By Alex Harrington, Executive Director
For those of you who are looking for a federal career, it’s very important to align your expertise, abilities, and skills to the selected career occupational field, especially to the respective job announcement that you’re applying for. However, keep in mind that this is probably the most difficult part of the federal job search. Why? Because you must know—in terms of your transferable expertise, abilities, and skills—your work assessment of how you will perform in a particular career field in the government.
When it comes to matching your transferable expertise, abilities, and skills to federal occupations, it is quite arduous and difficult for many job seekers. Truth be told, in my opinion, many job seekers—possibly you—are not sure what type of jobs Uncle Sam has to offer. Even if you do know where to find and learn about the wide-variety of career fields the government has to offer, the obstacle of matching your past work experiences to government positions still remains.
So, to help lighten the load in this part of the job search, I recommend the following steps:
First: Identify And Learn About Your Chosen Federal Occupation
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) publishes the Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families (December 2018) that outlines occupation-specific information for white collar occupations, as well as for trade, craft, and labor occupational fields. For instance, if you’re looking for engineering careers, you will find the associated federal career field in the Technical Work in the Engineering and Architecture Group, the 0800 series. In this description, OPM outlines the different job titles associated with the ‘Engineering and Architecture’ career field, and required key skills and work activities. This is also a good resource to use when writing a resume, because it provides foundational job competencies for your preferred Federal career occupational field.
Also, the preferred career occupational field you have chosen will have a series and grade description, which is the Federal government’s system for categorizing and defining jobs. For example, the “0343” is the Job Series (Management and Program Analyst) that is within the “0300” Occupational Group (General Administrative, Clerical, and Office Services Group).
The advantage of knowing your series description is that it can be used to search for job openings on USAJOBS. So, instead of typing in “Engineer” in the Keywords search box, you could type “0801” to get a list of positions for general engineer. The benefit of using the series number for searching for job openings is that it will capture all job titles associated with that particular series number.
Second: Match Your Expertise, Abilities, And Skills To Your Preferred Federal Occupation
Once you’ve selected your chosen federal occupation, then the next step is to assess, identify, and align your transferable expertise, abilities, and skills.
Easy right!? Well, maybe not that easy.
If you have not been keeping account of all current and past work experiences and successes—i.e., significant accomplishments, awards, recognitions, training, etc.—this will be the most difficult step in matching your transferable expertise, abilities, and skills to your chosen federal occupation.
Here are some suggestions to help you with this step:
- Develop a list of all your job duties/responsibilities going back at least 10 years.
- Review all of your job experiences on your current resume.
- Compile evidence of all of your amazing career accomplishments.
- Obtain three past performance evaluations.
- Gather ‘thank you’ emails/letters and awards for a job-well-done.
- Identify any job/continuing education training that pertains to the career occupation.
- List any volunteer experiences.
- Collect college/university/vocational degrees and certificates.
If you are just starting off in the workforce, check out USAJOBS’ federal jobs by college major. This may be a good start for recent grads or for job seekers looking for a career change into the federal government.
Third: Determine High Demand Skills In Your Chosen Federal Occupation
After you have identified your chosen federal career occupation and aligned your transferable expertise, abilities, and skills, now it’s time to identify the occupation’s most recurring high demand skills.
Log onto USAJOBS and look for a few announcements…about five or so…pertaining to your chosen occupational field. Once you save each one on your profile, go directly to “How You Will Be Evaluated” on the job announcement. Here you will find the Federal career positions key qualification factors. They could be described as “Your qualifications will be evaluated on the following competencies (knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics)” or possibly one of the following:
- Quality Ranking Factors
- Narrative Factors
- Technical Qualifications
- Statements of Qualifications
- Selective Placement Factors
- Evaluation Factors
- Rating Factors
- Job Elements
Basically, you are looking for those critical skills that are found in each job announcement. And once you determine the high demand skills, then match your transferable experiences to them.
Last: Turn Your Transferable Experiences Into STAR Stories
The STAR method is a great way to highlight “Problem + Solution + Result” in your significant accomplishments. The components of the STAR method are:
- Situation – sets the stage or context of the requirement or issue.
- Task – basically the objective or mission that must be reached.
- Action – steps that are taken to accomplish the requirement or resolve the issue.
- Result – the accomplished, presented in quantifiable or qualifiable metrics.
When matching your past experiences to a federal occupational career field, be sure to identify and learn about your chosen federal occupation; match your expertise, abilities, and skills; determine high demand skills in your chosen federal occupation; and turn your transferable experiences into star stories.
Learn more about the STAR method at:
- The STAR Method: The Secret to Acing Your Next Job Interview, The Muse
- How to Tell a STAR Story, Carnegie Mellon University
- How To Use the STAR Interview Response Technique, Indeed
And further reading on the Federal government’s system for job series and grades:
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Please follow us on Twitter @FedCareer and join our Federal Career Connection page on LinkedIn or find us on Meetup at meetup.com/mbc-cnm.To get updates on upcoming workshops and career coaching sessions, visit https://federalcareerconnection.org/events/
Author: Alex Harrington, a federal hiring manager, is currently serving as the Executive Director for Federal Career Connection, Inc. He is also Certified Career Services Provider and Global Career Development Facilitator. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is a Persian Gulf War veteran.