Tips on Applying for Federal Jobs:  Take Your Time and Do It Right

January 31, 2018

In recent weeks, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies have posted several positions for scientists that have captured the attention of interested fellows.  To help you prepare, the Office of Training and Education (OITE) recommends that you view the NIH YouTube video, How to Apply for a Job with the US Government.   In addition, here are some additional tips to help you prepare a strong federal job application.  It takes time to review applications and fill out the application.

Where are the positions and what GS level should I apply to as a Post Doc?

All positions are posted in  There may be several positions posted that look similar so be sure to apply to those that are marked “Public” in the right-hand column if you are not employed in the federal government.  Post docs are not qualified for MP (Merit Promotion) positions because it requires that you are a current federal government employee seeking promotion. Most postdocs apply for GS (General Service) 12-13 positions.  

Am I qualified for these jobs?  Read job description and the Self-Evaluation Questionnaire.

We recommend that you read the OITE careers blog on how to read federal job advertisements.  Note that for federal jobs, there is a job description with qualifications and a required Self-Evaluation Questionnaire.  Before you apply, we recommend printing (or saving a copy) of each  job so you can highlight important skills including soft-skills (team, communication, leadership, etc.) that are required for each position.  Later, when completing your application, it is crucial that you use the skills to assure you’re your resume is evaluated by the reader.  On the questionnaire, be sure to give yourself credit by indicating the highest rankings of your skills and abilities and be sure that they are clearly stated on your resume.

 How much time should I spend on this? What kind of resume should I use?

Don’t rush.  Give yourself ample time to apply.  Carve out 2-4 hours (at least) to complete the federal application profile and enter the information.  While you have the option to upload a resume after you complete the profile, an HR reviewer recommended that applicants should use the federal resume builder because this is the format that they are accustomed to reviewing. Pay close attention to the suggested formatting (no use of bullets, use CAPS for keywords, using accomplishment statements).  Follow the tutorial suggestions on the website has clear directions for how to complete a federal resume.

I am a busy Post Doc.  How can I best invest my time?

Completing the federal resume will require that you have access to a lot of information (beyond that of a traditional resume) when completing your application.  You will be investing wisely because there is no page limit, and the more you enter will have a direct impact on the salary level and offer that you will be made. To save time, before you apply, collect important documents such as copies of your transcripts, previous employer information address, salary, hours per week, previous supervisors’ name and phone number.  Also collect the contact information for the references that you will use.  You should include all training, relevant to the job, certifications, patents, skills grants, awards, leadership, the sciences from undergraduate through your post doc years.

 How can I make my experience stand out?  

As mentioned, be sure to follow the formatting described in the federal resume builder Be sure to utilize the skill words that you highlighted in the job description on your resume and give specific accomplishments.  Here are two examples to help guide you (Please do not copy)

Example 1:     Ability to collaborate widely, both within NIH and outside the agency, and to work effectively as both a team member and team leader.

Collaborated widely both inside and outside of the NIH.  Managed scientific collaborations with a lab in another Institute at the NIH and additionally with the University of Texas. Team leader to set up timelines, phone calls, reagent swaps. Team member to strategize scientific directions, troubleshoot research challenges, perform experiments, and write publication.

Example 2: Scientific and administrative management of a portfolio of grants, contracts, and fellowships including the stimulating, planning, advising, directing, and evaluating of program activities of research awards.

Plan, advise, direct and evaluate scientific activities. Plan projects for self and team to understand the movement of group II introns. Advise peers and supervisor on best course of scientific direction including advocating to use a new method for understanding a scientific question. Direct a technician and masters student in daily activities including setting weekly goals, monitoring progress and adjusting experiments based on data collected. Evaluate scientific activities to understand biological mechanisms, troubleshoot challenges, provide options for new scientific methods, write reports and other publications.

After you have followed the suggestions above, feel free to make an appointment with an OITE career services counselor .  There are also many web-based and written guides, feel free to visit the OITE library and reviewing several helpful resources on applying for federal jobs including a Troutman’s The Federal Resume Guidebook, 6th Edition to see additional federal resume examples.  For our readers beyond the NIH, we suggest working with a career counselor in your area or through your university and visit your local library or bookstores.


