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Tips for Applicants with Disabilities Applying for Federal Jobs

The Federal Government is the nation's largest employer and hires people in many different fields, from accounting to public affairs, health care to law enforcement, engineering to agriculture, and everything in between. Pursuing federal employment and contributing to the lives of all Americans can be personally and professionally rewarding. As a federal employee, you and your family will also have access to a range of benefits available to those who choose federal service.

Understanding the Federal Application & Hiring Process

The hiring process for the Federal Government is unique and different from hiring in the private sector. It uses a variety of hiring authorities and programs authorized by Congressional statutes and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations. The Federal Government also has placed greater emphasis on increasing the number of employees with disabilities in the federal workforce. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its implementing regulations require federal agencies to affirmatively employ individuals with disabilities.

Here are some important things to be aware of when it comes to the federal application and hiring process:

Searching for Federal Job Vacancies

Whether you choose to apply through the competitive service or excepted service, the USAJOBS website is the major source for locating federal job vacancies. USAJOBS allows you to search for openings in a particular agency, career field, city or all three using its advanced search function. Take a look at this USAJOBS YouTube video for information about recent improvements that have been made to the site.

Below are some search tips and some important things to keep in mind as you explore career options and begin your federal job search:

  • Some agencies do not post all of their job vacancies on USAJOBS (especially for excepted service positions and specialty programs). Therefore, interested individuals should also visit the official website of individual federal agencies to look for additional job vacancies.
  • Consider reading Finding a Job That's Right for You or the Dos and Don'ts of Looking for a Job by the Job Accommodation Network(JAN) to learn more about job searching. In addition,'s Employment Guide has many useful job search tips and resources.
  • Another career exploration resource is the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration's (ETA) My Next Move. This interactive tool, which is not limited to people with disabilities, provides resources aimed at connecting an individual with jobs that match their interests. It also provides an opportunity to search and browse careers by industry.
  • ETA also provides guidance on creating a Job Search Plan and a Job Search Checklist on its CareerOneStop portal. While these resources are not specifically geared towards people with disabilities, they do offer many helpful resources.
  • Another way to learn about federal job vacancies is through the power of networking
    • Create your own professional business cards to share at networking events.
    • Prepare and practice your "Elevator Speech." An "Elevator Speech" is typically a 30-second pitch marketing yourself to anyone you meet, in this case, during your job search. Using this approach you should be able to communicate who you are, what you do, and your key interests as briefly and concisely as possible.
    • Attend job fairs and networking events such as veterans career fairs.
    • Connect with job placement organizations that help people receive job training and get hired in the Federal Government. For example,'s list of job training programs, the Social Security Administration's Ticket-To-Work Program, American Job Centers, and local Vocational Rehabilitation agencies are several helpful resources.
    • Schedule informational interviewswith current federal employees you meet during your job search. This type of interview may focus more on increasing your knowledge about a potential career and workplace, and receiving career advice from a professional working in that field.
    • If you're on Facebook, join the Hidden Army Facebook group. This group is specifically for young professionals with disabilities. Posts are generally geared toward job openings in both the federal and private sectors and networking opportunities.
  • The Federal Government uses various databases through which hiring managers can search for qualified applicants with disabilities. One of these databases is the "OPM Shared List,"also referred to as the "Bender List." This is a list of Schedule A eligible candidates who are seeking federal employment. To learn more visit Bender Consulting's website and submit your resume.
  • Apply for federal government internships and job programs specifically geared toward college students, graduate students and recent graduates with disabilities. Examples of these include the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), co-sponsored by the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor and the Department of Defense. The WRP is a recruitment and referral program that connects federal and private sector employers nationwide with highly motivated college students and recent graduates with disabilities who are eager to prove their abilities in the workplace through summer or permanent jobs. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) Internship Program also places college students, graduate students, law students and recent graduates with all types of disabilities in paid 10-week summer internships in Congressional offices, federal agencies and non-profit and for-profit organizations in the Washington, DC area. Interns are matched with a mentor who assists them with their career goals. AAPD provides the interns with a stipend, transportation to and from Washington, DC and fully-accessible housing.
  • Consider applying for federal programs directed toward college students and recent graduates. These programs may include:
    • The Pathways Internship and Recent Graduate Program is one way to be hired directly into the federal government after finishing post-secondary education. This program introduces students from high school through graduate school, as well as recent graduates, to the federal service through meaningful training and career development opportunities.
    • The Presidential Management Fellowship Program (PMF) is a federal government leadership development program and another way to be hired into the Federal Government. The PMF program is for individuals who have received a qualifying advanced degree in the past two years.
    • The Corporation for National and Community Service is the federal agency behind AmeriCorps and other national service programs. They are committed to increasing the number of members with disabilities engaged in national service.

The Federal Application Process

To apply for a federal job vacancy, you must first create a USAJOBS Account using your e-mail address, and then complete your Account Profile. USAJOBS also provides step by step guidance about the federal application process.

