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Sustainability Videos & Lecture Series

USAJobs Training: How to Apply for Jobs within the Federal Government

The USAJobs and Pathways training, presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Melanie Wallace, focuses on applying for federal positions, understanding government lingo (GS who, what?), and how to find internships (even ones that lead to permanent jobs). Additionally, Wallace discusses how federal résumés are different from private industry résumés and tackle any questions that you might have about working for Uncle Sam.

Related Events: USAJobs Training: How to Apply for Jobs within the Federal Government


[Melanie Wallace] Thank you. Can you guys hear me okay? Is it good? Okay. You almost make me sad that I’m leaving today, to go back to the Bay Area [laughter]. Well, thank you guys so much for coming out, and hopefully the information that I provide will be useful for many years to come. Just to give you some information about myself, my name is Melanie Wallace. I work at the Environmental Protection Agency. Our regional office is based in San Francisco. We do cover—Region 9 covers the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, Guam and American Samoas. The main office, the main hub, where most employees are located is in San Francisco.

As far as background, I came to the Federal government about almost 10 years ago as a student in the HR office. I was an HR specialist, learning the technical part of Federal HR management. I did that for about seven years, and then about two and a half years ago maybe, I switched to the Environmental Protection Agency, so I transferred within the Federal government. Now, I am the Outreach and Recruitment Coordinator. You’ll see me at many career fairs. I come to ASU definitely at least once a year, and potentially more. Some of you may have seen me at the Career Fair yesterday.

All right, so without further ado, I will launch into the presentation. Today, I’ll talk about USA Jobs and Pathways. Let’s talk about the USA Jobs website. How many of you have actually been on the site? Okay, some of the studio. Then, Fed Soup, so an explanation of the terms. For those of you that have been on the website, and you have started reading vacancy announcements, I’m sure, at some point in time, you were like, “What am I even reading? I don’t know [laughter] what they’re asking me to provide.” I’ll break down some of those terms that you commonly see in vacancy announcements.

Resume tips, so resumes for Federal employment are very different than what you need to have for private employments, so we’ll talk about that a little bit. Pathways, those are the new student programs. You may have murmurings about the Pathways program within the Federal government. Then, questions, so the good stuff. Oftentimes, it’s people’s random questions that kind of drive the presentation in different ways. I’m very informal. You can ask questions along the way, but at the end, there will also be plenty of time for questions, so you can jot down any questions that you may have.

All right. This is the first time that I’m actually giving this specific PowerPoint presentation. I changed it for you guys, so if there are any errors, bear with me [laughter]. Okay, so USA Jobs. This is the website, most of you know what it looks like. Pretty straightforward, nice, clean white space, and then you just dive into looking for what you want to look for. I tell people to think of USA Jobs as like a giant billboard. This is where you will find what is out there in Federal employment. It is not just for EPA or IRS or FBI, but any Federal agency, more than likely, they will have a vacancy announcement on this website. Within the website, and I’m focusing—I just switched focus right to the student area, you can—let’s see if I can work—there we go.

There’s a resource center, and within the resource center, you can figure out what category you fall into, be it a veteran or student, as most of you are. There’s lots of information, as far as the Pathways program, I’ll talk about that in a couple of slides. Then, other things, like potential Federal jobs by college major. It just has lots of information on there that you can dive into and find, when you have some time. Before I go any further, how many people have actually created an account and applied to jobs, and anyone want to talk about their experience with that?

[Interviewee:] It’s a process [laughter].

[Melanie Wallace] Yes [laughter].

[Interviewee:] I feel like, when I go through it, I have applied for the position, it’s kinda like a crapshoot [cross talk].

[Melanie Wallace] Yeah [laughter].

[Interviewee:] Well, part of the reason I am here is ‘cuz I’ve heard that the resume that you need to have is very different. Me, I haven’t had any guidance, as far as what is supposed to be different about that resume—

[Melanie Wallace] Okay.

[Interviewee:] - compared to a, you know, for the private sector.

[Melanie Wallace] Okay, all right. Well, we will definitely touch on those—on that topic. Anyone else want to share their experience or have they used the website to apply for anything?

[Interviewee:] It’s like a giant black box.

