Note: This article is a combined effort of the NWS Regional Deputy Directors.
The job selection process seems to be a mystery to many National Weather Service (NWS) employees. How many of us have applied for a job but not fully understood the selection process? The following is an attempt to de-mystify the process and provide advice on applying for jobs.
Where to Find Vacancy Announcements
To find vacancies for federal government jobs, go to the USAJOBS web site, https://www.usajobs.gov/. The USAJOBS site has a feature that will send you email notice of vacancies of your choice. At the USAJOBS site click on My USAJOBS and follow the instructions.
An Interesting Job
You’ve found a job you’re interested in. What do you do next? READ THE VACANCY ANNOUNCEMENT VERY CAREFULLY. Are you sure this is a position you’re interested in? Read the duty description a few times to make sure. Are you sure the position is in a location you’re comfortable with? Did you discuss the location with your significant other? Don’t wait until you’re offered the job to research the local community, school system, taxes, etc. Turning down a job offer is very disconcerting to all involved. Your judgment will be questioned if you apply for a job, are offered the job, and then turn it down. Obviously if something major changed in your life that would cause you not to accept the position, you should clearly articulate this. If, for some reason, at any time after you have applied for a job, you no longer want to be considered for the position, send an email right away to the Work Force Management Office (WFMO) point of contact listed on the vacancy announcement asking that your name be withdrawn from consideration. Doing your homework upfront will save you and the agency a lot of time and aggravation.
Say you’ve done your homework and you’ve decided this is a job you’d be interested in and the location is fine. But your co-worker has already told you, “They know who they want for that job, don’t bother bidding.” Or you previously bid on this job and didn’t get it. Every certificate (we’ll explain in a minute) that is generated for a vacancy is an entity unto itself. In other words, what happened in the past is not relevant to what is happening now. You don’t know who is or isn’t applying for the job. Bottom line – if you want the job, apply for it.
What next? Carefully read the vacancy announcement again. This time you’re looking for specific qualifications, knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the job, additional documentation required by WFMO and deadlines for when your application must be received. What are the exact steps you must take to apply? What documents will you need to submit? Always check the criteria for applying.
How to Apply
For NWS jobs, you must apply on-line through the Automated Commerce Employment System (ACES) U.S. Department of Commerce Jobs, Powered by Quickhire. When you find a job you’re interested in you click on that job and follow the procedure to apply. A word about eligibility. You will see that ACES lists jobs under one of three categories: Public Non-Status, Public Status, and Internal.
* Public Non-Status – Jobs advertised under this category are open to all qualified candidates, current Federal employees, and candidates who are not federal employees. Typically, the area of consideration on the announcement will read, “Open to all qualified United States citizens” or “Open to all U.S. citizens.” These announcements are often referred to as “non-status” or DEU-Delegated Examining Unit-and the referral procedures for these vacancies are different from those of the “status” announcements (below).
* Public Status – Unless otherwise stated on the vacancy announcement, jobs advertised under this category are open to current or former Federal employees (with Federal competitive employment status) or to individuals with eligibility for noncompetitive special appointing authority or to Veterans eligible under the Veterans Employment Opportunity Act of 1998. Specific eligibility to apply is obtained through service in a permanent, career or career conditional appointment, through qualifying military service, etc. These eligibility requirements will be spelled out for applicants under the area of consideration listed on the announcement. These vacancies are typically referred to as “status” or MAP-Merit Assignment Program announcements.
* Internal – Jobs advertised under this category are open to current Commerce employees (unless the vacancy announcement further restricts eligibility).
What does this all mean to you? As current permanent federal employees in Commerce, you are eligible to apply under any or all three categories. You will have more of an opportunity to be referred to the selecting official if you apply as a “status” applicant than if you apply as a non-status applicant. Your “opportunity” is a function of your competition. Every applicant is “competing” with you for the position announced.
Now that you have logged into the system, you will be asked a series of questions pertaining to the particular job announcement. The questions are asked to determine your experience, skills, abilities, education, etc. Each question has a value and each answer to a question has a specific value. After you have answered all the questions and submitted your responses, the system calculates a score. This score ultimately determines your rank as compared to other candidates. You may also see questions that ask you to input a narrative to justify your answer. Though these questions are not scored, you should take advantage of the opportunity to expand on information in your resume that will help distinguish you from the other candidates. You will also be asked to provide a resume. Resume tips follow. If the vacancy requires you to provide additional information, e.g., transcript, SF-50, etc., provide it or you may be disqualified from consideration.
