?

2. Why was the action performed?

3. For whom was the action performed?

4. What were the accomplishments?

5. Did the action produce a significant impact on others or the work environment? I

In the seminars I teach about KSAS writing I tell the participants to write the KSAs as if they were answering an interview question. I always suggest the following:

State Your Case! Start off with Power!

When you start out answering any KSAS question start out immediately telling the HR Representative, Recruiter, Hiring Manager/Selecting Official why you are qualified. Whether it is your extensive experience in relevant positions, your education and training or other qualifications let the reader know from the beginning that you have what it takes to do the work and this is how and where you received the required knowledge, skills and abilities.

Tell About Your Relevant Experience! Show You are Qualified!

Describe the relevant experiences that have provided you the knowledge, skills and abilities to do this work. Tell about your experience as if you are in the interview and describing what you do and why you are qualified.

Tell Your Story! Sell Yourself and Prove Your Case/Qualifications! From your relevant experience provide success stories that demonstrate provide proof that you have the knowledge, skills and abilities required to do that work. Think of at least two to three success stories from your experiences that you can use to sell yourself in your KSAS response.

Use the CCAR, SAR, or STAR methods to tell your success stories and what actions you took in the situation or when faced with a challenge and the positive results your work produced.

What I mention for KSAs should also apply for your federal resume. I know some agencies have character limits when applying. When this is the case scale down your materials but make sure the power and substance of the work you did stays. Focus on your success stories. It should be a combination of the description of your work and your achievements in those positions?

I hope this helps. If you need more assistance please do not hesitate to contact me at dtd@diversagroup.com. Take care, and I wish you much success.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Derrick,

I'm a previous federal employee and am now trying to get back into the fed government. Why -- even though I've been selected to go to the hiring manager several times -- is it such a long drawn out process hearing back from the agencies?

Derrick Dortch: Hello Former Fed,

Unfortunately the process has always been that way. Some have been able to get in quick while for others it takes quite a while. What I would suggest is that you become more proactive with your search. Since you are being selected to go up to the hiring manager that means they see something in you that they like. So with that take it a notch up. Contact the HR point of contact and get them on the phone. Talk to them and let them know you are a Former Fed and do a soft sell on your experience. Since you are Former you can talk Fed Talk and ask good questions and build a positive relationship with the HR point of contact (which is always good).

When you get them on the phone ask them what is the timetable and if there is anything you can do to help speed up the process. They should be able to give you a concrete timetable and tell you what the hold up is on interviews and the selection of a candidate. When you have this information it makes your search a more manageable process because you know what to expect.

Some of the hold up may honestly be that agencies are waiting for their new budgets to pass and for new monies. There may be positions out there that they want to fill but they need to get the money to do so. With this being the case that may be the reason why hiring is temporarily on hold. There are many variables so the key is to find out what is going on and the HR POC is the starting place for that.

Also ask more questions about the process including what the selection process will be (one person or panel interview, etc.). You can also see if you can find out who the selecting official/hiring manager is. If you can find this out you might know some of your former Fed colleagues who might know this person and they can make mention of you or give you some inside information.

There are many things you can do so I hope you get my point about being proactive. This advice goes to everyone, whether you are Former Fed or not. Be proactive and show persistence with your search. Do not sit back and wait. Go after these opportunities if you really want them.

I hope this helps. Take care, and let me know how your search goes. I wish you much success.

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Washington, D.C.: Derrick,

I am writing to you since I am searching for jobs but have blemishes on my record. I have a masters degree from a high-ranked school in finance. However, I have two DUI's (21 and 24), both misdemeanor alcohol charges but I am concerned that this will never allow me to find a suitable job. Should I consider moving out of the country to find opportunities that are fitting for my background. I am now 26. Will corporate America forgive these indiscretions? Aside from these two problems, I have good credit and have been sober for two years now. Thanks for your time.

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

We all make mistakes so do not beat yourself up about them. Forgive yourself and ask for forgiveness if you hurt others in the process of your mistakes and heal and move forward. The key for you is to make sure you do not do anything like this again and that you show you are a good citizen.

Now that I have given you the upbeat version I also need to tell that alcohol abuse is a concern for the Federal Government and many major corporations. For the Federal Government if you are taking a position that requires a clearance you will be asked about your criminal conduct and your alcohol consumption/abuse. You need to answer these questions honestly. Its the best way to get past them.

Let me share with you what the Adjudication Desk Reference (ADR) says about Alcohol Consumption.

Alcohol Consumption

Relevance to Security

Some alcohol use is normal, but excessive use can be a serious security concern. Alcohol affects the central nervous system and how the brain functions. Excessive use affects perception, thinking, and coordination. It impairs judgment, reduces inhibitions, and increases any tendency toward aggression. Those who abuse alcohol are more likely than others to engage in high-risk, thoughtless, or violent behaviors. This increases the risk of unauthorized disclosure of classified information due to impulsive or careless behavior.

Potentially Disqualifying Conditions

Extract from the Guideline

(a) alcohol-related incidents away from work, such as driving while under the influence, fighting, child or spouse abuse, disturbing the peace, or other incidents of concern, regardless of whether the individual is diagnosed as an alcohol abuser or alcohol dependent;

(b) alcohol-related incidents at work, such as reporting for work or duty in an intoxicated or impaired condition, or drinking on the job, regardless of whether the individual is diagnosed as an alcohol abuser or alcohol dependent;

(c) habitual or binge consumption of alcohol to the point of impaired judgment, regardless of whether the individual is diagnosed as an alcohol abuser or alcohol dependent;

(d) diagnosis by a duly qualified medical professional (e.g., physician, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist) of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence;

(e) evaluation of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence by a licensed clinical social worker who is a staff member of a recognized alcohol treatment program;

(f) relapse after diagnosis of alcohol abuse or dependence and completion of an alcohol rehabilitation program;

(g) failure to follow any court order regarding alcohol education, evaluation, treatment, or abstinence.

