Understanding KSAs

Candidates applying for positions often must include written responses to Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) along with their Federal resume, SF-171 or the Optional Application for Federal Employment (OF 612) for General Schedule positions. The KSAs are listed on vacancy announcements and require applicants to describe experience which demonstrates their possession of the respective KSAs.

What are KSAs?

KSAs are qualities needed by applicants to successfully perform their job. They are used in the Merit Promotion process to distinguish the “highly qualified candidates” from among the “qualified” candidates.

KSAs are defined as:


An organized body of information, usually factual or procedural in nature. For example, “Knowledge of Contract Law and Regulations” could be used as a KSA for a Contract Specialist position. When responding, applicants should indicate what contract laws and regulations they are familiar with, discuss how they applied these laws and regulations in the work environment, and describe other significant situations they were involved in.


The proficient manual, verbal, or mental manipulation of data or things. For example, “Skill in Operating Personal Computers” could be used as a KSA for a Computer Assistant position. When responding, applicants should indicate what type of personal computers they have operated, discuss the various types of software programs they have used, and describe how these programs were applied in their work environment.


The power or capacity to perform an activity or task. For example, “Ability to Identify Signs of Discord, Tension, or Abnormal behavior” could be used as a KSA for a Correctional Counselor position.

When responding, applicants should discuss the various signs of suspicious behavior they have encountered, how they responded, and indicate what impact it had on the work environment.

Preparing Responses to KSAs

Prior to responding to KSA’s, gather and review information on past and present experience. Remember, you do not have to restrict your responses to your present position, but can discuss related past experiences.

Check the following sources that are available to you when preparing to respond to KSA’s:

  • ! Get a copy of the vacancy announcement and read it thoroughly. Review the experience requirements in the vacancy announcement to determine if you have related experience.
  • Pull out your current SF-171/resume/Optional Application for Federal Employment (OF-612) and make sure it is updated. You do not want information in your application package to be in conflict with your responses to the KSAs.
  • Get a copy of any documents which will give you information that could be included in your KSA responses (i.e., college transcripts, training records, awards, documents you have written, etc.).
  • If you prepare weekly or monthly status reports regarding the work you perform, gather them to review. These reports could provide information regarding past assignments, projects, or activities that need to be addressed in your KSA responses.
  • Review you previous performance or progress review.
  • Scan your computer directories and disks to help you remember past work assignments. Again, there may be critical information that could be used in addressing your KSAs.
  • Talk to someone currently in the position/discipline in which you’re interested if possible. This works especially well for applicants who are contemplating a career change. In addition, it may help you determine whether there is any correlation between your experience and the position you are applying for, prior to addressing the KSAs.
  • Maintain a personal notebook, table, or journal. You can record your major accomplishments, projects or activities as they occur. When it is time to respond to KSAs, you will have information at your fingertips.

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