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Government careers

Derrick Dortch
Career counselor
Wednesday, March 17, 2010; 11:00 AM

Federal careers expert Derrick Dortch was online Wednesday, March 17, 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, well its a beautiful day and it looks like are going to be starting off this day with what many federal job seekers, federal employees and federal managers will see as very, very good news. So here it is:

Fired up about a new system for hiring

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/16/AR2010031604344.html

OPM to submit hiring reform advice to White House next week

http://federalnewsradio.com/?nid=35&sid=1914139

KSAs could be kaput by April

http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=44809&dcn=todaysnews

I think the last title will be what makes everyone the happiest but John Berry in a speech yesterday to the Federal Managers Association (FMA) indicated that he is submitting a plan to the President hopefully by April and in that plan to eliminate KSAs. Take a look at the articles and tell me your thoughts.

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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South Carolina: Hello. I appreciate your taking the time to answer questions. I graduated with a MPH in health administration in 2001, with a 3.8 GPA, and was unable to find a federal job. I graduated from law school in 2007, took the bar exam February 2010, and have not been able to land a federal position in the legal field (investigator; FBI). I do not have a military background, or any other characteristic that would provide an advantage. I would like a federal career, but cannot seem to land a position in either health care or law. I would appreciate any suggestions that you can give. Thanks

Derrick Dortch: Hello South Carolina,

You have some impressive academic credentials and I am certain you would be a great addition to the Federal Workforce. The one thing that is very important and I want everyone to understand this very clearly is that education is very good. It is excellent to have many degrees and I encourage it but when it comes to applying to Federal Jobs education is something that is looked at but its very low on the pole when it comes to how much credit and how many points will be given to education. Having great academic credentials alone will not usually get you the job alone. What you have to combine education with is experience. Relevant experience to what you are trying to get into. Experience in terms of points and scoring you high is where you will get the majority of your points. If you combine education and experience then you get even a higher number of points that will make your application much more competitive and give you a better chance to make it in front of the selecting official.

Now if you have relevant experience through work and internships, etc then you need to focus on this as well as put down the relevant coursework you had during graduate school. This will help you have a strong package. There is also a way that you can use any relevant research you did and the papers that were written as experience. It would take me too long to go into it here but remember graduate school is about focusing on an area that you love and want to be an expert in. With that being the case you are many times doing some great research and writing relevant to the field you are trying to get into. If this work is good enough you should talk about it in your resume so that an HR official or hiring manager can see it and take notice. This is also another way to make education more into an experience and get more points for it.

If the jobs you are applying for require a masters or law degree you have to remember that all of your competition has some of the same credentials as you. So when this is the case especially in a competitive job market like it is today you only meet the minimum qualifications. There is nothing much that will make you stand out if everyone has a law degree or if everyone has equivalent or more graduate work. What make people stand out in those situations is their experience. The work they did in an internship, job, volunteer experience, etc. All of these can produce some great results in terms of you scoring high because of these relevant experiences.

Now do remember this. Make sure you tell your success stories from your experiences. Do not let me be just job descriptions. You have to make your stories sell you and the best way to do that is to tell your success stories and achievements and how what you did made a difference and now you can do the same thing for this agency.

I wish I had more time to go into the strategy to bring out education more but I hope you understand what I am saying. If you need more assistance beyond this please contact me at dtd@diversagroup.com and we will see about getting you a consultation. Keep focusing on your job search just retool and take a new approach and develop a new strategy and then go from there. You will get it. Take care, I hope this was helpful and I wish you much success.

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Germantown, Maryland: I am a former federal and state employee with over 15 years between the two positions. I have been away from the fed govt for over 10 years and away from state for about 1 year next month. I recently applied for a position at FEMA, had a wonderful interview, but after the background investigation, I never heard back from them. I tried to reach the security division director that performed the investigation, I left several messages, sent emails etc, but never heard a word. Is there any way to find out what happened? I only have the directors last name, but he has never responded to anything that i have sent him. This was to be a contract position for FEMA, but yet the lady at FEMA still wanted me to come onboard either as a contractor or a federal employee. But if I can't get through the security process, how can I come onboard for anyone at the federal level. I have no criminal history, nor any adverse work history, what other possibilities might there be regarding this process? It has been 3 months since I applied, interviewed and went through the screeing process.

Thank you.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Germantown, MD,

I am sorry to hear this. Unfortunately its not uncommon. What I would suggest you do is make a written record of everything that happened from the time you applied to the people you talked to and what was said. Get all this together and have your notes ready and get ready to make some calls. With your notes I would like you to have the job announcement number and any other information that can be used to track down what is going on.

It looks like FEMA contracts out some of its HR functions of a contractor call FPMI who does a good bit of Federal HR work for various agencies. Here are the numbers for them and another office. Call into the general numbers and be polite and let them know your situation and see if you can get some answers. I am not sure what happened to the person you were dealing with but something could have dropped between the cracks. I have seen this happen with some agencies.