[Melanie Wallace] Okay [laughter].

[Interviewee:] [cross talk] you put all this stuff in, and it’s like nothing ever comes back out.

[Melanie Wallace] Yes, I’ve heard that one so many times [laughter], so many, many, many times [laughter]. Anyone else?

[Interviewee:] It could benefit from having operators in the search terms actually work. I’m sure it’s not the first time [Inaudible].

[Melanie Wallace] Yeah, the search feature is probably the one feature that’s undergone the most change in the last three years. I think they’re still trying to get it right. Essentially, the site originally was created my Monster and it was administrated by Monster, and that cost the government a lot of money. They said Office of Personnel Management, which is like the Federal human resources hub, decided to take over the USA Jobs system. If you’ve been on the system for the last maybe three to four years, you’ve probably seen a lot of changes. When OPM took over the system, they started with the search feature. Even myself, and I feel like I’m pretty good with the website, I use it a lot, I hate it [laughter], the changes they brought to the search feature.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to guide you a little bit on how to use the website. I kind of took away some of the more techy parts of it. Usually, when I talk to students, you guys are very tech savvy. If, at any point in time, you have questions about which button to click, where to go, just feel free to ask and I would be more than happy to answer. Okay, so the primary benefit of the USA Jobs account will be this “My Account,” creating your account. Essentially, the main features that you get, you have the resumes, so you can have up to five resumes in a system. Save searches, so you can say, “I want to be able to find out about X,Y, Z jobs at EPA, whenever they’re available, and I want email sent to me about those jobs.”

You can do that in the system. Inbox, this is a new feature, I would say within the last six months. You can get messages from the USA Job system here in your inbox. Save jobs, so as this young lady over here talked about, applying for jobs is a process and it takes some time. Sometimes, you may find a job and you don’t have time to apply for it right then, you can save it to your profile and always go back and apply at a later point in time. Save documents, this is probably the area that I rely on more than anything else, as far as putting your transcripts in. If any of you guys are veterans, you can hold your DD214s or veterans’ documentation, or any letters of recommendation or performance appraisals, anything like that.

That’s definitely a caveat that you can always have your information ready to go, when you’re ready to apply for things. Then, finally, application status. This area has been on here for, I want to say, maybe five years, but people still have that black box feeling that this gentleman was referring to. Part of that is because not every agency used this actual feature to tell applicants what’s going on with their application. Just to recover that, this is the “My Account” area, and this is where you can save all your information, build your resumes, and this is really the most vital part of the USA Jobs site for yourself, as an applicant.

In creating a profile, and I’m so sorry that this is really tiny, [laughter] but I will do my best to explain. In creating a profile, you will be asked about your hiring eligibility. They’ll be a bunch of questions, but it boils down to essentially a couple of things. One, they ask you are you a US citizen, that is pretty straightforward. For most Federal jobs, to be a permanent employee, you have to be a citizen. For student opportunities and volunteer opportunities, depending on the agency, you can have either a student visa or a work visa. For permanent positions, for the most part, you have to be a citizen.

When you’re creating your account, you can only have one in individual to each email address. If you have any family email addresses that you want to sign everyone up with, that’s not going to work. Each person needs to have their own individualized email address. Okay, so as far as eligibility, there’s an area where they ask you, “Are you a veteran? Are you an individual who is disabled? Are you a recent return Peace Corp volunteer?” Do we have any of those in the house. Okay [laughter], and “Are you a current Federal employee.” When you see those questions, if you answer “yes” to any of those questions, that turns you into essentially a different type of applicant.

You become what’s known as a status candidate. If you answer “no” to all those questions, no worries, you’re just considered a general US citizen applying for a position. As this note down here says, “Answers to the eligibility questions will determine what types of announcements you’re able to see.” Yeah?

[Interviewee:] What if you were a government employee, but you weren’t anymore?

[Melanie Wallace] Okay, so if you were, you could potentially be eligible for reinstatement. If you were a government employee, not a student employee, but a permanent career employee for over three years, you’re probably eligible to answer “yes” to that question.

[Interviewee:] [Inaudible] Federal employees, do they have preference over the normal [Inaudible]?

