Government careers

Derrick Dortch
Career counselor
Wednesday, March 31, 2010; 11:00 AM

Federal careers expert Derrick Dortch was online Wednesday, March 31, 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 such a beautiful day in the DC area and we are going to have a great show. There are many things going on in the Federal Government right now. Its almost too much for us to cover effectively on a day to day basis. With new legislation for the Heath Care being passed you can expect additional Federal jobs and Government Contract jobs to come online over the new few months and years. Also there are many agencies who are still waiting to get their monies allocated for this years budget that will run to September 2010. I expect that this will happen in April and when this does it means that agencies will be doing additional hiring.

There are also some real efforts happening to hire certain groups into the Federal Government. The Obama Administration has made the hiring of Veterans a priority and they have created a website focused on helping American Veterans find jobs in the Federal Government. You may have heard of the website but if you have not its called "Feds Hire Vets". You can find the site here:

The site is geared towards both the Veteran who is looking for work but also Hiring Managers and HR Professionals who are looking to hire Veterans. It provides details about Special Hiring Authorities that Veterans can be hired under and gives both audiences information about the Veterans' Recruitment Appointment (VRA) Authority as well as the Veterans' Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) and other legislations, statues, rules, regulations and hiring flexibilities.

The one great thing that recently happened is that this site now provides actual points of contact within Federal Agencies for Veterans. It gives the agency, name of the point of contact, email and phone number. Agencies are now developing what are called Veteran Employment Program Offices whose sole responsibility is for promoting Veterans' recruitment, employment, training and development, and retention within their respective agencies. Veterans are encouraged to contact these individuals for specific information on employment opportunities in those agencies. You can find this information here:

If you are a Veteran of the military I definitely encourage you to find out more about these special programs you can be hired under. The Federal government is definitely looking for you.

Well with that being said without any further delay I am going to start taking and answering your questions. I want to thank you for stopping by the show today and 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. Anything that can help someone succeed is always welcomed on my show.

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


Falls Church, Va.: Greetings, Derrick:

Your chats are so helpful and I'm hoping you can shed some light on my situation. I have a Masters of Music degree and have (like so many others) applied to about 50 federal jobs in the past two months. Last week, I received an email from the HR dept. with the Smithsonian that I was a 98.33% match but that I hadn't rated among the qualifying candidates for an interview. I know things are competitive (especially the Smithsonian) but am I expected to be a 100% match? Is it possible to be a 100% match if you are a non-federal employee and a non- veteran? I emailed the HR dept. to find out where I lost the 1.66% but never heard back.

Derrick Dortch: Good Morning Falls Church,

Thanks for your kind words. They are very much so appreciated. What you are running into is what many people are finding themselves running into: A SUPER COMPETITIVE JOB MARKET. Right now especially for employers, especially the Federal Government its a market where they are getting between 200 - 600 applicants per job announcement. And this is coming from both those external who are trying to get into the Federal Government, Government Contractors and then Federal Workers are competing for other Federal jobs.

What I will say is that it is great news that you received a 98.33 on your application. That means you are doing something right by scoring that high. The next step is to find out how you can make up those final percentages, get the 100% and then get in front of the hiring manager and win the interview and the job.

Since you are someone who believes in the arts and music I am sure that you are focused on agencies like the Smithsonian and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities because these would fit your passion and your background. What I would suggest you do is a couple of key things.

1. Go down the HR Office of the Smithsonian and see if you can talk to someone. Here is the address:

Main Office of Human Resources

600 Maryland Ave., SW, Suite 5060

Washington, DC 20024


The Smithsonian is an open environment and with that being the case you can go down and walk into certain offices and ask to see key people. Go down there and take your application and talk to one of the HR Specialists and ask what happened that you did not get 100% and get advice on what you can do better next time and what does it take to get your package to be considered for an interview. While you are there you can also talk to the HR Specialist about what other opportunities are coming up and what would be a good fit for your background. Also while you are there you can make sure you get this persons name, number and email address and they are now a point of contact for you. If they have taken time to sit down with you and help you then you need to send them a thank you note at the minimum. From there you make sure you keep in contact with this person and this office and when you apply to other positions you may want to walk your application down to the office and turn it in if they will accept that.

