Last year, when the Pentagon announced significant force structure decisions for fiscal years 2016 and 2017--to include a reduction in 17,000 Army civilian employees--many people took notice. Those retiring from the military, many who seek jobs in civil service, should especially pay attention: downsizing means fewer jobs in civil service.

"It's daunting," said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Loren Rainke, who will retire from the military this summer. "I have former colleagues with 25 years of experience who got out of the military who have applied to a GS position in the field that they previously worked in and they haven't even received a follow-up email or a call back."

Rainke and others approaching separation have valid concerns, according to Corliss Jackson, a former GS-15 hiring manager for the Office of Personnel Management. Jackson travels to installations throughout the National Capital Region providing federal job seekers an inside perspective on the federal hiring process, including how to properly draft a strong federal resume and application package. She also talks about how to be considered employable to both human resources reps and hiring managers.

"There's ignorance on the part of the applicants," Jackson said. "Most people don't know how long their resume should be, how long the hiring process usually takes, and the formula they should follow to get recognized by hiring managers. All of these factors combined are not being taught to applicants."

Staggering statistics

On Jan. 21 on the Henderson Hall portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Jackson stood in front of a packed audience of soon-to-separate uniformed military personnel and civilian employees during a seminar entitled "Cracking the Code to the Federal Hiring Process." There, Jackson provided the formula applicants need to follow in order to be hired.
Attendees had plenty of questions: How thorough and robust should a resume be? Why are some jobs posted longer than others? And, how many jobs does a job seeker have to apply for before they land an interview?

While 99 percent of federal jobs can be found advertised on usajobs.gov, Jackson explained applicants will need to be persistent and consistent in their job search.

"There's a lot of jobs, but a lot of competition," Jackson said. "There are only probably four categories of jobs that will be a good fit for an applicant to apply for. And you will have to apply for between 70 and 100 positions, before you start getting results."

According to Jackson 70 to 100 job applications will yield 10 referrals and one or two interviews. And depending on the position an applicant applies for, it can take three to 18 months to land a job in the federal sector, she said.

In other words, applicants seeking a government position will need to invest time and energy to become a competitive federal applicant that's deemed "eligible-referred," according to Jackson.
Applicants will fall into three categories: Not qualified; eligible-not referred; and eligible-referred, she said.

Federal resume model

Jackson strongly advises that federal job seekers first build a "foundational federal resume" online through usajobs.gov. She estimates a federal government resume should be at least five to seven pages long. And an applicant should explain their skills in text as if they were very descriptive sound bites.

"It's not about what you think you can do, it's about what you are actually qualified to do," Jackson said. "The resume should detail how your history meets the organization's needs and allow you to align your skillset to meet the organization's needs. For example, on a civilian resume a person applying for a position in finance might say 'I saved a company $1 billion.' A federal government resume should explain how you saved the company $1 billion."

Additionally, Jackson said resumes should be listed chronologically, with particular focus on an applicant's most recent 10-year job history, and catering to the two audiences involved in the first hurdle of the hiring process: Selecting officials (who review resume details) and hiring managers (who focus on applicants' accomplishments). At JBM-HH, applications for federal service are processed at the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., and then forwarded to the hiring managers.

Apply within occupational groups

According to Jackson, there are 23 occupational groups within the federal government, and generally applicants will only be qualified to apply within four groups, not all, or even one-fifth of the 23. Groups are categorized by the first two digits in the jobs occupational code, which could make searching for a position less intimidating.

"An applicant can set up searches [in usajobs.gov] by occupational groups, and only these positions will be available to them," Jackson said.

This allows the job seeker to maximize the search for positions that fit their qualifications, while also allowing them to avoid the emotional toll associated with being deemed ineligible, or eligible-not referred.

"Applicants must meet 100 percent of qualifications in a job post," Jackson said. "But the duty section is secondary to the qualification section. It's based on a 75 to 80 percent match rule. The federal government is not the place to get training. The government will not train you on how to perform the analytical work required for a position, they want people who can hit the ground running."

Term positions, open periods and location

Job positions designated "term" or "limited-term" are indeed temporary, according to Jackson. While some can last up to five years, if a permanent position opens up within that time frame the term employee will need to reapply for the permanent position, she said.

Federal applicants should also pay attention to the "open period" for a job post, according to Jackson. One myth Jackson raised focused on the timeframe associated with federal job listings, and concern that a job post with an shorter "open period" could mean that a hiring organization may already have a candidate in mind. That's not the case, according to Jackson.

"Agencies will shorten their windows, not because they have a person in mind, but because they want to sort through 25 applications instead of 100," she said. "Once the Department of Transportation had to sort through 900 applications in order to fill one position."

Sorting through hundreds of applicants in the National Capital Region is not uncommon, which is why Jackson encourages job seekers to weigh the pros and cons of applying in a specific geographical region. Also, a person who still wants to reside in the D.C. metro area can still consider federal employment elsewhere.

"Winchester, Va.; Manassas, Va.; Falls Church, Va.; Fort Meade, Md; they are all pockets of D.C. metro where fewer candidates have historically applied," Jackson said.

This is good news for federal job seekers like Rainke who have strong resumes, and equally strong competition in civil service.

"I'm trying to crack the code to get hired," Rainke said. "I want to make sure that my 20 years in finance, and 10 to 12 years of experience in planning, programming, budgeting and execution, works to my advantage."

"Cracking the Code to the Federal Hiring Process" is sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services Henderson Hall and is open to all DoD ID card holders. To attend the next seminar call 703-614-6828.

Pentagram Staff Writer Arthur Mondale can be reached at awright@dcmilitary.com.