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As someone in the job market, and a current federal employee, I am applying to federal vacancies. The positions I go for typically require KSA’s – “Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities” statements, also called arrative statements, narratives, or essay questions . This post is not about how to write them, as there is plenty of advice out there about that (go get 10 Steps to a Federal Job). Rather, what should you do with the collection of KSA’s that builds up?

They pile up because the questions, while sometimes identical, are usually just slightly different from the last time I had to write a KSA on a particular topic. That means that old stories have to be recycled over and over again, usually with slight variations, and nearly always with tailoring to the particular keywords from the announcement.

I’ve made the cert on 5 out of my last 10 federal applications (that’s being one of the top three candidates and placed on the naming certificate given to the selecting official by the Human Resources office, for you federal employee novices). I count this as a good record, because three were a stretch and I know I lacked highly specialized experience for the other two (like camping in remote locations for extended time periods – the job was in Alaska). By the way, if you are making the cert on every single one of your applications, I would argue you are not taking enough risks. After all, an unsuccessful application does not affect future applications.

I used to keep files organized by overall topic to which I would add the latest KSA written for an application. My topic files were: Ecology knowledge, communication, Experimental design & statistics, Management & teams, Policy & motivations, and Technology & QA/QC. For a while this strategy worked, and I would mine the files for the best versions of stories for each new KSA. But as time has worn on, these files have become too large and difficult to use effectively. Besides, I typically use the same stories for the same KSA’s, until better examples come along born out of my experience. So I changed how I manage my KSA collection.

I now have one file I call my “KSA gallery”. In it I keep the best version of each of my best stories (i.e. examples where I applied the skills in question). That is, I’m focusing my organization around stories, rather than question types. Now, every story can usually be used for more than one question. So on each page of the file, I have a tiltle for the story (for my use only – don’t put “story titles” in your KSA’s), a list of topics the story exemplifies, and the story written in KSA form. Here’s an example:

Mercury Experiment

Successful internal funding, project planning, QA/QC.

Mercury is an important pollutant in aquatic ecosystems, and prioritized by EPA. My colleague and I decided that new applied research needed to be done concerning mercury in stream food webs in relation to eutrophication. The division director obtained $70,000 in unexpected research funds, and solicited ideas for projects. My colleague suggested the mercury work, and we proceeded with planning. Our challenges included the science, the paperwork, and worker safety. We needed to design an experiment to test the hypotheses we identified. We had to navigate the administrative procedures to solicit bids and QA/QC planning procedures. I was particularly concerned with worker safety, as exposure to mercury can be fatal at high doses. My colleague and I wrote a Statement of Work. As part of our internal QA/QC procedures I wrote a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP). This document included: the project background overview, objectives, experimental approach, and experimental procedure; sample tracking, containers, preservation conditions, and holding times; quality control checks, projected number of samples for each analyte and matrix, sampling schedules, and sample tracking form; summary of analytical methods, volumes, handling, preservation, and holding times; summary of analytes, units of expression and required minimum detection limits; and summary of analytical QC checks. We got authorization to compete the project at the full amount of $70,000. The project was competed and awarded. The quality control officer liked the QAPP so much, she uses it as an example for others to follow. This experiment has entered the data analysis and write-up phase.

Notice that this KSA doesn’t actually describe the experiment, instead its about the planning and QA/QC. The science behind the experiment can go into another KSA. So should I encounter a KSA that requires exemplifying my experience in project planning, it’s easily found and ready to be customized. I also keep a separate folder with materials for each application, so that should I get an interview, I can review what answers I gave.

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