I would suggest you also contact the HR Specialist at other agencies of your interest as well.

2. You may need to get yourself more involved at the Smithsonian or agencies that you are are interested in. Many people do not realize it but at many agencies you can volunteer to do work. The Smithsonian is a prime example of this. They have a great a volunteer program that you may want to consider. Volunteering with a place that you truly care about and may want to work for one day give you an open door to do work for the Smithsonian, learn more about the agency, gain valuable relevant skills and also meet key people who might take an interest in you. I would suggest you consider it.

You can find information on their volunteer program here:

3. I would also suggest that you may want to contact certain program officers at the Smithsonian or other agencies that you have an interest with directly and see if you can get some career guidance. It never hurts to try and I know many government workers who have tried to provide advice and assistance when they could. You can find an employee directory on the website.

4. Since you have your Masters in Music I would also suggest you contact the college or university where you did your graduate work. Ask for the Career Services Office as well as the Office of Alumni Affairs and see if you can get access to the Alumni database. There may be a fellow Alum who is working at SI or at one of your agencies of interest. Also ask them directly do they know of any alums working in these agencies. If there are some do a good strong networking letter and reach out and contact them and let them know you are a fellow alum and you would love to get some career advice from them about getting into the government. DO NOT ASK FOR A JOB. ASK FOR ADVICE. If you hit off with them then they may go the extra mile for you but at the minimum they can point you in the right direction and maybe give you some valuable insight that will be helpful.

I could go on and on but I hope this helps. You are close, be proactive, be a bit more aggressive in a positive way and keep pushing forward. Take care and I wish you much success. Let me know how things turn out.


Washington, D.C.: Hi,thanks for taking my question. I have been working as an admin assistant for several years at a thinktank and have been considering working for the State or Defense Department. How can I best market my abilities to transition to a government job?

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Thanks for your question. I am going to assume that you may be working for at Think Tank like Brookings, Woodrow Wilson, Carnegie, CATO or CSIS (Center for Strategic & International Studies) or some kind of Think Tank focused on defense or international issues. If this is the case then you are in a good place and you can leverage your experience working to support experts in these fields. I am not sure if you are looking to stay in an administrative role or if you are looking to make a transition and go into something else but there are a good number of positions in both Defense and many of its sub agencies and State Department that are open.

First I would suggest you define what kind of positions you want and develop a target package around it. If you are trying to stay within a support role on the administrative side then you want to focus on the work you do but provide details about what programs and experts you support. If you want to target the Department of Defense and you are working to support a former General and helping him put together programs on nuclear proliferation and stopping Weapons of Mass Destruction from getting into terrorist or rogue states hands then you need to put that into your resume. The more someone from Department of Defense can see you are doing relevant work then the more competitive you become. You have to put in success stories in your Federal Resume and any materials you submit. It can not just be job descriptive language. There are many people out there looking for the same jobs and you have to make sure you stand out. Success stories make you do that.

Second, if you are at a Think Tank more than likely you are surrounded by either former military or government employees who were relatively high up. Think Tanks only bring in high up people with certain experiences to become their experts most of the time. These individual state connected to their former agencies many times and definitely usually have a strong network within the the government. Think about the experts at your think tank and think about who you can trust to talk to about you wanting to work in government. It may be your boss or another experts but after you have identified who the right people are to talk to let them know that your passion is working for the Federal Government and ask them for advice and any assistance. Many people understand someone trying to move up and will be more than happy to help you.

I have to keep answering questions so I am going to stop here. There is much more but this should get you started. If you need more direct assistance please contact me at and we will see about getting you a consultation. Take care and I wish you much success.


