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Common Terms on Job Opportunity Announcements

Ready to make an impact?  Click here to get startedThe following information is intended to assist you in understanding DHS job opportunity announcements (JOAs). This list is not exhaustive, but it should provide you with a helpful overview of common hiring terms. Please refer to the text of a specific JOA to determine which of the following categories and referenced Web sites are applicable. Before you take the time to start the application process, please review a JOA very carefully. If you have questions, contact the designated human resources professional listed in the JOA.


All U.S. Citizens

This means the announcement is open to everyone in the public who wishes to apply and is a United States (U.S.) citizen/national.

Career Transition Assistance Plan (CTAP)

If you have never been a federal employee, you are not eligible to apply under CTAP. This program offers surplus and displaced federal employees priority for jobs within the agency from which they have separated or are separating. For more information, please visit OPM’s Workforce Restructuring Career Transition page.


A competency is a measurable pattern of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors and other characteristics that an individual needs in order to perform work roles or occupational functions successfully.

Competitive Service versus Excepted Service

There are two classes of non-executive positions in the federal government: 1) those that are in the competitive civil service, and 2) those that are in the excepted service. Competitive service positions are subject to the civil service laws passed by Congress. Excepted service positions are not subject to the appointment, pay and classification rules of the competitive service.

Delegated Examining

Delegated examining (external, public announcements) is a hiring authority used to fill competitive service jobs with:

  • Applicants applying from outside the federal workforce
  • Federal employees who do not have competitive service status
  • Federal employees with competitive service status

Direct Hire Authority

A hiring authority used to fill permanent or non-permanent positions in the competitive service at a GS-15 (or equivalent) and below, if OPM determines that there is either a severe shortage of candidates or a critical hiring need for such positions. Vacancies filled under this authority must be advertised via public notice; however, veterans’ preference, rule of three, rating and ranking procedures do not apply (i.e., appointments may be made without regard to title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.) §§ 3309-3318).

Employment Program for People with Disabilities

The federal government has a special appointing authority for persons with disabilities. If you meet the eligibility requirements listed below, you could obtain a position without competing with other applicants. To be eligible, you must meet the specific eligibility requirements to include:

  • Have a severe physical, cognitive, or emotional disability;
  • Have a history of having such disability; or
  • Be perceived as having such disability.

You must obtain a certification letter from a State Vocational Rehabilitation Office or the Department of Veterans Affairs to be eligible. For more information, please visit OPM’s Schedule A Hiring Authority page.

Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan (ICTAP)

If you have never been a federal employee, you are not eligible to apply under ICTAP. This program offers displaced federal employees priority for jobs in federal agencies other than the agency from which they separated. For more information, please visit OPM’s Workforce Restructuring Career Transition page.

Interchange Agreements

Allow certain current federal employees serving on excepted service appointments the opportunity to apply under merit promotion (internal) application procedures. For more information, please visit OPM’s Hiring Authorities: Interchange Agreements with Other Merit Systems  page.

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs)

Are a list of special qualifications and personal attributes that you need to have for a particular job. These are the unique requirements that DHS wants to find in applicants for a job. KSAs are defined as the factors that identify the better candidates from a group of people basically qualified for a position. How well an applicant can show that he or she matches the position’s defined KSAs will determine whether that person will be seriously considered for a job.

Merit Promotion

Merit promotion announcements typically target:

You are eligible for this hiring category if you are a current, permanent competitive service employee of any Federal agency.

Note: You may check your competitive service status by viewing your latest Notification of Personnel Action, SF-50, Block 34, Position Occupied. If you are currently working on a temporary or term appointment for the federal government, you are NOT eligible for this hiring category.

Peace Corps

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have successfully completed their service are granted one year of eligibility for federal appointments. Proof of eligibility must be submitted. For more information, please visit the Peace Corps’ Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Frequently Asked Questions page


If you worked for the federal government and left, you may be eligible for reinstatement. If you previously held a career or career-conditional appointment in the federal government in which you completed three years of continuous creditable federal service, you may be eligible to obtain a position without applying through delegated examining procedures. There is a three-year time limit on using reinstatement eligibility if you only acquired career-conditional status (normally three years or less).

Selective Placement Factor

There are some positions where specific qualifications are absolutely required because a person cannot perform successfully in the position without such qualifications. These qualifications may include specific knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) or federal or state licenses or certifications.

