Your federal resume is an important part of the application process, but it’s not the only step toward getting a federal job. Many agencies will require you to answer application questionnaires, which use multiple-choice and short essay responses. Other assessment tools might also be used, such as the Foreign Service Exam at the State Department. The good news is that each federal agency is required to provide information about how it will rate or assess its applicants, so you will know up front what will be expected of you and how you will be judged.
You may also be asked for additional pieces of information, such as your college transcripts. If you miss any piece that is asked of you, your application will likely be disqualified—so read carefully and follow through!
Most agencies use application questionnaires to screen candidates. Questionnaires vary in length, but may contain up to 50 or even 100 multiple-choice questions. Question formats may include yes/no, true/false, short-essay or standard multiple-choice questions. Some positions allow you to preview the questionnaire in the job posting, but generally you will complete the questionnaire when you submit your application.
To best answer these questions, take the time to consider your skills. Your questionnaire responses should mirror your resume. Some questionnaires include statements that ask you to summarize your experience in performing certain tasks with a range from “no experience” to “expert”. If you claim to be an expert on every question answered but your resume doesn’t validate that claim, the agency may think you are being dishonest. You should be able to back up your response through your resume or in an interview setting. If you find yourself ranking low on several of these questions, it may be a signal to you that you are not qualified for that particular position.
Applicants are generally not required to submit short essays when they initially apply for a position. However, it is important that you know what agencies are looking for in application essays, as they may be required in later stages of the application process.
Each job announcement will list specific qualifications or knowledge, skills and abilities the agency wants to see in an applicant. When asked to write short essays, you need to describe in writing how your experiences match the desired qualifications. If required to write these short essays, how far you get in the application process will likely be determined by your ability to convincingly address these qualifications.
As you write, be sure to include as much information as you can that responds to each qualification, even if that information is already included on your federal resume. Address key words and phrases mentioned in the position description, focus on experiences to which you directly contributed and avoid acronyms. When recounting your experiences, tell a story by explaining the challenge(s) you faced, the action(s) you took and the result(s) from your actions. Writing application essays is a great opportunity to use real-life examples to describe the experiences, education and activities listed on your resume.
Depending on the position and agency, you may be asked to submit multiple documents or forms with your application. Some of the more common types of documentation include college transcripts, professional certifications or proof of non-competitive status. In most cases, you will be able to mail or fax these documents separately if they are not accessible in an electronic file.
Other application materials requested may include cover letters, letters of recommendation, or writing samples. Make sure that each document reinforces the knowledge, skills and abilities listed in the qualifications of the position which you have already spoken to in the other components of your application.
You may need to submit college transcripts if you need to verify receipt of a degree, special coursework or if you are claiming superior academic achievement. Plan in advance to obtain your transcript, as some schools may need a few weeks for processing. If you are unable to obtain an official transcript, check with the HR contact listed on the job posting—some agencies may accept unofficial documents.
If you claim veteran’s preference or another type of non-competitive status, you must submit the appropriate documentation to verify this status. The forms you need are generally listed in the job posting. USAJOBS.gov also provides links to many of these forms.