The Importance of KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities)

KSAs describe the qualifications and personal attributes (knowledge, skills, and abilities) you need to successfully perform the job requirements of a certain job. The hiring agency hopes to find these unique requirements in the person they hire. A primary purpose of KSAs is to measure the qualities that will set one candidate apart from the others. In general, hiring managers will consider applicants who match the position's defined KSAs more highly than those candidates who lack these important qualifications.

Knowledge statements refer to whether the candidate has the necessary organized, factual, and procedural knowledge to perform the job adequately. This knowledge relates directly to the performance function.

Skill statements refer to whether the candidate is able to manually, verbally, and mentally manipulate data and things related to the position. Hiring managers can use a timed performance test to measure the quantity and quality of these skills. Examples of job skills include the ability to use specific computer software programs or operate a certain type of machinery or vehicle.

Ability statements refer to the ability to perform certain observable job-related activities, such as the ability to plan or organize work. Candidates typically show they possess these abilities by stating they have performed these job functions in the past during previous work assignments. Note that "aptitudes" describe whether a candidate has the potential ability to perform a certain activity in the future because they may have studied or performed similar work in the past.

KSAs – Why You Cannot Ignore Them

Some job applicants, such as those applying for a federal position for the first time, are unsure whether responding to the KSA requirements are optional. Always be sure to respond to the KSA portion of a federal application!

Agencies may assign relative weights to each KSA, such as by deeming some KSAs as mandatory (M), and others as desirable (D). While, you should focus on responding to the mandatory KSAs, remember to address every KSA on the list. Assume they are all equally important if the vacancy announcement makes no distinction among them.

Remember that every KSA must be job-related. An agency cannot ask for anything in a KSA that is not listed in the job description.

Writing Your KSAs

Do not assume the person who reviews your resume will infer information from your application or pick up on salient points. They will not. Even if there were the time for this insight, reviewers and evaluators are not allowed to make any assumptions or inferences.

When you Develop Your KSAs, Be Sure to Follow These Guidelines
    • Read the position announcement carefully.
    • Gather the information you need to begin writing.
    • Be specific.
    • Be precise.
    • Get to the point.
    • Do not ramble.
    • Use lots of examples.
    • State what you have done specifically.
    • Do not use acronyms.
    • Present yourself in "clear and plain" language.
    • Do not borrow or repeat language from the position description.

How to Write Responses to Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs)

If you apply for a position announced in the KSA format – describe how your experience relates to each KSA.

Follow these four steps when writing your KSA responses.

Step 1. Read the KSAs Closely.

To write a good response, make sure you understand what each KSA means. While most KSAs are fairly general, the position announcement usually contains a brief summary description of the duties of the position. Read this summary description carefully.

Step 2. Review All of Your Experiences for Activities that Relate to the Individual KSAs.

Think about this step as a brainstorming session – review all of your work-related, volunteer, and other experiences and activities that may relate to the KSAs. For example, if the KSA refers to your ability to communicate orally, consider all of the times you have used your oral communication skills.

For example: When you were an administrator you instructed your work colleagues about the new computer procedures they should follow. As a management analyst, you presented your recommendations for new workflow procedures during the annual staff retreat.

Consider any relevant education, training, self-development programs you participated in, or awards you may have received.

For example, a training program you completed on effective briefing techniques or an award you received for an oral debate you participated in.

Consider the experiences you have had in non-work related areas, such as volunteer or school-related activities. These experiences are just as valid as work-related examples, as long as they are relevant to the KSA you are writing about.

For example: While you were a Cub Scout leader you chaired a fundraising activity; when you were a student you served as a student council representative.

Consider your experiences in order – earliest to most recent – so you are sure to include all of your relevant jobs or experiences. Include paid, unpaid, and volunteer jobs, experiences, and training. Keep in mind that the experiences you had in one job or area may apply to more than one KSA.

For example, the KSAs "ability to meet and deal with members of the general public" and the "ability to coordinate the activities of a subordinate staff" both involve skills in oral communications.

Do not worry about being repetitive. Since reviewers rate each KSA separately, as long as the information you provide is relevant, it does not matter if you have used it in another KSA.

Step 3. Analyze the Experiences you have Identified.

