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by Vault Careers | November 17, 2011


Federal job seekers often are frustrated with, overwhelmed by or puzzled over the complex federal hiring process and that's because they are going into the process with the same mindset as they would a regular job search.  The two are not the same and the sooner federal job seekers change their mindset, the better their chances will be at landing a job.  

Capitol buildingAuthors Janet M. Ruck and Karol Taylor explain that the “federal application process, which is unlike any other, can be cumbersome and confusing at times. It is based on a set of laws and regulations that were written for a specific purpose. Over time, layers of new laws were added. Eventually they created a morass of rules that now make up the federal hiring system.” 

Janet Ruck is a career coach with many years of experience training and counseling students and adults to develop career goals. She worked until 2003 in the federal Department of Health and Human Services and retired from the U.S. Public Health Service with a rank of captain. Karol Taylor worked for more than 28 years in the federal government and brings a broad perspective and insider expertise to the federal career management process. Together, the duo have been working to help job seekers better understand the federal application process and continue these efforts in their latest book Find Your Federal Job Fit,

In order to find the right fit, job seekers, especially those just starting their searches, must avoid certain mistakes during the application process that could easily be avoided. Ruck and Taylor highlight 11 mistakes that many federal job seekers make, and how to avoid them. The errors include:

  • Beginning the federal job search without target occupations: “Time spent in self-assessment and career exploration can pay dividends in seeking and finding a federal job that fits.”
  • Taking any federal job to get your foot in the door of the federal government: “Lateral transfers often are difficult to obtain. Given the arduous hiring process, federal managers are reluctant to allow employees to move from their current positions.”
  • Narrowing your job search geographically by focusing only on Washington, D.C.: “Only 15 percent of federal jobs are in D.C.”
  • Overlooking networking as a powerful federal job Search tool: “Although federal law requires that the federal application process adhere to strict guidelines, you can find out about federal opportunities in many ways.”
  • Applying with a generic resume: “A one-size-fits-all resume robs you of the opportunity to market your qualifications in the context of the job.”
  • Not promoting yourself: “In a competitive marketplace, applicants who have the ability to toot their own horn are likely to get noticed, interviewed and hired.”
  • Applying for everything: “You are wasting your time by applying for a position without sufficiently analyzing the vacancy announcement.”
  • Not spending enough time targeting application materials to your audience: “Give yourself a chance to get an interview by analyzing the vacancy announcement and writing for your audience.”
  • Choosing jobs based on salary only: “If the salary for a federal position seems low compared to what you earned in the private sector, consider the many benefits of federal employment.”
  • Applying only for jobs on USAJOBS: “Federal law does not require that vacancies be posted on USAJOBS; the law requires only that jobs be advertised. Some federal agencies post their jobs on their own websites only.”
  • Misrepresenting background and experience: “It is certainly important to sell yourself, but do so authentically and honestly.”

Correcting these mistakes will make the federal application process and the job search easier and more rewarding in the end. 

--Jon Minners,