What you need is an established point of contact who will run down this case and provide you some answers. Call until you get that person. They are suppose to be there to serve and assist you. Here are the numbers.

DHSJobs Help Desk

Phone: 1-866-512-3647

Fax: 18667769831

Email: DHSJobs@fpmi.com

Mid-Atlantic Services Branch

Phone: (757)441-6765

Email: NorfolkMail@opm.gov

Remember to make sure you are polite and respectful. I know this is frustrating but do not let it turn you into an ugly person. Always remember its not what you say all the time, many times its how you say it.

Let me know what happens when you take this approach. Keep me informed of your progress and let me know what they say. When you find out something give me an update at dtd@diversagroup.com.

Take care and I hope this will generate some success. But also remember that if FEMA picked you up there are other agencies or other jobs in FEMA that you will be good for. So keep on trying. By establishing a POC at FPMI or within FEMA HR you also can have this person assist you with future jobs that are announced that you are interested in. So look at this both in the short term and long term when it comes to your strategy. If they find your information the HR office and see what your status is and if this position is still open or if you are still in consideration and if the background investigation is still ongoing, etc. They can get feedback quicker than you can.

Take care and I wish you much success.

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Washington, D.C.: I am a contractor working for a federal agency. In the Notification of Results (NOR) received after submitting separate application packages, I have qualified for the grades applied for with specialty codes 001 and ratings 95, 97, and EL. The NOR states that referral to a selecting official is not guaranteed, in fact this notification may be the final correspondence. What do these ratings and codes mean? How soon after receiving these ratings are you notified if your package will be referred to selecting officials? What can I do to make sure my package is not only rating as eligible, or highly eligible, but make it to the selecting officials?

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Thanks for your question. The Ratings means you have scored 95 and 97% which means you are highly qualified for the position. El means you are eligible for the specialty and grade you applied to. Here is a list of codes from the NOR:

http://eshelp.opm.gov/tour/Overview_of_the_Staffing_Process/NOR_Message_Code_List.htm

With you being qualified/highly qualified you will be eligible or possibly sent up the a selecting official. The reason they say possibly or that its not guaranteed is because you could have another 100 people who have the same scores or higher than you do and if its a veteran who has additional points on top of your scores in the 90's then you will have to compete with them as well.

There is no specific time table in regard to hearing back. If you are selected to interview you may hear something soon, if not you may not hear anything. It is really hit or miss.

The question of how to get off of just being qualified and getting on the selecting official list and getting the interview is the true question that needs to be answered. There are several ways to do this.

1. You are a Federal Contractor. I am not sure what agency you work for as a contractor and I an mot sure what agencies you are applying to but to a degree you are on the inside of an agency. If you can use this to your advantage. If you are applying to the agency you are working for as a contractor see if you can get down to the HR office and meet a point of contact (POC). Talk to them about your interest in becoming Federal and ask about how to improve your package and what positions are coming up. Now you may be applying to other agencies but if there is a way to reach out to the HR office I always suggest doing so.

Next I would suggest that you take a look a your package. You are ranking high but is it possible you can rank higher. Can you get 100% or 99 or 98%. In this process you want to have the highest score as possible. See if there is anything you can do to make your application stronger. Also make sure you have success stories in your materials.

Now again as a Federal Contractor you are slightly in the door. You need to begin networking, networking and networking. Find some Federal workers who you trust and disclose to them your interesting becoming Federal. If they have confidence in you they can possibly make calls for you or even find a way for you to become insourced. They may know some of the selecting officials for the agencies you are applying to. But you need to use the strategy of what you know and who you know.

I could go on but start off with these three. The good news is that you have made it in the door to being eligible and qualified. Now you have to work on making yourself best qualified and also getting some people to help you make your dream of becoming a Fed a reality.

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

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Springfield, Va.: How will a break in service of nine years affect my rehiring into the federal government? I have 18 years time in service prior to my departure in 2001. I have been working for a Defense contractor for the past five years.

Derrick Dortch: Springfield, VA,

Thanks for your question. The break should not affect you too much. There are many who leave and come back to Federal Service. Your experience on both sides may even make you more marketable. Make sure you have your SF-50 to show that you were a former Federal employee. Now the good thing about you being a former Fed is that usually you can apply to jobs that are considered for STATUS CANDIDATES. This means that these jobs are only for Fed and Former Feds or whatever the criteria is that is set. So this does give you an opportunity to apply to jobs that are not open to all of the public.

What I would suggest you do is reach back and connect with all of your former Fed colleagues and if you have good relationships with them talk to them about you coming back in with your former agency or others. Also since you are a contractor then you may also have some contact with high level Federal employee (GS 15/SES) and you can talk to them as well. Let them know your interest in coming back into the Federal Government.

