Applicant FAQs

Documentation

Eligibility/Qualifications

Hiring Process

Incentives

Terminology

Experience

Veteran’s Preference

Documentation


Can you provide some resume writing tips regarding addressing the required qualifications for a position?

Your resume must thoroughly describe how your skills and experiences align with the criteria defined in the qualifications section of the job announcement and support your responses to the assessment questionnaire. Federal Human Resources professionals operate under various federal employment laws, rules, and regulations. We are prohibited from drawing conclusions or making assumptions regarding your experience or qualifications. It is up to you to describe your past work experience in detail by providing examples related to those listed in the requirements section of the job announcement.

Your experience, including relevant volunteer, paid or unpaid work, and roles in community organizations, should address all qualifications in the vacancy announcement. Be specific to ensure the hiring agency can determine the experience they are seeking. If the qualifications section says you need experience developing quality assurance standard operating procedures and division policies, you need to provide evidence of this qualifying experience in your resume. For more information visit our Tips for Writing a Federal Resume page: https://hr.nih.gov/jobs/how-apply/tips-writing-federal-resume.

Why do I have to provide a detailed resume?

Federal Human Resources professionals operate under various federal employment laws, rules, and regulations. We are prohibited from drawing conclusions or making assumptions regarding your experience or qualifications. It is up to you to describe your past work experience in detail by providing examples related to those listed in the requirements section of the job announcement.

Note: Academic curriculum vitae typically do not include enough information for a Human Resources professional to determine if you meet minimum eligibility requirements. We cannot assume you have the necessary experience required for a position regardless of your employment history or academic career. If you choose to use an academic curriculum vitae, please expand upon the traditional form to include the information in the following section for each experience/position listed.]  To ensure all of the essential information is in your resume, we encourage you to use the USAJobs Online Resume Builder.

I submitted all of my documentation, but I just realized that I need to edit my documents. May I resubmit revised versions?

Yes. Please note that changes may not be made once the announcement closes.

I submitted my CV with the dates and titles of all my positions, along with a listing of publications.  Yet, I was found not qualified and the reason was because my application did not provide enough information. Why is this?

As stated on our vacancy announcements, in order to be able to properly evaluate you experience and qualifications for the position, we need:

  1. Job title
  2. Name of employer
  3. Beginning and ending dates of employment (month/day/year format)
  4. Hours worked per week. We will assume full-time unless otherwise stated. We will prorate part-time employment in crediting experience.
  5. Detailed description of job duties, related skills, and responsibilities; including any supervisory/managerial responsibilities and number of staff supervised (if applicable). This information is necessary to determine whether you meet minimum eligibility requirements for the position. Please review the qualifications section in the job announcement closely and directly address the education, skills, and experience required in your resume.
  6. Series and grade or equivalent (if a federal position)

A CV listing positions and dates does not allow a Human Resources office to properly evaluate your qualifications.  Your resume or CV must provide details thoroughly describing how your skills and experiences align with the criteria defined in the qualifications section of the job announcement and support your responses to the assessment questionnaire. Federal Human Resources professionals operate under various federal employment laws, rules, and regulations. We are prohibited from drawing conclusions or making assumptions regarding your experience or qualifications. It is up to you to describe your past work experience in detail by providing examples related to those listed in the requirements section of the job announcement.  For more information visit our Tips for Writing a Federal Resume page: https://hr.nih.gov/jobs/how-apply/tips-writing-federal-resume.

I submitted a Curriculum Vitae (CV) instead of a resume and was not referred, despite meeting all the qualification requirements. Is a CV an acceptable format to list my qualifications, etc.?

It depends on the amount of information contained within your application materials and on whether you meet all the requirements specific to the vacancy announcement. See the Required Documents section of the vacancy announcement for information on resume writing and other application guidance. Please visit the following resources: NIH Jobs website.

Eligibility/Qualifications


What are minimum or basic qualifications and how does it affect me as an applicant?

