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The Importance of Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs)

Appication Process section image
Application Process

What Are KSAs?

When responding to a vacancy announcement, your application must fully address the KSAs specified in the vacancy announcement. Exactly what are KSAs? They are simply a means of clearly identifying the specific prerequisites for the posted position.

In fact, the closer your skills and background match the KSAs, the better your job prospects will be. To help you understand the way VA and the rest of the Federal Government uses KSAs, click on the links below.

What Are KSAs?

KSAs, short for Knowledge, Skill, Ability, are determined individually for each vacancy posted. KSAs are demonstrated through qualifying experience, education, or training, and are defined as:
  • Knowledge - an organized body of information, usually factual or procedural in nature. For example, having knowledge of human resources' rules and regulations could be used as a KSA for a Human Resources Specialist position. To respond to this KSA, you should indicate what human resources rules and regulations you are familiar with, discuss how you applied these rules and regulations in the work environment, and describe other significant situations you were involved in where you applied these rules and regulations.
  • Skill - the proficient manual, verbal, or mental manipulation of data or things. For example, having skill with operating personal computers could be used as a KSA for an Office Automation position. To respond to this KSA, you should indicate what type of personal computers you have operated, discuss the various types of software programs you have used, and describe how these programs were used in your work environment.
  • Ability - the power or capacity to perform an activity or task. For example, having the ability to use a variety of laboratory instruments could be used towards a Laboratory Technician position. To respond, you should describe the types of laboratory instruments you have used, discuss the types of assignments you completed using the laboratory equipment, and describe the impact using the laboratory equipment had on your work environment.

Importance of KSAs

KSAs are used to distinguish the "qualified candidates" from the "unqualified candidates" for a position. A vacancy announcement will list the KSAs in terms of "specialized experience" requirements, and you will be evaluated against each KSA to see if you qualify. You must show either the relevant education requirements or one year of experience that shows the KSA requirements. Additionally, some positions might also have KSAs listed as "selective factors" that are unique requirements for that position.

If there are selective factors listed on the vacancy announcement, you should address your experience that is relevant for each selective factor requirement. If you do not, you will not receive further consideration in the evaluation process.

And while a resume is important to the job application process because it shows your general experience, education, activities, and other accomplishments, the KSAs listed in the job opening are also important because they provide you with an opportunity to draw attention to and expound upon your specific skill set that the agency is currently seeking.

If you choose to rely on your basic application rather than write separate responses to the KSAs, you should be sure that your basic application covers all the KSAs. As an applicant, it is your responsibility to show how your education and experience meet the requirements for positions.

Writing Your KSA Responses

In order to properly respond to KSA requests, follow these steps:
  • Read the vacancy announcement thoroughly
  • Review your resume
  • Add information relevant to each KSA
  • Link all of these different examples explicitly to the KSAs
  • Write your KSAs in the first person
  • Focus on any outcomes to which you directly contributed
  • Make sure your answers reflect your level of responsibility
  • Target each KSA answer to read between half a page and a page in length
  • Review your answers
  • Ask a friend who knows you well to read over your finished answers

Additional Information About KSAs

Now that you’ve learned how to respond to KSA requests, here are some additional tips to help make your responses more complete.
  • Initiative: You saw a problem and resolved it
  • Innovation: You developed a new system or used software for a new purpose
  • Leadership: You mentored less-experienced employees
  • Complexity: You experienced challenging times on the job
  • Scope: You were involved in work that covered many functional areas (e.g., personnel, budget, information technology, etc.)
  • Teamwork: Showcase and identify YOUR role in the team efforts

Sample KSA Responses

  • Knowledge of health sciences—While in college pursuing my Bachelor's Degree in Allied Health, I took courses in (give specific examples which show you have knowledge of anatomy and physiology). At the same time, I gained additional knowledge of health in my position at (XXXX).

    In this job I was responsible for (give specific examples). Performing these assignments gave me an opportunity to gain knowledge of (list some examples of knowledge that you gained). Indicate whether you have any special skills, received any awards for what you did in your job, or have completed any training that you can relate directly to the KSA.

  • Skill in collecting, analyzing, and summarizing data using computer software—In my current position, I have used the following software packages (list examples). Using these software packages, I have been able to complete assignments such as (give examples that show what you completed, what you did, and what the outcome was). I completed these assignments for (indicate who requested) and performed them as part of a project on (indicate if part of a larger project).

    The final result of the actions I performed included (give examples) and supported others in the work environment by (give reasons). Indicate whether you have any special skills, received any awards for what you did in your job, or have completed any training that you can relate directly to the KSA.

KSA DOs and DON'Ts

  • Carefully read the vacancy announcement and note the required qualifications and KSAs
  • Use action verbs and statements
  • Include all current experience related to the KSAs whether paid or volunteer
  • Arrange all of your experience in chronological order
  • List education and training and identify title of course, hours, and relationship to the KSAs
  • Include awards, month and year received, a brief description, and how it relates to the KSAs
  • Type all information, or write legibly so that it can be clearly understood
  • Tell what you do know and can do, not what you don't know and cannot do
  • Describe your experience and emphasize the skills you used that relate to the KSAs
  • Don't use words from your position description in writing your KSA responses
  • Don't describe work of others or that of the organization
  • Don't exaggerate
  • Don't be humble
  • Don't omit church, community, or club work
  • Don't cross-reference items in your application
  • Don't just state the kind of award and when it was received
  • Don't make it challenging for the reviewer – keep it simple and easy to read.
And remember, don't attach unsolicited material such as letters of recommendation, training certificates, copies of awards, or examples of work.
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