Baltimore, Md.: I was wondering if you might have some insight into what kinds of mental health services affect security clearances. The SF86 explicitly exempts marital and grief counseling but I've been unable to find any kind of information on how other services used are considered during adjudication. Obviously, I would expect an application listing paranoid schizophrenia to raise some eyebrows, but what about the lesser issues like anxiety or depression? I'm especially interested, if there would be any difference, in how these services might affect clearance upgrades and reevaluations if one were to decide to use them while already cleared. Thank you!

Derrick Dortch: Hello Baltimore, MD

Thanks for your question. Let me first say that getting help by seeing a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist is never a bad thing. If you need the help then you should get it and do not be ashamed of that or afraid to do so. I have my Masters in Counseling and I am an advocate of it because I see how people have been helped and their lives changed for the better. So for anyone who he seeing a Mental Health Services Provider or needs to see one please remember that this is the right thing to do if you need help.

Now with that being said the honest truth is that seeing a Mental Health Services Provider will be considered a red flag that needs to be looked at more by a background investigator and will be taken seriously into consideration by an adjudicator to determine your suitability for a clearance. Let me share with you what the Adjudication Desk Reference which serves as a guide for adjudicators in making security clearance decisions says about Mental Health or as it is now known as "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.

The potential security significance of a psychological condition depends upon how it affects the subject's judgment, reliability or trustworthiness, its severity (intensity and duration of symptoms), whether there has been appropriate treatment or whether the condition is typically responsive to treatment, and the judgment of a qualified mental health consultant about possible recurrence and what else might happen in the future.

In adjudicating mental health issues, we do not look only at an individual's past and current mental health and stability. We also look for potential future instability, unreliability, or untrustworthiness. Whether past behavior is likely to continue, get better, or get worse in the future is a professional judgment that requires the training of a qualified mental health professional.

Now that you have read the relevance to security and the disqualifying factors let me give you the mitigating circumstances:

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 everyone's situation is very much so different so I would need to know much more about your situation to be able to really tell you if your situation would be a big issue or not a concern at all. But do know that it is taken serious.

You can find more information about this here:

What I do suggest is that if you do have any questions or concerns about something as it relates to security clearance I recommend that you get some Pre-Security Clearance Counseling/Consulting. Some law firms who deal with these matters do this as well as my firm. In this session you can confidentially discuss any areas of concern and get your questions answered and also discuss how you handle the situation and how the form should be completed. Many times its about how you said something or what you dont say that can hurt you.

I hope this is helpful. If you need assistance please contact me at and we will see about scheduling you a consultation.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Mr. Dortch: I read an article in the Post recently that the Federal Government might do away with KSAs, and that President Obama might be signing an Executive Order making it official in April. Given how much time KSAs take to prepare, would you recommend I wait for a month so I can apply without having to submit KSAs? (I'm currently employed.) Thanks!

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

Yes this is true there is talk about the elimination of KSAs. I am a tad bit skeptical about this but I am very interested to see what will happen. We will see.

Regardless I would recommend that you do not wait. If you see an opportunity that you really want you should go for it. Even if the President orders a full stop use of KSAs this will not be an immediate thing. It will probably be phase out process because so many agencies have systems in place that use the KSA or essay question model.

So I suggest you keep looking for positions you like and keep putting in applications. You do not want to miss out on an opportunity because you were waiting for KSAs to go away.

Take care and I wish you much success.


Laurel, Md.: I am a veteran with disability rating from VA, I've answered the KSA's, I'm rated best qualified however I'm not interviewed. I'm confused what is happening?

Derrick Dortch: Laurel,

I put some information at the beginning of the show that discusses assistance and points of contact for veterans. Read that and contact some of the agencies points of contact working with veterans to help them get Federal jobs. See how they can be of assistance.

What I will say is that I do not want you to just rely on your Veterans Preference and you being best qualified. Do all you can to reach out to other veterans, veterans organizations, and other networks to see if they can assist you. Be proactive. Its both what you know and who you know that is helpful in the Federal job search. You may have some old buddies from your unit who are not Feds, contact them, contact the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and other places and see what network contacts you can get and utilize. Also keep reassessing your resume and tweaking it.

