Government Careers

Derrick Dortch
Career counselor
Wednesday, October 28, 2009; 11:00 AM

Federal careers expert Derrick Dortch was online Wednesday, October 28, 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.


Derrick Dortch: Good Morning, Good Morning. It's a great day here in Washington, DC and in the states but let's keep in our thoughts and prayers our military servicemen and federal workers and government contractors who are serving in war zones and putting their lives on the line for our country. As we know we have had a deadly month with the lost of servicemen and DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) employees in Afghanistan. Its also been a deadly month just for loss of life around the world due to acts of violence. Lets continue to work and pray for peace and that the senseless loss of life will be stopped.

As you can see there are many agencies doing interesting work overseas beyond just the State Department and USAID. Many agencies like the FBI, DEA, NCIS, USDA, HHS, CBP, Commerce, and many, many others have international mission and have personnel overseas not just in war zones but all over doing some amazing, challenging and fulfilling work. If you are interested in working in international affairs with the federal government do look at the obvious agencies like State Department and USAID but also make sure to go deeper into the federal government. Think about what agencies really capture your interest and look for the ones whose mission and the work they do align with your passions and interest. For each of these agencies there is a high probability that they have some international work that they are doing.

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!!!


Detroit, Mich.: I am very frustrated with my search for a federal job. I have worked in the public sector as a community leader, an appointed leader (member) of my community councils and as an AmeriCORPS member. Yet, I am finding KSAs to be quite frustrating...I feel like I have the experience (hence, the application) yet I am not scoring 100 percent which, by the way, they tell me what is needed to gain access to the interview process. I interview well, but haven't even scored high enough to get one in the federal sector. Also, I consider myself a pretty good writer so this is equally embarrassing. What to do?!

Derrick Dortch: Good Morning, Detroit,

Motown is my hometown as well so I know the city well and I know that right now Detroit and much of Michigan is hurting in terms of employment and many other things. I am not sure if you are trying to get a federal job in Detroit, MI or the surrounding areas but the last time I looked I saw around 300 federal posted on USAJOBS. Now that does not mean its only 300 positions. Many of those positions were looking for more than one person and also if there are some Excepted Service Agencies working in Michigan they may not have posted there positions on USAJOBS. Let me recommend a couple of things with your Federal Job Search.

You have to be proactive. At this moment in time many people are looking at the federal sector for employment. More than ever before and with that being the case you have a good amount of competition. Agencies are receiving 200 to 2,000 or more applicants for one job posting alone and for some agencies I have been told that they are receiving even more applicant than that. So you can not, I repeat, you can not just sit back and apply on USAJOBS and think that is all you can do. You have to be proactive and get out there and begin meeting people in these agencies and letting them know you are passionate about becoming a government worker. If you plan to stay in Michigan I would suggest you begin looking at what agencies are there. Go down to the McNamara Building downtown and get a list and then do your homework on them. See what agencies capture your interest and also see who is hiring. After you have done your homework take a day and go to The McNamara Building and visit the various agencies. Ask to speak to the HR person or a Manager. See if you can talk to someone and express your interest in their work. Start making some contacts and building some relationships with people in these agencies so you are no longer just another number. Sell yourself but also ask for advice and then follow up and send thank you notes and keep the conversation going.

Go to networking events. If you have not done so you need to begin going to career fairs and other networking events where federal agencies are participating. You have to get that face time in.

Develop a very powerful self-marketing package that will sell you. Below is advice that I have written before but it its relevant to your question. Your materials have to sell you and when I say that I mean that I has to go beyond just having a job descriptive write up on your resume with a couple small bullet point achievements. You have to tell your success story and show how what you have done in other places is relevant to what you are working to get into with the Federal Government. Read below and I hope this is helpful.

The key to the 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 percent 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.

You are probably running into KSAs as you apply for these positions. With 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 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 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 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?

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.

You also want to make sure you are out there networking, networking and networking. There are so many people applying online you have to do what you can to make yourself more visible. This means that you are going to career fairs where government agencies of interest will be participating. This means that if you are in the DC Metro area going to events where government officials will be speaking and trying to meet them and introduce yourself. This means using any contacts that you may have through family, friends, school or a number of other places to see if there is anyone you know who works for the government in an area of interest. If so begin talking to them about your interest and see if they can help you.