Analyzing the NIH Alumni Database: Where are our NIH postdocs going?

March 13, 2017

In the OITE we are often asked about the career paths of former postdocs. While we do not conduct mandatory exit surveys, we do have some data from the OITE NIH Alumni Database. This database is populated as fellows leave the NIH. To date it contains about 1100 entries. Of those, 639 contain career information that we have been able to analyze. Caveat: this information is only from former trainees who have voluntarily created entries in the database; it does not capture the full range nor percentage of actual career paths*.

PDAlum Figure 1
We began by comparing data on our intramural research program (IRP) alumni to the data published in the 2012 NIH Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group Report (BWF). This report analyzed a post-training workforce of 128,000 people in terms of six categories. Academic Research/Teaching accounted for 43% of the workforce, followed by Science-Related, non-Research (individuals employed by industry, government, non-profits who do not conduct research) and Industrial Research at 18% each. The Non-Science-Related workforce employed 13%, and Government Research accounted for an additional 6%. Two percent reported they were unemployed.
In Figure 1 we show that fractions of IRP alumni who have continued in Academic/Research Teaching (39%) and Industrial Research (14%) were similar to those in the national BWF survey. However, far more IRP alumni continued in Government Research (15% of NIH IRP vs 6% in the national survey) and Science-Related, non-Research (33% of NIH IRP vs 18% for the national survey) careers, while far fewer went on to careers in non-Science-Related professions (< 1% vs 13%). No one in our alumni database reported that they were unemployed.
Our percentage of alumni staying in government research is higher than the national average (15% vs. 6%). This is not surprising that some fellows choose to stay as staff scientists or become tenure track within the IRP. The information of what careers are considered non-science related was difficult to find. Our analysis of alumni careers suggests that science-related non-research careers are more common than the national average.
Dissecting the Academic Research/Teaching data provides us with more information about what types of positions are held in this sector, Figure 2.

PDAlum Figure 2

This category includes only positions directly associated with research or teaching; careers in academic institutions in offices such as tech transfer, policy, academic affairs, etc. are counted in the Science-Related, Non-Research category. Three-quarters of alumni in this sector are in academic tenure-track or tenured positions. In fact 192 total alumni in the database are tenured or tenure track faculty (185 are in academics and 7 in government research). From this data we predict that 30% of IRP alumni have tenured or tenure track faculty positions.
The data for the Science-Related Non-research careers demonstrates the breadth of career options that are available for PhD-trained scientists, Figure 3. We binned careers based on the job titles that were submitted to the alumni database. Discerning the exact jobs of the 25% of reported careers in program management/analysis is challenging. The titles range from program coordinator to manager, director and advisor. Similarly, it is very likely that the 5% of alumni that report working in grants (as program officers, analysts, or review) is low due to the lack of precision in the job titles within the program management/analysis category. The data still provide evidence that program administration (making sure that science runs) is a common career choice. Science policy is a career path selected by 20% NIH of reported alumni. These careers are in all sectors, but are mainly spilt between the Federal government and non-profits (i.e., professional societies). Other career choices reflected in Figure 3 show the breath of career choices for NIH postdocs.

PDAlum Figure 3

If you want any addiional information about the careers in these categories we suggest that you explore the alumni database. As a current fellow with an OITE account you can search the database: Additionally, you can use the contact information in the alumni database to set up informational interviews as you plan your career post-NIH.
In 2017 we hope you will help us with this data project! Are you an NIH alum? If so, join the database or update your earlier submission. Last year around 800 people logged-in to the database and updated their information. But we still have too many gaps. 460 postdocs, for example, have an alumni database account that include no information about their current position. Only have ~20% of our postdocs* actually contribute to the database. The OITE really does want to know where you are! Current and future postdocs want to be able to see career trends and how training at the NIH might influence their career choices. So join the database or update your record now:
*The database was built in June 2010. We estimate that 800 postdocs per year leave the NIH. Therefore the maximum sample size could be ~5200 alumni. With 1100 reporting that represents 21.2% of the potential sample size.

