Government careers

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

Federal careers expert Derrick Dortch was online Wednesday, November 11, 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!!! Its a rainy morning in the Washington, DC area but still a wonderful day. First let me start off and say "Happy Veteran's Day!" to all my fellow Veterans out there. Thank you for your service and know that no matter how you served and when you served your service and sacrifice are appreciated. Second, let me say 'Happy Birthday' to all my fellow Marines. Yesterday was the celebration of our beloved United States Marine Corps birthday: November 10, 1775. I hope you celebrated well. To all fellow Marines, I just want to say Semper Fi.

Let me give you some good information before I get started with answering questions.

Defense Security Service (DSS) Career Fair
Friday, November 13, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
8 AM - 6 PM

Help keep our nation and our warfighters safe as part of the Defense Security Service (DSS). As an agency of the Department of Defense (DoD), DSS oversees and monitors facilities that handle the most critical
and sensitive information in worldwide DoD operations. Join our team and work to maintain the integrity of classified information, technology, and facilities. Every day is unique, confronting new challenges in the rapidly changing world of national security and intelligence.

* Counterintelligence (CI) Professionals
* Foreign Ownership, Control or Influence (FOCI) Professionals
* Industrial Security Representatives (ISR)
* Information System Security Professionals (ISSP)
* Information Technology (IT) Professionals

DSS is hosting a series of invitation only hiring events across the U.S. to find talented people dedicated to keeping this nation secure. To be considered, you'll be asked to register and answer a short series of qualifying questions. Click the link below to register for the event nearest you.

For more information and to apply:

Careers and the Disabled Career Expo/Career Fair
Bringing industry and government together with people with disabilities who are entry-level and professionals in all career disciplines. National Security Agency (NSA), National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) and others will be attending this event.
Location: Washington, DC
Date: November 13, 2009

There are also a number of workshops and seminars that I will be teaching for various organizations and agencies and although most are not open to the public there are some who will allow others to attend if there is room. These workshops are being sponsored by different organizations and are at no cost to those attending.

Here are two upcoming seminars:

Seminar: Succeeding in Your Federal Job Search
Location: BRAC Transition Center, Arlington, VA
1638 Crystal Square Arc, Arlington, VA
Dates/Times: Thursday, November 12th, 11:00 AM / Tuesday, December 15th, 11:00 AM
RSVP: To check space availability call (703) 418-1130 or email

Seminar Description:
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 also 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.

I will be presenting at other locations and dates in the near future. If you are interested in being notified of any seminars/workshops The Diversa Group will have please email us at and we will put you on or mailing lists.

This is important information for Federal Workers as well as those wanting to become a Federal Employee:
Section 5304(e)(1) of title 5, United States Code, authorizes the President to establish the Federal Salary Council. Under the law, the President appoints the Council members, which include three experts in labor relations and pay policy and six representatives of employee organizations representing large numbers of General Schedule employees. The Council submits recommendations on the locality pay program to the President's Pay Agent. The Council's recommendations cover the establishment or modification of pay localities, the coverage of salary surveys used to set locality pay, the process for making pay comparisons, and the level of comparability payments that should be made. Under Executive Order 12764, the Office of Personnel Management provides administrative support for the Federal Salary Council.

President aims to step up hiring of veterans

Agencies promote telework as a powerful tool, not a panacea

Also make sure you check out the Fed Page. There are some good articles on there:

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!!!


New Haven, Conn.: Hello. I am a third year PhD student in microbiology, and am interested in pursuing work with the science divisions of the CIA or FBI. When would be the best time to start looking? Are there any experiences to help one stand out in the transition from academia to government?

Derrick Dortch: Good Morning New Haven, Conn,

I have always enjoyed Connecticut. I hope you have as well. Let me get to your question. I would suggest you begin your job search right now. Both agencies do look for scientists and would be interested in your work in Microbiology. Let me give you two recommendations. 1. I am not sure if you have started your dissertation yet but if you are developing it or are working on let me suggest that you tailor your research to areas of interest to both of these agencies. I could be Weapons on Mass Destruction (WMD), NBC (Nuclear, Biological or Chemical), forensics or whatever. Just make sure you tailor your work to what these agencies are doing and what they are concerned about. This will catch their interest.
2. You may want to think about getting publish in one of the journals that scientist in these agencies might read or even present at a conference where scientists from CIA or FBI might attend. I cant rattle anything off at the top of my head but there journals and conferences out there that you would want to associate yourself with.
3. Make sure you put your relevant research in your resume. This is what will sell you to these agencies. Make sure you put it in your resume as one of the main pieces.
4. Start now looking. CIA's clearance process is 9 months or longer after you get an interview so you may be talking a year. FBI is shorter but its still a process.

