Advice & Resources


1. How do I start the job search?

2. When should I start looking for a federal job?

3. What impression are you creating?

4. Provide current information on your resume and on NSEPnet

5. Make your resume interesting and clear

6. Learn to use Schedule A

7. How to call an office in regard to your job search

8. How to create a job

9. Negotiations for your federal job

10. Why it is important to fill out a Service Agreement Report (SAR) for NSEP on a regular basis?

11. How to write KSAs

12. Preparing for an interview

13. Networking - What is it?

14. Networking - Why should I do it?

15. Networking - Using contacts in your job search ?

16. Networking - How do I do it?

17. Networking - How to keep useful records

18. Requesting a NSEP Letter of Certification
1. How do I start the job search?

First decide what kind of job you want. Federal job titles may sound daunting at first, but do some research to discover if your skills will match an unusual-sounding job. Two helpful sources for job search advice are USAJobs (http://www.usajobs.gov/careers/) and the Partnership for Public Service (http://www.ourpublicservice.org). Also, research whether your skills might be valued in a federal organization that is not typically associated with your field of study or interests. For instance, U.S. Navy oversees extensive environmental research projects, even though it's not the most obvious place for an environmental studies major to look.

Next, go to http://www.usajobs.gov to begin your job search. Get a good feel for what's out there, apply to some positions in which you're interested, and start to learn about the federal hiring process. Also search for available positions on department or agency web sites. Visit http://www.intelligence.gov to explore opportunities in the intelligence community. If you are unsure of the details of a job announcement, call the HR office listed in the job posting and ask about the job. If you want the inside scoop about an agency or office, try contacting another Boren Scholar or Fellow at http://www.borenforum.org. Never hesitate to make a contact at the organization where you would like to work. Remember that throughout your job search, you are your own best advocate; being proactive about your search can get you far.


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2. When should I start looking for a federal job?

You should start your job search about one year prior to the date on which you anticipate being available for employment. The process of finding a job is time consuming and may be frustrating. You will probably experience long delays before you hear from hiring officials and sometimes you may get no response at all. Don't hesitate to make follow up calls to check on the status of your application. Also be aware that the security clearance process can take up to a year, and occasionally even longer. Beginning your job search early increases your chances of having an appropriate federal job by the time you graduate.

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3. What impression are you creating?

Every email or letter that you send should be spell checked and re-read. You must write clearly and with focus. Your potential employer will meet, talk to, or receive emails from many applicants. If your responses are misspelled or unfocused, the potential employer will move on and you will have lost the opportunity. Your first impression, whether in writing or on the telephone, should make them want to communicate further with you.

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4. Provide current information on your resume and on NSEPnet

At all times provide accurate and up-to-date contact information on your resume. If you provide, for instance, an inactive email address or an incorrect telephone number, your prospective employer will be unable to reach you. Remember, if your contact information changes after you've applied for a position, to contact the hiring official to give them your updated information.

In addition, the contact information you provide on NSEPnet-especially your email address-is what the NSEP Office uses to stay in touch with you. Job announcements, reminders about Service Agreement Reports (SARs), and information about your service requirement and deadline are all sent out to the email address provided on NSEPnet. Our office and potential employers may contact you by phone or mail, so it's important to make sure that all of your information is accurate and up-to-date.


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5. Make your resume interesting and clear

For each advertised position, Human Resource staff and hiring officials read dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes. If your language is unclear or words are misspelled, this works against you. Your resume may be rejected on this basis. Use action words that grab the reader's attention such as led, directed, and supervised. Provide information on tangible results (i.e., directed five projects, supervised 10 people). When submitting jobs through USAJobs or other online systems, make sure to identify the important keywords in the job application and repeat those in your resume. Many positions processed through an online system do an initial evaluation based on the appearance of these keywords, which are identified and counted by an automated system.

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6. Learn to use Schedule A

Schedule A is a special federal hiring authority that allows you, as an NSEP award recipient, to be hired for certain federal positions without competition and for a period of up to four years. This special hiring authority is in the Code of Federal Regulations, (CFR) 213.3102(r), and under certain circumstances it can be extremely advantageous to mention this option to hiring officials and to be able to explain what it means. Here we explain the two primary ways you can use this hiring benefit:

First, you can use Schedule A to apply for advertised positions that are open to only to individuals with non-competitive eligibility. On USAJobs that generally means you can apply to any position-in addition to regular, publicly open positions-for which the announcement specifies that "non-competitive" or "excepted service" or "temporary" appointments are eligible. Note that some job announcements are open only to "certain non-competitive appointments". In those cases, the announcement will usually list somewhere which appointments are eligible. You want to look for something about Schedule A or "fellowships and related programs" or "NSEP".

