How to Get Hired as a Federal Employee: Tips for Veterans

The transition from the Military and into the civilian sector can offer many challenges for returning veterans. As such, nonprofits such as Devil Dog USA, Inc. (DDUSAINC), Disabled American Veterans, and Recruit Military help veterans with one of the biggest transitional challenges, starting a new career.

As the Connecticut Liaison for DDUSAINC, I thought it’d be beneficial to share some tips based on my own experience in an effort to help fellow veterans land a job within the Federal Government.

About my Journey

I started my career in the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) after a career in the United States Marine Corps. This agency falls under the DoD branch of the Government, so I will speak on my experience to date.

I began my career as a Keystone intern. My career series is classified as 1103, better known as a Property Administrator (PA) or Industrial Property Management Specialist. In essence, it’s a position where we PA’s analyze and audit defense contractors against contractual requirements. My agency has numerous other jobs at different locations. Some examples range from Information Technology, to Auditors, Engineers, and contracting folks). Many of the positions require a degree, while others do not.  For example, my internship program did not require me to have a degree since I qualified through my previous military career.

As a transitioning veteran, you may seek a career similar to your military career. I would urge you to keep an open mind and be open to other opportunities. You never know, you might find a new passion you never thought about before!

Some positions are contingent on your ability to obtain and retain a security clearance commensurate to the level needed for the job. My advice is to accept any interesting position which you qualify for, because the hardest part is getting accepted INTO the feds. Once you’re in, you can change jobs and apply for other positions and grades much easier.

The Keystone program I began my career with started me as a GS-5. That is the grade (rank) designated by the agency human capital (HR) folks. The keystone program allows me the opportunity to be promoted from GS5, to GS7, GS9 and lastly 11 within 3-4 yrs. Every year I get the opportunity to earn a promotion, as long as I continue to pass the courses and on-the-job training provided.

The process for the Government can to hire you takes 6 months to over a year, BUT, taking an expedited position (any job they are offering that you qualify for especially with a security clearance) and having that letter showing you’re a vet and have a higher disability, will speed things up. I finished my Marine Corps career on March 6, 2011,  and received notice I was accepted for the position during mid-March. After a drug test, and some follow-up emails and documentation, I started working April 27th, 2011.

So how do you apply?

Most of our careers in the Government begin by creating a profile and resume at USAJobs.gov. This is the ‘monster.com’ of federal jobs. Here you will search for specific jobs, or jobs within a selected area. But before you can apply for a job, you have to create your profile, create (or upload but I strongly recommend you create/copy and paste it) your resume on the USAJobs system.

Upload your disability rating form (eBenefits or call the VA and they can send you this form. This form (SF15 i believe its called) will give you hiring preference higher than the 5% the DD214 gives you. The difference is significant. If 10,000 people apply, the applicants with 50% disability will get selected first, then the 30% tiers, all the way down to 5%’s and applicants with 0% disability. When you taking into account the large number of job seekers and veterans leaving the service, you will find that there is  some steep competition to overcome.

My advice is to start applying early because it can take a while to get into the government. Create your USAJobs profile, upload any college credits/transcripts, Military Occupational Specialty certificates, or any relevant training you may have.

Remember,  apply, search, apply, search, apply, search. I cannot stress how time consuming it is to read the job posts, ensure you meet the criteria, provide EVERYTHING requested of you through the job announcement, and answer the questionnaires requested. Make sure you follow the instructions, create a resume and answer any questions requested by the agency site USAJobs sends you to. Be detailed, as this will assist you in getting  picked from the thousands of people applying.

USAJobs Resume

In order to ensure you adequately describe your experience, download your Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET), copy and paste your job description and any skills you’ve acquired into your resume. Contrary to normal civilian resumes which are 1-2 pages long, your USA Jobs Resume will be anywhere from 5-15 pages long. Why? It is my understanding that the resumes are filtered and scored through an automated computer system. Your resume is graded against the job announcement, where certain words and phrases are matched for score. The more ‘buzz words’ the computer catches the higher ‘score’ your resume is given based on the job criteria. If your resume matches above a certain threshold (i.e. 90% match), you are selected for the next phase. The computer will then look at your attachments and ensure you uploaded the required documentation (transcripts, certificates, words per minute criteria). If you fail to provide the documentation requested, you will be found unqualified and your resume will not be reviewed. If your resume meets the score, your documentations are uploaded, and you are qualified for the position, your resume will then be forwarded to an actual human being for review. Based on the content of your resume you may receive a call for an interview (telephonic or in person) and the rest is history.

Understanding that your resume needs to be detailed in order to hit the key words needed, ensure you elaborate and clearly describe your experience. For example, I would not merely write that I was an administrative chief and expect the hiring manager or the computer to know what my job entailed. I have to describe my role, responsibilities, and achievements. Some examples include “conducted morning reports to higher headquarters accounting for 300 marines daily.” Something like that. Talk about all your billet responsibilities and accomplishments.

Download and review your Smart Transcript. This transcript provides detailed information on your military training. It helps identify and describe your education and training as provided by the Military schools. You can add this to the training and education blocks of your USAJobs transcript.

Review your Awards Citations (if applicable). Often overlooked, reviewing your awards citations can help you identify times when you were recognized for excellence or for an accomplishment. Retyping the citation unto the awards part of the resume can help the hiring manager understand your experience.

As a Marine Sergeant (other service members enlisted rank E-5) or above, you should have received fitness reports which state your responsibilities and accomplishments during your grading period. This area often details statistics, chronicles your accomplishments, and other data that is useful.

As Corporals (E-4) and below, you would’ve received Proficiency and Conduct Marks. Utilizing your marks you can further illustrate your military history.

I found that using  your evaluations, the marks, and the MOS manual for your service (Marines, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force) can help describe your responsibilities and accomplishments.

I hope this article helps you should you decide to apply for a federal career. Should you have any questions, comments, concerns or tips you’d like to share, please comment below or reach me through social media or email.

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