To learn about the full range of services and programs offered by the Office of Intramural Training and Education, visit us at


Career Options Series: Regulatory Affairs

April 13, 2016

OITE’s Career Options Series will give you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this series is to help you explore a variety of different options by connecting you to new resources.  A large part of making a good career decision is done by gathering information about that field.  We encourage you to follow up this online research by conducting informational interviews with individuals in each field. Search the NIH Alumni Database to find alums doing similar work.

What is Regulatory Affairs?Image of the words "Regulatory Affairs" with two figures holding a puzzle piece
A profession that functions to apply laws, regulations, and policies to the development, production, and sale of products within regulated industries, such as: food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, energy, biotech, clinical, and health care products. Why is it needed? To make sure company businesses/products abide by applicable regulations, laws, and guidelines in every country where a product will be marketed.

Regulatory affairs requires expertise from multiple disciplines, such as: research science, physicists, life scientists, chemists, engineers, pharmacy, statistics, veterinary medicine, nursing, clinical medicine, etc.

Sample Job Titles
Regulatory Affairs Specialist, Regulatory and Quality Affairs Analyst,  Policy Manger, Scientist, Regulatory Affairs Associate, etc.

Sample Work Settings/Employers
Regulatory Affairs in the Federal Government:|
– FDA scientists review test results submitted by sponsors, so that the FDA can decide whether the drug is safe enough for clinical trials, whether the drug can be sold to the public, and what should go on the drug’s professional labeling.
USDA – Inspect food safety, and collect and analyze surveillance data of foodborne outbreak; conduct studies such as evaluations, like Child Nutrition Studies or Food Security Studies in response to the needs of policy makers and managers.
EPA –  Assess exposure, hazard and risk of chemical substances and/or toxic substances; assess risk of environmental pollutants, and develop biological indicators.

Regulatory Affairs in the Private Sector:
Industry – Gather data necessary for submission to government. Manage process of regulatory approval

Consulting/Regulatory Affairs Services – Provide evaluation of the best regulatory path. May provide outsources submissions and follow-up services.

Key Skills
– RA needs individuals with backgrounds in biology, chemistry, engineering, information technology, pharmacology, quality, toxicology, clinical sciences, writing and management
– Knowledge of science, regulations, and policy
– Verbal  and written communication skills
– Analytical and organizational skills, including the ability to evaluate potential product candidates and trials
– Project and time management skills
– Computer skills
– People skills, including the ability to mediate and find common ground among interested parties (research, production, sales, marketing, regulatory agencies, etc.) and gain consensus

How to get started
• Commissioner’s Fellowship Program (FDA)
• CDER Academic Collaboration Program (FDA)
• CATO Fellowship
• Trainings:
– The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS) Online University
– NIH FAES Graduate School Classes (Look at current availability but previous relevant classes have     included Inside and Outside the FDA or FDA Regulation, Industry and Hidden IP)
– Master’s of Science in Regulatory Affairs programs
• Regulatory Affairs Branch (RAB), NIH, NCI

Professional Organizations
The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS)
The Organization for Professional in Regulatory Affairs (TOPRA)
The Canadian Association of Professional Regulatory Affairs (CAPRA)

Additional Resources
OITE’s How To Series: Regulatory Affairs, including an archived video, slides, and more resources!


Coming up in the Career Options Series, we want to know what you which work path you would like to see highlighted. Take a moment to vote below:


Go Gov – Finding a Job in the Federal Government

October 1, 2015

Looking for a job in the federal government? If so, be sure to check out many of the resources offered through OITE, including:

1. How to Find and Read Job Ads

USAjobs has a reputation for being hard to search, but if you take some time to familiarize yourself , you might find it is not that bad. This blog post will help you identify how to look for some keywords and job titles that work for you.

2. Which Federal Agencies and Contractors Hire Scientists?

This blog post details a list of federal agencies and contractors which often hire biomedical scientists.