Minimum or basic qualifications are intended to identify applicants who are likely to perform successfully on the job, and to screen out those who are unlikely to do so.  They provide critical information that relates to the work of vacant positions to be filled.  Hiring officials and human resources professionals use minimum qualifications in vacancy announcements to pinpoint education and/or experience related to and qualifying for vacant positions.   The qualifications describe the qualifying education and/or experience required for vacant positions.  This information in vacancy announcements is every applicants’ roadmap for determining whether they meet the qualifications and should apply to vacancy announcements.

Which jobs am I eligible to apply for?

You may apply to any job; however, you may not be eligible for the job if you do not fall into one of the required categories. If you are not eligible, your application may not be considered. For example, any U.S. Citizen is eligible to apply to positions that are “Open to the Public”.

Look for the This job is open to section in the job announcement to see who is eligible to apply.

The job announcement will list who is eligible by using one or many USAJOBS Hiring Paths. Visit the USAJOBS Hiring Paths page for more information: https://www.usajobs.gov/Help/working-in-government/unique-hiring-paths/.

I received a notice indicating I was eligible, but not referred for a position. Last time that I applied for the same type of position I was referred, so I don’t understand why I wasn’t referred this time.

For this job announcement there probably were other applicants who by law must be considered before your application (e.g., certain veterans or displaced federal employees).  The last time you applied for the position there may have been no other applicants who were required to be considered by law before other applicants may be considered. Veterans’ Preference is a federal law that essentially requires agencies to hire qualified veterans before qualified non-veterans.  Therefore, we cannot consider non-veterans for employment, until those who are entitled to Veterans’ Preference are either hired or withdraw from consideration.

You may have also not scored high enough on the assessment if category rating was used to evaluate applicants.  Only applicants who are placed in the highest category can be considered for employment.

I received a notice indicating I was eligible, but not referred for a position. Does this mean that I am qualified for the job?

No. If you received a rating of eligible or tentatively eligible, but you were not referred, it means you did not score high enough on the assessment to be referred or there were other applicants, who by law, must be considered before you (e.g., displaced federal employees, certain veterans). However, this rating does not mean that we have found you qualified for the position. If additional positions become available, we may review your application materials further to determine your eligibility and referral status.

USAJOBS Resource Center, and the USAJOBS Resume Writing Video Tutorial.

I was previously qualified for a position with a specific title, series, and grade by NIH. Does that mean I will automatically qualify for all future positions with this title and grade?

No. Although you were previously deemed qualified for a position at a certain grade, there is no guarantee that you will be found qualified for like positions. Each vacancy announcement or position has different experience and/or education requirements.  Just because you were qualified for one position, it does not mean you will be automatically qualified for all other similar positions.  It is important to review each vacancy announcement in its entirety, and ensure your application meets all the requirements.  Additionally, different Human Resources professionals will most likely review your application and may have different opinions about your qualifications or any prior determinations.  Human Resources professionals at NIH help find the best candidates for certain managers and different managers have different needs.

Hiring Process


Why does the hiring process take so long?

Unlike the private sector, federal agencies are required to announce, rate, rank, interview/assess, and investigate applicants before they can be selected.  All applicants must be given consideration too.  Additionally, before an announcement is posted, Federal Human Resources professionals and the associated supervisor must work together to define and describe the position with a long narrative and then evaluate the description against Office of Personnel Management standards.  Then qualification and assessment criteria must be professionally developed.

Selecting an individual for a federal position is a huge investment too.  Over the course of a 30-year career, selecting an individual for a career appointment can be a multi-million-dollar investment.  Federal jobs are not gigs; they are careers where individuals make a commitment to public service.  To ensure someone is the best candidate for the job, multiple interviews and/or screenings may be needed.

Is there any way I can track where my application is in the process once I submit it? How will I know if I am being considered or not?