The second way to use Schedule A is in applying for jobs that are not advertised at all or are not publicly advertised. This means that you can actually create your own position within a department of agency, so long as you have a hiring official inside that department or agency who is willing to support you.

Some important points about Schedule A: Most agencies have a limit on the number of civilian staff they may hire; however, if funds and an agency's regulations allow, a Schedule A hire may be brought on board without counting against that limit. Many hiring officials find this aspect of the Schedule A hiring authority especially attractive. At the same time, keep in mind that the department of agency must pay for a Schedule A hire, so you must be able to make a compelling case as to how you can be a unique asset to the office and you must confirm with the office that they have the money to pay for you. Use this advantage only as a complement to looking for a position through regular advertised postings, such as those on USAJobs.


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7. How to call an office in regard to your job search

Cold calling is never easy, but this technique may help you to create your own job instead of applying for one on USAJobs. First, find out which office you wish to call. If you know of someone from your research, ask to speak to him or her directly. If not, ask to speak to the Executive Assistant to the head of the office. Tell them your full name and why you are calling. You are an NSEP-funded Boren Scholar, Boren Fellow, Flagship Fellow, or EHLS Scholar with special skills in a particular area that is of interest to that office. Further, you can be hired on a non-competitive basis for up to four years because you have a special hiring exemption: Schedule A, which is in the Code of Federal Regulations 213.3102(r). Once he or she understands who you are and what you want, ask to whom you should speak. This may be a multi-step process, since you may not get the office best suited to your skills on the first try. But if you find that an office you have been pursuing is not a good match for you, be polite and persistent, and ask if that contact in one office might refer you to another in a more appropriate office. Be prepared to knock on a lot of doors before you get the job you want, and also continue supplementing your search with applications to jobs on USAJobs and NSEPnet.

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8. How to create a job

When calling an office during your job search, even if they say that there are no jobs, keep talking. Point out that under Schedule A they can hire you for short term, special projects. Most offices have special projects that they want done, but no permanent people to do the work. Tell them that with your skills you can do the special job, even if it is out of the country. Mention the fact that you have lived abroad, and are familiar with the country and people, and that you speak the local language. Volunteer to come in for an interview. Consider the networking process a learning experience, and ask to speak with people with backgrounds similar to yours about the work that they do. You may find that there are offices you didn't even know about, and you also may find people more receptive if you demonstrate an interest in their work, rather than simply asking for favors straight away. Finally, if you do accept a temporary position and enjoy the work, consider asking your employer for another special job or about competing for a permanent position.

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9. Negotiations for your federal job

If you are offered a position that pays enough for you to live reasonably well, take the job. You want to get into the federal government, and even if it's not the ideal position, or if it's only a temporary position, keep in mind that it will probably open more doors than an internet search ever could. If they don't offer you enough money to live, tell them that you want the job but you can't live on what they offer. They may make a better offer, but probably not by much; keep in mind, however, that there are also non-monetary benefits to accepting a federal job, and you may be able to stretch your money more than you expect in your first few months or year. Also be prepared to pay your own relocation expenses if necessary. You should think of your first job, whether in the federal government or elsewhere, as an investment, and even if you have to live cheaply at first, it will quickly open up other opportunities. Once you have a job, and a security clearance if applicable, then you can either look for another job (much easier to get from the inside), or tell your boss you want to be promoted. If you are an asset, he or she will try to help you.

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10. Why it is important to fill out a Service Agreement Report (SAR) for NSEP on a regular basis?

As you complete work to fulfill your service requirement, NSEP needs to know so that you can receive credit for it. You CANNOT have work considered for service credit without submitting a SAR with your supervisor's signature. We also like to know if you are not actively looking for a job because you are still in school; if you enroll in another relevant degree-granting program, or if your graduation deadline changes, you may be eligible to request a recalculation of your service deadline. Even if you haven't done creditable work and aren't still in school, it's important to send in a SAR because it is a part of your Service Agreement and because it ensures that we have the most up-to-date contact information for you. In short, the SAR is your opportunity to let us know what's going on with you. Download the SAR form from the Scholars and Fellows homepage and send it to NSEP by email (nsep@nsep.gov ), fax (703 692-2615), or mail (National Security Education Program, Rosslyn PO Box 20010, Arlington, VA 22209).