3.  Government Jobs for Scientists

A must watch YouTube video which gives a comprehensive but quick overview of careers for doctoral-level biomedical scientists. This video discusses the different types of jobs, both at and away from the bench with the US Government.

Outside of the OITE, the Partnership for Public Service has many resources to check out. A good place to start would be their page on working in the federal government.


Career Symposium 2015 – #careersymp

May 11, 2015

Image of NIH Career Symposium sign in a room full of people.

This Friday, May 15th is the 8th Annual NIH Career Symposium.  Be sure to register in advance. Why should you come though? Well, it only happens once a year and it is an action-packed day! You can choose to come for the full day or only the sessions of interest to you. There will be panels, skills blitzes, a LinkedIn Photo-Booth, and the opportunity to network with speakers and peers alike.


Prior to the Symposium:

    Avoid day-of confusion by getting an idea of which panels and skills blitzes you’d like to attend. Map out your day by looking at the full schedule here.
    Look at the list of panelists and prepare a few questions you would like to ask. Please remember that this is not a job fair.  This is an opportunity for you to gain information about the next step in your career.

During the Symposium:

    Connect via social media and join us on Twitter that day by following @NIH_OITE. If you tweet during the event, be sure to use the event hashtag #careersymp
    Take advantage of this event to talk to people in new fields of work. Regardless of what sessions you attend or what career path you are pursuing, this event is a great opportunity to make contacts in a variety of different fields. That way, you can follow up with them for an informational interview after the event.
    Don’t forget to network with your peers as well! Introduce yourself to at least one new person at each event or session. One of the most valuable experiences of events like this can be meeting new people.

Attending the symposium is an extremely valuable professional development opportunity, so be sure to take advantage of this event. It can also feel like a whirlwind of information, people, ideas, and possibly even emotions. After the symposium, be sure to carve out some time to process all of the information. If you are at the NIH, you can follow up with the great resources offered at the OITE.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Senior Scientist

September 2, 2014

Name: Amir Zeituni, PhD

Job Title & Organization: Senior Scientist, Global Science & Technology

Location: NASA HQ

How long you’ve been in your current job: Since July 2013

Postdoc Advisor, IC (when at NIH): Dr. Carole Long

What do you do as a Senior Scientist?
I work as a Senior Scientist for a contracting company called Global Science & Technology in support of the Space Biology Program at NASA. My daily responsibilities change all the time, but basically I help the program executive do a lot of scientific analysis to make sure we have programmatic balance. The program executive in NASA fills the role of the program director/ officer at the NIH. We fulfill the role of science management: writing solicitations for science to be done on the International Space Station, and then hold peer-review panels to have the community evaluate the proposals we get.

Personally, I helped write the research funding announcements (RFA’s) or NASA research announcements (NRA’s) I don’t look at budgets but I will make recommendations and suggestions based on the types of science proposed to the program executive. In December and February, we just released two NRA’s back to back which is somewhat unusual for Space Biology. This requires a lot of writing to ensure that everything goes through legal, procurement and international affairs. We are finishing one of those calls now. What’s great is that we are involved in expanding a program and there are many exciting experiments being selected to be conducted in space. Since NASA is an engineering organization, we need to make sure that our biology work in space can be executed to the satisfaction of our PIs. This leads to a lot of lot of back and forth discussion and collaboration with the PIs and the engineers.

What are the three most important skills that you utilize in your current position?

1. Critical thinking and analysis
2. Oral and written communication – I am on teleconferences and email all the time, so you really have to have a good presence.
3. Overall, you have to possess a good foundation of basic science research and what makes a good experiment and how to write a good grant.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love the people I am interacting with; it is a really good community here. I also love that it is challenging and that everything is new, so it feels like a lot to learn.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
Basically I was trained as a microbiologist and an immunologist and the scope of what we are looking at here is huge. I’m looking at all life sciences, so everything from cell science to plants to invertebrates to rodents to humans. We are interested in all of it and it all falls under the umbrella of Space Biology. So, you really just have to get caught up and become proficient in a lot of different fields and sub-disciplines.