I could go on and on for quite a while on this but I hope this helps to get you started.

I hope this is helpful and I wish you much success. If you need additional help in this endeavor please contact me at


Washington, D.C.: I am thinking about applying for an SES position. Aside from all of the other required materials, I am wondering if I should use the resume form on USA jobs to create a "federal resume", or submit my normal (pretty and formatted) resume?

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

If you are given the option I always recommend using the Presentation Style Federal Resume (Good Looking but very powerful in terms of content and substance). Again this is more if you are given the option. The key to making sure you successfully navigate these waters is to make sure you follow all of the directions given in "How to Apply" and make sure give the agency all of the information they request. I would also suggest that you contact the HR point of contact and talk to them about the application process. Develop a good working relationship with that person so you can call or email and check on your status during the process. The SES process is very long and can be frustrating. Make sure you follow the format based on the guidelines given by the agency and OPM. You can find more of that information here:

If you are having a hard time with the process in terms of writing your Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) or any other part of your package I would recommend you get some professional assistance or find a SES or former SES who can assist you.

Take care and I wish you much success.


Arlington, Va.: Hi, Derrick. Does having a Facebook page impact the ability to get a clearance? A friend who works for NSA mentioned that having a Facebook page makes a candidate less desirable for her organization. Thanks!

Derrick Dortch: Hello Arlington, VA,

HMMMMMM. Interesting question. Let me put it like this. If you plan to work in the Intelligence Community for an agency like CIA, NSA, DIA, etc. then you really want to work at lowering your profile rather than having yourself out there. Because we are an open society you never know who you are talking to and what their intentions are so you have to be very, very careful about your level of exposure. If you do decide to have a Facebook page I would keep it private and locked so that only friends you know can see your information and I would also suggest you never tell anyone except those who NEED TO KNOW about your application to NSA or any of the intelligence agencies. This should not be public information and even when you work for them you may not tell someone you work in the IC unless its the proper setting. Your security official will debrief you about what you can and can not say.

So the short answer is that for many in the IC they prefer that a person has a low profile. Having it does not kill your application but it does provide exposure and access to you that you would not usually give in public. I would recommend that you think twice about keeping it and if you do you may want to remove your picture from the front page and put some picture of artwork or something else there and let only friends see your photo album of you and your family and friends and activities.

The business of intelligence is to gather information on a person. A great deal of information from a foreign intelligence agency could be gathered off of someones Facebook page if they knew you were either a part of or applying to join NSA or the IC.

I hope this makes sense. The key for those in the IC is that you keep security on your mind all the time and although social networking is fun you have to make sure you do not expose yourself to become a possible target.

Now, can you get a clearance and have a Facebook page? The answer is YES. And if you do keep the page make sure what you have on there represents the best of you. Do not put pictures of you drinking, partying too much or anything else crazy up there and also make sure you control your comments and your discussions. Be careful what you say and how you act online. These things can come back to haunt you if you are not careful.

Take care and I hope this was helpful.


Woodbridge, Va.: You're forgetting about the most sure-fire way to get a federal job -- you have to know somebody. For all of the federal government's arcane application procedures that are in place to ensure a fair hiring process, in most instances it's anything but, especially for the higher ranking positions. I've seen it happen over and over at my old job. A position opens up, thousands of applications come in, but a phone call is made between former co-workers and BAM guess who gets hired?

Derrick Dortch: Hello Woodbridge, VA,

I definitely did not forget about but if I failed to mention it then I am glad you did. I do agree. Networking is very important. I dont want to discourage anyone who does not have any contacts with anyone in the federal government. If dont have any contacts then you have to begin building your network by getting out there and going to career fairs, visiting agencies and talking to the HR person and going to events where Federal officials well be in attendance and talking to them and getting their business cards and following up.

If you attended any university or college you want to talk to your office of alumni affairs and get access to the alumni directory and find what agencies do fellow Alums work in. Then you want to go about a strategy of contacting them and getting advice and help.

Now, if you have a good number of friends, family and associates who work with the federal government then definitely let them know of your interest in the federal government and ask them for advice and help. If you do know the right people then they can definitely open doors for you. But this is the case in all sectors. This is why networking and building positive relationships is key to both short term and long term success.

Thanks for the comment.


