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Category Rating System

Federal Hiring Process

How is the Category Rating System Used to Evaluate Federal Resumes?

Category ratings for federal jobs | federal job application ratings

One of the major federal job recruitment changes is the requirement to utilize the category rating approach to refer candidates. In the past, an applicant’s federal resume was scored with a numerical rating; a hiring manager could select from only among the top three highest-scoring applicants and could not “pass over” a veteran to select a non-veteran. This was known as the “Rule of 3.”

Under category rating, applicant’s federal resumes are placed into categories and do not receive a specific numeric score. Hiring managers may select anyone in the top category as long as they do not select a non-veteran if there are veterans in the same category. The purpose of category rating is to increase the number of qualified applicants while preserving Veterans’ Preference rights. The category rating approach gives agencies the flexibility to assess and select from among applicants in the highest quality category without regard to the “Rule of 3.”


Agencies are now required to use the category rating approach to assess and select job applicants for positions filled through Competitive Examining. Agencies are required to evaluate a candidate’s application and place them into 2 or more predetermined quality categories. Quality categories are defined by Human Resources (HR) with the assistance of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) through job analysis prior to the posting of an announcement. The categories are written to reflect the requirements to perform the job successfully and to distinguish differences in the quality of candidates’ job-related competencies or Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs). Some factors considered when creating categories include:

  • Breadth and scope of competencies/KSAs
  • Increased levels of difficulty or complexity of competencies/KSAs
  • Successful performance on the job; and
  • Level of the job

The highest quality category definition is written to identify the “Best Qualified” individuals for the position.  The quality categories are defined prior to a position being posted. The announcement will contain information about how many categories an agency is using and how Veterans’ Preference is applied; the announcement will not, however, disclose scoring keys or define the quality categories.

Preference eligible applicants that meet the qualification requirements for the position and have a compensable service-connected disability of at least 10% are listed in the highest quality category (except in the case of scientific or professional positions at the GS-9 level or higher).

Those with preference receive Veterans Preference by being listed ahead of non-preference candidates within the same quality category in which they are placed. No preference points (e.g., 5 or 10 points) are added to the preference eligibles’ rating, and any preference eligible may be selected. Refer to Chapter Seven for preference eligibility guidance.

Hiring managers make selections from within the highest quality category, regardless of the number of candidates (i.e., the Rule of 3, does not apply). However, preference eligible applicants receive absolute preference within each category. If a preference eligible is in the category, an agency may not select a non-preference eligible unless the agency requests to pass over the preference eligible and the request is approved.

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