Yes. Check your application status in USAjobs.

You can also find and filter your applications.

If I have any questions along the way, is there anyone I may reach out to directly for information?

Yes.  The announcement always includes a Point of Contact available to answer any questions you may have.  Be sure to consult the announcement for that person’s name and contact information.

Why is a background investigation needed?

This is a legal requirement.  Federal employees are often asked to handle sensitive, personally identifiable or medical information.  Some employees at NIH have direct patient contact or ensure public safety.  If selected for a federal job, you must at least go through a basic background check to make sure you are reliable, trustworthy, and suitable for the job. The background check process starts after you accept a job offer.

Is there a limit to how many jobs I may apply for, or a timeframe that I must adhere to? For example, may I apply to jobs continuously or do I need to wait for a period of time to pass before continuing my job search?

There is no limit to the number of jobs or timeframe you must adhere to in your Federal job search.  However, in order to maximize your time and the agency’s resources, we encourage you to apply to positions that you are truly interested in and feel qualified for.

I have applied to numerous jobs, why haven’t I been selected?

The NIH offers a challenging work environment and a sense of achievement by playing an important role improving the health of a nation.  We are a highly competitive agency to work for because of our mission.  We receive a lot of applications for our positions.  Keep applying and ensure your application is tailored to each position.

Is my resume reviewed by a person or does NIH use an automated system that determines my ratings?

We use both at NIH.  The automated system helps us collect, organize, filter, rank, and communicate with applicants.  Real human-beings who are knowledgeable in the federal HR process and with the position, review applicants manually before they are sent to selecting officials.  Automated systems help make the process easier, but it does not replace the need of having a real person review the applicants.

Incentives


I am very interested in workplace flexibilities. How can I know whether and which flexibilities may be offered to me in this position?

The National Institutes of Health is committed to fostering a positive, healthy environment for our employees. Part of this environment is comprised by flexible work schedules in many of our positions. Please pay special attention to the announcement you are applying to, as it will touch upon any work schedules and flexibilities available. This is also a good conversation to have with the hiring manager to gain greater insight into the position of interest.

For more information, please visit our Work/Life at NIH page.

I would be moving across the country if selected for this position. Will any relocation expenses be covered?

If a hiring manager is willing to consider paying for relocation expenses, it will be listed in the job announcement.  Relocation expenses are typically reserved for higher-level (senior) positions that are hard to fill.

I have read about Student Loan Repayment Programs (SLRP) and would be very interested in being considered. How may I know whether I qualify?

The following conditions must usually be met to justify the payment of a SLRP benefit based on recruitment needs.

  1. The candidate must be highly qualified for the position;
  2. In the absence of a SLRP incentive, the candidate would be unwilling to accept the position; and
  3. NIH would have difficulty filling the position if the candidate declines the position.

SLRP is typically reserved for hard to fill positions where a low number of highly qualified applicants apply.  The job announcement will typically indicate if the hiring manager is willing offer an SLRP to an applicant as well.   Offering this incentive is at the discretion of the hiring manager. Recipients will be determined on a case-by-case basis based on organizational need, specific case justification, and budget limitations.  You can read more about the Student Loan Repayment Program on OPM’s website: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/student-loan-repayment/ .

Terminology


What is Time in Grade and how do I know if I meet it?

Time in grade is a requirement for a specified amount of time that an employee must spend in a grade before they are eligible for promotion. Essentially a federal employee must spend 52 weeks at their grade before being promoted to the next highest grade.  For detailed information reference 5 CFR 300.604.

If an applicant applies under Direct Hire or Delegated Examining procedures (i.e., jobs open to the public), they can use prior or non-government experience to qualify even if that applicant does not meet Time in Grade requirements.

Additionally, federal employees are assumed to have gained experience by performing duties and responsibilities appropriate for their official series and grade level as described in their position description. However, experience that would not normally be part of the employee's position is creditable when documented by satisfactory evidence (e.g., a memorandum from the manager or human resources director, SF-52, or other documentation).  When applying you need to submit this documentation with your application package to be given credit.

