Know Your KSAs (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities)
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Your service in the military can qualify you for a wide range of jobs in the public sector. If your goal is to transition into a public sector job in the federal government, you will be required to present your KSAs, or Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities. Your KSAs are a series of narrative statements indicating your qualifications for certain vacancies based on your experience and background.
As you transition from military service into the civilian sector, many of the attributes that you’ve developed and honed in the military will make you uniquely qualified for a number of public sector roles. Your KSAs are intended to outline and demonstrate those attributes for prospective employers. This means that, as a veteran and a candidate for a wide range of roles in the public sector, your KSAs are an essential part of your employment profile.
Below, we define KSAs, identify the steps you need to take to prepare and submit your KSA narrative, and outline a few tips on what and what not to do as you prepare your submission.
What are Your KSAs?
Knowledge: This refers to the factual and procedural knowledge you’ve accumulated during your education and service and an indication of how it can be applied to the position in question. For instance, if you have knowledge of the regulations surrounding workplace safety and military vehicle inspection, and you are seeking a federal inspection position, you’ll want to make note of the rules, regulations, and formalities with which you are familiar, and how you have applied them in your previous experience.
Skills: This refers to the manual, verbal, and mental skills at your disposal, which may include typing, programming, vehicle or machine operation, computing, and an array of other skill sets that can be readily tested both quantitatively and qualitatively. Your statement will also indicate in what specific work capacities you’ve used these skills and how they will be applied to the vacancy in question.
Abilities: This refers to the power to perform an observable activity or task in the present tense based on a demonstrated and existing ability. For instance, the VA advises that if you have a strong background using laboratory instruments, your abilities could be applicable to a Lab Tech position. If your background is in technical writing and proofing, your abilities could be applicable to a communications role. Your statement should include details regarding how and in what context you’ve applied these abilities, with specifics on some of the projects you’ve completed and the impact that your abilities had on project outcomes.
Preparing Your KSAs?
Your KSAs will be presented as a series of narrative passages that convey your experience, your qualifications, and your readiness to fill vacancies in the federal government. Follow these steps to prepare and submit your KSAs:
Step 1: Follow the Instructions!
This is absolutely critical because each job vacancy will outline exactly what KSAs will be required for the work in question (which means you’ll need to prepare a slightly different set of KSAs for each position to which you apply). Read the instructions of each vacancy announcement very clearly and make note of the KSAs that each job calls for. This isn’t just a critical step for preparing your KSAs, it will also help you sort out the vacancies you qualify for from those that you don’t.
Step 2: Crosscheck
Once you’ve narrowed down your options, crosscheck each vacancy against a copy of your resume. Make notes on your resume identifying areas where your KSAs match those required by the job. Once you’ve identified these areas, categorize your attributes as Knowledge, Skills, or Abilities.
Step 3: Write it Up
Now you’re ready to write a brief, first-person (i.e. “I”, “Me,” “Mine”) narrative for each of these three sections. The Department of Veterans Affairs advises that each of these sections be between half-a-page and a page in length (which is roughly between 150 and 300 words).
Each of your responses should reflect your level of responsibility, your direct contribution to outcomes, and how this experience is relevant to the vacancy in question. According to the VA, your examples should demonstrate several critical qualities, including:
Step 4: Review
Once you’ve completed your KSAs, make sure that you’ve proofed and edited thoroughly. It’s also always a good idea to get some feedback from a trusted friend, family member, educator, career advisor, or commanding officer. Be sure that you’ve taken the time to eliminate any spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, or unclear sentences. Your KSAs should be clear, concise, direct, and representative of your qualifications for the vacancy in question.
Step 5: Submit
Once again, the top rule here is to follow the instructions. Most positions will require you to submit your KSAs online along with a resume and job application, and in some cases, a cover letter. However, according to Military.com, there are some variations in exactly how you’ll be asked to present your KSAs. Some vacancies may request your KSAs directly within the body of your resume while others may require them alongside your resume. Be sure that you’ve read all specifications regarding format, file type, submission deadlines, mode of submission, and all materials to be included. Failing to follow instructions will almost certainly result in your elimination from consideration.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a few Dos and Don’ts for preparing your KSAs. Follow these tips to improve your odds of landing employment:
- Read the directions carefully and be sure that you’re qualified before preparing a submission.
- Write in strong, actionable language that demonstrates your experience and your direct, active role in mission success or positive project outcomes.
- Provide a logical and readable sequence of information for your reader.
- Mention any specialized education, training, community work, religious involvement, or awards that you’ve received but don’t include any unrequested materials relating to these accomplishments.
- Avoid negative language. Focus only on the areas where you qualify without making concessions about areas where you lack experience or training.
- Avoid both exaggeration and modesty. Find the balance that conveys professional confidence.
- Be sure not to restate the language in the vacancy announcement in your application or in your resume. Your KSAs should be a unique statement. Use it to give your prospective employer deeper insight into the attributes you’ll bring to the position.
- Keep it simple! Reviewers read a lot of applications and a lot of KSAs. Be as clear, concise, and interesting as possible.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides a sample KSA for your consideration, as well as further details and tips on how to prepare this essential piece of your employment profile.
If you need further assistance, one of the benefits of your GI Bill is eligibility for participation in the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program. This includes various types of career counseling. For help developing, improving, preparing, and submitting your KSAs, reach out to a regional VA Office and find out how you can access career counseling services in your vicinity.
For more information and resources on getting a quality education, earning a degree, or getting a great job, return to the Military Education Headquarters.
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