I’m No Andy Marshall, But I’ve Tackled USAJobs

January 7, 2015

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m not the next Director of the Office of Net Assessment (though I’d gladly take the pay raise). Ryan Evans’ recent article on the retirement of Andy Marshall fascinated me for a couple of reasons. The first is one of pure history. Mr. Marshall’s retirement marks the end of an era as one of the most influential people of all time to come from within the Department of Defense. The second reason for my interest is the tie in of the article to the Federal government’s job site USAJobs. More specifically, Evans charges that navigating the seeming labyrinth of the USAJobs website is something akin to having to scale the slopes of Mount Everest. Actually, it’s not as hard as some may claim. If this is something that interests you, then continue on.

First, you have to go to the USAJobs website and create an account found here. Next, you may want to spend a few minutes and familiarize yourself with the top ten most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) found here. You may also find it useful to spend some of your time reviewing the resources page found here before you start building your profile on USAJobs. Last but not least it will involve you, the individual, building your profile, uploading up to five distinct resumes and uploading up to ten supporting documents such as DD-214, SF-15, SF-50, OF-306, transcripts, or any other pertinent document(s) specifically requested in the job opportunity announcement for which you are applying to.

Now it’s time for some personal advice coming from an individual who has navigated this process before. Here’s a short list of what I think is important:

1. Network: Start to network with the agency that you are interested in applying to. Sometimes this may not be possible, but be creative. Talking with current or former employees may give you invaluable insights into the agency you are interested in. Just as in the private sector, you will get further faster by networking than you will by going at it alone. All job opportunity announcements will have a Point of Contact for the listed opening. Start there if you have questions about the position. Know what the job requirements are and whether or not you are even eligible for the position. If unsure, this is a great opportunity for you to make that initial contact and ask the relevant questions. Keep in mind that the individual you are talking to may be dealing with dozens of other inquiries. Make sure you have written down the things that are important to you so you don’t ramble and consume their valuable time. Remember, this could be the first impression of you the hiring agency gets as a candidate applying for the position.

2. Prioritize: Searching USAJobs can be overwhelming at first. When I first started job searching I was overwhelmed at the amount of postings that got returned for the qualifications I had when doing a search. It would have taken months to sort through all the jobs, so I narrowed it down to location and agency. Everyone has different priorities so determine what’s important to you. Is it agency, location, salary, position, or some combination thereof? What are you willing to compromise on and what are you dead set on? A note of caution, the more you limit yourself, the harder the job search will become. If you have to live in a particular area of the country, there might not be any jobs that meet that specific criterion of yours.

3. Compromise: This leads into the point above. Sometimes we have to ask tough questions of ourselves. Are we willing to move? Take a pay cut? Do a job that seems “beneath” us? I am a former military officer and pilot. In my previous life, I had rank, responsibility and a nice paycheck. My priority post-military was to live in a particular area of the country. As a result, I had to apply for an entry level job with an agency that was in the location I wanted to live. While neither glamourous nor high paying, that job was my entry into the agency in the area that I wanted to live. The unforeseen bonus was that I ended up loving the job and have since applied for and been accepted into two other positions (yes, through USAJobs) that have been just as rewarding. Most importantly, if you get hired, you will be able to network much more effectively within that particular agency. Some position openings are only available to eligible employees of that agency/facility! Pay close attention to the position announcement so you don’t apply for a job that is not open to outside candidates.

4. Have realistic expectations: Unless you have a highly sought after technical skill, you need to be realistic in your expectations. Remember, while you may be qualified for the position listed, there could be dozens of other highly qualified candidates applying for that same position. The human resource department at the agency for that position has to sort through every submission and then determines who is eligible and meets the criteria. This is just the very first step in the hiring process. It is not uncommon for the hiring agency to get dozens if not hundreds of applications for any given position opening!

5. Be professional: This ties into my point above. One of the most important things you can do to help ensure you get past the initial screening is to make sure everything you have done is in accordance with the position requirements and as professional as you can make it. Make sure your resume is complete and in the proper format. Unlike the private sector where short and concise is desired, with Federal agencies your resume could be multiple pages. For example, my federal resume is nine pages long! Don’t skimp on details and make sure your resume demonstrates that you are qualified and eligible for the position you are applying to. It also needs to follow a certain format and this is where the resume builder on USAJobs shines. It will help ensure that you follow the proper format. Failure to follow application requirements can get you disqualified at the start of the process no matter what your qualifications are! Pay attention to the position posting, some agencies will place a restriction on how long the resume can be. One of the agencies I initially applied for set a word limit of 3,500 for the resume (yes that may be shocking to those on the outside). This is where having up to five individual resumes can become handy, especially if you are applying for multiple positions across different agencies.

6. Don’t take anything personally: This should stand to reason for anyone who is job searching. Prior to applying to work for the Federal government, I had submitted applications and resumes to dozens of companies, including some listed on the Fortune 500. I quickly learned to not take things personally as it wasn’t uncommon to not get a reply from said company. With USAJobs, you can always contact the POC listed for the position you have applied for to check status once the job has closed. If you have provided an up to date email in the system, you should also get periodic updates from the agency about the status of the position. Yes, sometimes these can take a long time to arrive, perhaps even months. An announcement I had applied for with another agency was a “general announcement” meaning it was an announcement/solicitation for resumes but was not an actively open position. In other words, that agency was seeking interested candidates which they could pull from should positions come open in the future. So make sure you read the fine print carefully.

In closing, I hope this helps the aspiring job seeker who is considering applying for a position with the Federal government. It is by no means legal advice nor does it guarantee any level of success for the individual. Remember, all Federal jobs are listed on USAJobs so if you desire to attain employment with the U.S. Government then the answer is yes; this is the place where you start. Just like all things in life though, it’s the first door of many you will have to pass through to get to your next destination.


Michael M. McCloud is a former Marine officer and CH-53E helicopter pilot. Mr. McCloud is currently an employee with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The opinions and advice expressed here is his own and are presented in his personal capacity. The advice expressed in this article is not an endorsement from the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Federal government.