Now that you’ve input all the information required, WFMO will check your information to ensure you meet the basic eligibility and minimum qualifications requirements for the job, i.e., the time in grade restriction, education requirements, appropriate work experience, etc. Assuming you have been deemed eligible for consideration, we’ll continue with the example. If the job you applied for is a promotion (a grade or more higher than your current grade) your score will determine your rank versus the other eligible competitive candidates. If more than 10 competitive candidates are qualified, the top 10 candidates will be sent to the selecting official. If less than 10 competitive candidates are available, all qualified competitive candidates will be sent to the selecting official. (Note: The number of eligible competitive candidates sent to the selecting official may change in the near future. We’ll update as appropriate.) The guiding principles for this process are established under NOAA’s Merit Assignment Program (MAP). The eligible competitive candidates are forwarded to the selecting official on what is known as a MAP certificate. If you applied for a job that is a lateral (the job you applied for is the same grade you are now or has the same promotion potential as the job you are in now) or a downgrade (the job you applied for is at a lower grade than you are now and has the same or lower promotion potential) you will be placed on a noncompetitive certificate and forwarded to the selecting official. So, a certificate is the list of names the selecting official has to choose from to fill the job. Under NOAA’s MAP procedures, candidates are listed on the certificate in alphabetical order. The selecting official does not see the score you achieved through the system. Note: The selecting official is not required to pick a candidate from any certificate to fill the job.
Under Delegated Examining Unit (DEU) or “non-status” procedures, candidates are referred to a selecting official in score order and only the top three scoring candidates at each grade level may be referred. Veteran’s preference laws apply to this hiring method. Applicants selected under DEU procedures are required to serve one year probationary periods, even if they are currently career or career conditional employees.
Now that the selecting official has the certificates, in most cases, a recommending panel will be put together to review the applications. The recommending panel is used to narrow the field of candidates. The recommending panel’s recommendations are not binding and the selecting official is free to use the recommendations as they see fit. The law allows selecting officials to use any of many valid selection processes to fill their positions.
What is the recommending panel looking at to determine who should receive further consideration? Your resume.
To ensure competitiveness, you must be able to effectively communicate your qualifications and accomplishments to those who will make the hiring decision. Your future is in your hands. Your one best supporter is you. Your resume is your opportunity to convince recommending panels and selecting officials that you are the most viable candidate for the job. Important: When applying for a position that is a different series than what you are now, Workforce Management will use what is in your resume to determine if you are minimally qualified for the position. For example: If you are a meteorologist, hydrologist, or electronics technician applying for a 2210 (Information Technology Specialist) series position, it is critical that you articulate your experience and accomplishments that are relevant to the 2210 series. Issuing TAFS, river forecasts, or fixing a piece of equipment does not qualify you as a 2210, even if you are applying for a 2210 position that is the same grade you are now.
Don’t Be Reluctant to Write About Yourself
Many people feel embarrassed to write about their accomplishments and qualifications. Many feel they are resorting to “bragging.” You should never feel this way. Granted, there are ways to say things without letting your ego get in the way. Remember, IF IT IS NOT IN THE RESUME, IT DOES NOT COUNT! You need to ensure that in articulating your accomplishments you are being factual and the information in your resume supports your responses to the questions asked in the vacancy announcement. For example, if you respond you have taken an EEO course and have not listed this course or any training in your resume, then a question may be raised as to the veracity of your responses and/or information.
Work Experience and Accomplishments
From the information provided here, recommending panels and selecting officials must assess not only the quality of your experience but the degree of the initiative and potential you possess. Therefore:
* List your experience, in chronological order (most recent first) for each position held, separately. Indicate the office you were at, the position, title, and grade level (if a federal position, including the date entered the grade) you held, the length of time you held the position, starting and ending salary, and supervisors name and telephone number. Include volunteer and unpaid experience.
* Enumerate the responsibilities for each position in a brief, readily understandable manner. Do not regurgitate Position Descriptions. Describing in gory detail how many TAFS you issue or ASOS’s you maintain is more than likely not going to get you the job.
* Detail your accomplishments in each position. Simply stating that you were the satellite focal point is not sufficient. Did you give training seminars, set up a satellite imagery library, or write technical papers? Focus on the results of your accomplishments. Don’t denigrate the significance of your experience or work. Individual accomplishments frequently result in improvement for the office while providing role models for other offices or even national programs. For example, repeated coordination between a WCM and state or local officials might result in a “first ever” statewide winter weather drill; or severe weather training seminars might result in a dramatic improvement in the office’s severe weather verification scores. Similarly, quality experience across a wide range of programs or at several offices with different climatic regimes broadens one’s professional capabilities. To the maximum extent possible, quantify the results of your accomplishments. If you did something to improve the office’s GPRA performance, make sure you include it in the resume. If you accomplished this as a member of a team, state so. Include formal recognition by your MIC/HIC or regional/national office. Also include awards (or special recognition) for your accomplishments. Local projects, studies, technical attachments, new maintenance procedures, formal publications, or conference presentations are important. Details are not necessary, but selecting officials are likely to look for evidence of activities “above and beyond” what is minimally expected of employees. Include demonstrated leadership, organizational, and instructional abilities. Remember, the recommending panel and selecting official are looking for what makes you unique and what you can do to improve their office’s operation.
