How does USAJOBS work?

Question about how USAJOBS works. A forestry student of mine applied for a technician job with a federal agency. The student was very well qualified, has a related associate’s degree, relevant work experience, and had done related volunteer work for an NGO (a watershed council) in the same watershed, plus had the president of the NGO as a reference. The student also reached out to the agency’s staffer who would make the hiring decision and was well received.  The student now has received an email from “usastaffingoffice” saying that “You are tentatively eligible for this series/grade combination based on your self-rating of your qualifications.” But: “You have not been referred to the hiring manager” for the position, and “If you were not referred, you were not found to be among the most highly qualified for the position.” Naturally, this very well qualified applicant is disappointed not to be selected for an interview with a real person.


Did a human being evaluate the student’s application at any point? Or was it completely automated?

Can hiring managers request that USAJOBS re-evaluate the student’s application?

13 thoughts on “How does USAJOBS work?”

  1. [email protected]

    You can email and request for reconsideration, and state your case (respectfully).

    I believe a human makes the qualification decision. But, they can have wildly different interpretations, and these interpretations may be absolutely different than the person who is actually trying to hire someone (e.g., the boss). I don’t know what happens to make someone tentatively qualified but NOT referred– probably the list was too long. Still, worth asking for reconsideration.

    It’s a challenge for us all, even on the inside.

  2. USAJobs is an automated system until the candidates make referral. In this case, the candidate did not answer one of the qualifying questions to the degree that (as the letter says) not among the highly qualified candidates. They checked the wrong box, most likely being too honest in their self-assessment.

    The second question is a bit harder to qualify; lower grades, and technical series/grades, the answer is usually no. Higher level candidates, GS 12 and above, the answer is yes.

    USAJobs is an unforgiving employment screening system. Talking to staffers beforehand can help in understanding that abstract reality. The wrong SF-50, not addressing actual worry schedule, etc, are all human checks. But, you have to have the correct boxes checked to get to that point (initial screen).

  3. There is a difference between USA Jobs and USA Staffing. USA Jobs is where job vacancies are posted and where you submit your application. USA Staffing is the Forest Service (and maybe other agencies?) computer application used to review applicants and indicate actions taken.

    Applications are evaluated by someone in HR, but that HR person is looking to check off whether certain criteria are met – the evaluator is not a subject matter expert. I had jobs I applied for where I received a letter saying I was not qualified – those were GS-401 “natural resource specialist” series jobs. I had been a GS-460 Forester for 20+ years and used the resume that I always used for forester jobs. That was the problem. My resume referred to my “forest” management experience. The HR person was looking for experience that said “natural resources”. I had to create 2 resumes – one for GS-460-Forester jobs and one for GS-401 Natural Resources jobs. Problem solved.

    The other thing to consider is that a federal resume needs much more detail than a resume for a non-federal job. In order to qualify for a specific job series/grade level, certain requirements have to be met. So details like hours worked per week, salary level, and specific dates worked are important – otherwise it is very difficult to tell if the person qualifies or not.

    Read the job vacancy carefully – look at the words used (forest vs. natural resources!) – and mirror those words in your resume to ensure there is a good match between the vacancy announcement/job description and the resume.

    Unfortunately your former student’s experience is not uncommon – and as someone else mentioned, even if you are already a federal employee it is not easy either.

  4. From my limited understanding in forestry school, USA jobs pre-screens applicants before a human ever evaluates them. If I wanted to apply for a federal job, I was told that I should use a very specific set of terms to describe my skills. Without these I would not make it through to be reviewed by a human. Needless to say it is a foolish method of screening applicants which throws out many excellent candidates in favor of those who know the system’s hacks.

  5. Steve, I empathize with your student. Couple of years out of forestry school, the Forest Service hired me as a consultant to teach NFMA planning, especially the use of its brand new FORPLAN model. After the teaching gig ended, several national forests were eager to hire me to do the job I had taught. Thankfully, their offers were vetoed by the HR system which deemed me “unqualified.” 🙄

    • Nice to know (or not) that better technology doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes.. Thinking that having you onboard would have been fun also.

    • Thanks, Andy and everyone for your insights. I’m sure my student will succeed somewhere, somehow…. despite USAJOBS.

  6. In addition to including all the “buzzwords” to get through the screening process, I’ve learned not to be modest in the self-assessment questions. You must consider yourself an expert to get from minimally qualified to actually being referred.

  7. Current FS employee here who serves on a number of hiring panels each year.

    HR staffing specialists review resumes / applications materials submitted by people who apply to FS jobs through USAJobs. We haven’t gone to machines. Yet.

    Some of those staffing specialists are contracted by HR and not all of them are good at what they do. So some unqualified folks get on the cert, many qualified folks don’t.

    I counsel applicants that their goal is to get on the cert so that the hiring panel can evaluate them. So: (1) Be bold in the self assessment! (2) Lots of bullet points in the resume tailored to the job description. (3) Even better, have a friend on the inside send the PD and the rating factors for an even more tailored resume. (4) Don’t worry if the resume for a GS 05 is eight pages long – your job in the resume is to prove to someone who doesn’t know *anything* about the work we do that you’re qualified to do the work we do. Get.on.the.cert!

    My two-cents’ worth, for what they’re worth.


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