When hiring reform was announced in a presidential memo last year, it indicated that agencies should provide for selection from among a larger number of qualified applicants by using the “category rating” approach rather than the “rule of 3” approach. With the “rule of 3,” managers may select from among only the three highest-scoring applicants.

Category rating includes applicants who meet basic minimum qualification requirements and whose KSAs (job-related competencies of knowledge, skills and abilities) have been ranked in one of two or more quality categories instead of being simply ranked in numeric score order. Preference eligibles are listed ahead of non-preference eligibles within each quality category.

The category descriptions can include “highly qualified” and “qualified” or “highly qualified,” “well-qualified” and “qualified”.

This hiring method opens up the candidate pool but leaves many job-seekers with two key questions: How do I make sure I’m in the highly qualified category, and how do I make sure I’m at the very top of that pile?

Many human resources personnel are trained to look for a couple of things. Let me give you an example from one of their training manuals.

Let’s say an agency is hiring for an accountant, GS-12. For an applicant to be deemed “qualified,” the candidate must show technical accounting knowledge. To be deemed “well qualified,” the applicant must show technical knowledge and good oral communication skills. And to be considered “highly qualified,” the applicant must show technical knowledge, good communication skills and project manager capabilities.

It’s one thing to show you possess those competencies. It’s another to demonstrate proficiency. Using keywords in your resume is essential to getting noticed, but if you are only doing that, then your resume will end up at the bottom of the highly qualified list rather than the top.

In the case of the oral communication competency, when applicants show they can “communicate or explain basic ideas or information clearly,” they are scored at 1. When they show they can “communicate or explain moderately complex ideas or information clearly,” they score a 3, and when they show they can “communicate or explain complex ideas or information clearly,” they receive a 5, the highest rating.

Showing high levels of proficiency is about telling success stories and giving specific examples of your work and achievements. The right mix of those examples can yield a winning application and put you on your way to the interview.

Derrick T. Dortch, president of
the Diversa Group, is a career counselor who specializes in government job searches and military transition. Send your comments and questions to fedworker@washpost.com.