The federal sector hired 176,842 new employees last year nationwide and overseas, proving that there are abundant opportunities for those willing to seek them out. The average annual federal salary now exceeds $90,000 – not counting their many generous benefits.

Many job seekers ignore the federal sector for fear of what is perceived as blanket entry level testing requirements. Prior to the 1980s, many had to take standardized federal civil service tests when applying for positions.

Over 80% of all federal jobs don’t require written entrance exams. Federal applicants are rated through an extensive review of their work experience and/or education listed on their federal style resume. Tests are required for certain law enforcement occupations, and others.

Positions that required entry tests in the past, such as administrative and secretarial/clerical positions waived the entrance exam and now require applicants to complete an occupational questionnaire, self-certify certain skills such as required keyboard proficiency, and complete a federal style resume. Much simpler than when I first applied; before the advent of the internet.


Those who first apply for federal jobs are taken aback by the amount of time, energy, and paperwork required the process takes. Applicants that compile a comprehensive and professional application package are more likely to succeed.

A federal-style resume is nothing like most private sector one-page resumes. It is highly structured and may contain up to 43 specific blocks of information. They are typically between three to six pages and with Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities statements (KSAs), your application could expand considerably.

Theoretically, KSAs were eliminated in 2010 by presidential executive order. Today, vacancy announcement lists KSAs as “specialized experience” requirements. Agencies evaluate them to determine if you qualify for the position.

Read the vacancy announcement thoroughly and include information relevant to capture the required experience and/or education. Provide detailed examples showing how you achieved each KSA and any outcomes to which you directly contributed.

Brevity isn’t your friend when applying for federal jobs. Your specialized experience descriptions must reflect your level of responsibility and agencies often suggest submitting at least a half page describing how you achieved each one. These sample KSAs will help you better understand what is required.

I reviewed hundreds of federal applications during my 35-plus years of federal service and participated in numerous interview and selection panels. I can tell you from first-hand experience that many highly qualified applicants never made the cut because they didn’t devote the time or effort to properly complete their application package.


A number of occupations require specialized testing and assessments that validate the applicant’s physical and mental ability, and skills required for the position. Exams vary in length from several hours to half a day or more. The job announcement will specify if entrance exams or pre-employment screenings are required. The following provides a partial list of major occupations that require entrance exams:

  • Air Traffic Control — Applicants for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Control positions must graduate from an accredited Air Traffic Certified Training Institution (AT-CTI). AT-CTI schools send names of students enrolled in their program to the FAA. There is an AT-CTI database of names for tracking purposes until graduation and recommendation. After enrollment in an AT-CTI program, students take FAA’s authorized pre-employment test. This test determines an individual’s aptitude to become an air traffic control specialist.
  • Border Patrol — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employs thousands of Border Patrol agents. After completing the Border Patrol Agent (BPA) application and online assessment questionnaire, eligible applicants will receive an invitation to take the online Candidate Experience Record and schedule the BPA Entrance Examination at a local testing center.
  • Central Intelligence Agency — All applicants must successfully complete a thorough medical and psychological exam, a polygraph interview and an extensive background investigation. U.S. citizenship is required. Other proficiency tests may be required to verify language skills, etc. Many are interested in finding out how to join the CIA.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation — Explore all options and apply for vacancy announcements of interest at the FBI. Carefully read and respond to the application questions. The application includes passing a written test, interview, polygraph examination, physical fitness test, physical, and a thorough background investigation.
  • Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) — Application procedures for employment with the Department of State vary according to your career choice. Foreign Service Officers must pass the Foreign Service Officer Test. Students must also meet certain criteria and deadlines for the program they choose to enter.
  • Internal Revenue ServiceVarious positions with the IRS require assessment tests. IRS agents must complete an accounting assessment process that takes approximately four to five hours. It is composed of an accounting assessment and an interview with a panel of experienced Revenue Agent managers.
  • Secret Service — The Secret Service is headquarters in Washington, D.C. with 150 offices located throughout the United States. The agency protects our nation’s leaders and provides extensive criminal investigations. Special Agent applicants must pass the Special Agent Entrance Exam (SAEE), an Applicant Physical Abilities Test (APAT) and acquire a top secrete clearance through an extensive background check.


Thousands of federal job vacancies are advertised on any given day; they are typically open for several weeks, up to one year in certain circumstances. Visit to search for vacancies by occupational title. You can limit your search to your immediate area or view all available job postings.

Print a copy of the job announcements and read it front to back. Don’t skip anything. They will tell you all you need to know about the job offer: pay, location, required specialized experience, education, and much more. Towards the end of each announcement, you will find a phone number or email address of the human resource specialist that you can contact if you have questions.

Click the Apply icon in the upper right corner of the displayed job announcement to start your application. I suggest completing your write-ups in a program where you can spell check and edit it at will until it is ready for prime time. Then, copy and paste them into your online application.

The process is time consuming yet rewarding for those who take their time to complete a professional resume and application package.

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Dennis V. Damp, the creator of and, is a retired federal manager, business owner, career counselor and veteran. Damp is the author of 28 books, his books were featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times and U.S. News & World Report.