Scrutinize all of the experiences you identified in step two and concentrate on the things you think will impress the reviewers. How did you use your relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities in the jobs and experiences you identified? You will use your responses to this question to write your KSA (step four). Some call this process task analysis. 

Here are some examples of the kinds of questions you should ask about your experiences:

    • What kinds of knowledge and skills did you use while performing your job?
    • What steps, procedures, practices, rules, policies, theories, principles or concepts did you use?
    • How did you apply this knowledge, principles, and concepts in your work?
    • How did you apply the knowledge, skills, and abilities you have to accomplish your work?
    • What kind of supervision did you receive? Did you supervise others?
    • How was your work assigned? Did you assign work to others?
    • What was your responsibility to accomplish your work?
    • Did you work and make decisions independently? In what ways?
    • How did your supervisor and your co-workers review your work?
    • What guidelines did you use to accomplish your work?
    • Were the instructions you used to perform your work in written or oral form, or both?
    • Did you use procedural manuals?
    • What other written procedures did you use?
    • What kind of oral instructions did you use?
    • How much judgment did you use to apply the guidelines you used to accomplish your job?
    • Were the guidelines you used easy to apply or did they require interpretation?
    • How difficult were the guidelines you used to interpret your job?
    • How complex was your job?
    • What was the nature of the work you did?

For example: "Tasks were clear-cut and related directly to one another", or "The work involved different and unrelated processes and methods", or "The work consisted of broad functions and processes of an administrative or professional nature".

How difficult was it to identify what needed to be done?

For example: "Decisions required an extensive analysis of the situation since there were many alternatives", or "Extensive analysis was required to define the nature of the problems I was asked to fix".

    • How difficult was the work you did?
    • How did your work affect other processes or individuals?
    • Who did you have to contact on a daily basis?
    • Why did you have to contact these individuals?
    • What was your role in these discussions or meetings?

For example: "to provide information", "to receive information, "to influence or advise someone", or "to convince someone of something".

Once you have completed steps one, two, and three, you will have a good understanding of the KSAs and lots of facts about your experiences. You are ready to complete the final step.

Step 4. Show how the Facts you have Gathered about your Experiences Relate to the Individual KSAs.

Tell the reviewers about the experiences you have had in a way that clearly shows how they relate to the knowledge, skill, or ability. In other words, you need to demonstrate a link between your own experiences and the KSA. Do not assume this correlation is obvious, even if it may seem obvious to you. The review or promotion panel is not allowed to give you credit for your experiences unless you provide specific examples that show how and why your experiences relate to a particular KSA.

When telling this to the review or promotion panel, remember a few important facts:

    • The reviewers will rate the content of your responses, not the writing style you use. You can use brief sentences or phrases as long as the review or promotion panel knows what you mean.

    • Long responses do not guarantee a high rating. Give the review or promotion panel direct and concise responses.

    • Do not use abbreviations, acronyms, or jargon – assume the reviewers will not understand them (which means they will not be able to credit your experience appropriately).

Hypothetical KSA #1

Administrative Officer, GS-5
KSA Title: Ability to write non-technical correspondence.

Sample Responses

KSA Response #1: I type letters every day. Sometimes I have to type them from a draft that the manager gives me. I also use form letters or the manager tells me that he wants me to write. I write memos requesting supplies or advising employees of training classes. I have been a secretary in my unit for 3 years and always finish my work quickly and correctly.

KSA Response #2: I am the secretary in my unit. I am responsible for writing the responses for most non-technical correspondence received in the unit and for all administrative matters within the unit. I respond using various form letters. Sometimes, I must draft letters from start-to-finish, depending on the nature of the inquiry. For example, an employee may ask me to write a statement regarding leave balances or I may have to write a memo to the warehouse regarding supply shortages. The manager often gives me draft memos which I must rewrite to ensure we use proper grammar and put into the right format.

Which Response is Better?

The writer of the first response seems to be confusing typing with writing. It is not until the third sentence that we get some specific information regarding a writing activity. In the last sentence, the writer gives us some new information (how long the writer has been a secretary and how well the writer does the work of the position) that has nothing to do with the KSA as defined for the job. Remember that the review or promotion panel rates your responses as they relate to the crediting plan. If what you have written is not relevant to the KSA, it will not relate to the crediting plan either and you will not receive any credit for it.

