How to Maneuver Through the Federal Pharmacy Job Application Process

Applying for a federal pharmacy job can be challenging yet rewarding professional opportunity.

Federal pharmacy jobs offer a unique and rewarding opportunity to pull down a competitive salary, have your student loans forgiven, and still have a life.

Did you know that the majority of federal pharmacy positions are scattered throughout the United States in offices, labs, clinics, and hospitals, rather than situated in the nation's capital?

Key employers are looking for both new graduates and seasoned pharmacists in the US Department of Veteran Affairs, US Department of Health and Human Services, Indian Health Services, Federal Bureau of Prisons, US Public Health Service, and the military. Openings range from the Veterans Affairs Learning Opportunity Residency (VALOR) program, to in- and outpatient clinical positions, to pharmacoeconomics and informatics.

Having worked as an independent contractor for an organization that provided career coaching to Transportation Security Administration employees, I know firsthand how challenging the process of applying for federal jobs can be for those coming from the private sector. It can present a huge learning curve for the would-be applicant.

Here is how to make your way through the federal process.

Start at USAJobs.gov

Federal agencies are required to list all job openings, and the primary resource for federal job announcements is USAJobs.gov.

Be aware, however, that not all positions are posted here, so make sure to look at websites of individual agencies, including the FDA, Drug Enforcement Administration, and National Institutes of Health, for additional openings, especially internships.

Skim Through Federal Job Announcements

Federal job announcements are very detailed and packed with information outlining who may apply, required education, necessary experience, salary level, required documentation, and application deadlines. You may be the “best qualified” (a federal designation for candidates whose applications get forwarded to the hiring manager), but if you do not follow all the directions and submit all the requested materials in the time designated, your application will come back as “reviewed and not selected.”

Unlike applying to traditional hospital and retail positions where you may be applying to every position out there, federal agencies are not the marketplace to be sending out loads of résumés. Focus on jobs where you qualify. For example, a job announcement will state whether the position is open to all citizens, current federal employees, or only employees at that particular agency.

Also, look for announcements that are offering multiple positions. If only 1 vacancy is posted, or the posting deadline is in a week, then chances are greater that the position will be filled internally.

Make Sure You Have the Right Education and Licensure

Besides the US citizenship requirement, only education or degrees recognized by the US Department of Education from accredited colleges, universities, schools, or institutions may be used to qualify for federal employment. (You can verify your education at ope.ed.gov/accreditation.)

Graduates of foreign pharmacy degree programs meet the educational requirement if they are able to provide proof of achieving the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Commission Certification, which includes passing the Foreign Pharmacy Equivalency Examination and the Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Based.

One of unique aspects about federal job opportunities for health care professionals, who are typically required to hold licensure for the state in which they practice, is that a valid license from any state, territory, or commonwealth (such as Puerto Rico) or the District of Columbia will do. This can be very appealing to pharmacists who are looking to relocate in another region of the country or even abroad.

Rewrite Your Résumé

When applying for a federal pharmacy job, forget everything you learned about résumé writing. While you may typically submit a 1- or 2-page résumé for retail and clinical private sector positions, your federal résumé will be 3 to 5 pages in length.

A federal résumé uses the same information found in a traditional résumé, but it goes into much greater detail on your skills and accomplishments.

Although most federal positions have done away with knowledge, skills, and abilities essays, applicants are now asked to incorporate this information into the body of their résumés. Include keywords that are mentioned in the job announcement, be as thorough as possible in explaining your duties, and do not be shy about expounding on your professional accomplishments. This is critical to the success of your résumé.

Provide Other Documentation

The job announcement instructions will most likely require you to also complete an application questionnaire and other documentation, including transcripts and veteran preference forms if applicable.

Check and double check everything that you’re submitting. A careless omission can land you on the “not selected” pile.

Wait

After your application package with all required documents has been submitted and the vacancy announcement closes, applications are reviewed to ensure qualification and eligibility are met. If your résumé and additional documents do not support your questionnaire answers, your rating will be adjusted accordingly.

After the review is complete, applicants will be notified of their status by e-mail or mail. Although the process can take up to 45 days after the closing deadline, the good news is that you may check the status of your application at any time by logging into your USAJobs account and clicking on “Application Status.”

If you are selected for an interview, you will be notified directly by the hiring office. The actual interview can take place very quickly, often within days of being contacted.

Because of geographical location, the interview may occur over the phone and will typically be very structured and behavioral in nature. Be prepared by polishing up on your interview skills, focusing on the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) interview technique.

Network

Networking with current federal employees can provide you with valuable insight into the application process. If possible, conduct informational interviews with pharmacists who work for agencies that interest you, or attend federal job fairs for additional one-on-one conversations.

You will still have to go through the formal application process, but you will be better prepared to do so.

Two great resources to help you further maneuver your search toward a positive outcome are Kathryn Troutman's Federal Resume Guidebook and Lily Whiteman's How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.

If you are determined to obtain a position in the federal sector, and yet you continue to be rejected, consider hiring a career coach with federal résumé experience. Proper tweaking in your résumé can make all the difference.