List all colleges and universities attended, along with the dates and any degrees granted. When listing graduate courses, make sure the courses you list were indeed graduate level work. List all in-house courses successfully completed along with the vendor and dates of completion. It is not sufficient to state you completed the Intern Program. All job-related training should be detailed. Check to see if the vacancy announcement requires you to provide a copy of your transcript(s) to WFMO.
List all awards, letters of commendation, and other honors received. This includes other agencies’ honors, military awards, technical and professional organizations, and educational recognition. Make sure awards and any accomplishments that have brought you special recognition are described fully, including dates.
You should list the final rating of your last three performance reviews. (Not applicable to new applicants)
List your memberships in professional societies. If you hold a position of leadership in a society make sure you include a brief statement on your duties and any accomplishments.
Consider briefly stating examples of types of community service work you have performed, identify organizations that have benefited, and list recognition you have received. For example, provide details of important work or service performed on local Federal Executive Boards, inter-agency committees and task forces, Boy/Girl Scouts, environmental, or charitable organizations, etc.
Carefully read the vacancy announcement for the position for which you are applying. Tailor your resume to emphasize the skills required for the position.
Ensure that you communicate your thoughts properly. Much of what we do requires good writing skills. Use active voice and verbs to describe what work you actually performed. Your application should be logical, grammatically correct and contain no syntax or other errors. Your writing abilities will be judged, in large part, on how your application is prepared. Don’t rely on yourself to proof read your resume. HAVE SOMEONE ELSE READ IT.
Make certain the application is neat and contains no spelling or grammatical errors or typos.
Don’t waste the reviewers’ time! Short specific examples are much better than lengthy ruminations and glittering generalities. The longer your resume is, the more opportunity you will have to lose the attention of the reviewer.
The selecting official will likely call your present and past supervisors to discuss your performance and traits. It is suggested that you notify your current supervisor that you are applying for a job so your supervisor is not surprised when he/she gets a call. The selecting official may have his/her management team call their counterparts in the other offices you worked in for more feedback. It is in your best interest to know what your supervisor and his/her management team thinks about you. These are not always easy conversations to have, but you’re better off knowing where you stand before you apply for a job so you can work on any issues that may come up.
Letters of Reference/Recommendation
Letters of reference/recommendation are not mandatory. If you do include letters of reference/recommendation include two or three at most. Make sure you know what the person writing the reference/recommendation is going to write about you and make sure they have some relevance to you and the position. To submit letters of recommendation be sure to use the Quickhire cover sheet for “Other”. Note if using the Quickhire cover sheet for “transcripts” to submit letters of recommendation you will overwrite your transcripts with the letters of recommendation. Be sure to use the correct Quickhire cover sheet when submitting fax documents.
Most selecting officials will conduct interviews before they make a selection. This is your opportunity to demonstrate you are the right person for the job. In most cases, the interview will be conducted on the telephone. The selecting official may have others participate in the interview.
Don’t ever go into an interview cold. Practice. Practice doing interviews before interview day. Do your homework. Go on-line and do a search on interview questions. Think about how you would answer the questions. Practice with someone or use a tape recorder. Write down three items (characteristic, accomplishment, skill, education, etc.) you want the interviewer to know about you. Make sure you work those items into the interview. Know the office or organization you’re applying to. Be prepared for scenario or situational questions relevant to the job. These questions are asked to judge how you think on your feet, how you react, and get a sense of your thought processes.
Check out the office. Try to get as much intel on the office as possible, such as finding its strengths and weaknesses. Then determine how your unique talents, education, or demonstrated experience can compliment the strengths and improve the weaknesses. Make sure you work this into the interview.
Speak clearly – don’t mumble or yell. Be mindful of the length of your answers. Answers that are too short can leave the interviewer wanting for detail. Answers that are too long can put the interviewer to sleep. There is no correct length of an interview. Answer the questions clearly and succinctly. You don’t have to give multiple examples to explain every answer. To get a perspective on length, before the interview starts, you may want to ask the interviewer how much time he/she has set aside for the interview. At the end of the interview, you will likely get the opportunity to add anything that didn’t come out during the interview. Don’t rehash your answers or examples. If you didn’t work the three items you wrote down into the interview, now is the time to get them on the table. This is also your opportunity to ask the interviewer questions. Don’t ask open ended questions. Make sure your questions are clear and concise.
Should you get an in person interview, dress appropriately. This is your opportunity to put your best foot forward. Your appearance will be a part of the information the interviewer uses to form an opinion of you.
Before the interview, make sure you are well rested and your energy level is high. In most cases, it’s not a good idea to do an interview after working a midnight shift. Right before your interview – take a deep breath and relax.
None of the advice articulated above guarantees you will be selected for the jobs you apply for. If you are not selected, request feedback from the selecting official. Don’t take any suggestions for improvement or criticisms personally, learn from them. Good luck.