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Don’t Fall Into the Simple Math Trap: Use the 80% Rule on USAJOBS

I just did a quick search on USAJobs to find out how many positions are currently posted: over 5000!

Our natural tendency with that information is often to apply to more positions.

Don’t fall into the simple math trap–the more positions I apply to, the better my chances.

In my mind, quality trumps quantity 99 times out of a 100 for so many reasons, not the least of which is how much time and effort it takes to submit a really good application.

In other words, it’s best to apply to those positions that relate most closely to your interests and abilities. Too often, though, it is difficult to identify from the job announcement how well you do fit with a particular position.

A good tool to use is the 80% rule.

Most positions posted to USAJobs have a questionnaire to identify the best qualified individuals. You can usually preview the questionnaire via a link in the How to Apply section of the job announcment.

There are three main types of questions: yes/no, choose all that apply, and multiple choice quesitons that ask you to rate your level of experience and knowledge in specific areas. If you cannot answer the highest level of experience on at least 80% of the questions asked, then you should reconsider whether you choul apply.

For example, a Supervisory Program Specialist with the Department of Veteran Affairs in Lexington, KY (I chose this in honor of the awesome Univ. of Kentucky Wildcat basketball team), gives you the chance to view the Occupation Questionnaire before applying.

Question 25 (#3-38) is a series of questions relating to the applicant’s abilities in areas specific to this position (see link above or screen shot below).

If you could answer only the highest level of knowledge and abilities for 27 or 28 of these 36 questions, you probably do not have the knowledge, skills, or abilities needed for this position at a level competitive enough with those who do have them. And given how long it takes to create a high-quality federal application, you may not want to waste your time.

The 80% rule is only one way to assess your fit for a position.

What other systems are out there?

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Peter Sperry

I would find this advice useful if I had not landed my current job by setting a goal of applying to a minimum of 10 positions per day everyday for 3 months. The job announcement for my current position met none of the 80/20 rules outlined here. I landed the position, have earned 3 outstanding perfomance evaluations in a row, have two fantastic bosses (immediate supervisor and his boss) and am enjoying one of the better jobs I have ever had.

My advice is to never screen yourself out from anything. There are more than enough people in the world who will do that for you.

Corey McCarren

I agree that you should be selective in where you apply, because you need to submit a quality application. I also believe, however, that you shouldn’t count yourself out of something just because you can’t do it at this second. There’s a good chance an employer will see something in you that you didn’t, or that you already have a proven track record of success and the employer is confident that you can pick up the required skills quickly. Recent graduates are not going to meet that 80% standard on 99% of entry-level positions.

Kathleen Smith

There is a difference between applying on USAjobs.gov and other corporate career sites that many job seekers do not understand.

If you apply for a large number of positions within a company, a recruiter can black list you in their system, so this does go against applying for a large number of jobs. Depending on the technology in the company, namely their ATS or Applicant Tracking System, if a recruiter notices that an applicant has applied for several jobs but is not qualified for those positions, the recruiter can flag that applicant and all those applications go away.

So be careful as to how many positions you apply for in a company and how often.