Mitigating Conditions

Extract from the Guideline

a) so much time has passed, or the behavior was so infrequent, or it happened under such unusual circumstances that it is unlikely to recur or does not cast doubt on the individual's current reliability, trustworthiness, or good judgment;

(b) the individual acknowledges his or her alcoholism or issues of alcohol abuse, provides evidence of actions taken to overcome this problem, and has established a pattern of abstinence (if alcohol dependent) or responsible use (if an alcohol abuser);

(c) the individual who is a current employee who is participating in a counseling or treatment program, has no history of previous treatment and relapse, and is making satisfactory progress;

(d) the individual has successfully completed inpatient or outpatient counseling or rehabilitation along with any required aftercare, has demonstrated a clear and established pattern of modified consumption or abstinence in accordance with treatment recommendations, such as participation in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar organization and has received a favorable prognosis by a duly qualified medical professional or a licensed clinical social worker who is a staff member of a recognized alcohol treatment program.

Now if you read this then you can see its a serious concern but its something you can get past. The mitigating conditions tell you that the more time you put behind you and these actions and if you sought treatment which it sounds like you did then you will be given the opportunity to move forward and to work for the Federal government or other employers.

YOU DO NOT have to move to another country in order to work. You have been accountable to your bad decisions now. If asked about them deal with it in an upfront manner, and let people know that was part of your past and is not who you are today. If you want to work overseas that is fine, but it's not a requirement.

Continue to press forward with your job search and show people you are the best qualified candidate. We all make mistakes. If asked deal with it and get past it. You should be fine.

If you need more assistance in dealing with these then please contact me at dtd@diversagroup.com. Take care and I wish you much success.

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Virginia Beach, Va.: Thanks for the helpful advice you provided me over the course of my federal job search. I recently transitioned out of the military and landed a job with the federal government. I must say the job search and interviewing experience was humbling for me. In the end it was well worth it.

Derrick Dortch: VA Beach, VA,

Thanks for the note. Its been my pleasure being of assistance. I hope your note will inspire others who are out there looking not to give up.

Take care, and I wish you much success in your new position.

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Washington, D.C.: I have an interview coming up for a federal position and have a question about salary. I know the range for this position, but am wondering how much latitude I have within that range. Do I start automatically at the bottom, or can I negotiate for a higher starting salary (still within that range)?

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

With Federal agencies and any job you can always negotiate your salary. You do have a great deal of range and flexibility within the salary range. What I suggest you do is wait til you receive the offer. If you think its too low that is the time when you can negotiate. I recommend doing what I call a "Salary Justification Letter".

Its almost similar to a cover letter but in it you provide the salary they offered and then you tell them the salary you want, and in several bullet points below you tell them why you believe you are justified in getting that salary. Mention education, years of experience or select qualifying experience and training, awards, honors, etc. Remember, you are still selling yourself.

Start off and send this first to the HR person who has sent you the offer. Then from there follow up with a phone call to discuss.

Many people get nervous when it comes to salary negotiation. By doing this you keep control and you can take some of the anxiety out of it because you have put your demands on the table and then sit back and listen to the response. You may not get what you want, but you should put everything on the table that you do want including education and other work/life benefits before you start. Its all part of your package.

I hope this helps. Good luck with your interview, and contact me directly at dtd@diversagroup.com if you need more assistance. Take care, and I wish you much success.

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Mitchellville, Md.: What is the best way to start a broadcasting career with the federal government?

Derrick Dortch: Hello Mitchellville, MD,

Let me give you a couple of suggestions.

First you may want to consider the U.S. Military. The military has one of the most proactive broadcasting systems out there. They have channels such as The Pentagon Channel and others that do news as well as other programming including fitness and cooking shows. I may be biased because I served in the Marines but they have some pretty good programming.

All the broadcasters are servicemembers in the armed forces and they are supported by civilians working there as well.

Take a look at the Defense Media Activity (DMA) for more information.

http://www.dma.mil/

Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)

The Federal government runs a number of print, radio and television shows that they show to foreign audiences. These include:

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Voice of America

Radio Free Asia

Radio & TV Marti

Alhurra | Radio Sawa

All of these have robust broadcasting operations and those working for them are federal employee and sometimes contractors. They do some interesting and great work.

You can find more information here:

http://www.bbg.gov/

My producer is telling me that we need to wrap it up for today but do know that other agencies are starting to do more video, blogs and radio. State Department for example does a great deal. Working in multimedia is definitely a growth industry when it comes to the federal sector.

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

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Derrick Dortch: Well my producer is telling me to shut it down for today. We had so many questions that I will definitely try to get to some and get you some answers. I want to thank all of you for stopping by today's show and participating by submitting questions or watching. We will be back in two weeks for another great show.

I want to thank my producers Rocci and Delece for producing today's show. As always they do a great job.

Til the next time please take care of yourselves, be careful out there and I wish you much success in your career, work and life.

Derrick T. Dortch

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