Federal Resume

By Kathryn Troutman

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USAJOBS questionnaire challenge: Are you guilty of deflating your answers?

Almost every position posted on USAJOBS requires a resume, supporting documents, and a completed “self-assessment questionnaire.” Many first-time federal jobseekers are unfamiliar with the questionnaire requirement and express surprise when faced with the daunting prospect of answering extensive, detailed questions about their professional experience. Even individuals who possess a greater level of familiarity with the federal application process often feel overwhelmed and confused by these self-assessment questionnaires.

The typical questionnaire includes 12-35 questions, and some include up to 100 questions. The responses to these questions are critical to the success of your entire federal job application. In fact, Human Resources Specialists will review your questionnaire score before evaluating your resume – if your responses to the self-assessment don’t meet the cut-off, your application won’t be considered.

The questionnaires typically employ a multiple-choice approach. Many federal jobseekers don’t realize that their responses can be the determining factor between being “Best Qualified” and “Not Among the Most Qualified.” Because many don’t grasp the importance of the questionnaire, they fall into the trap of trying to complete it as quickly as possible. Also, and perhaps more importantly, many jobseekers suffer from “Social Desirability Bias,” which is a very common human tendency to answer questions in a manner perceived as being viewed more favorably by others – and it often takes the form of under-reporting, or deflating, responses on self-assessment questionnaires.

A completed self-assessment questionnaire with deflated responses is the death-knell for any federal job application. For example, a client contacted us because she had not been rated “Best Qualified” for a position that she was, in fact, very qualified for (in fact, she had held the position before). In reviewing her application package, we discovered she had deflated her questionnaire responses and didn’t take credit where she should have. Had she responded to the questions differently, she likely would have been rated “Best Qualified.” The questionnaire responses are critical to your application package.

As soon as you find an open position of interest, the first thing you should do is to review the self-assessment questionnaire. Most announcements on USAJOBS include a link so that you can preview the questions. Most questionnaires offer the following multiple choice response options:

  • A – I have no experience in performing this work behavior.
  • B – I have limited experience in performing this work behavior. I have had exposure to this work behavior but would require additional guidance, instruction, or experience to perform it at a proficient level.
  • C – I have experience performing this work behavior across routine or predictable situations with minimal supervision or guidance.
  • D – I have performed this work behavior independently across a wide range of situations. I have assisted other in carrying out this work behavior. I seek guidance in carrying out this work behavior only in unusually complex situations.
  • E – I am considered an expert in carrying out this work behavior. I advise and instruct others in carrying out this work behavior on a regular basis. I am consulted by my colleagues and/or supervisors to carry out this work behavior in unusually complex situations.
    Make sure you can rate yourself highly – if you can’t, you’re likely wasting your time by completing the application.

Tips for completing the Self-Assessment Questionnaire:

  • Do NOT deflate your responses. Give yourself the most credit that you can for each response.
  • Take your time. Read the questions and choices thoroughly.
  • You CAN give yourself credit from previous positions, not just your current position.
  • You CAN give yourself credit from experience gained in college coursework.
  • Don’t let the self-assessment questionnaire overwhelm you. It is designed to weed people out. So if you’ve found your ideal federal job, don’t let the questionnaire be the reason you don’t get it.

Posted by Kathryn Troutman on Apr 15, 2013 at 4:02 PM


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