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What Is a KSA?

By Camille Carboneau Roberts

You are applying for a job with the Federal government and you have noticed in the Qualifications and Evaluations section of the vacancy announcement on www.usajobs.gov that you will be evaluated on your Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities, aka KSAs.

You may have just spent hours perfecting your resume and now you are wondering why you cannot just submit the federal résumé. What exactly are KSAs, what purpose do they serve, what do you write about, and how do you write one?

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KSA = Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

A KSA is a narrative statement describing your knowledge, skills, and abilities in a specific job-related topic that is relevant to the position you are applying for.

When you apply for a job with the Federal government, hiring officials want to know specifically, and to what extent, your knowledge, skills, and abilities are so they can perform critical aspects of the job they are seeking to fill. The narratives help to further evaluate your qualifications and suitability beyond the résumé.

Think of the KSAs (narratives) as a mini-interview on paper, or electronically.

For example, a job announcement for a Program Analyst may outline responsibilities that require the applicant to gather, analyze, and present complex information. To help evaluate the abilities of the applicant in this regard, the applicant will be required to submit a written statement describing in detail his/her knowledge, skill, and ability to gather, analyze, and present information as part of the application process.

Federal job announcements may include up to six or more KSAs, requiring the applicant to submit a separate narrative statement for each.

How are KSAs used?

Federal hiring officials will decide whether or not to interview you based, in part, on your KSA narratives. Your résumé, KSA responses, and any other required information will be considered as an entire package that is used to make the decision whether or not to contact you for an interview.

Accordingly, you should prepare thoughtful narratives that succinctly, yet comprehensively, describe your range of capabilities, how you acquired those abilities, and how you have used them in prior employment.

A KSA by any other name is still a KSA

Some job announcements do not require KSAs per se, particularly jobs at the Senior Executive Service (SES) level. Rather, you will see requirements for Executive Core Qualifications, Professional Technical Qualifications, Mandatory Technical Qualifications. At other levels, you will see a requirement for responses to online questionnaires that include essays.

Essays, KSAs, MTQs, PTQs, TQs—they are all the same—hiring officials are expecting written statements that demonstrate the level of your knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform critical and key aspects of the job. At the SES level, Executive Core Qualifications need to be very detailed leadership narratives and are generally expected to be longer than the other types of narrative statements because of the specific detail that is expected for leaders in the Senior Executive Service level in Federal government.

How do I prepare KSAs?

Now that you know what KSAs (narratives) are and their purpose, you might be asking how they are used, and how important they are in the application process, and how to write them. This article is not all inclusive of a how-to session on writing narratives, but it will give you a good idea of framework, content, and the time that needs to go into preparing effective narratives. You will want to prepare for the narratives just like you would prepare for the interview.

The KSAs (narratives) are essentially a pre-screening interview, only electronically, or on paper.

The first question that usually comes to mind is length

How long should each KSA be? Occasionally, the job announcement will place a limitation on length. This obviously eliminates the guesswork.

If no constraints are given, strive to prepare a full page for each KSA. If you simply cannot fill up a page with quality information, it is fine if it is shorter, but make it quality information with as much relevant detail as possible.

If you need more than one page to thoroughly communicate your strengths, by all means continue writing. Sometimes it is possible that you could have much more to write about for one KSA and not another.

However, keep in mind that hiring officials are reviewing a large quantity of applications and they will appreciate receiving a well-written, compelling, one-page narrative for each KSA requirement.

In short, there is no magic answer, unless the announcement limits you. Focus on being concise and thorough, with a one-page vision. If you have one KSA that is not as strong as another and you can only write half a page, then perhaps the longer KSA may or may not make up for the shorter KSA.

If you find that you can only demonstrate experiences to write a paragraph for each KSA, it might be better to find an announcement that is better suited to your abilities.

Can I use bullets points to write the KSAs (narratives)?

A short, one-word answer will suffice here: No.

KSAs need to be written as narratives that tell a “story” about your knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the job, i.e., experience and education.

What is the best way to present my story?

Everyone has a story to tell. The best way to present your story is to select one or two specific accomplishments and elaborate on them.

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About the author...

Job-Hunt's Federal Job Search Expert, Camille Carboneau Roberts, established CC Career Services in 1989 to provide total career management services to help clients land jobs faster. Expert services include federal resumes, private sector resumes, military-to-federal resumes, and social media resumes and profiles. Contact Camille via email at Camille@ccCareerServices.com, through her web site ccCareerServices.com, LinkedIn, Twitter (@CamilleRoberts), Facebook (CC Career Services), or join her public Federal Job Search Group on LinkedIn.