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When I graduate, I will have a Master in Social Work. I was told that VA jobs are top earning jobs in this field. I am a civilian. What are my chances of making it to an interview? What can I do to improve my odds?

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Angela’s Answer

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Hi Kristi:


I don't have any experience with applying or working for the VA but I do work for local government and I imagine their process is similar. Applying for a civil service position is about understanding their process and how to get onto the eligibility list. I wholeheartedly agree with other advice given, complete the employment application fully, don't rush, and double check your work. The first level of screening with local government is demonstrating you meet the minimum qualifications so your application is reviewed and decided by HR professionals, not the hiring department. If your application doesn't pass the initial review, it doesn't move forward.

If you pass the first review and there are lots of applications, your supplemental responses to the questions that may be included in the application will play a huge part as to whether you move forward. Answer each question thoroughly and in full sentences. They are reviewing your writing skills as well as your experience with those questions.

If you are invited to the first interview panel, please note they are often called an oral exam. It is an exam and you must pass. Having a 2-3 minute opening statement that summarizes your education, training and experience that makes you the best candidate for the position is important. Usually, they give you a chance to make a closing statement at the end of the oral exam, that closing statement is just as important, leaving the oral panel with a strong lasting impression is important.

Practice your interviewing skills with others or in front of a mirror to reduce your nerves in the oral exam, being nervous is normal but you want to be able to control it and practice, practice and more practice will help reduce your nerves and make you feel confident.

Lastly, don't give up. You may potentially get a lot of rejections or place low on the eligibility list or maybe not even place on the list at all since some only take the top 5. Since it is an exam, you can improve your skills and oral presentation and apply again.


Good luck,


angela

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Kim’s Answer

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Kristi,


As you may or may not know, federal jobs give "military preference." Joining the military and then becoming a veteran is your best option. Assuming you do not want to do that. . .


The VA, by nature, is located in areas that have a lot of veterans. That will make it difficult for you. I once got a rating of 100 on my application, the highest possible, but they cut off the eligibility list at 110 (ten-point vets). You may want to consider working in an agency other than the VA, in a city that does not have a lot of veterans, to simply get your foot in the door. It will be easier to move from one federal job to another than to go directly to the VA.


Learn how to fill out the federal job application! Unlike most other places, they like a lot of detail on the application. Review the KSA's (knowledge, skills, abilities) section of the job announcement, and include everything it asks for. You might start looking at that now, and working on any areas of weakness you have. There is also a section on the application where they ask you a lot of questions, where you rate your experience level at different things, such as research, writing, public speaking, etc. You need to rate yourself as high as possible on these questions, without lying or embellishing. And, the ratings must be supported by the information in your application, or, they will change your answers! Again, I emphasize, read the job announcement thoroughly. Everything. Every tab. Take it line by line. Expect it to take at least three hours, and probably closer to a full day, to put this all together. The more applications you do, the better you will get at it!


Get some experience. Intern. Volunteer. Anything to get experience. Lots of people apply for federal jobs, and many of them have solid experience.


Get really good grades. Sometimes the feds give special priority to people with higher grades.


Hope this has helped!


Kim

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