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Derrick Dortch
Career counselor
Wednesday, April 14, 2010; 11:00 AM

Federal careers expert Derrick Dortch was online Wednesday, May 12, 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, Good Morning,

Well for many this is indeed a good morning because of what happened yesterday. It was announced yesterday that hiring reform is now here and will be implemented into the Federal Government. I attended the press conference yesterday where John Berry, Director of the Office of Personnel Management presented to us the signed Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on the subject of Improving the Federal Recruitment and Hiring Process.

Let me give you some of the highlights directly from the Memo:

Section 1.  Directions to Agencies.  Agency heads shall take the following actions no later than November 1, 2010:

 (a)  consistent with merit system principles and other requirements of title 5, United States Code, and subject to guidance to be issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), adopt hiring procedures that:

 (1)  eliminate any requirement that applicants respond to essay-style questions when submitting their initial application materials for any Federal job;

 (2)  allow individuals to apply for Federal employment by submitting resumes and cover letters or completing simple, plain language applications, and assess applicants using valid, reliable tools; and

 (3)  provide for selection from among a larger number of qualified applicants by using the "category rating" approach (as authorized by section 3319 of title 5, United States Code), rather than the "rule of 3" approach, under which managers may only select from among the three highest scoring applicants.

(b)  require that managers and supervisors with responsibility for hiring are:

 (1)  more fully involved in the hiring process, including planning current and future workforce requirements, identifying the skills required for the job, and engaging actively in the recruitment and, when applicable, the interviewing process; and

 (2)  accountable for recruiting and hiring highly qualified employees and supporting their successful transition into Federal service, beginning with the first performance review cycle starting after November 1, 2010;

There is more and I will tell you where to find the full Memo shortly but let me focus on parts A & B and the sub sections under them. With this Memo from President Obama the Federal Government will now be eliminating KSA (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) and any form essay type question from the initial application. After November 1, 2010 you should be able to apply to Federal positions with only a resume and cover for your initial application. Now do keep in mind that this does not mean that there will never be a time when you might have to respond to a KSA or essay style questionnaire but if you do this will be later on in the process when you know that you are a contender for the position and now they need more from you to analyze you against your competitors .

But the key thing that everyone has been requesting, the elimination of KSAs and any essay style questions is suppose to take affect this year. This will not be instant. Some agencies will be putting this into effect quicker than others but by November 1, 2010 all agencies are suppose to have this in place.

I do want you to know that there are many more questions to ask about and I am going to be following up that make sure that this applies to all agencies meaning competitive service, excepted service, government corporations and independent agencies. I believe it does but I will be talking to OPM in the upcoming days to find out if this covers the full government and that no agency has a loop hole that would enable them to avoid implementing hiring reform.

The next big change is the fact that hiring managers will now be fully involved in the hiring process. I have heard from many hiring managers and many have been frustrated that the person they want to hire for a position is not the person HR will allow them to hire even when it is clear that they can justify the persons qualifications and how they would be a good fit. I have also heard that hiring managers are sometimes not involved in the process at all and HR Specialists are left to make decision regarding the hiring of very technical positions. This is suppose to change with the new Memo and the Hiring Reform. Now hiring managers are suppose to be a integral part of the hiring process.

These are some of the top changes. I will be discussing more later in the show if we have time and we will be covering this more in depth in later shows as the roll out process begins. You can find more about Hiring Reform here:

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!!!


Rockville, MD: I have a friend who is applying for Federal positions and while he is no fan of the current complicated hiring maze he is worried that the new process will just make it easier for those with an inside contact to get their resume seen by the proper eyes. I know that a certain amount of nepotism already exists in the current hiring process but will there be any safeguards to keep it from getting worse under the new process? Thanks so much.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Rockville,

This process is very new and there will definitely be some safeguards put in place. Many of these will fall under the section on the President's Memo on Hiring Reform when in section A it says "consistent with merit system principles and other requirements of title 5, United States Code, and subject to guidance to be issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), adopt hiring procedures that....".