Manassas, Va.: I am returning to work after being out of the paying workforce for almost seven years now (to raise the kids). I have kept my skills current by volunteering all over the place, and I have that on my resume. I was lucky enough to have ONE interview with the government out of 190 jobs I've applied for. I'm wondering, would it be beneficial for me to hire a professional to rewrite my resume. I just can't justify the expense in my head since I did land that one interview so far. I keep applying for government jobs and getting the nice, you-are-qualified-for-this-position e-mail, but then not the most qualified or not selected so I'm also thinking it must be how my resume is presented.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Manassas, VA,

I am going to be a little biased in my response because I am a career counselor (smile). Investing in getting assistance, guidance, counsel, advice, etc. when it comes to your career in my opinion is always a good thing. If you think about it beyond family your career is probably one of the most important things in your life. You spend a great deal of time and energy focused on your career and most people do not work only 40 hours a week. If you think about many people spend more time at work than they do with family and friends and doing things they enjoy. Given these facts you do want to make sure you are doing work that you enjoy, that you are fulfilled when you go to your job, that you are passionate about the work you are doing, that you set career goals for yourself so you can develop a strategy on how to make sure you achieve them. This and so much more sometimes a career counselor can help you with.

So long story short I do think investing in your career as it relates to training, education and counsel is good.

Now when it comes to your resume I do think for some people getting professional assistance is a good idea. Some people can right a great resume that will get results. If you find you are putting out a large amount of resumes and only getting a few hits here and there then you would want to think about getting some assistance. Now what you may want to consider is getting a resume critique rather then getting a full resume rewrite. This is a much cheaper solution and you can get some great advice on and recommendations on how you can better develop your self-marketing materials in a way that will get you results.

The key for getting any advice is to make sure the person knows what they are talking about. Make sure that when you hire someone to do any advisement, counsel, writing or critique they are experts in the sector you are targeting.

Take care and I wish you much success.


Washington, D.C.: Potential SES applicant again. What in the world is the "Presentation Style Federal Resume" you note above? Is this found somewhere online?

Derrick Dortch: Presentation Style Resume is my keyword for your professional looking resume -- the one you will present in front of people at career fairs, when you e-mail or mail and apply to a job, when you network, when you are selling yourself. It's my language and framework for success because when you are looking for a job you are making a presentation to these employers that you are the best and they should hire you.

The Presentation Style Resume has the bold and italics when necessary and has the classy formatting and looks good to the eye and is easy to read and outlined and targeted to the job, agency, etc.

Your online resumes will use similar content but your Presentation Style Resume will have the look and the content combined.

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


Derrick Dortch: My Producer is telling me we have to wrap it up today but let me give you some quick information.

BRAC Arlington, VA is sponsoring free career workshops for BRAC impacted workers but when space is available they do open it up to the public to attend. I will be giving a workshop tomorrow, and in November and December. Here is the workshop:

Winning a government job, making moves to another agency, and rising up the career ladder in federal government requires a good strategy. A "Federal Career Success Strategy". This strategy involves finding and targeting the right positions; developing a professional, powerful, persuasive and targeted application package (Federal Resumes, KSAs, ECQs, Cover Letters); understanding the screening and selection process and making it work for you, good and consistent networking, and identifying and developing the skills needed to advance.

This workshop will:

- Teach how to develop a "Federal Career Success Strategy"

- Show you how to find the right federal jobs for you

- Assist you in developing powerful, persuasive and targeted Federal Resumes, KSAs, ECQs, Cover Letters that will win interviews

- Provide you insight to how the screening and selection process works

- Teach you about networking on the federal level

- Provide you advice on interviewing on the federal level

- Assist you in identifying and developing the skills needed to win the jobs you want and advance

- And answer any questions you have about the federal job search

This workshop is designed to teach you how to find the right federal agencies that match your passions and interests, network and open doors, sell yourself, and successfully interview to win the federal job you want. Bring your questions and challenges concerning your federal employment application process.

Its Free to the public and if you would like to attend you will have to register. It fills up quickly so you want to register as quick as possible.

Here are the dates and how to register: This workshop will be held on October 29th, November 12th and December 15th. Register by emailing Nell Richardson at

I hope some of you can make it.

Well I have to go, but we will be back in two weeks and I will answer more of your questions then. I want to thank my producer for keeping the train running on time and most of all I want to thank YOU for stopping by and participating. Till next time please be careful and take care and I wish you much success in your career, work and life.



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