Here are some other things you should know about applying for a federal job:

  • Federal job vacancy announcements sometimes contain complicated terminology, so USAJOBS has a glossary of the terminology and additional information about the most common terms associated with federal employment.
  • If you plan to apply for a position using Schedule A, consider applying through both USAJOBS and directly with the agency.
    • It's also a good idea to apply for a position through the regular vacancy announcement (on USAJOBS or the agency's website) and then follow up with the Selective Placement Program Coordinator (SPPC)/Disability Program Manager (DPM). Not all agencies have a DPM or SPPC, so you may need to speak with the Human Resource (HR) Specialist listed in the vacancy announcement. Once you are connected to the appropriate office, that individual will work with you to make sure your application is considered through Schedule A. When you speak to the DPM or SPPC at a specific agency, you should tell them the types of positions you are seeking, as they may be able to tell you about other open Schedule A eligible positions within their agency.
  • Since Schedule A is an affirmative action program aimed at increasing the number of individuals with disabilities employed by the Federal Government, applicants are required to provide proof of their eligibilityfor the program. This information is not shared with the hiring manager.
    • Begin by asking a licensed medical professional or vocational rehabilitation counselor to write a Schedule A eligibility letter indicating that you are an individual with a disability who is eligible for Schedule A hiring. You should upload your Schedule A proof of disability documentation to your USAJOBS account.
  • For more information about applying for a Federal Government job, visit's Where Can I Get Information about Applying for Federal Government Jobs?

Your Resume

A federal resume contains the same information as a private sector resume, but it is often a longer, more detailed document. It requires you to provide in-depth information about your work history, skills and accomplishments. A well-written federal resume highlights your accomplishments and demonstrates your value to the potential employer. It will also help hiring managers in determining your entry pay level.

Keep these key points in mind while preparing your resume:

  • Create a "federal resume" that thoroughly and accurately explains your abilities and qualifications.
  • Demonstrate how your skills and experiences match the job qualifications and evaluation criteria listed in the specific job vacancy announcement for which you are applying.
  • Clearly articulate how your skills and experiences align to the selection criteria in the job vacancy announcement.
  • Include keywords based on the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the position mentioned in the job vacancy announcement. Government HR departments use the presence of important keywords related to the qualifications and requirements for a specific position to assess whether applicants have the ability to do the job.
  • Create a resume directly on the USAJOBS website using the "resume builder" or upload an existing resume to the site. USAJOBS lets you store multiple versions of your resume, so you can choose the best version depending on the specific job for which you are applying.
  • Additional resources that can assist you in creating your federal resume include The USAJOBS Resource Center, The ABCs of Schedule A and CareerOneStop's Resume and Job Application Resources.

Application Package

  • Read each job announcement carefully and follow the directions on USAJOBS about how to apply for federal jobs.
  • Make sure you pay close attention to the closing date of the vacancy announcement so you don't miss the application deadline.
  • Prepare an application package for each job vacancy for which you are applying.
  • Be sure to include all required materials described in the job vacancy announcement in your application package. Required materials may include high school and college transcripts, writing samples, cover letters or professional certifications/licenses.
  • If required, complete an occupational questionnaire. This is a series of yes/no and/or multiple choice questions that helps the agency determine whether an applicant has the skills and experience required for the position.
  • If a job is offered at multiple GS-levels, for example GS-9/11/12, make sure to answer the occupational questionnaire and apply for each GS-level for which you are qualified.
  • Ensure that each piece of the application package reinforces your qualifications for the position. Be consistent in the skills and abilities you highlight in your resume, cover letter, questionnaire and other application materials.
  • If you need assistance with writing an effective cover letter, visit The Job Accommodation Network's Resources: Cover Letter Development.
  • Make sure any gaps in employment are explained in your cover letter, within answers to an essay question or in a separate addendum to your resume.


If an agency decides that you are a strong candidate for the position you applied for, you'll be contacted by an agency official to schedule an interview.

Your Rights as an Applicant with a Disability

Reasonable Accommodation

  • You may request a reasonable accommodation anytime during the application and hiring process. This means you have the right to request an accommodation when you apply for the job, during the interview and once you are hired and begin the job. If you believe you need a reasonable accommodation at any point during the process, contact the HR Specialist listed on the vacancy announcement, or the DPM or SPPC in the agency for which you are applying or interviewing for a job.
  • If you are unsure whether you will need an accommodation or what type of accommodation you might need, check out the Job Accommodation Network's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource to learn about the various workplace accommodation options for people with disabilities.
  • You can learn more about reasonable accommodation and undue hardship by reviewing EEOC's Enforcement Guidance.

Disability-Related Inquiries

Contacting an EEO Officer

  • If at any point during the job application and hiring process you believe you may have been asked an illegal question, or that you are being discriminated against because of your disability, you may file a complaint of discrimination with the federal agency's EEO office using the federal sector EEO complaint process.