For FBI you may want to look at the Visiting Scientist Program. This may be a good door opener:

You can find other opportunities for FBI at

For CIA you may also want to look at the Graduate Studies Program as a door opener. I would also suggest you look at this position:

Science, Technology, and Weapons Analyst

Begin the process now. Do not wait till graduation. But make sure you sell yourself. Do not assume your PhD alone makes you qualified. Make sure you show why you are qualified by talking about your research and how its relevant and talking about any other success stories and achievements. Remember its very competitive and you are not the only PhD student applying and you are competing against those who are already scientist in the field.

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


Anonymous: As a permanent resident am i qualified to obtain federal positions? I have had my green card for five years now but have lived outside the U.S. for that entire period for personal reasons. I am a CPA and intend to migrate to the US in January of 2010. What advice can you give me?

Derrick Dortch: Hello Anonymous,

Thanks for your question. As a Permanent Resident, Yes you are eligible to apply to certain positions within the Federal Government. Let me show you what OPM (Office of Personnel Management) says:

Employment of Non-Citizens
Only United States citizens and nationals may be appointed in the competitive civil service; however, Federal agencies may employ certain non-citizens who meet specific employability requirements in the excepted service or the Senior Executive Service. Several factors determine whether a Federal agency may employ a non-citizen. They are: Executive Order 11935 requiring citizenship in the competitive civil service, the annual appropriations act ban on paying aliens from many countries, and the immigration law ban on employing aliens unless they are lawfully admitted for permanent residence or otherwise authorized to be employed.

Under Executive Order 11935, only United States citizens and nationals (residents of American Samoa and Swains Island) may compete for, and be appointed to, competitive service jobs. With Office of Personnel Management approval, agencies are permitted to hire non-citizens when there are no qualified citizens available. A non-citizen hired in the absence of qualified citizens may only be given an excepted appointment, and does not acquire competitive civil service status. He or she may not be promoted or reassigned to another position in the competitive service, except in situations where a qualified citizen is not available. The non-citizen may be hired only if permitted by the appropriations act and the immigration law.

You can read more information about this here:

Let me also show you from a job in USAJOBS how it will look when you see a job that is eligible for a Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder):

Department: Department Of Veterans Affairs
Agency: Veterans Health Administration
Sub Agency: VA Illiana Health Care System
Job Announcement Number: 08-116-42 (Amended)

Physician (Family Practice) (Amended)
SALARY RANGE: 140,000.00 - 195,000.00 USD /year
Commensurate with education and experience
OPEN PERIOD: Monday, November 09, 2009 to Friday, November 20, 2009
SERIES & GRADE: VM-0602-00/00
DUTY LOCATIONS: vacancy(s) in one of the following locations: 1 vacancy - Danville, IL
WHO MAY BE CONSIDERED: Applications will be accepted from US Citizens and Non-Citizens as allowed by appropriations and statute.

This is a medical position but there are others. They are few but they are out there. What I suggest you do is to go onto USAJOBS and do a keyword search under Permanent Resident. You will have to dig deeper because these jobs will not come up right away but if you got through them you can find positions that a Permanent Resident is eligible for just like the one I showed you.

Also do keep in mind that you do not have to be a U.S. Citizen to join our military. Many will join and become citizens while serving. That is another option to consider as well.

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


Reston, Va.: Would a history of mental illness affect one's ability of getting security clearance? (I have a history of depression, including a brief hospitalization seven years ago. I've been in successful treatment ever since.)

Derrick Dortch: Hello Reston,

Thanks for your question. Yes, a history of Mental Illness can affect a person getting a clearance but it does not mean that you can not get a clearance. Let me show you what the government says about "Psychological Conditions" and their relevance to security and what are the mitigating factors:

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.

Now I know that is a lot to digest but the main point is that yes your Mental Health history will be taken into consideration and can possibly be a red flag but if you have gotten treatment and have show a consistent pattern of being okay because of your treatment then this will be taken into consideration.

I would suggest that you probably get some Pre-Security Clearance Counseling before you start applying for any position within the Federal Government that will require a security clearance. If you do plan to apply you want to make sure you are going to be able to successfully get past a clearance. I would need more information to tell you yeah or nay but people who see Mental Health professionals do get clearances and you did the right thing by getting help. You will just need to make sure you describe your condition and treatment the right way when you are filling out your National Security Questionnaire.

If you have more questions about Pre Security Clearance Counseling please contact me at

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


Des Moine, IA: I am interested in becoming a linguist. I currently only speak English and Spanish, but I'm very good at picking up languages. If I am interested in working with a language other than Spanish (Korean, Arabic, Kurdish, etc.) would I need to become proficient in that language before applying with the government? Aside from active duty military, what departments (or civilian contractors) would be a good place to look for opportunities? Thanks.