[Melanie Wallace] Not all of the groups mentioned have preference. There’s two different types of announcements that are commonly on the website. One of them is a merit promotion announcement and the other is a DEU announcement. I am already diving into the Fed Soup part [laughter], but no, that’s fine, that’s fine. DEU is what most of you guys will see, which are announcements that are essentially to the public, so those are the announcements that you’re looking for. One of the recent changes that the system made, once you create your profile and you log in, and you go to do a search, they will default to the announcements that fit you.

Whereas before, everything defaulted to all US citizens. It was often confusing for people who were status candidates, to find the jobs that they were looking for. Or applicants would get frustrated finding jobs that don’t really apply to them or they can’t apply for. When you go in to do a search, once you’ve answered these hiring eligibility questions, then it will make it easier on you to find the jobs that you can actually apply for. Okay, so that’s just my brief part on the US Jobs site as a whole. I will refer back to the site, throughout each section, so it all ties together. Like I said, if you have any questions, feel free to raise your hand and let me know. Resumes, the USA Job website can hold up to five resumes.

Two of those resumes can be resumes that you upload from Microsoft Word or some other word processing system. Whereas the other three can be resumes that you build in USA Jobs. There is a benefit to actually building a resume in the USA Jobs system. It’s very long and it’s very tedious, but the benefit is that they prompt you with their questions about things that you probably wouldn’t think to put on your normal Microsoft Word resume. We’re talking about the number of hours that you actually worked in a position on an average, whether or not that was a permanent position or a student position.

When you build your resume in the system, they prompt you to start thinking about things that the government wants to know for their verification process, but that you may not think about when you’re actually create your resume. There’s a reason why you can have five resumes in the system. When applying for jobs, it’s often a very individualized per vacancy announcing process. For some individuals, it’s kinda discouraging because a lot of people wanna have just one resume that they can always blast off to any Federal job. That is very, very rare. Each time that you see a vacancy announcement that you’re interested in, you want to think to yourself, “I’m going to need time to tinker with my resume a little bit, to suit it towards the vacancy announcing.”

That is part of why you can have up to five in the system, so that you can have a good basis of—a collection of resumes to pick from when you’re actually applying for vacancy announcements. You also have the option to make any of those resumes searchable for recruiters. The Environmental Protection Agency does not use that feature, where we go in and look through people’s resumes, but other agencies do. If you have a resume that you feel is pretty general overall, it captures your work experience, you can certainly make that one searchable, and Federal agency HR specialists would be able to go in and see, and view your resume.

[Interviewee:] Can a resume that’s already been uploaded be modified [Inaudible]?

[Melanie Wallace] Are you talking about from Microsoft Word or a word processing system?

[Interviewee:] I guess for both of them.

[Melanie Wallace] Okay, so with the resumes that you build in USA Jobs, you can always edit those at any point in time, and then just save your edits. With a Microsoft Word or word processing resume, yes, you would have to go into your original document, make the changes, and then re-upload it to the website.

[Interviewee:] [Inaudible].

[Melanie Wallace] Yes, yes.

[Interviewee:] [Inaudible].

[Melanie Wallace] [laughter] well, with the USA Jobs website, where you build it, that is essentially the general template. You’ll see, when you build the resume, the format, what it looks like. It’s not very pretty, there’s not very much bold, and anything that’s really bolded or the spacing isn’t fabulous or anything like that. It’s very straightforward and direct. Name, address and then you dive right into work experience. Maybe at the end, I can open up mine and you can see what, you know, just a general USA Jobs resume looks like. As far as Word resumes, that’s up to you, whatever you feel best suits you or the format that you feel provides the most information, that you can do however you feel with that.

Do you have a question? Okay, all right, so resume tips, how would the Federal resume be different from the general private industry resume? As I mentioned a little bit earlier, you need to tell your resume for the vacancy announcement, one size does not fit all. One resume will not be good for every single vacancy announcement that you come across. Have multiple versions, as I said, USA Jobs can hold up to give. Shorter isn’t sweeter, so often times people hear, “You just need to have a one-page resume. We don’t want to have to read that much, just get to the point. Tell us how much money you made, how happy you made people and how you could work with everybody, and let’s move on.”