The key is that they are going to use the merit system to ensure that there is fairness in the process. What you refer to is really a matter of networking and the who you know system and that goes on now in Federal government and in all sectors. That wont change. The key for you is make sure you have a strong resume and cover letter that will sell you to these Federal agencies but you also want to implement your own networking and who you know strategy as well. I always advise people to be proactive with your Federal search. With it now being directed that hiring managers are suppose to be involved in the hiring process if you are at a networking event and you meet a hiring manager and make a good impression on him/her and you get their contact information then during the process of your conversations and follow up with that person you may express your interest in Federal government and you pass along your resume. This hiring manager may find your experience and qualifications interesting and may want to give you a call and get you in the pool of the next group of candidates he/she is considering for a position they are hiring for at their agency.

With the new Hiring Reform your resume and cover letter will suffice in you applying to this position and the hiring manager can just take it and give it to the HR Specialist and say that they want you to be in the considered pool of applicants. This is a good thing not a bad one.

We will see how this process unfolds but do not be scared of networking and the who you know system. That is the way the world works and to a degree if not abused that is fine. Everyone should be given a fair review and selected on qualifications but one of the keys to success is to also know how to play the game and being proactive and getting to know people and networking is also part of that game. Remember applying for a job is selling yourself and you have to make sure do that effectively with your materials and with yourself.

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


Istanbul, Turkey: Hi Derrick, I enjoy following your columns and Live Q&As.

I was born and raised in America and I studied engineering. I worked for a major US defense contractor for 6 years right out of college. Since then however, I have worked overseas managing humanitarian aid and community development projects. I am now 49 and returning to the States permanently.

For which government agencies might I be most qualified, at my age and with an overseas background? I am familiar with USAID and the diplomatic services channels, however I am sure there are additional agencies who need USA-based personnel with overseas experience, foreign language skills, and an engineering degree.

Second, I have lived in numerous countries over the last 20 years (China, Hong Kong, France, Madagascar, Turkey). For positions requiring a security clearance, how much more difficult will my foreign residency history make it for me to gain the required clearance? I held a SECRET clearance prior to going overseas.

Finally, at my age... what tips can you give me for best presenting myself in person and on paper as a prospective new hire who does not have any experience working for the US Government, but who does has a broad range of related experience?

Thank you very much, No Place Like Home

Derrick Dortch: Hello Istanbul, Turkey,

Thanks for tuning into the show. Wow with your experience you can go in a number of directions. You can either continue to focus on Defense/National Security Related agencies or you can continue down the international development path. Let me give you a few agencies off the top who would be interested in you:

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM)

Defense Security and Cooperation Agency (DSCA)

Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)

National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency (NGA)

Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)

State Department (Various Bureaus)

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)

Bureau of Industry and Security - Department of Commerce

Department of Army and its sub agencies/components

Department of Navy and its sub agencies/components

Department of Air Force and its sub agencies/components

Army Corp of Engineers

Peace Corps

Honestly I could go on and on and on listing agencies that might have an interest in you and our background. There are many in the government who need a scientific/technical person with language skills and overseas experience. Obvious fits are the IC (Intelligence Community) but I would not stop just there.

Take a look at and see what captures your interest. But really the government has agencies you should consider. I would need to know a little more about your background to really tell you solid agencies but trust me there are many.

Do not worry about your age. That is really not a factor when it comes to the Federal jobs you would be looking for. As long as you are not looking for a operational job like a special agent or something in the clandestine service then you are fine.

What I would recommend is that you sit down with a career counselor who is familiar with the Federal Government and go over your qualifications. You have many and then have them guide you on where to look. From there find the positions you are qualified for and interested in and then develop your resume and cover letter and other self marketing materials around that. This will get you started.

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


Alexandria, Va.: KSAs being eliminated? How about those online assessments grading oneself from 1-5 and then providing backup statements if one ranks oneself high? It appears to be replacing long essays with albeit shorter paragraphs doing the same thing.

Derrick Dortch: Hello Alexandria, VA,

We will still have to see how this plays out. Right now I am going to step out and assume that it will be a cover letter and resume for some agencies and others may use that in combination with 1-5 or other type grading questions. This is so new we are going to have to see how it develops. I will be looking into it more and as I find out more I will let you know.


Washington, D.C.: I've been a contractor for two years. The office I work in would like to hire me and has advertised "my" job twice. Both times, a veteran has applied. They shut down the listing and keep me as a contractor.

