Due to the current volatile economic environment and the expected layoffs, many people will be looking for a new job. For many of you, an American government job can provide security, excellent benefits, and interesting work. But beware, the competition for these jobs is fierce and you have to stand out from all the other applicants to get a placement – that’s where KSA becomes an important opportunity you can take to get that job in the government.
What is a KSA?
The United States. Office of Personnel Management has a searchable database, called USAJOBS, with government vacancies. Once you have applied online, you will find that specific job openings often require a detailed description of your application to be completed Knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) next to your CV.
Each task that requires a KSA has specific KSA questions that you usually answer on about one page of written content. This is not an optional task. You have to do it and you have to do it right. Each KSA response is graded by staff on a scale of 0-20, which reflects how well your knowledge, skills, and abilities match the complexity, impact, variety, circumstances, and interactions that characterize the job you’re applying for. KSAs are often the determining factor in your evaluation for work in the United States. government. So, what are KSAs? According to the CDC’s Help page on KSAs:
Knowledge statements refer to an organized amount of information that is usually factual or procedural in nature and that, when applied, allows adequate execution at work. A collection of information that is directly applied to the execution of a function.
Skill statements refer to the skillful manual, verbal or mental manipulation of data or things. Skills can be easily measured with a performance test that tests quantity and quality of performance, usually within a set time limit. Examples of skillful manipulation of things are skill in typing or skill in driving a vehicle. Examples of skillful data manipulation include skill in decimal calculation; proficiency in editing transposed songs, etc.
Power statements refer to the authority to conduct an observable activity at this time. This means that skills are demonstrated by activities or behaviors similar to those required at work, for example, the ability to plan and organize work. Skills are different from skills. Suitability is only the potential to perform the activity.
How should you answer KSA questions to increase your job prospects in government?
The most effective answers to the KSA questions reflect your understanding of the job requirements based on detailed job description analysis and typical assignments. You should pay careful attention to the keywords used in the job description and use those words when describing your knowledge, skills and abilities.
Generally knowledge is more abstract than skills and can therefore be generalized across many different tasks and responsibilities. Knowledge comes from academic and life experiences, including, but not limited to, education and work. Any knowledge you possess that is relevant to the job you are looking for should be included in your KSA response.
It is a good idea to brainstorm yourself and with others what “knowledge” you should claim because you can demonstrate this through your written answers. For example, let’s say the function requires “being able to organize a project”. Although your work experience did not provide the ability to manage a project, your experience of one year of PTA fundraising, although an unpaid activity, could rightfully be claimed as “project management experience”. It is up to you to describe the acquired knowledge in a way that translates to the position for which you are applying.
Think of skills knowledge that can be tested, i.e. knowledge is how a spreadsheet program can help manage a budget; it is a skill to be able to create an Excel spreadsheet to track expenses. Remove skills requirements from the vacancy and show proof that you have those skills. For example, the position of Pharmacy Assistant requires knowledge demonstrated by certified training and skills obtained from previous experience in drug handing and working with customers.
How to write an effective KSA response
When answering KSA questions, you make statements about your knowledge, skills and abilities. You must then substantiate those claims with credible evidence. You must develop your KSA responses with two main variables in mind: relevance of content and quality of presentation. The National Forest Service provides an excellent tutorial on doing and not writing effective KSA responses.
Describe your knowledge, skills and abilities in terms directly related to the job using keywords that you extract from the vacancy. Then ‘prove’ with specific examples what you can do because of what you did in the past and the context in which you did it. Place your compliance with the most important task requirements at the beginning of the correct KSA answer or the beginning of a paragraph. For example, if the job requires a degree in accounting, you can clearly say in the first place: “I completed my accounting education at XYZ University” do it; then describe your experience with accounting tasks.
Numbers can be your friend when it comes to providing evidence to your reviewers. Instead of saying, “I wrote reports” consider saying, “I have produced monthly reports on six field trials with a lead time of two days”.
Knowledge and skills can also be demonstrated by taking advantage of your past responsibilities with examples of specific tasks, describing the training or certifications you have received, and listing awards or recognition for achievements. Reviewers like to see action words in your KSA responses and that requires you to write with an active versus a passive voice. You should say: “I have analyzed data …” not “Data has been analyzed”. You can find a great list of action verbs at Job skills – Powerful verbs.
In conclusion, your KSA responses should:
- Be concise
- Be relevant
- Be specific
- Have quantitative examples
- Make it easy for reviewers to find your compliance with key job requirements
- Be action and performance oriented
- Be well written NO TYPOs and good sentence structure. It’s a good idea to have someone else review your answers before submitting them, because it is sometimes difficult to see your own mistakes.
Remember that KSA responses separate those who are qualified for a job from those who do most qualified.