Lastly make sure you reach out to the HR Specialist on the job announcement and find out how Veterans Preference is being used. They can provide you insight.

Let me know how all of this works out. If you cant get any further down the road of success after doing all of this then lets talk then. Take care and I wish you much success.


Reston, Virginia: On March 15, 2010, I contacted Ross Harris of, I had a brief conversation with him. He informed me that there would be a membership charge of $49.95 which would guarantee jobs via gov't services or,, etc.,in addition to resume writing, one-on-one consultations, etc. I asked if he could recommend a source who could help me strictly with resume writing for federal private and non-private organizations; he recommended Kathryn Trotman at I definitely need consultation and professional assistance with my resume, yet am concerned if the above sources are legitimate or a scam. Your expertise advice would be most appreciated.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Reston, VA,

I am not really sure about This is the first time I am hearing of him. I will take a look at his service more and provide feedback.

Here are some providers of services to Federal Job Seekers. I would suggest you explore which company and their services are the best for you and then go from there.

Here you go:

Federal Career Services

In full disclosure this is my company. We are fully focused on providing services to help Federal Job Seekers and Federal Employees succeed in their career, work and life. We do help people with their Federal Resumes and KSAs and will write them but at this moment we are booked on writing assignments until May. We are only doing consultations and advising people on the development of an Interview Winning package.

Resume Place

Resume Place is run by Kathryn Troutman who is the author of several books on writing Federal Resumes. I know Kathryn personally and she and her service do great work. Here service is a reliable one.

Career Perfect

I have not seen the work of Career Perfect but they have been around for some time now. Its a good place to consider.

KSA Doctor

I have not seen the work of KSA Doctor but they have been around for some time. Another good place to consider.

Take care and I wish you much success.



Reston, Virginia: Hi Derrick: How do I access your on line Q&A regarding Federal Employment. It's my first time. Thanks. The online chat is live now, after the chat the transcript will be available on this page itself.

Derrick Dortch: My producer has put up information to help you out on this Reston. It should be earlier in the show. Please let us know if you have any other problems.


NoVA: Hi there, hoping you can help. I'm a senior-level graphic designer looking for a new job. I've been in the private sector, mostly non-profits for most of my career, and would love a government job. I've been applying left and right to jobs and have gotten nothing. I'm not sure if I'm filling out the online questionnaire correctly? Sometimes they ask what grade-level I would accept, but unfortunately I don't know anything about grade-levels so I just guess. Sometimes I'll go months without hearing anything and then I'll get an email with some jargon on it that I assume says that I qualify for the position but didn't get the job but it's not clear why. I feel like in order to get a gov job I need to learn a new language. Is there some sort of guide out there for people like me who want to get into the government but have now clue how?

Derrick Dortch: Hello NOVA,

There are a couple of books in the bookstores that are helpful and also USAJOBS has an information center that provides tips and advice. You can find that here:

You can also find information and advice on AVUECENTRAL. Go to

Many agencies will have some advice on their websites. For instance:

Department of Veteran Affairs - Tips

National Institutes of Health - Advice

USDA Agriculture Research Service

A couple of other places that might also be helpful is


This is a site that gives advice and you can also do social networking. It has some interesting and good stuff on the site.


This is a social networking site mainly for those in government, government contractor and for some who are interested in government. Here since there are so many in government on this site you can possibly reach out and ask them for some advice.

If you are still not getting anywhere then I would suggest you look into getting some professional advice and assistance. I put a list of service providers up on previous question. Take a look at those and if you need assistance and you are serious about becoming a Federal employee it may be worth the investment.