The second response provides more relevant and useful information. The writer has provided specific information related to the KSA and has given examples to show the kind of writing that is being done. This response gives the review or promotion panel enough information to properly credit the writer's experience.

Hypothetical KSA #2

Management Analyst, GS-12
KSA Title: Ability to communicate in writing.

Sample Responses

KSA Response #1: One of the most important things I do in my position is prepare reports and studies of the various components in our organization. They always have to be written in a clear and concise manner and often involve very complex issues like organizational structures, work methods and procedures, manpower utilization, delegations of authority and other issues. I usually have to pull together a lot of different information and from difference sources. I usually have to work within very short time frames to produce a really needed study or report. Below are some examples of the material I have written.

Staffing Reports/Workload Reports – in particular I am involved in the WMS/FTE weekly reports – this includes components in Fiscal Control and also DTB PLUS studies. These studies are done on an "as needed" basis and involve many operational and technical issues. They only are required when management sees a need for them and specifically requests an analysis. We set up a team and review the targeted work. These reports require a lot of data gathering activity. Director's reports – these also involve a lot of data analysis from the HAL reports and are sent to the director's staff advisor.

KSA Response #2: In my current position, I regularly write technical and administrative memos and study reports, which identify actual and potential problem areas in inter-related work processes, the underlying source of operating difficulties, trends, significant management accomplishments, merit/deficiency situations, and other areas of imbalance. These papers always include recommendations for improvement in the studied areas.

Examples of the kinds of studies or reports I have produced are as follows. I typically write memos that represented the Regional Office (RO) position on proposed procedures or work processes. This involves evaluating the affect of alternative actions on the work processes under consideration, recommending how to best use the available manpower and resources, and identifying other alternatives worthy of consideration. We consolidated the information and comments from multiple components into one memo, to represent the Regional Office's position on a given issue.

An example of this type of product was the formulation of office comments on the design of the new national fishery control system user's comments. A committee reviewed the release to evaluate if all pertinent work processes were included and identify whether more efficient design alternatives were possible. I consolidated the comments of the committee and formulated the final office comment memo.

I have been involved in periodic reports on national TS/incubation workloads since 2013. A team of analysts researched and wrote these reports. They consolidated the final product from other area reports and issued a combined report to the secretary.

I also wrote position papers detailing the Regional Office position on administrative, workload processing, and work measurement issues. An example of this type of product is a memo prepared for Central Office in July 2012 stating the RO's position on the issue of productivity measurement in the field stations. This memo presented our views on the Secretary's Productivity Analysis Project and pointed out the flaws in their basic assumptions. It listed the major problem areas, which should be addressed to provide valid productivity measures for all the field stations. It presented the RO's concerns and ideas concerning the elements necessary for an acceptable productivity measure.

In addition, I have also completed six semester hours of college-level writing courses. I am also the corresponding secretary for Tri Sigma National Sorority.

Which Response is Better?

The writer of the first response has "borrowed" some of the language from the duties described in the vacancy announcement to tell the review or promotion panel about their work responsibilities. This does not give the panel any more specific information about the candidate's experience than what they already know from the position announcement. The examples the candidate gives could be relevant to the KSA, but they do not provide specific information that explains how their activities relate to the KSA. The writer also uses a lot of acronyms which may confuse the review or promotion panel. Finally, the writer does not explain their specific role in these activities. For example, what is the candidate's role when they write, "I am involved in ..." or "we set up a team ..."?

The second response gives more relevant and specific information. The candidate provides a general introductory statement, which offers background to the examples that follow. The first and last examples are specific and give enough information so the review or promotion panel will understand what the candidate has done and how it relates to the crediting plan. However, the candidate's second example falls short because they use some jargon (TS incubation workload) which may mean little or nothing to the review or promotion panel. The candidate's involvement in the activity described in the second example is not clear. What does "I have been involved in periodic reports" mean? Regardless of these faults, the second candidate responded better to the KSA section of the application than the first.

Source: US Center for Disease Control and Prevention
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Last modified: Thursday, October 29, 2020, 3:03 PM