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11. How to write KSAs

The government requires a more concise form of writing than is often found in academia. Answer each question as clearly and succinctly as possible. The readers will be looking to see if you have addressed the question. Use the words from the KSA questions in your answers. This is not the time for being modest. Stress your abilities to perform the task, and your related accomplishments. Ideally each answer should be about a page in length. Be clear and concise but also cite relevant details and examples. For each question you should provide an example demonstrating that you have the appropriate knowledge, skill, or ability. Examples might include applicable coursework or a situation or job where the skill or ability was used. If you can present concrete evidence in support of your claim, do so. Such evidence might include relevant statistics (such as "productivity increased 50%"), awards, or positive reviews.

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12. Preparing for an interview

Research the department or agency you're applying to before you call an employer or go to a job fair with federal hiring officials present. You should understand what an agency does before you approach one for employment. Go to their web site and find out about them. Think about possible questions that they may ask you, and prepare your answers. Often hiring officials will use scenario-type questions that ask you to talk about a situation during which you were challenged. If you have several relevant anecdotes in your head, they will be of use. Finally, remember to dress professionally and bring copies of your resume. Above all, be yourself!

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13. Networking - What is it?

Networking is the process of building and maintaining professional relationships. Telephone conversations, professional meetings and lectures, paper mail, voicemail, email, chatting in the hallway, job interviews, visits to research sites, and so forth are all forms of networking. A network is not only a list of people you happen to know. A network is a circuit through which things flow: ideas, information, favors and so on. Among the good things that flow in professional networks are things related to jobs: the official public information about job openings, the inside scoop about jobs, and the informal invitations that enable you to meet people before you have to deal with the formalities of job applications.

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14. Networking - Why should I do it?

Many people resist the idea of networking because they associate it with "playing the career game", "knowing the right people", "kissing up to the powerful", or "politics". Networking is about community, not hierarchy, and people who don't learn to network are less likely to succeed. Don't think of it as, " If I get to know this person then maybe I will get this job." Get to know people because you respect them, and because you have some shared interests and values that you want to develop.

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15. Networking - Using contacts in your job search ?

When you do read government job postings, you will find that most of them are written in Martian: the people seem to want someone whose skills come from a completely different background from yours. Don't panic. One reason to build a professional network is that you will learn to understand federal lingo. Once you find out about a job, ask one of your contacts, "Can I ask your advice?" and ask about the real deal with the job. Should I apply? How do the politics work? What else should I know? What should I emphasize in writing the cover letter on my application? Remember that your contact just has one point of view. Ultimately you have to use your judgment about what to believe.

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16. Networking - How do I do it?

First, know what your goals are. Think about and consciously choose how you wish to use the network. Then identify some relevant people. Contact these people individually. Make sure you include full contact information including your mailing address, phone number, e-mail address. Try to meet each person face-to-face at a professional meeting. If you're not able to travel, write thoughtful emails or plan phone conversations. Exchange information about your goals and your career search. Remember to follow up with your contacts.

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17. Networking - How to keep useful records

Keep a detailed address book, with back-up copies if you're using a computer. For each person you meet who might be of value to you as a network resource, write a few sentences about who they are, where you met them, who introduced you, what they talked about, your impression of their knowledge, etc. Memory is fleeting, and you will be happy you made these notes. This is a lifetime database. Keep your list updated through frequent follow-ups with your contacts, and keep the list in a safe place.

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18. Requesting a NSEP Letter of Certification

Once you reach the stage in the hiring process where a hiring official requires certification of your special hiring authorities, you may request a letter of certification from the NSEP Office. Generally, this happens after you have already contacted an office and they are at least considering you as a Schedule A or NDAA ’10 hire. It may also be necessary for certain jobs advertised on USAJobs that require certification of non-competitive status. In order to send a Letter of Certification on your behalf, you must send us an email that includes the name of the recipient (hiring official or HR person), their detailed mailing address, the job title and the job number or designator for which you are applying, and the address, email address, or fax number to which you would like it sent. For more information on letters of certification, please see HowNSEPCanHelp.

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