While doing this make sure you update your self-marketing materials and make sure you have your success stories in there. Doing a powerful package is very important for you because you want to show what you bring to the table and this can also help in you getting the salary you want since you are possibly making more in contracting. But make sure you have a strong package that sells you.

For you I would strongly suggest you use both the networking and regular application approach. You have access to too many people on the inside to not network.

I hope this helps. Keep me informed of your progress. Take care and I wish you much success.

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Richmond, Va.: Are all federal job fairs created equal? I attended Sen. Warner's job fair in Stafford along with 6,999 (apparently) other unemployed or underemployed souls and was completely underwhelmed by the representation of the agencies in attendance. I was under the assumption that a job fair was a hiring event. This event was, in fact, nothing more than an informational event. I stood in line for 2 hours to spend 2 further hours being told to go to USAJobs.com. I started to do an informal survey of the reps and found most were not even in hiring positions and one was an intern with a whopping 2 months under his belt. What was more amazing was that this event - for the DC/NoVa area was not covered by any big media outlets. So, I guess my question is: are federal job fairs all like this - a waste of time - or was this one simply not well planned? Thank you.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Richmond, VA,

Yes I heard about Senator Warner's Job Fair and heard that it was an overwhelming amount of people there for about 20 agencies. I too am very disappointed at the nature of job fairs these days and I can see things from both sides. For the applicant you are encouraged by me and other career professionals to attend job fairs because they get you face to face with a recruiter. When you do it and you get there and agencies just tell you to go to the website it is disheartening and discouraging because this is what you have already done. You are coming the job fair because you have applied over and over again and you have not gotten any results. Sometimes I feel that agencies and those representing agencies have forgotten this fact and have forgotten what if feels like to be on the other end looking for a job.

Now on the other side you have agencies who are truly and honestly being overwhelmed with applicants. For many jobs they are getting 300 - 400 applications per posting and sometimes this number goes into the thousands. Many HR offices at this moment in time are overwhelmed and what happens is that they will attend these job fairs thinking that they will just tell people to apply online and that is okay.

What I think needs to be done is that agencies need to modify there approach. We have become so focused on applying online that many recruiters have stopped really doing the more personal touch. This to me really hurts the agency more than it helps because you may have that person in the line who is really the right candidate for the job you are looking for and if you took the time to listen to them then they would be the person you would want to follow up with immediately and get them scheduled with an interview.

Much has to change when it comes to these job fairs and I am going to do what I can to educate agencies that the approach of setting up an informational booth at a job fair is not fair to those who have seriously come to talk to someone and get a fair chance to be considered for a position.

I will see what we do on our end to help change this process but what I encourage you to do is to call the Senators office and let them know how you feel and let them know that this is not fair. If agencies attend these events they should be truly hiring and not so focused on telling people to apply online or go to the website.

I could go on and on about this but we will work on it till the problem is fixed. Thanks for your question and comments and do not give up.

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Fort Washington, Md.: What do you see as the future of career development training?

I sent an email to your company info email about an event we are hosting next Saturday. It is a free virtual career skills training conference. Please visit CareerSkillsInstitute.com for yourself. We can accommodate 100 students in each of 7 workshops throughout the day. I have not been able to generate the support I need.

Thanks.

Derrick Dortch: Thanks for passing this information along. I will let the readers check it out and I hope it is helpful to them.

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Cleveland, Ohio: What is the average number of responses to a position posted on USAJobs.gov?

Derrick Dortch: From talking to HR professionals in government the averages range from 300 to over 1000 depending on the job. Its a very competitive job market and I would say that the Federal market is the most competitive right now. This is why its so critical to make sure your package is powerful, persuasive and targeted. You have to clearly show why you are not only qualified but best qualified. To do this you have to tell your relevant success stories and show how you can truly benefit this agency if they hire you.

Take care and I wish you much success.

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New Jersey: Derrick, How robust is the hiring activity in the Fed. Gov. right now?

Derrick Dortch: NJ,

Thanks for your question. Its very robust. Many agencies are still getting some of their monies from the appropriations process so from now until around July/August you should see agencies steadily hiring. This should continue going up to 2012 as some agencies grow and other insource and there may be some new agencies created with some legislation that is pending right now. So its a good time to try to get into the Federal Government. Its tough but still a good time.

Take care and I wish you much success.

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D.C./Boston: Hello - I am a D.C. fed, currently commuting back and forth between D.C. and Boston, where my spouse lives and where we own a home. I am applying for jobs in the Boston area, whenever they turn up in my specialized area. But a large portion of those listings state that they are only looking for applicants in the local commuting area. As I spend 80% of my time in D.C., b/c of work, I cannot really claim our Boston home as my address... can I? We own a home in D.C. as well, so I am unsure about using the Boston address as my permanent address. Any advice on how to handle this situation? Thank you.

