Overly complex question about overly complex federal hiring process
May 31, 2010 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Federal job application filter. I see that the federal hiring process is going to be simplified by November, but I'm hoping to get a job before then! I'm new to this process, and I understand that federal job applications are different from others. I have a few specific questions about making sure I don't let anything essential slip between the cracks.

As background, this an attorney position, and I'm confident they'll be impressed with my basic credentials, which are very well-suited to the job posting.
I've been researching how to write "KSA" ("knowledge, skills, and abilities") essays or "narrative statements." I've looked at a lot of websites (including AskMe) and read a book on the topic.

Every source I've looked at gives essentially the same advice. They say to write essays in "CCAR" format, meaning "1. Context; 2. Challenge; 3. Action; 4. Results." OK -- got it. I have several ideas for essays within this format about things I've done, mainly in the job I've had for the past 2 years. I feel pretty good about these ideas.

So what am I worrying about? Well, the job posting has a very complex structure -- beyond just "Write a narrative statement about these 4 KSAs" -- and I have some questions about what kinds of (and how many) essays to write.

Under "How to Apply," the posting says I must submit a resume, cover letter (I think I have those under control), and a "separate narrative statement" about the "qualification requirements," any of the "preferred qualifications" that apply to me, and the KSAs. In addition, under the KSA heading, it again says that you have to submit a resume and cover letter and write a separate statement for each KSA factor, addressing the position's "duties, responsibilities, and KSA factors" (but this part doesn’t mention the qualification requirements or preferred qualifications).

OK, I understand what to do as far as "narrative statements" for the KSAs, and there clearly needs to be a separate essay for each one of those. But am I supposed to also write a separate "narrative statement" for each of the "qualification requirements" and all the "preferred qualifications" that apply to me? I don't know if this makes a difference, but the preferred qualifications are mostly basic pieces of information like being on law review and having an appellate clerkship. Those are already the main experiences I'm planning to draw on for the KSA essays. And some of the qualification requirements are really straightforward, such as having a J.D. degree and being admitted to a state bar, which it doesn't make sense to write a whole essay about. Another one is basically "one year of directly relevant experience," which seems like it could be covered by the KSAs ... or it could be a free-standing opportunity to tell them about things I've done that match the job duties of this position.

In other words, I can imagine 2 different possible approaches:

(1) Write separate essays for each of the KSAs and the "qualification requirements" and the "preferred qualifications."


(2) Write a full-fledged essay for each KSA, but not the other things. I could still include separate sheets of paper with hearings for the other sections, but they could be minimal. For instance, since one of the preferred qualifications simply says "law review," I could note that I was a ___ Editor on ___ Law Review from August 2005 to March 2007, and then refer them to the KSA essays that talk about this experience in detail.

My question: I'm concerned that #1 would be unnecessary and unwieldy, but I'm worried that if I do #2 I'll miss out on points. What should I do?

Another question: As I said, the sources I've looked at say to write the essays in a narrative (CCAR) format. But they also say to make sure to include all your important credentials in the essays, since they're scored separately from your resume. Aren't these two goals somewhat at odds with each other? Of course, the ideal is to tell dramatic stories that involve your credentials. But even after I've done enough of these to exhaust my "Here's how overcame a challenge to get results" stories, I still find that there are credentials remaining on my list of things-I-want-to-make-sure-they-know-about-me. Is the answer just, "Too bad, you need to come up with a way to fit everything together in a narrative package"? Or is there some effective way to get across these narrower credentials ("I won this award"; "I took this relevant course in law school") to maximize my points without expanding them into full-fledged stories?

Thanks for slogging through all this, and I'd really appreciate any advice!

(As a side note, I'm very willing to spend money on this application, so if the answer to any of my questions is just "Buy this book from Amazon -- it has all the answers if you read the whole thing" -- that would be very welcome. A fortiori, if there's a website that explains everything, great! However, I want to emphasize again that I've already looked at many websites and read a book and have thoroughly gotten the message about the basic format for a KSA essay. I'm willing to look at further sources, but I'm not too interested in reading yet more iterations of the same formula.)
posted by Jaltcoh to Work & Money (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read anything at Federal Soup? No idea how reliable they generally are, but there's a section devoted to federal hiring.

I'd wrote essays for the KSAs, and not the individual qualifications. Those should be covered in the online application itself - have you started the application online to see?
posted by dilettante at 4:32 PM on May 31, 2010

Response by poster: Those should be covered in the online application itself - have you started the application online to see?

It's not an online application -- they're asking us to mail in a paper application.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:44 PM on May 31, 2010

If there's any way you can get this inside scoop at the agency, do that. My impression is that attorney hiring is a little different and less mechanically dependant on ksas. (In fact, I've looked at a ton of attorney hiring announcements and none of them asked for any ksas!). That said, you have to do what the announcement says. I would err on the side of being too lengthy, but order it in a way that is easy to read and non repetitive. Eg if a qualification overlaps with a ksa, just put "refer to ksa #2 below" or somesuch.
posted by yarly at 6:08 PM on May 31, 2010

2nding yarly. If you can get a handle on what that department or agency wants that could be a big help.
It is correct, from what I have been told, that the essays are scored differently from resumes so don't be afraid to be redundant. I was terribly redundant on mine.
I am a Fed but like many people on the internet IANAL. Good luck!
posted by pointystick at 7:10 PM on May 31, 2010

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