What was your job search like?
I was looking for program manager or senior scientist type of positions. I definitely wanted to transition away from the wet bench, so I was looking at what I could do in order to leverage my strengths and find a position that would make me happy. I spoke with a lot of different people who were either scientific review officers or program managers/executives at the NIH and in industry. I settled with something in the government that would be a good fit. After having more follow up discussions, they all basically admitted that in order to get your foot in the door, you have to be a contractor for a couple of years first and then you would be qualified and competitive for a position, sometimes the organization they contracted for would open up a position for them.

How did you identify this company and come to choose this as your next step?
I looked at the NIH OITE website a lot because they would post a lot of job opportunities. I also looked at and LinkedIn and had a search parameter that fit that bill. I had a couple of first and second round interviews with different contractor and different government agencies. What really helped me though was that I saw a position posted and then I got an email from another person in my network about the same position, so I used him as a referral to get in.

What was your interview like?
It started off with a phone interview and where I talked about my science and my general qualifications. That ended up being about a 45 minute conversation with one of the HR recruiters. I was then invited to interview with the manager at the contracting company, which was a more involved interview. I believe that was a three hour on-site interview. Then, I was invited to interview with the potential client and after that I had a follow up interview with the contractor. For this position, I had four interviews in total. I applied for the job in February and I started in July.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
Interpersonal communications through and through – it’s how you interact with people and how you identify who will respond to different types of communication better. Knowing how the client likes thing and how I can get information from other entities is very important. For example, if I need something form person X, I fire off an email; however, if I need something from person Y, I will give them a call.

Any last bits of advice? If you had to do your search differently, would you change anything?
The only bit of advice is to do a lot of informational interviews. They really helped because I learned how to talk the talk essentially. Plus, it is a safer environment so you can ask a lot of the dumb questions that will probably not get you a job offer. I was doing a couple of interviews concurrently, so I ended up applying and learning from those mistakes, which all helped me eventually land this position.


The 3 Most Important Factors of a Job Search: Networking, Networking and Networking

November 14, 2013

Image of stick people with dotted lines connecting each individual to anotherIn real estate parlance, it is said that the three most important factors in maximizing the value of your property are location, location and location.  Networking carries a similar importance, especially for those preparing for a career beyond NIH, or your current institution.  Many good jobs are filled by candidates who have been identified prior to that job being officially posted.  Therefore, the more broadly your net of contacts can be cast, the better your chances of receiving advanced information on positions which are of interest to you.

Developing and cultivating your network of contacts is critically important whether your career plans are in the academic setting or in industry.  For those of you at the NIH, who are planning a career in the academic setting, networking is more straight-forward in that the people with whom you are in contact every day are often key components of your network.  For those who desire to move into a career in industry, networking will involve going beyond your normal day-to-day routine.  In this case you will need to build a network of contacts that are working in industry and doing similar jobs to those of your interest.

There are some tools available that can help you establish and maintain contacts outside of your current work environment.  LinkedIn can be used to identify and communicate with people in industries and companies that you have targeted.  Your University’s Alumni Database as well as the NIH Alumni Database can be good resources for finding industry contacts as well.  In addition, contacting these alums can provide insight on the issues associated with the transition from academic labs to industry.  Once you have identified potential contacts, an informational interview is an excellent way to discover more about a company and develop a contact (hopefully an advocate) within the company when job openings occur.

Another way to bolster your network is through attending conferences.  Not only do you have a chance to meet industry scientists who are in the same field as your area of expertise, but you also can take the opportunity to meet the business people from the companies who are displaying at the conference.  Both the scientific and business people within the companies can help you navigate the HR policies and procedures when there are job openings.  In addition, attending trade association get-togethers can also be a good way to build your network.  These are the same conferences and meetings that you would normally attend; use them as an opportunity to meet the people from industry.

One final thought; start your networking today!  So many people say that they want to get their next job now, so it is time to start networking.  Networking should begin the day you start in your present position.  Your network of contacts can take years to build and cultivate.  It is often the case that a contact you meet for one particular purpose can play a role in your career months, or even years later.