Derrick Dortch: DC/BOSTON,

Honestly to me you live in both places if your spouse lives there and you have a home there. I do not think you are being untruthful when you apply to agencies in that area and you put your Boston address.

Now what I suggest you do since you are a Fed already is implement a Networking Plan and Strategy that not only includes applying for positions but also includes really targeting agencies of interest and making contacts and working your way to those agencies.

If Boston is your goal then I would really suggest you be more proactive. There may even be positions that are out there for you that are not always on USAJOBS that you may find out about through network contacts.

Use your Boston address as necessary and also become more proactive with your search strategy and I think you can generate some results.

Take care and I wish you much success.

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Washington, D.C.: I have all the qualifications and then some for some of the jobs that go up on jobs.com but for whatever reason I keep getting overlooked. Mostly these jobs are for GS-5 type jobs that require a bachelors degree and or a couple years of experience. I even have qualifications for GS-7 but to be on the safe side i just put down that I would prefer to start off at GS-5. What can I do to standout because obviously I have the qualifications but I am never even asked for an interview.

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Thanks for your question. If you keep on applying and applying and you are not getting any hits in terms of being on the qualification list and also getting calls about interviews you have to change up your strategy. Many people think that by applying for lower level positions it gets them a better chance to get in the door but this is not always the case. The lower level positions many times are some of the ones who are getting thousands of applicants because you have college students, those who are not college graduate but have experience and many others applying to those positions.

First I would suggest you honestly do a self assessment and honestly take a look at your skills, educations, experience and qualifications which is what I call your SEEQ. After you do this evaluate what Federal Jobs you are truly qualified for and begin targeting them. If it is GS-5 then so be it but if you are qualified for GS-7 or 9 then apply to what you are qualified for.

After you determine what you are qualified for then you need to make sure you have a package (Federal Resume, KSAs or Essay Question Responses, Cover Letters if necessary). This package has to be strong and you will see over and over and over again that I talk about making sure your package is powerful, persuasive and targeted. Your package has to sell you. It has to have success stories in it and these stories and achievements must be relevant.

Third, I talk about networking but once you know that you are qualified for certain positions and you know the agencies you want to work for take a look at doing some networking. You have a bachelors which means you also went to a school that has alumni. Which means that some of these alums may be Federal employees. Which means that some of them may be willing to give advice or help. Contact your alumni association and see if they have a listing of those who work in the Federal government. If you get this list or any list that you develop of contacts that come from church, associations you belong to, your neighborhood, etc. you can reach out and ask them for advice and assistance. Do not ask them to get you a job but ask them for whatever assistance they can provide. if you build trust they may be able to walk your package down to HR or to a selecting official.

I could go on and on but really take a moment and self assess and develop a new strategy. You should reassess your strategy every 2 - 3 months if you are not getting results.

Take care and I wish you much success.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I am a permanent resident finishing up a PhD in Social Welfare Policy, can I get a job with the federal government. I am interested in international development, especially USAID & CDC.

Thanks.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Philly,

Yes you can get a job with the Federal Government as a Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder). Look at what OPM (Office of Personnel Management) says about the employment of non-citizens:

http://www.usajobs.gov/ei/noncitizensemployment.asp

If you look on USAJOBS there will be some positions that will say they are open to permanent residents but it may not always us those words or language. Since you have such specialized credentials which means you will be targeting certain jobs. I would suggest you make a list of target agencies you want to work for and also identify various positions you would be qualified for and departments you would be a good fit for. From there contact those agencies and ask about opportunities and discuss your credentials first and then discuss that you are a permanent resident.

Here is an example of a position that will look at Permanent Residents:

Job Title: Survey Statistician (Survey Manager)

Agency: National Science Foundation

Sub Agency: SBE/SRS/HRS

Job Announcement Number: E20100041

SALARY RANGE: 105,211.00 - 163,957.00 USD/year

OPEN PERIOD: Thursday, March 04, 2010 to Thursday, March 25, 2010

SERIES & GRADE: AD-1530-04/04

POSITION INFORMATION: Full-Time Permanent

PROMOTION POTENTIAL: 04

DUTY LOCATIONS: FEW vacancies - Arlington, VA

WHO MAY BE CONSIDERED: Applications will be accepted from US Citizens. As permitted, Non-Citizens will be considered.

I hope this is helpful. Take care and I wish you much success.

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Derrick Dortch: We are wayyyy over time today but I wanted to make sure I tried to answer as many questions as possible. Thank you for stopping by the show today and viewing or participating. Please know you are very much so appreciated.

We will be back on March 31st at 11 am for another great show. Till then enjoy this great weather and be careful out there. Live life to the fullest and I wish you much success in your career, work and life.

Derrick T. Dortch

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

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