The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the human resource arm of the federal government, is the latest organization to push back against degree requirements as the best litmus of a candidate’s qualifications. OPM released skills-based hiring guidance last month. Most positions in federal government have relied on education and a candidate’s self-assessment to prove a candidate’s ability to perform well in a job.

According to recent OPM guidance, “This modified approach is intended to assist managers to recognize and value skills regardless of where they were acquired, whether in a formal degree program, on the job, or on one’s own.”

OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said, “By focusing on what an applicant can do—and not where they learned to do it—skills-based hiring will expand talent pools by making it easier for applicants without a bachelor’s degree to demonstrate their skills and will help remove barriers to employment for historically under-represented groups. By drawing from the diversity of this country, agencies can be better equipped to tackle the challenges before us.”

Making it Easier to Qualify for Federal Positions

In accordance with Executive Order 13932, and in light of today’s booming labor market, the federal government is hoping to better compete for top talent. A skills-based approach to hiring advances this objective by:

  • Making it easier for those who do not have a four-year degree to demonstrate that they have the skills to compete for federal jobs, thereby expanding pools of potential applicants and removing any barriers for underrepresented communities;
  • Helping hiring managers accurately assess a candidate’s knowledge, skills, and abilities by relying more on professionally-developed competency-based assessments;
  • Improving the hiring process for both applicants and managers;
  • Positioning the government for success as agencies prepare for the future;
  • Helping prospective applicants shift between sectors as they can emphasize their transferable skills; and
  • Assisting current employees as they chart a professional development journey that keeps them in jobs and growing

Six This Way – Half a Dozen Another

In reality, federal recruiters had this ability for many years. If you review the qualifications for federal positions, they outline what qualifies with potential substitutions.

Prior to recent changes, if you were applying for GS-7 positions, the announcement would state that a bachelor’s degree is required OR you can substitute three years of general work experience for a four-year course of study leading to a bachelor’s degree for many occupations.

Many without a college degree looked at the job announcement and saw “Bachelor’s Degree” under qualifications and moved on. Had they read the entire job announcement, they could have met the qualifications for the position with three years general experience. Many highly qualified applicants passed up great federal job opportunities.

New Format for federal job qualifications

A job announcement today for a GS-9 administrative officer position offers a wide array of options to rate eligible for a position. You must review the qualifications section of the job announcement to determine what is required for the specific job you are applying for.

Under qualifications, a typical administrative job announcement states, “Qualifying examples of specialized experience would include but are not limited to: performing administrative duties in support of a variety of administrative management areas (i.e., budget, finance, contracting, and procurement, equipment property, human resource management, and facility space requirements); applying a knowledge of administrative directives, policies, regulations, and precedents applicable to the administration of a service; preparing analytical compliance reporting and other written documents; utilizing various computer programs; and interacting with various people by exercising excellent communicating skills.”

(CLEAR DETAILS OF EXPERIENCE REQUIRED: Your resume must show complete information for each job entry, such as beginning and ending dates of employment, duties performed, and/or total hours worked per week.) OR,

Education: Applicants may substitute education for the required experience. To qualify based on education for this grade level you must have a master’s or equivalent graduate degree or 2 full years of progressively higher-level graduate education leading to such a degree or LL.B. or J.D., if related.

Making the Connection

Unlike the private sector’s one page resume, applicants must describe in detail, with examples, of how they obtained this experience. You can’t simply say I provided administrative support for the office and analyzed issues presented during my tenure there.

Use this sample federal resume  targeted to a management analyst position with IT background to see how they are structured, and the details needed to successfully complete your application.

understanding experience on a federal resume

Specialized experience can originate from the government or private sectors or a combination of both.

Experience refers to paid and unpaid experience, including volunteer work done through National Service programs (e.g., Peace Corps, AmeriCorps) and other organizations (e.g., professional; philanthropic; religions; spiritual; community; student; social). Volunteer work helps build critical competencies, knowledge, and skills and can provide valuable training and experience that translates directly to paid employment. You will receive credit for all qualifying experience, including volunteer experience.

A full year of work is considered to be 35-40 hours of work per week. Part-time experience will be credited on the basis of time actually spent in appropriate activities. Applicants wishing to receive credit for such experience must indicate clearly the nature of their duties and responsibilities in each position and the number of hours a week spent in such employment.

Skills-based hiring requires the applicant to spend quality time outlining how they achieved the skills necessary for the position applied for. Take your time, compile your experiences from all sources, and explain in detail how you meet the qualifications outlined in the job announcement to land a high paying and secure federal job.


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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.