I don't want to take a job from a vet, but I've worked hard here for two years and would like to have the benefits that my co-workers have. Will the new rules Obama is proposing make it any easier to convert a contractor?

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

There was still a great deal of talk about veterans preference in the press conference yesterday and these new rules do not affect this. There is even more of a push to get veterans into the Federal Government so that is also a priority for this administration. Now some agencies are now making sure that veterans are on the list to be considered but I have seen some agencies not use veterans preference when it comes to ranking the candidates based on experience. This is one way that some agencies have started to evaluate candidates to make everything fair.

What I will say is that this process will make it easier to hire and for a hiring manager to hire so this may help you. I have no doubt that you want to be fair to veterans but there is nothing wrong with you wanting to be a Federal worker as well. Do not feel bad about that.

There are ways that your agency can bring you on if they would like. They could possibly use DIRECT HIRE Authority or other provisions to bring you aboard. I think the hiring manager may need to know what else can be done in your case to hire you if they really want you.

Have them take a look at hiring flexibilities here:

Like I said there should be a way to bring you aboard if they want you and if you are the best qualified person. With the new reform the hiring manager is supposed to be involved with HR on this process and this manager who wants to hire you may just need to know what steps they need to take to make it happen.

I hope this helps. Please let me know how things work out. Take care and I wish you much success.


Hiring Reform: what welcome and long overdue news! While applying for jobs with the federal government there were times, that between KSAs and various additional hoops required by the individual agencies, I would spend a full day on one application. I must have applied for 50 jobs. I finally got hired for a federal job because I "knew someone" I was lucky but how frustrating for everyone else.

Derrick Dortch: Thanks for your comments. It is long overdue and I do pray and hope that it does make the process a better one.

We shall see.


Current Federal Employee: I just want to say that it does help to know someone, but in my current office we've recently hired a number of people that just applied through the usual process and didn't have any inside connections. My 22-year-old son found a very good federal job. He certainly didn't know anyone there. It can be done. You have to work hard and apply for lots of jobs, not just your dream job.

Derrick Dortch: Thanks for your comments. I completely concur. You do not need to know someone to get a federal position. You can apply and many people are brought on without knowing someone. The key is to be proactive no matter what strategy you are implementing. When I say be proactive that means that you develop targeted, powerful, persuasive self-marketing materials that sell you and show you as best qualified. These materials need to not just be job descriptive but they also need to show your success stories and achievements.

This also means that if possible that you are at networking and other career events like career fairs, events where feds from the agencies of your interest are speaking, joining associations who have a good number of Feds as members, etc.

Be proactive in your search and you will find success. Thanks for the comment!


Washington, D.C.: I understand that bad credit will stop you from retaining a security clearance. Is this true? If so, how can I turn this around to qualify?

Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,

One of the main reasons outside of drug use or criminal activity that stops a person from getting a security clearance is a person having financial issues. Let me break it down by providing you what the Adjudication Desk Reference (ADR) says about debt. The ADR provides guidelines on what Adjudicators (the person who determines if you get your clearance or not) should consider when evaluating a person. Here is part of what the ADR says about Financial Issues (Debt);

Relevance to Security

Common sense and experience tell us that financial difficulties may increase temptation to commit illegal or unethical acts as a means of gaining funds to meet financial obligations. Many persons encounter financial problems through no fault of their own. For others, financial problems appear to be part of a general tendency toward irresponsibility and poor judgment, and that is a security concern. From a security perspective, the cause of debt and how one deals with financial obligations are considerably more important than the amount of debt.

It is important to remember that many financially motivated crimes are committed out of simple greed, not need, and that most people with financial difficulties are not inclined to commit illegal acts at all.
Potentially Disqualifying Conditions

Extract from the Guideline

(a) inability or unwillingness to satisfy debts;

(b) indebtedness caused by frivolous or irresponsible spending and the absence of any evidence of willingness or intent to pay the debt or establish a realistic plan to pay the debt.