What is Direct Hire and how does this affect me?

A Direct-Hire Authority (DHA) is an appointing (hiring) authority that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) can give to Federal agencies for filling vacancies when a critical hiring need or severe shortage of candidates exists.  Traditional rating and ranking of applicants, including category rating, does not apply to DHA. Applicants are initially evaluated against the basic qualifications only. Veterans' Preference does not apply to positions covered by a direct hire authority.  For more information, visit OPM’s website: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/direct-hire-authority/#url=Overview.

Experience


Is it advisable to apply to jobs for which I do not have experience with? For example, if I have a medical background, but want to pursue an administrative position, or vice versa?

Applicants may apply to any job they wish to be considered for.  However, to make the best use of your time and the agency’s time, we recommend reviewing the qualifications and the entire announcement before you apply.  If you feel that you meet the requirements of the job, then apply!

I’ve been out of the workforce for the past several years. How should I choose which experience(s) to include? Is there a timeframe that deems some work experience or jobs “outdated” or “irrelevant” because they were so long ago?

When reviewing resumes, we review the entire applicant’s experience, which also includes an analysis of all valuable experience (i.e., experience gained in religious, civic, welfare, service, and organizational activities, regardless of whether pay was received).  It is ultimately your decision what to include and what to exclude from your resume.  However, not including certain work experiences may raise questions and a selecting official may wonder why you left off periods of employment.  Whatever decision you make, ensure that you thoroughly address the qualifications of the announcement.  Please note that during your background investigation, you will be required to provide a full and detailed description of all your work experiences.  If we discover that you intentionally omitted work experience in your resume to avoid a negative reference check during the selection process, this may be grounds for removing you after you begin employment.

How can I decide which work or educational experiences are relevant to the position I am applying for? Should I over-include when in doubt, or exclude from my resume?

If the position has an education requirement or you are qualifying on the basis of education, you need to list your education history including the type of degree and your major of study. If the position requires a certain number of credit hours, you are strongly encouraged to list the relevant courses in your resume. Unless specified in the announcement, NIH typically does not require transcripts at the time of application, but you are encouraged to provide unofficial copies as it can help with your determination.

Your resume must thoroughly describe how your skills and experiences align to the criteria defined in the qualifications section of the job announcement and support your responses to the assessment questionnaire. Over including is generally not an issue but elaborating on irrelevant experience may distract reviewers and hurt your chances.  Avoid adding information just to make your resume longer.  Our reviewers at NIH are very experienced. Adding filler or buzz words without providing any context (who, where, what, when, why, and how) will not help your chances.  Our reviewers are trained to not consider this type of experience qualifying.

Do not include a photograph or video of yourself, or any sensitive information (age, date of birth, marital status, protected health information, religious affiliation, social security number, etc.) on your resume or cover letter, or anywhere in your application package. We will not access web pages linked on your resume or cover letter to determine your qualifications.  If you have information on a web page you want us to review, copy and paste it into a cover letter and submit it with your application.

Please do not submit any other supplementary documentation that is not requested of you in the announcement. To protect your personal information, we will only send your resume and cover letter to the selecting official or hiring manager.

I have only worked in the private sector and do not know how to equate my experience to the GS scale. How can I figure this out?

The amount of experience required varies for each job. Some entry-level jobs require no specialized experience, while other jobs require years of specialized experience.

If you have questions related to how much experience you need for a job, review the Job Requirements > Qualifications section of the job announcement. For additional questions, contact the hiring agency listed in the job opportunity announcement.

The basics

Like any employer, the Federal Government needs individuals to be well-qualified for the jobs they hold. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) publishes qualification standards to help ensure federal employees can successfully and safely perform the work of the position. Whatever your background has been, it is likely that you are basically qualified for many different jobs, and highly qualified for some.

