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Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities – Oh My!

After the last few weeks of my politically-inspired rantings, how about something on the lighter side?

I have been drowning this week in a round of KSA writing. For those of you who don’t know, that’s Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities. KSAs appear as a list of questions that must be answered in narrative form and submitted as part of your application to a Federal vacancy.

“I hate KSAs!” was I cry I heard in the early days of the week, when I mentioned my task. I didn’t agree until today. Since the dislike of this task seems to be universal, I thought I’d write a few tips while the process was fresh in my mind.

Answer length
I’ve heard from several long-time employees that about one page per question is the right length. Anything more than that is too long. Sometimes you have less, because your experience in that particular KSA is minimal. Don’t BS (too much) just for the sake of expanding it out. Be honest.

Oh yeah, Be Honest
We all flower it up a little to make ourselves sound even better than we really are — but don’t go overboard. If the reviewers don’t see right through it, you could still eventually be caught by your own lie.

Format for easy reading.
One tip I picked up was to include a bulleted list after my narrative. This list includes a summary of relevant positions (title and years held) and any specific projects I worked on (such as an EIS or other analysis, and the year completed). This allows the reviewer to quickly see the basics, instead of having to suss them out from your beautiful narrative.

Save your write up.
Having a folder of previous KSA responses is a gold mine. Why write up “Ability to communicate in writing” from scratch each time? While you will want and need to update your responses over time, it’s great to have a foundation to start from.

Dont’ wait till the last minute!
KSAs written on an all-nighter the day before the announcement closes are no good. Give yourself at least a week. Then you can write a first draft, let it sit, and review again a day or two later. Plus, some days you just don’t have the KSA magic — you don’t want to find yourself in a writer’s-block bind.

Have someone proofread.
And I don’t mean just for spelling/grammar. Have a close friend or coworker — someone who knows your experience and some specific projects you’ve worked on — read over your responses. Often these people will remind you of a project or other relevant experience you forgot to list. In addition, if you know someone who has a reputation for good KSAs or good writing in general, have him/her take a look. Often they can make your writing more powerful and have other good tips.

Don’t forget to sign your name!
Include your name and announcement/vacancy number in the header. Then they’ll always be able to find your responses, in case the pages get separated.

USE YOUR SPELL CHECK!!!!
And grammar check. It’s amazing that I have to include this, but sadly so many people seem to forget this step. (And for god’s sake, don’t use text-message abbreviations and lingo!). On a related note, avoid acronyms and jargon. Spell out the full name and include the acronym in () after; then you can use the acronym in subsequent sentences. This is especially crucial if you are applying to a different agency.

With each time you go through the KSA process, you’ll improve. I’m kind of a pro at it now. But can someone please tell me why someone would feel compelled to ask for my “ability to analyze forest resource issues” AND my “ability to analyze natural resource management issues”???? Aren’t they the same????? Did I mention I hate KSAs?

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