Your Career

The real deal on preselection

Federal hiring regulations require most federal job openings to be advertised and filled through open competitions. But some job openings are secretly targeted for a preselected applicant and are only advertised to mimic adherence to regulations.

What percentage of federal jobs are preselected? No one knows. But a common myth is that all or most federal jobs are preselected. In fact, large percentages of jobs at all levels are filled through open competitions. I know this from my extensive experience coaching non-feds and current feds into new and better federal jobs without preselection.

Another myth is that any opening whose application window is only two weeks is preselected. According to this myth, the short application window reflects the hiring manager’s effort to reduce processing of doomed applications. But the two-week red flag is really a red herring. In fact, many agencies limit application windows to only two weeks in order to speed hiring or avoid drawing an unmanageable flood of applications.

The truth is that there is no sure way to identify preselected jobs from vacancy announcements. However, a vacancy announcement that describes responsibilities that are too specific to be met by more than one or two people in the world is particularly suspect; the announcement may have been molded to fit a preselected applicant’s background to help ensure his selection.

But even if you apply for a job that has been preselected for someone else, you may end up having a fair shot at landing it. This may happen if the preselected applicant misses the application deadline or loses interest in the opening, or if preselection attempts are thwarted by enforcement of selection regulations, or by the weight given to veterans’ preference.

What’s more, if you impress a hiring manager during an interview for a preselected job, he may give you leads on other openings. I know of many such cases.

Bottom line: Apply for every opening that matches your interests and qualifications.

Also, remember that even when you apply for jobs that are not preselected, hiring managers may incorporate into their judgement any insider first-hand or second-hand information they may have about you. This principle underscores the importance of networking and maintaining a favorable reputation.

Lily Whiteman is the author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.” Her web site is Ask your career questions at

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