Overview of the Federal Application Process

The vast majority of all federal job openings are posted on usajobs.gov, along with a detailed description of the position and the application process.  Each position will have an “Open Period” during which your application must be submitted.  Often these are as short as one week, so having your documents prepared and ready to be customized as soon as an opening appears is crucial. From the time the opening is posted until the time a candidate is hired can be six to eight months, so patience is also required.

ACS Career Services

What Counts in the Hiring Decision

  • Each agency and position will have its own evaluation criteria, based on the duties and qualifications for that position.  Each application package will be evaluated by a human resources professional as ineligible (if requirements are not met), eligible (if all requirements are met) or quality (if you meet the additional quality criteria). The best packets are forwarded to the hiring manager, who decides which candidates to interview. 
  • If you are serious about the position, you should be proactive and track the status of your application. Log in to usajobs.gov, or the system through which you submitted your packet, on a regular basis. You can also contact the agency by email or phone, making sure to be polite and respectful of their time.
  • After telephone and on-site interviews, an offer is made to the top candidate.  If that candidate declines, the process begins again. The entire process can take many months, so patience is required.

The Federal Application Portfolio

  • The job announcement instructions will probably require a number of documents to be submitted.  Most will require an application questionnaire, federal resume, and other forms or documentation.  Make sure to read the “How To Apply” section of the job announcement, and follow the directions exactly.  You may be re-directed to an external hiring system, and have to create a new account there to actually submit your application.
  • Make sure all the documents in your application portfolio show a consistent message, that highlights your qualifications for this specific position.  The knowledge, skills and abilities you possess that are most relevant to this particular opening should be emphasized by both frequency and order of appearance.  Make sure to make a note of the announcement number, and to save a copy of your entire application package, to review if you are invited to interview. 
  • Many openings will only appear for a week or two, and there will be no exceptions for missing documents, or for missing the deadline.  Advance preparation is key, so you can quickly customize and submit your documents. 

The Structure of a Federal Resume

  • Federal resumes are longer and more detailed than an industrial resume.  They include details such as number of hours worked per week and supervisor contact information, and are on the order of five pages long. You can build and store a generalized federal resume on USAJOBS.gov , and then  tailor it for specific positions to which you are applying.

The following format should be applied to your resume or curriculum vitae and each of the headings must be listed and addressed.  If not applicable, state “none” or “nothing to report”. This is important so the reviewers will then know that the heading was not overlooked or inadvertently omitted:


Educational Background – list the name of each institution, dates attended, majors, and degrees awarded.

Additional Training – list part-time or short-term training not included in Education Background.  Any government-sponsored training must be listed under this heading.  Provide dates and duration of courses.

Professional Experience – list professional positions held in chronological order providing titles and dates in each Civil Service Grade (if applicable) or position.

Honors and Awards – list dates and a brief but sufficient description to enable the reader to determine significance and prestige. If a cash award was involved, list the amount.

Special Invitations – these are usually specific invitation to present a paper before scientific or industry groups, invitation to prepare a paper or a chapter for a book, conduct a seminar, etc.  Be selective since the stature of the group which made the invitation is an important as the receipt of the invitation.  Cross reference publications and chapters to the publication list.

Licenses and Certification – list professional licenses and certifications showing kind, licensing authority, year granted, current or expired.

Membership in Professional or Honorary Societies – list each and show dates of membership and whether invited or elected, and any offices held.

Offices, Committee Assignments, or Special Assignments Held in Professional and Honorary Societies - list each and give dates. Examples of special assignments could include, member of organizing committee for conferences and workshops, chairing sessions at conferences, etc.

Participation in National Scientific Meetings, Technical Conference, Workshops, Seminars, etc. – list each providing date, location, type of meeting, title of talk or paper if one is presented.  Do not include items listed under Special Invitations.  If a paper was presented, cross reference it to the publication list.  If the same conference has been attended a number of times, summarize the information rather than listing individually.

Outside Professional Advisory and Consulting Activities - list each, provide dates, name and type of organization.  Generally but not exclusively, these should be activities which are not a part of the regular work assignment. Examples could be Editor of Journal, ad hoc reviewer for peer-reviewed journals, advisory committee to evaluate government contract/grants, university student thesis committee, etc.

Special Assignments and Advisory Activities – these should be of a technical and professional nature within your workplace but outside of the immediate work assignment of organization.  Examples include items such as Committee assignments such as Working Groups responsible for preparing Guidances to Industry, presentations at Advisory Committee Meetings,

Bibliography and Supporting Materials

List publications in chronological order and number them sequentially.  Provide full reference including all authors, title, journal, volume, complete pagination, date. For a scientific article to be listed it must have been accepted for publication by the publishing agent.

When including publications other than refereed articles in scientific journals or bulletins should be identified as one of the following types:

  • Abstract
  • Review Article
  • Book
  • Book Chapter
  • Conference or Society Proceeding
  • Patent
  • Popular Publication

Technical Research Report (a written report, for example, research conducted to answer a regulatory question that requires clearance for public release)

Note: for the bibliography it is not necessary to include types of publications that do not apply to the candidate.

Assessment Questionnaire

  • Many agencies use questionnaires with 50 to 100 questions as part of the screening process  They may include yes/no, true/false, short-essay or multiple-choice questions. For example, you may be asked rank your experience with a particular task along a scale from “no experience” to “expert”.  In most cases, you will have to complete the questionnaire when you submit your application. 
  • When answering, take time to consider your skills, and make sure your answers reflect the information presented on your resume. You should also be prepared to explain your answer in an interview. If you find yourself ranking low on several of these questions, it may be a signal to you that you are not qualified for that particular position.
  • Assessment

KSA Essays

  • A small number of positions may require you to write an essay as part of your application packet, but a greater number require them later in the application process.  Make sure to read the essay prompt carefully, and include as much information as possible in your answer.  Do not worry about repeating information that is elsewhere in your application packet.  Make sure to use the key words and phrases from the job description, focus on specific things you have done, and avoid jargon.  If possible, tell a complete story by describing the problem you faced, your actions, and the results of those actions.  Your stories will make you stand out from the other candidates.