(c) a history of not meeting financial obligations;

(d) deceptive or illegal financial practices such as embezzlement, employee theft, check fraud, income tax evasion, expense account fraud, filing deceptive loan statements, and other intentional financial breaches of trust;

(e) consistent spending beyond one's means, which
may be indicated by excessive indebtedness, significant negative cash flow, high debt-to-income ratio, and/or other financial analysis;

(f) financial problems that are linked to drug abuse, alcoholism, gambling problems, or other issues of security concern;

(g) failure to file annual Federal, state, or local income tax returns as required or the fraudulent filing of the same;

Now that we have looked at the potential disqualifying factors lets look at the mitigating factors:

Mitigating Conditions

Extract from the Guideline

(a) the behavior happened so long ago, was so infrequent, or occurred under such circumstances that it is unlikely to recur and does not cast doubt on the individual's current reliability, trustworthiness, or good judgment;

(b) the conditions that resulted in the financial problem were largely beyond the person's control (e.g., loss of employment, a business downturn, unexpected medical emergency, or a death, divorce or separation), and the individual acted responsibly under the circumstances;

(c) the person has received or is receiving counseling for the problem and/or there are clear indications that the problem is being resolved or is under control;

(d) the individual initiated a good-faith effort to repay overdue creditors or otherwise resolve debts;

(e) the individual has a reasonable basis to dispute the legitimacy of the past-due debt which is the cause of the problem and provides documented proof to substantiate the basis of the dispute or provides evidence of actions to resolve the issue;

Now that you see what can disqualify you the key is to figure out what do you need to do to make sure you meet the mitigating conditions.

Its not the fact that you have had bad credit that will stop you from getting a clearance. Adjudicators are not looking at your credit score. They are looking to see if you have taken steps to be financially responsible now. They want to see that you are paying things on time now. They want to see that you are paying down debts. They want to see that you have contacted all creditors and worked out payment plans. They want to see you are on track to being financially responsible and that you will not be a risk to national security.

I would suggest you begin getting your credit cleared up and getting your financial situation stabilized first before applying to any Federal job that requires a clearance. Make sure you document and keep records of all of your actions and what you are doing to clear up your credit and be financially responsible. You will have to show all of this when you are doing your security clearance paperwork in order for them to see that you are back on track.

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


Clifton, Va. : If the veteran wasn't qualified the agency does not have to hire them. They do not have to shut the vacancy down. What they do is send a justification in writing for not hiring the vet and reasons why. It's work and you have to jump through some hoops but shutting down the vacancy is just lazy and not doing what is best for your agency.

Derrick Dortch: Thanks for your comments Clifton. You are correct in this.


Arlington, Va.: DC has just shown us what is wrong with fed hiring--wired advertisements. They are fake advertising a job that they are holding for him/her. This wastes EVERYONE's time. And it's against the rules. That department should be written up. (I'm a Fed and this makes me really irritated.)

Derrick Dortch: Arlington, VA,

I do agree with your point. From some estimates I have heard that at least 40% of the jobs on USAJOBS at various periods are targeted for someone. I do not think this is fair. People apply with the high hopes they will be considered and they are not. If its a position that is not truly open I do not think it needs to be advertised to the general population. This does frustrate people and it is discouraging.

Hopefully this process will get better. Thanks for your comments.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Derrick - while the changes serve to make the recruiting/hiring process more effecient, are agencies really capable in handling the influx of resumes/cover letters coming their way? I hate KSAs, but at the same time I think that KSAs minimized the number of applicants.

Derrick Dortch: Arlington, VA,

This is the million dollar question that I think is on many peoples mind. We are going to have to wait and see about this. What I do think will happen is that the process will be broken up in phases. Phase 1 will be resumes and cover letters collected. All those qualified will go to Phase 2 and this may be a process of questions or essay type responses. This will be the selective factors that weed the top group out who go to Phase 3 which would be the interviews. I am anticipating and speculating that this will be the process but we will have to see.

I will be inquiring and when I find out I will let you know.

Thanks for your question. Take care and I wish you much success.


Derrick Dortch: Unfortunately I am going to have to cut it short today but we will be back on Wednesday, May 26th at 11 AM. When we come back I will have much more on the Federal Hiring Process and the new reforms as well as much more to share.

Thank you so much for stopping by today. You are truly appreciated. As usual much thanks to my producer Sakina for all of her great work.

Till the next time please be careful out there and enjoy this weather. Take care and I wish you much success.

Derrick T. Dortch



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