Recently, a conversation about the bureaucratic process of getting a job within the DOD came up when a former colleague confided that he got passed up for a cool assignment overseas to someone who he referred to, as “the guy doesn’t know his job”. This is the same colleague who years before had requested my help in getting his resume through the first stages of the process, which eventually landed him the cushy eight-hour desk job with a window he has now. The purpose of this article is to sort of untangle and demystify the somewhat complicated process while at the same dispelling and affirming some myths about the application journey and how it really works.
First and foremost, in order for you to even submit an application for a job, the applicant must create a username and password. Once this is completed, you will receive a confirmation email, and will be allowed to slowly build your profile including all the relevant information that is usually required as if you were submitting for a normal job that uses a large database to extract information. This part will seem very familiar for those of you who have been in the job force for a while, and this part is very straightforward. The database allows you to store up to five resumes in the system, and it’s important to use this feature to your advantage. The problem here though is that every job announcement will require very specific knowledge, skills and abilities, and you must ensure that these are reflected in the resumes that you will be building.
It is important to not fall into the generic resume for all disease, truth be told, that this will not bear fruit in the USAJOBS database either. However, before you start to build you resume in the system, you want to do an initial query in the system for the open vacancies or types of jobs that you would like to apply to. By doing this first, you are able to scan to the job description and requirements section that will pin point exactly what they looking for. The vacancy announcement depending on the position and organization will sometimes include the rating categories and how they rank applicants that apply. This is especially important to take into account when looking at a particular vacancy, because it will state that only certain applicants will be referred to the hiring official for selection. In other words, if they receive many applicants for one position, only the MOST QUALIFIED will be referred to the hiring manager for consideration. While you might meet all of the minimum qualifications on paper, these are positions where they are looking for candidates that clearly exceed the minimum requirements. If you are a veteran, disabled, military spouse, or have a background almost similar or identical to what they are looking for, you increase your chances of making the cut.
Once you have identified the type of jobs you would like to apply to, and have read through several job announcements, it’s a good idea to save these jobs on your profile so you can come back and retrieve them when you are ready to start building your resume.
Other important areas that sometimes get overlooked by applicants is the Who Can Apply and Experience Tab. For example, I had an acquaintance that received her Master of Science but had no experience in the field. This particular vacancy did not even give credit for volunteer work. She had been tempted to submit her application based on her academic performance and volunteer activities but she opted out when she read through the announcement a second time and realized she was not qualified. The vacancy had clearly stated no level of education could be substituted for that particular grade and position. Likewise, it is important to read these tabs carefully and ensure you meet these requirements before even wasting your time in trying to apply.
Also, if you are trying to go overseas, or interstate, remember that some of these positions may or may not pay relocation also known as (PCS)Permanent Change of Station expenses. Moreover, some positions may only be open to those residing within the local area. This will usually be stated within the WHO CAN APPLY TAB. The PCS relocation will usually be mentioned right after.
Also, a word of caution once you start actively looking, proceed with caution when you see the following signs, a vacancy that is open for two, four or seven days. Yep, the good ole boy’s club is still well in effect even within the DoD pipeline, and even if that job is describing your exact experience education and background verbatim, chances are the dotted line is being reserved for some one else; the announcement is just a formality. Of course this probably also rings true in the corporate world as well, but don’t get discouraged many people do get in, but it requires a little finagling, know how, and maybe just applying at the right place at the right time. Also, for those interested in pursing vacancies with the USAF for example, tread carefully with those announcements that read OPEN UNTIL FILLED or have an open date and close date spanning more then a year. In other words, don’t expect movement for these types of jobs if you are trying to get employed quickly, these availabilities are on a as needed basis in certain geographical regions and its best to understand that a position may not be available for a very long time.
The most challenging part for some people is matching their experience to the job announcement. However, if you have looked at your resume and are confident that your experience, education or activities is relevant to the position then all you have to do is ensure you demonstrate it in the job description section of the resume builder. I suggest building a specialized resume for a particular vacancy or set of vacancies. For example if you have experience in contracting, you can work on a general resume that will target this area of your expertise for this particular field. Keywords in the resume will get picked up, but you have to place them strategically like the Queen in a game of Chess, because at some point a flesh and blood person will read through it and will start to scrutinize your resume. For example, look at the keywords and skills that they emphasize in the announcement and use them in your resume to highlight that skill or competency. Of course you have to make sure that it speaks to your experience. Also, make sure you are specific and detailed in your job description and extra curricular activities and use these keywords, skills, and attributes if and when it reflects your true abilities. Ultimately, you will have to prove you can do the job (e.g., interview process) and references will be verified, but at this initial point, what you want is a step in the door, or at least ensure your name and resume is passed to the selecting official and not shredded.
After your resumes have been completed and saved under your profile, you will have a chance to upload and save other supporting documents such as a DD214 if you’re a veteran, academic transcripts, letter of recommendations ext. I stress the importance to ensure you have your documents uploaded, and once again read carefully the vacancy for any other documents that position may require. After all, this is a point-based system, and certain documents will place you ahead before others, so make sure you comply with this. Once your resumes have been saved, and your supporting documents uploaded for easy retrieval in order to attach to an application you are ready to apply for a vacancy.
The next process is the actual hunt, and this process moves along fairly quickly once everything is saved and uploaded in the database. Once you have applied to a vacancy and attached any supporting documents you will be transferred out of the USAJOBS vacancy to the Application Manager Tracker. At this time, you will be required to answer a series of questions specific to the requirements of the vacancy. Truth to be told that many people has been rated ineligible because they didn’t answer one of the questions on the questionnaire correctly. If you are unsure, it is best to save your answers, which the systems allows you to as long as you return to complete the application before the closing date. Once you have submitted your answers, you will receive a computer generated email from the system acknowledging you have completed the questionnaire and the application is complete.
Remember, the reviewing process will not commence until the closing date of the vacancy. Also, I cannot stress the importance of reviewing you resume, supporting documents and questionnaire carefully. An erroneous error on your part, after you have submitted your application is the worse thing that can happen. The human resources representative will not correct any documents that you submitted, and you will not be given another opportunity to revise any information you provided.
The process can be long and daunting, but persistence is key, and hopefully this article has provided some tips that can help you along the way.