11 mistakes to avoid during your federal job search

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By Lori Michelle Ryan, JIST Publishing

Federal job seekers are often frustrated with, overwhelmed by or puzzled over the complex federal hiring process. In their new book, “Find Your Federal Job Fit,” authors Janet 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.”

Federal job seekers, especially those just starting their searches, often make easily avoidable mistakes during the application process. In their book, Ruck and Taylor highlight 11 mistakes that many federal job seekers make and how to avoid them.

  1. Beginning your search without knowing what job you want: “Time spent in self-assessment and career exploration can pay dividends in seeking and finding a federal job that fits.”
  2. Taking any federal job to get your foot in the door of 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.”
  3. Focusing only on Washington, D.C.: “Only 15 percent of federal jobs are in D.C.”
  4. Overlooking networking: “Although federal law requires that the federal application process adhere to strict guidelines, you can find out about federal opportunities in many ways.”
  5. Applying with a generic résumé: “A one-size-fits-all résumé robs you of the opportunity to market your qualifications in the context of the job.”
  6. 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.”
  7. Applying for everything: “You are wasting your time by applying for a position without sufficiently analyzing the vacancy announcement.”
  8. Not targeting application materials to your audience: “Give yourself a chance to get an interview by analyzing the vacancy announcement and writing for your audience.”
  9. 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.”
  10. Applying only for jobs on USAJobs: “Federal law does not require that vacancies be posted on USAJobs [the federal government's official jobs website]; the law requires only that jobs be advertised. Some federal agencies post their jobs on their own websites only.”
  11. Misrepresenting your background and experience: “It is certainly important to sell yourself, but do so authentically and honestly.”

Rich Feller, professor of counseling and career development at Colorado State University, says Ruck and Taylor’s advice comes at the perfect time.

“The federal government needs the best and brightest to deliver solutions in agencies that focus on issues from Main Street to outer space,” Feller says. “Fortunately, this book lands at the right time when many workers feel nervously employed, discouraged and eager to find some certainty, a second chance or a new purpose.”

Lori Michelle Ryan is the marketing communications specialist at JIST Publishing, America’s Career Publisher. In this role, she helps job seekers, career changers, students and working professionals develop the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the job market and world of work.

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