When meeting the basic eligibility requirements, the agency evaluates and then ranks your work experience, accomplishments, education, training, and overall qualifications background against the qualification requirements of the position. You will receive a score or ranking based on how closely your background matches with the requirements of the position. Job applicants who receive the highest scores or rank in the top category are referred to the selecting official.

Qualifying with higher education

Some federal occupations require a college degree with a certain major field of study or completion of specific academic courses at the baccalaureate or graduate level. Such occupations tend to involve research, scientific or professional work (such as a specialist in contracts, medicine, engineering, biology, psychology, or accounting). To qualify, all college-level courses must have been completed at a college or university that has obtained accreditation or pre-accreditation status from an accrediting body recognized by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

There are many occupations where a baccalaureate degree in any field is acceptable. Job applicants usually enter such occupations at the entry grade levels (typically GS-05 or GS-07 grade levels [or equivalent]) and acquire on-the-job training and work experience before advancing to higher grade levels. Such occupations are sometimes advertised as “trainee,” “intern,” or “student program” positions.

You may qualify for a GS-9 grade (or equivalent) level position on the basis of a master’s degree, and for the GS-11 grade (or equivalent) level on the basis of a doctoral degree. At these levels, however, the advanced degree must be directly related to the work of the job to be filled.

Specialized experience, or experience closely related to the work to be performed in the job for which you are applying, can often be substituted for an educational requirement or qualify you for a higher grade. Generally, for jobs at the GS-7 grade (or equivalent) level and higher, your background must have included specialized experience. At least 1 year of the specialized experience must have been equivalent to the level of the next lower grade in the Federal service. This means, for example, to qualify for a GS-12 grade (or equivalent) level, you must have had a minimum of 1 year of specialized experience equivalent to a GS-11 grade (or equivalent) level.

Qualifying for a non-degreed job

If you have been in the job market for a while and have accumulated an extensive work history, you may be well qualified for many positions even without a college degree. Except for certain professional and scientific positions, a college education may not be necessary. The nature of your work experience is what really counts.

Job applicants can qualify for most federal occupations based on job-related work experience. If you are just starting out, you can qualify for jobs at the GS-2 level with just a high school diploma or as little as 3 months of general work experience for most clerical and assistant positions. “General experience” is a type of work experience that is not necessarily directly related to the position but demonstrates the ability to acquire the particular competencies/knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the work of the position.

At higher grade (or equivalent) levels, additional work experience is required. Starting at the GS-5 grade (or equivalent) level, positions generally require 1 year of specialized experience equal to the next lower grade. “Specialized experience” is a type of work experience that is directly related to the position which you are applying. This means, for example, to qualify for a GS-6 grade (or equivalent) level, you must have had a minimum of 1 year of specialized experience equivalent to a GS-5 grade (or equivalent) level.

For more information, please consult the General Schedule qualification standards.

I earned my degree(s) abroad under an entirely different grading system and curriculum. How can I verify that my international degree is acceptable here?

Applicants or selectees who have completed part or all of their education outside of the U.S. must have their foreign education evaluated by an accredited organization to ensure that the foreign education is comparable to education received in accredited educational institutions in the U.S. An evaluation is required before human resources can make an official job offer. We will only accept the completed foreign education evaluation.

Visit our Foreign Education page for more information: https://hr.nih.gov/jobs/announcement-links/instructions-qualifications-based-foreign-education.

Some positions have a “specialized experience/educational” requirement. How can I know whether I meet those specialized qualifications?

The announcement will list details to help you determine whether you are qualified for the position.  We encourage you to pay close care to these descriptions and guidelines so that you are fully aware of the specifics of the position and desired qualifications/requirements. We highly encourage you address the specialized experience requirements in your resume.  Do not copy and paste the specialized experience into your resume; provide examples, illustrations, and achievements instead so we can better assess your experience.

