I’m throwing a disclaimer out here first: I’m an Accountant, not a Human Resources Specialist. That being said, I find the HR components of the federal government really interesting. Perhaps the most puzzling aspect is how to land that elusive interview. So here are a few lessons I learned along the way…
1. If you or someone you know is a college student, that is an opportune time to get a foot in the door with the federal government. I had just ended my seasonal employment as a Tax Preparer, so I was frantically searching for a job on my college’s Career Services web site. Ironically, I applied with the General Services Administration not even knowing it was a government agency. Although the intern programs are not as prevalent as they once were, there are still numerous opportunities for Student Trainees and Summer Hires. The Presidential Management Fellows Program is another great opportunity to work for a federal government agency.
2. Improve your networking. I have had two interviews where the interviewer and I recognized each other from the federal gym. It was a nice ice breaker, and I felt more at ease knowing we had something in common. Some other options include Toastmasters, professional groups, and sports leagues.
3. If you have a professional license or degree, include that in the header of your resume. Usually HR or the selecting official is looking through a stack of resumes and devoting a small amount of time to each one. You want to stand out and rise to the top of the candidate pool.
4. Don’t underestimate yourself when answering the application questions. If you are lacking programmatic experience, relate that skill to similar experience, try researching the topic on the agency’s web site, or watch a webinar or training video. Not only does it broaden you knowledge, but it also shows your willingness to learn.
5. Get out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself (or “put your big girl pants on,” as I told myself). Don’t be afraid to ask someone for a meeting or to hand-deliver your resume. It is much easier to make a good impression in person than it is on a sheet of paper.
6. You can’t get the job if you don’t apply. And the more you apply, the more time you spend revising and fine tuning your resume and essay answers pertaining to the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs).
7. Seek feedback on your resume from your fellow government employees. A couple of months ago, I exchanged resumes with a small group. It was amazing how different they were – bullets, narratives, formatting, order, etc. But the take-away was seeing some areas where I could improve my resume. (Sorry, I still don’t have an answer on the optimal resume format and style!)
8. Get input on your resume from those outside the government sector and outside your industry. Since HR is usually scoring the application packages, you want to highlight accomplishments and avoid using techie jargon and acronyms.
9. Closely read the job announcement. Pay attention to key words, including the KSAs and job description. Modify your resume to highlight these words. Don’t just recycle the same resume you used to for the last job announcement.
10. Utilize social media sites like LinkedIn to network. This month I received a message from the HR department of a federal agency asking to stay in touch with me regarding job opportunities. I appreciated that they showed some interest and reached out.
What have you learned about applying for federal government jobs? Have you made any improvements that helped you get more interview opportunities?
Nicole Willingham is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.