A Deeper Look at the Government Hiring Process: The Supplemental Materials

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What are supplemental materials? Why do I have to submit them with my job application? How are they rated?

If you’ve ever applied to a government job, you’ll probably be the first to say it is an overwhelming process. Not only does it take weeks or months before you hear about your status, but you don’t understand any of the terms they use.

WHAT are Supplemental Materials?

Supplemental materials are any additional documents that must be submitted at the time your application is due. They can also be called a statement of qualifications, a work sample, a narrative response, or a behavioral inventory form. The nice thing about supplemental materials is that they are all collected at the same time and are ready to be screened without requiring the candidates’ physical presence at a testing site.

WHY are Supplemental Materials used?

Hiring managers can request that applicants complete supplemental materials so that they have more information to use to screen applicants without requiring the candidate pool to physically appear. If written communication skills are critical for a position, hiring managers may ask for all candidates to submit a writing exercise. They may ask that you write about a topic, your experience, or simply to submit a writing sample.

HOW are Supplemental Materials assessed?

Supplemental materials can be rated by either the personnel analyst that screened your application or a panel of raters who are familiar with the job you applied for or the subject area. These raters follow standardized rating criteria that gives you points for how you responded. If your response demonstrates that you have a high level of skill in the competencies they’re assessing, you’ll attain a higher score than someone who doesn’t (or someone who spent very little effort in working on their supplemental materials). The points you receive on this can get you on an eligible list if it was the only exam component. If there are additional exam components, your score will either be combined with how you do on the other components, or your score will determine if you will be invited to participate in the other components.

The opportunity to rise among hundreds of applicants is huge when the job requires that you submit supplemental materials. The majority of applicants don’t put much time and energy in them and so you have an incredible chance to stand out just by spending a couple extra hours up front in the hiring process.

A Deeper Look at the Government Hiring Process: The Employment History Section

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Ever wonder why government agencies require that you complete an “employment history” section in your job application instead of just allowing you to copy and paste your resume?

In the public sector, the selection process follows strict guidelines that ensure the entire process is merit-based. That means every applicant is treated in the same way. Whereas you could randomly pick and select a few applications to screen and interview in the private sector and trash the rest of the resumes, in the public sector, ALL applications must be reviewed thoroughly. In addition, those that are found not to be qualified are NOTIFIED and given a SECOND CHANCE to submit information and documentation that demonstrates they do in fact meet the Minimum Qualifications for the job.

The Employment History (where you enter the details of all the jobs you’ve held) is carefully screened to identify whether you possess the required skills, licenses, experiences, or educational background needed by the position you applied to. When you submit this, the dates of each job experience is calculated by the analyst and even if you’re 15 days short of the required experience, you will not be admitted to the applicant pool that moves forward in the selection process.

A few things to keep in mind when completing the employment history:

  1. Ensure the exact dates of employment are accurate. When you get to be the final candidate and they’re ready to make an offer, the government agency may conduct an employment and education verification which means they will call up your employer to ensure what you listed is true. If you miss the minimum qualifications by even a few days, you will not be extended that job offer. So instead of just guessing the date you were hired and separated, pull out those old paystubs and ensure you have the right dates listed on your application.
  2. Do not write: “See Resume” in each job description. When applicants write “see resume” and leave the employment history section blank, it tells the analyst they weren’t serious about the job they applied for. While some personnel analysts may look at the resume to see if the applicant has the required qualifications, MOST analysts will reject the application and at that point you’ll have to jump through hoops to get a second chance.
  3. Define your job duties as relevant to the job you applied to. Many of the applications I’ve seen fail to mention how their prior experience makes them a good candidate for the position they applied to. They just copy and paste what they listed on a generic resume. I’m often surprised that they would even think they would be considered for the job they applied to when I read what the list as their job duties. The best candidates spend time studying the job description and the qualities the position is looking for in an ideal candidate. Then they’ll go through each job in the employment history and highlight the responsibilities they’ve had that directly link to the qualities the hiring manager is looking for. This practice not only ensures you get through the initial application screening, but that your application will likely make it to the final hiring interview.

The application is your chance to make a good first impression. Take the time to ensure it is the best it can be.

The 3 Major Hurdles to Getting Hired in Government

interviewWhen it comes to the hiring process in a government job, most people think the main hurdle is meeting the minimum qualifications (MQs) for a position. That means you possess:
1. the number of years of experience that is listed
2. the type and level of education listed, and
3. any additional skills or certifications needed (ability to lift 50lbs, a driver’s license, etc.).

Great, you met the MQs, you submitted your application, and now you’re looking forward to your interview which you will surely ACE since you’ve studied up on several interviewing techniques, best answers, and even practiced in front of the mirror a few times.
That’s where you are misguided.

The first hurdle is getting your application through (meeting the minimum qualifications AND showing that you meet them on your application so that the analyst reviewing them will move you to the next step. The second hurdle is passing the exam with a high score so that you can be in the top ranks or “reachable ranks”. Depending on the agency or department you must be in the top 3, 6, or 10 ranks to even be CONSIDERED for an interview. The third hurdle is sailing through the hiring interview.

So let’s talk through each hurdle.

Getting Your Application Through
When you’re in job search mode, you’re likely to be doing mass application submission which generally means a lot of copying and pasting. In the government world, there is nothing worse than an application that says, “see resume.” Analysts generally just mark those applications as not qualified, even if the resume is beautifully crafted and lists all the qualifications the hiring manager is looking for. So make sure you spend time completely filling out your application with the exact terms the job announcement lists in the job description and the minimum qualifications section. If it states you need supervisory experience, write that you have supervised staff. Even a phrase that isn’t clear, such as, “oversees a unit to complete x,y and z,” can be rejected because the term ‘supervised’ is not used. You don’t want the analyst screening applications to guess whether you have supervised or not.

Acing the Exam(s)
The public sector calls the first part of the hiring process by a few different names that can throw you off. They might call it an exam, a test, or a selection process. And it can consist of 1, 2, or 3+ components depending on the level of the job and the people involved with building out the exam process. Components can include one or more of the following:
• In-Person Panel Interview
• Multiple Choice Test
• In-Person Writing Exercise
• Supplemental Questionnaire (basically short essay questions that you attach to your application when you submit it)
• Work Sample
• Job Questionnaire (you check off the skills needed for the job and get scored on how many you check off).

In order to do well for the exams portion, you MUST find out what components are part of the screening process for the position you’ve applied to. It’s listed on the job announcement. Then you can also do a Google search for practice questions and answers for the specific KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) listed on the job announcement. Write out the potential questions you’ll be asked and practice ideal responses prior to the exam. You can even call the analyst in charge of the job recruitment and ask if there are exam practice materials.

Passing the Hiring Interview with Flying Colors
The hiring interview occurs after an eligible list is established. Only candidates scoring the highest on the eligible list are invited to a hiring interview which typically involves the actual hiring manager. This is the first time you’ll meet anyone that might be working with you. The hiring questions are often “behavioral interview questions” that are designed to get you to talk about your specific knowledge or skills (competencies) that you can demonstrate from your past experience. For example, instead of asking, “why do you think you would be a good team player?” they might ask, “tell us about an experience in your past work history that demonstrates your ability to collaborate well with others.”

Using these important tips in preparing for a government job, you’ll have a step above others who are using the techniques they use to apply for private sector jobs and getting nowhere.

Good luck!