Derrick Dortch: Des Moine, IA,

Thanks for your question. Linguists are in high demand in the Federal Government. Many agencies need linguists or people who have fluency in other languages. Beside the Active Duty Military you have many agencies who need linguist. Some agencies will have them as full time Federal employees while others will use government contractors.

Some agencies who really do love language skills are:
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
All of the Intelligence Community (IC)
- Go to
State Department
Department of Commmerce (International Sections)
Department of Homeland Security (You can put your Spanish to work with them immediately)
Department of Defense (Various Agencies in DoD and under the Office of the Secretary of Defense)

In terms of Contractors who hire linguists you have:
Allworld Language Consultants
Northrop Grumman
and others

What I would suggest you do is start your search off at two sites: "" or ""

Do a keyword search under Linguist and you will find a number of opportunities with both government contractors as well as agencies.

I would also suggest you look at some of the Federal Programs that are sponsoring people to go and learn languages and experience cultures. Take a look at the National Security Education Program (NSEP). Its a great programs and the government will help you pay for your language and cultural training. You can find more information here:

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


Arlington, Va.: We realize that completing KSAs is a method by which government agencies weed out applicants. However, given the fact that they can take several hours to complete per KSA, are you aware of any discussions or moves toward eliminating KSAs as part of the application process?

Derrick Dortch: Thanks for you question. There is talk about eliminating KSAs but honestly I think that KSAs in one form or another will always be around. If not for the first round in selecting a person they will be used in the second round to weed out people. I know that they are difficult and time consuming and many people get frustrated but what I will tell people is that if they put together strong KSAs the will be preparing themselves to win the interview but also be preparing themselves to go into the interview and win the job. The same success stories that you use in writing your KSAs are the same ones you will use when you are doing your interview. And while in the interview you can expand upon that story.

Here is some material OPM (Office of Personnel Management) has developed for helping people write Federal Resumes and KSAs.

Also here is some material that I provide when people ask about KSAs. I hope it helps you:

The key to the federal process is really not much different than the key to winning in a private or non-profit sector job search. In each you are selling yourself. Just with the federal process you have much more space and room to sell yourself. Many people think of this as a burden and at times when I am developing targeted federal resumes, KSAs and ECQs for clients or guiding then in the process I can see why. The Federal process provides you more opportunity to talk about your success stories and accomplishments than other job searches. For each position in USAJOBS that you put in you can write up to 3000 characters. This is close to a page and many people are not used to providing such indepth information. I am about to give you advice I have given before but its very relevant to your question and I want you to try it in developing your own materials. Here it is:

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 professional help in this endeavor please contact me at


Bethesda, Md.: Hi, Derrick! Thanks for participating in these Q&As -- it's always fascinating! I started a new job with the federal government two months ago. I had been out of work for a while, and this was the first offer I got. However, it's really not the kind of job I want to work in. The skills I'm developing, the things I'm doing, etc. just aren't what I'm looking for, and the salary is low relative to my skill set (I took it purely for the paycheck). So I am wondering: When can I start looking for a new job without it being viewed negatively that I've been with my current employer for such a short time frame? How much does being a current federal employee with a secret clearance help me get other positions?

Derrick Dortch: Hello Bethesda, MD,

Well congrats on getting a Federal Job. I understand the reasons why you took the position and you are not alone in this. What I always recommend to my clients who are out of work is that they first stabilize and find employment and then after that they should begin a process of really developing and implementing a what I call: Your Career Success Strategy". This means that you take a moment and self assess and figure out what you really want to do and what you are qualified for. You may want to look around the agency you will be working for soon and see if those opportunities exist there. If so you can begin putting together a strategy to move into that section and that work. No one is expecting you to stay in the position you are in forever. It sounds like it is an entry level door opener. So with that being the case you need to begin looking around for opportunities to do special projects, special details and so on to get noticed. Get yourself in front of senior officials and make sure you show them the great work you can do. I have seen many talented people pulled out of the ranks to be put into positions because people saw their ability to do great work.

There is so much advice I can give you and I really dont have the time because my producer is telling me to wrap it up. But begin developing Your Career Success Strategy and finding out what kind of training and other opportunities you can get. Moving from one job to another as a Federal Employee is not as easy as people think so it does require some strategy.

If you need help in developing and implementing this strategy contact me at

Congrats, know the government is a great place to work with endless opportunities to explore. I wish you much success.


Derrick Dortch: Okay, its seems my time is up. Thank you for all of your questions and participation on this Federal Holiday. I also want to thank my Producer Delece Smith-Barrow for all of her great work and support this morning. We will be back in two weeks for another show. Till then enjoy today and make sure you are careful out there. Keep all of our troops in your prayers as well as those who suffered such a horrible loss at Ft. Hood. Keep them all in your prayers and thoughts.

Take care and I wish you much success in your career, work and life.


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