I have had background checks conducted on me in private sector positions. Do these background checks carry over to the Federal government, or do I need to start the process all over again? Why is it necessary if I do not have any criminal record?

Everyone hired for a federal job undergoes a basic background check of his or her criminal and/or credit histories to ensure that all federal employees are “reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the United States.” The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a central agency that serves as the corporate human resources organization for the federal government, performs the majority of background checks. In addition, federal positions that include access to sensitive information generally require a security clearance. This clearance must be obtained to determine the applicant’s trustworthiness and reliability before granting him or her access to national security information. Positions requiring a security clearance at NIH are rare.

Types of security clearances and background checks

Positions in the federal government are classified in three ways: Non-Sensitive Positions, Public Trust Positions and National Security Positions. Each of these positions requires some level of background investigation. The elements that make up a background investigation vary depending on the level of clearance that is deemed necessary for a position. Background investigations for lower risk levels generally rely on automated checks of an individual's history. For a secret clearance in a national security position, the investigation requires agents to interview people who have lived or worked with the candidate at some point in the last seven (or more) years.

Once the agency has selected a candidate to hire, the applicant will typically receive a job offer contingent upon successfully obtaining a security clearance. The extensive background investigation takes place after the initial offer has been accepted.

The length and depth of the background investigation will depend on the position’s requirements, as well as the type of security clearance needed (if applicable) for a particular job or internship. This process may take several months or up to a year depending on backlog, need for more information, depth of the investigation process and other factors.

In order to help speed the process along, begin to gather relevant information now. Once you are offered the position, you’ll be asked to submit a series of forms and information about yourself. Gather this information now so you can save time on your end. You can view the forms for background checks (SF-85: Questionnaire for Non-Sensitive Positions) and security clearances (SF-86: Questionnaire for Non-Sensitive Positions) on the Office of Personnel Management's website.

Once you have submitted the documentation, the designated agency will proceed with the investigation, depending on backlog and priority.

Veteran’s Preference


I am a veteran but was dishonorably discharged. Do I still qualify for Veterans’ Preference?

No. Only veterans discharged or released from active duty in the armed forces under honorable conditions are eligible for veterans' preference. For more information about Veterans’ Preference, please visit Feds Hire Vets: https://www.fedshirevets.gov/job-seekers/veterans-preference/#content.

I was deemed “highly qualified” for nearly every position I applied for, and yet, it seems veterans were selected over me. Is there any way I may increase my qualifications or ranking so that I may compete with veterans in the advanced selection process?

Unfortunately, no.  Qualification requirements must be developed based on the position, series, and grade announced.   Agencies must develop these requirements before the announcement opens and agencies are prohibited from requiring more than what is necessary to do the job from applicants.  Agencies are also not allowed to compare applicants against one another; they are only allowed to compare applicants against the requirements.

In simple terms, qualified veterans are essentially referred ahead of non-veterans or non-preference eligibles. Selecting officials may not bypass qualified veterans over non-veterans, unless the referred veteran(s) are selected, withdraw from competition, or in rare cases a pass over is granted.

Category Rating is used for positions advertised under Delegated Examining procedures (open to all U.S. citizens to apply).  Under Category Rating, applicants are placed into groups (Best Qualified, Well Qualified, and Qualified) based on the contents of their application.  Veterans with a disability of 10 percent or more are placed at the top of the highest category on the referral list (except for scientific or professional positions at the GS-9 level or higher) if they meet minimum qualifications.  Veterans’ preference does not apply to positions that are covered by a Direct Hire Authority (DHA). If a position is covered by a DHA, it will be stated in the announcement.

NIH receives a lot of highly qualified veteran applicants for most all blue collar, clerical, and administrative positions.  It can be very challenging to get referred to the hiring manager(s), if you are a non-veteran applying to those positions at NIH that are open to public, but we encourage you to continue to apply.

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