Ten Steps Success Story by Paulina Chen


From the Introduction by Paulina Chen to the Jobseeker's Guide 8th Edition

This book actually works, and I am not just saying that because I worked on this book.

I have helped design and edit many of the previous editions of the Jobseeker’s Guide, but this time was different. This time, I actually applied for and got my dream federal job using the very same Ten Steps that you hold in your hands right now.

The funny thing is that I started off my “federal job search” by doing research for this eighth edition. When OPM updated USAJOBS in August 2016, I jumped on the website to check out the changes for this book. I ended up following the rabbit all the way into the rabbit hole until I received a federal job offer!

Here are a few tidbits that I have learned along the way:

Step 1 – Research the Federal Job Search Process

The more you know, the better your chances of success. For example, I had worked as a GS-13 before, but I was willing to apply for a GS-12 based on the pay range, and I knew I had an even better chance of landing a GS-12 job. Also, I was hired into a different organization than I previously worked in, but the missions are related, and that helped my application as well.

Step 2 – Networking

I did not network to find this position, but networking played a key role in my job search nonetheless. I had to ask for help from many different people: for information, for references, and for smoothly processing my application and hiring. In fact, good networking skills are critical for overall career success.

Step 3 – Research Vacancy Announcements on USAJOBS

You will have to spend time playing around with your search criteria to get the right combination of flexibility and specificity. When I finally figured out what worked for me, my search results ended up usually being about eight screens long. It was tedious to sort through the listings every time I refreshed my search, so I figured out that I could sort the list according to the posting dates and just check the end of the list every day or two. With minimal effort, I found three announcements that matched my skills even though they have very different titles: Visual Information Specialist, Technical Editor, and Training Manager.

Want to know my favorite tip on reading vacancy announcements? Do a treasure hunt search for the link in the announcement that says “View the Questionnaire” (or similar phrase). Here is your magic list of the knowledge, skills, and abilities for the job announcement. If you cannot answer E or Expert for at least 85% of those questions, then you need not apply. Getting closer to 95% is even better. It is important to neither deflate nor inflate your answers, though most people tend to shortchange themselves by deflating their answers. Remember to support your answers in your resume.

Step 4 – Analyze Vacancy Announcements for Keywords

Keywords are actually a part of step 3 (announcement research), but they are so important that they deserve their very own step. You absolutely must hit the keywords from the job announcement in your resume. The problem is that every announcement has different keywords, which means that every resume you submit should be different. Yes, it is a lot of work, but you will experience 0% success unless you submit to this truth.

Step 5 – Analyze Your Core Competencies

Core competencies are sourced both from who you are as well as from the keywords in the job announcement. For example, I always include written communication as one of my core competencies in every resume, because it is one of my stronger skills, but when it is a keyword in a job announcement, I give it additional attention and air time in my resume.

Step 6 – Write Your Outline Format and Paper Federal Resumes

The Outline Format is the most effective format for your federal resume, not only because it is easy to read, but also because it is easy to adapt for different vacancy announcement keywords. If you want to read a fun and easy explanation of the Outline Format, check out my blog post: Help Me Hire a Minion.

Step 7 – KSAs, Accomplishments, and Questionnaires

Accomplishments are not optional. I find them to be most important when you are referred and the hiring manager reviews your resume. When viewed among the best of the best candidates, your accomplishment stories will make you memorable. They are also the launching point to a successful interview.

I included in my resume that we won six book awards for books I designed last year, and this became a discussion point in my interviews.

Step 8 – Apply for Jobs in USAJOBS

I submitted my resume using the upload resume feature in USAJOBS. However, I am considered an advanced “submitter.” If you are a beginner, I highly recommended that you use the resume builder for your first or second drive out until you learn the important rules of the road.

Step 9 – Track and Follow Up

I love the new colored application status graphics on the USAJOBS website, especially because I did not receive notification emails. In some cases, the USAJOBS website had extremely up-to-the-minute information.

Step 10 – Interviewing & The Best Secret in All of Federal Hiring

I went through all nine yards of the interview process: a phone interview (60 minutes), a writing sample submission, AND an in-person behavior-based interview (90 minutes). I survived this arduous journey with the help of the interview tips in this book and our other publications.

I was the very fortunate person to be the first to read and test the brand-new “negotiating your job offer” techniques we added to this edition, and I am happy to tell you that I achieved 100% success with the submission of a Superior Qualifications Letter. This negotiation information alone makes this book worth buying. We think that, currently, you will not find this information anywhere else in the world.


May the Ten Steps be with you on your own federal job hunt!


With thanks to Kathryn and the Resume Place for the opportunity help federal jobseekers worldwide,

Paulina Chen
Developmental Editing and Interior Page Layout

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