That’s not the case with Federal resumes. We actually want a lot of detail. The reason is that we’re actually confirming what you say you’ve done on the assessment questions, and I will talk about that a little bit later, with the resume that you provide. If you’re telling me that you’re a surgeon, and then I go to your resume and I don’t even see that you ever worked in a hospital, we have a problem. You definitely want to provide as much as detail as possible, and I’ll give an example of the varying levels of detail. Yeah?

[Interviewee:] How far should you go back?

[Melanie Wallace] It depends on the vacancy announcing you’re applying for. You don’t want to think about it in terms of time, but in terms of pertinence. If the experience that you have happened 10 years ago, but it’s really pertinent to that job, I would say definitely include it, because they’ll be looking at that, to see if you’re qualified for the position. You know, if you feel like “Oh, it’s not really that pertinent, and it happened a long time ago,” then you’re not forced to include it. Or even if you had recent things that you’re feeling are not pertinent to the position, you can feel free to skip over that amount of time, if you’re okay with that.

Okay, so state-specialized experience, specialized experience is one of those terms I’ll talk about a little bit later. On the vacancy announcements, they explicitly tell you what they are going to look for. In a lot of ways, it’s not a big mystery, but it just requires a lot of reading to know exactly what they’re looking for. Connect assessment answers to the duties you have performed, so there are assessment questions within the vacancy announcements. Essentially, you’ll find a vacancy announcement, you hit the apply button, you send your resume. They commonly take each to a secondary system, that’s an agency system.

A lot of the agencies either use a Monster system that’s formatted pretty similar, so it’ll look pretty much the same. It’ll just have the different agency colors, or a USA Jobs or OPM system, which I absolutely abhor. It’ll be one of those two systems, and at that point, they will ask you questions that are specifically targeted towards the vacancy announcement that you’re applying to. If you’re applying for an Environment Protection Specialist, you might, at that time, start answering questions about Federal regulations that you’ve heard of or learned about or used before. Focus on experience related to the physician, so I kind of addressed that a little bit earlier.

If you have experience in the past that you feel is directly related, absolutely add it. Various types of experience are pertinent, so volunteer work, church outreach, anything, projects that you’ve worked on, feel free to include those. Even things, like in the service industry, working at the mall, fast-food, all of that can be pertinent to the positions. One of our most common positions, the Environmental Protection Specialist, is in our Communities and Ecosystems divisions. One of their responsibilities is to work on issues like environmental justice, so looking at why some things get cleaned up in maybe a richer neighborhood faster than a poor neighborhood, or going out into the community and explaining an environmental issue that will have to be fixed or corrected.

Those service industry jobs come in really handy right about then, because you often times have dealt with people who may not be happy that their fries are cold, or you have people from different backgrounds coming into your restaurant or your store. Those are things that we look at, because when going out to the community, you have to be prepared to deal with people from all different backgrounds. Don’t discount in your head, say, “Oh, that doesn’t have anything to do with the environment, so I don’t need to put that on my resume.” Feel free to use that, as well. If nothing else, it’s all in the details. Absolutely include many, many details about what you’ve done during the day.

As a starting point, when you think about a position, I advise that people just think about from when they walked in the door to the time they left, what did they do. Just free flow it, just write it down. Then, you can go through and start removing things, to make it have a better flow. That’s about the level of detail that we’re looking for when we’re reviewing resumes. Okay, so what is an example of a duty statement within a resume that works? On the left side, we have collected, reviewed and input bioscience data. Pretty straightforward, we all know what that means, not too complicated and we can kinda assume some things about it.

It’s not nearly detailed enough for me to make a determination about exactly what you did. On the right side, it got a lot longer and a lot more detailed. We have responsible for collecting water quality data, utilizing XYZ equipment, review data to verify technical accuracy and input quality measurements into an automated database. From there, I’ve learned that you used a certain type of equipment, that not only were you collecting the data, but you actually had to understand the data that you were collecting, so that you would know that it was accurate, that you had to use an automated database to input the data. That gives you a pretty good idea of the level of detail that we are talking about, that we want and we need when looking at applications.

[Melanie Wallace] This presentation is brought to you by Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainably for educational and non-commercial use only.

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