Specialized Experience

A description of the required knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that you must possess to perform the work of a position. DHS explains specialized experience in the qualifications section of the job announcement.

Status Candidates

Status candidates refers to those individuals who are current or former federal civilian employees who hold or held non-temporary appointments in the competitive service, not the excepted service.


Only applies to current federal competitive service employees applying for a job under merit promotion procedures. Generally, an employee may not be promoted more than two grades within one year to positions up to the GS-05 grade level. Above the GS-05 grade level, an employee must serve a minimum of one year in a particular grade, and cannot be promoted more than one grade or two grades, per year, if that is the normal progression. Time-in-grade requirements are intended to prevent excessively rapid promotions in the General Schedule.

Veterans’ Preference

Gives eligible veterans preference in appointment over many other applicants. Veterans’ preference does not guarantee veterans a job, and it does not apply to internal agency actions such as promotions, transfers, reassignments, and reinstatements.

Veterans’ preference can be confusing. Not all veterans are considered eligible for preference for the purpose of federal civilian employment, and not all active duty service counts towards veterans’ preference. Only veterans discharged or released from active duty in the Armed Forces under honorable conditions are eligible for veterans’ preference. This means you must have been discharged under an honorable or general discharge. If you are a “retired member of the Armed Forces,” you are not included in the definition of preference eligible unless you are a disabled veteran, OR you retired below the rank of major or its equivalent. There are basically two types of preference eligibles:  disabled (10-point preference eligible) and non-disabled (5-point preference eligibles). For detailed information or to see if you qualify, please visit Feds Hire Vets’ Veterans’ Preference page.

Veterans’ Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 (VEOA)

Is a competitive service appointing authority that allows eligible veterans to apply for positions announced under merit promotion procedures when the agency is recruiting from outside its own workforce. To be eligible for a VEOA appointment, your latest discharge must be issued under honorable conditions (this means an honorable or general discharge), AND you must be either:

  • A preference eligible (as defined in 5 U.S.C. § 2108(3)); OR
  • A veteran who substantially completed 3 or more years of active service.

Supporting documentation needed to apply: Your DD-214(s) showing length of active duty service and type of discharge. You may request copies of your military personnel records online at the National Archives’ Veterans Service Records page.

Additionally, veterans claiming 10-point veterans’ preference will need an Application for 10-point Veteran Preference, SF-15, and applicable supporting documents, as noted on the form. If applying based on eligibility under the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act, you must submit certification from the armed forces that you will be discharged or released from active duty within 120 days from the date on the certification. This must indicate your dates of service, your rank, and confirm that you will be separated under honorable conditions. For more information on veterans’ preference, please visit the Feds Hire Vets website or the Department of Labor Veterans’ Preference Advisor page.

VISTA Volunteers

AmeriCorps VISTA is the national service program designed specifically to fight poverty. VISTA members commit to serve full-time for a year at a nonprofit organization or local government agency. Returned Vista volunteers who have satisfactorily completed a full year of service have eligibility for federal jobs for up to one year. This one year of non-competitive eligibility begins the first day after you complete your full year of VISTA service. To establish your non-competitive status, you will need VISTA certification as proof of eligibility. For more information, please visit the Corporation for National and Community Services AmeriCorps and Your Career page.

30% or More Disabled Veterans’ Appointing Authority

Allows any veteran with a 30% or more service-connected disability to be non-competitively appointed.

You are eligible if you:

  • Retired from active military service with a service-connected disability rating of 30% or more; OR
  • You have a rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs showing a compensable service-connected disability of 30% or more.

This authority can be used to make permanent, temporary (not to exceed 1 year), or term (more than 1 year, but not more than 4 years) appointments in the competitive service. For more detailed information on this hiring authority, please visit the Feds Hire Vets Special Hiring Authorities for Veterans page.

Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment (VRA) Authority

An excepted authority that allows agencies to appoint eligible veterans without competition to positions at any grade level up to and including the GS-11 grade level or equivalent. You are eligible if you separated from the Armed Forces under honorable conditions (this means an honorable or general discharge) and:

  • Are in receipt of a campaign badge for service during a war or in a campaign or expedition; OR
  • Are a disabled veteran, OR
  • Are in receipt of an Armed Forces Service Medal for participation in a military operation.

For more detailed information on the VRA, please visit the Feds Hire Vets website.


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