Soon-to-be vets explore fed job options

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Help is available to vets in all aspects of the job hunt 
by Sgt. Chuck Wagner

The United States Office of Personnel Management presented two informational briefings Tuesday on Fort Myer aimed at helping those about to leave the services explore opportunities in federal civil service.

In two half-day sessions, several experts shared their wisdom with an audience comprised of all stripes and services which nearly filled the Fort Myer Community Center hall. OPM is touring installations across the country with their message on federal opportunities for service members. The morning program extended through lunch, as questions flew from the floor.   

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There were three main sessions to each briefing, covering:
* USAJOBS — the federal jobs Website
* Resumes and interviews
* Veterans’ eligibility and preference.

Already during the first two topics, it was obvious that the last issue was high on everyone’s agenda.

“We are doing this because we owe it to you,” said Tracy Underwood, a veteran liaison, introducing the OPM team to the crowd. “You answered the call. You served the country. We are obligated to treat you appropriately.”

Renel Sample, of OPM’s Philadelphia service branch, spoke first about the federal job Website, www.usajobs.opm.gov. The site is updated in real time with new openings. The site’s “career interest center” tab steers users to the occupation or occupational category that best fits their credentials and interests, Sample said.

Its search feature allows the user to tailor a search weighted toward a specific factor such as job location, federal agency with an opening, specific occupation, or keyword.

Once the user finds a suitable job opening, the site streamlines the application process.

The USAJOBS resume builder allows each user to create, save and print up to five different resumes, which can be edited and submitted online. The resume builder function also automatically constructs resumes in the most commonly preferred format, and allows users to save several application letters.

Within each user’s individualized MyUSAJOBS account, she can also save up to five search agents, and the Website will automatically send emails to those enrolled with suitable new openings. After an application is submitted, the candidate can track its status online.

Sample advised anyone considering a federal position to search USAJOBS regularly, to register job search agents, and have several resumes on-hand.

It is also a good idea to know who does the hiring for a desired position, and to seek this information as well as answers to any other questions you may have from the contact listed on each vacancy.

The Library of Congress has a dictionary of federal agencies and at lcweb.loc.gov/nara/index.html.

Dorothy Lowe, with OPM’s Washington headquarters, reminded the group that each agency, and each position, may request a different resume format. She listed five generally accepted resume types — based on how the information is grouped — but suggested the most important task is to make the resume accurate, clear and easy to read.

She couldn’t teach each individual how to create the most effective resume with their specific credentials, but she did try to make everyone “aware of the pitfalls people usually stumble in along the way.”

Several key problems to avoid are failing to include an objective or summary statement, including information irrelevant to the position, focusing on duties instead of on results in the employment history, using too many impressive but uncommon words, and errors in spelling and punctuation.

Federal resumes, unlike other resume types, need to include information on veteran’s preference, social security number and U.S. citizenship.

Lowe also covered the interview process. She recommended every candidate practice beforehand answers to obvious questions an employer may ask, and suggested the candidate bring a copy of their resume, any reference letters, and writing materials to the interview. The impression the candidate makes ultimately comes down to a show of confidence, she said, summarizing her session with the motto “attitude is everything.”

Lee Willis, of OPM’s New England branch, had a forest of arms to answer when he addressed the uniform-heavy audience on veterans’ preference and federal employment.

Under the current point-scoring system for job applicants, federal agencies can give five-point preferences to veterans who:

* Served for more than 180 consecutive days, any part of which occurred after Jan. 31, 1955 and before Oct. 15, 1976

* Served during the Gulf War from Aug. 2, 1990 through Jan. 2, 1992. This includes all service members on active duty at the time, regardless of where they served.

* Served n a campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal has been authorized, including El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti, Lebanon, Panama, Southwest Asia, Bosnia and the global war on terrorism. For the global war on terrorism, this includes only the expeditionary medal for those who served in designated combat areas, not to the service medal given all service members in uniform at the time.

Medal holders and Gulf War veterans who enlisted after Sept. 7, 1980 or entered on active duty on or after Oct. 14, 1982, must have served continuously for 24 months or the full period called or ordered to active duty. The service requirement does not apply to veterans with compensable service-connected disabilities, or to veterans separated for disability in the line of duty, or for hardship.

A 10-point preference is given to veterans who served any time and have a present service-connected disability or is receiving compensation, disability retirement benefits, or pension from the military or the Department of Veteran Affairs. Individuals who received a Purple Heart medal qualify as disabled veterans.

Also eligible are:

An unmarried spouse of certain deceased veterans, a spouse of a veteran unable to work because of a service-connected disability.

A mother of a veteran who died in service or who is permanently and totally disabled.

The Veterans’ Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 allows veterans to apply for federal positions normally open only to those with existing federal status.

A veteran must be honorably separated and either eligible for preference or have completed three or more years of active service. Veterans are therefore usually eligible to apply to positions advertised for “status candidates” and “public” candidates.

The Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment is a special authority by which agencies, if they wish, appoint an eligible veteran without competition. The candidate does not need to be on a list of eligibles, but must meet the basic qualification requirements for the position. The candidate must request the VRA from the hiring agency, which is not required to use the hiring authority.More information on federal jobs, and veterans’ eligibility and preferences is available on the OPM Website at http://www.opm.-gov/veterans.

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