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


Hampton: As a retiring Lt Col in the Air Force I have often been on both sides of the civilian hiring process for government positions. The application process for most Federal positions in the GS-12 arena and above is a nightmarish process that is sometimes beyond human comprehesion. You have to navigate multiple job sites, post multiple job listings and many times get hit with the dreaded "Application Manager" questionairre which proceeds to grill you on dozens of questions that have to be answered with specific examples, backed up with past supervisors names and phone numbers for verification. The they disappear into the black hole of referrals. From past experience, if you do not have a direct personal relationship with SOMEONE within the hiring directorate who can either refer you for an interview, or who knows you and ASKS for you to be interviewed, your chances of selection are nil. They leave open announcements on the DON Navy website that sit for months and you have no idea what they are doing with the fill action. Its the most exasperating experience anyone can go through. Is OPM even aware of this mess and what, if anything, are they doing about it. I won't even mention the NSPS disaster, what with al the wasted work and bad feeling that THAT mess has generated.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Hampton, VA,

First, let me thank you for your service to our country. I think you have honestly described everyone's frustrations with this entire process. It is quite a frustrating process for Federal Job Seekers and also for Federal HR Managers, Specialists and Hiring Managers who are often times overwhelmed. We have to keep working at fixing this problem and what I will say is that John Berry and OPM do know that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. We are going to honestly have to talk to our representatives in congress and keep pushing the administration to make change and make this process less frustrating for everyone.

Do not give up on getting into the Federal Government. You will have to think of this process as war and you have to develop an effective strategy to win it. Target the right positions, prepare and develop a targeted package, be persistent in applying and networking and remember to have some patience.

There are many of us committed to changing the process so we will all keep working at it. Thanks for you comment sir. If you need additional assistance please contact me at and we will see about scheduling you a consultation.

Take care and I wish you much success.


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Dortch,

Appreciate your chats. My plan,(because my fiancee lives in Baltimore)is to move there and get an Gov't. job there within the next year or so. My plan was based on the health care bill getting passed (check), HHS getting the resposibility for handling the program (check) and hope that some of the new positions that the program will create will be in the Baltimore area (check?). My question is aside from, is there anywhere else I can look for prospective jobs? Thanks.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Washington, DC,

Thanks for your question. Honestly USAJOBS is a great place to look for jobs but it should never be the only place you look. I would suggest you do a couple things.

First, read through the legislation for the new Health Care Bill as much as possible. See what agencies and sub-agencies and departments are going to be impacted and who will have the responsibility for doing what.

Make a list of these agencies and then go to each one of them directly and go to their career or employment sites. You can to monitor each of these agencies because they may put some jobs up on their site that they have not put on USAJOBS or they may put positions on USAJOBS a certain way that you will only see them if you go through their site.

So make sure you monitor each agency directly on a regular basis. For your target list I would even be proactive to the point of contacting the HR Office and talking to a HR Specialist or even going down to the office.

Second, monitor USAJOBS and begin doing both keyword and advanced searches under the agency. I find that different positions come up for the same agency depending on how you search.

Third, go to sites like - They are being used by some federal agencies to post jobs and for the application process.

Fourth, monitor the papers and the job sections as well as begin looking at various healthcare jobs websites. Some agencies will post jobs on these sites or put announcements in the paper. If they do then they are truly looking for people for these positions.

Fifth, look at meta job search engines like or Do a keyword search in them. Many times they capture various government jobs.

Sixth, make sure your package (Federal Resume, KSA, etc) are targeted, persuasive and powerful. Also do as much networking as possible and look to see if these agencies will be at any career fairs.

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


Derrick Dortch: Well, our time is up. It always goes wayyy too fast but we will be back April 14th for another show. Thank you so very much for stopping by the show, you are truly appreciated. I also want to thank my producer for doing a great job a usual.

Enjoy this weather and please be careful out there on the roads and elsewhere. I just saw a commercial that really hit me hard about texting while driving and being distracted. I know I have been guilty of it but if you are doing it please stop. The text can wait till you stop the car. Be careful out there and know that I wish you much success in your career, work and life.

Derrick T. Dortch


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